For many Latin American countries, dealing with a sophisticated drug trafficking group with international reach and high-ranking government connections is nothing special. For Uruguay, it’s a new situation.
On August 26, Brazil approved the extradition to Uruguay of Rodrigo Fontana Ferreira, an Argentine drug trafficker suspected of being part of the First Uruguayan Cartel (Primer Cartel Uruguayo – PCU). Fontana Ferreira is wanted in Uruguay on charges of trafficking drugs, weapons, and explosives between Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay, as well as threats and attacks against Uruguayan judicial institutions, according to media coverage of his case.
His extradition comes as more information is progressively revealed about the PCU. One particular point of interest is whether government officials helped the group’s leader, Sebastián Marset, gain his freedom after he was detained in Dubai in October, 2021.
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Marset was detained in Dubai for traveling on a false Paraguayan passport, but he quickly applied for a new Uruguayan passport to be able to leave the country legally. Although the Uruguayan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates allegedly urged caution on the case, a new passport was swiftly granted and he was allowed to leave the country. Marset has remained on the run ever since.
Uruguay has opened an investigation into whether officials at the foreign and interior ministries, as well as an aide to Paraguay’s Vice President Hugo Velázquez, collaborated to help Marset avoid prison.
Marset is wanted by Interpol for allegedly transporting at least 16 tons of cocaine between Paraguay and Europe via Uruguay. On August 12, Colombia’s new president, Gustavo Petro, also alleged that Marset may have been behind the murder of Paraguay’s leading anti-crime prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the rise of the First Uruguayan Cartel appears to have been fast, Marset seems to have been laying the foundations of an international drug trafficking group for a long time.
In 2012, he was first connected to a shipment of marijuana to be flown from Paraguay to Uruguay on a private plane. That plane was flown by Juan Domingo Viveros Cartes, alias “Papacho,” uncle to Paraguay’s former President Horacio Cartes, who was also jailed for his involvement in the affair. In 2013, Marset was arrested for arranging another such delivery to Uruguay.
During the five years he spent in La Libertad prison, he allegedly made the international contacts he needed to further his ambitions. He has maintained close ties to Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), after whom he named his group, according to a report by Uruguayan newspaper, El Observador.
Once he left prison in 2018, he began traveling in order to secure his cocaine supply line, visiting various countries in Central and South America, according to Paraguayan newspaper, Ultima Hora.
He has also reportedly been willing to use violence to achieve his means, having been linked to several assassinations in Paraguay.