Uruguay has been making regular seizures of weapons smuggled in from Argentina, indicating that the country is becoming a preferred transit hub for arms traffickers.
In the latest case, ten people were convicted of arms and ammunition trafficking in early August, according to Uruguay's Interior Ministry.
Beginning last November, Uruguayan authorities uncovered a network smuggling weapons into the country's Soriano and Río Negro departments.
In late July, security forces made their move, seizing thousands of rounds of ammunition, silencers, telescopic sights, and an assault rifle, according to the country’s Navy.
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Argentina is the most common point of origin for arms coming into Uruguay. In December 2021, two Uruguayan nationals were arrested for smuggling rifles, shotguns, and ammunition across the Uruguay River from Argentina.
While a link to Brazil was not mentioned in the most recent case, that country is a frequent destination for arms trafficked through Uruguay. In June, four men were jailed on arms trafficking charges after being caught smuggling magazines for automatic weapons from the United States and sending them to Brazil. And last August, an active police officer was found guilty of smuggling small arms and ammunition from Uruguay's border city of Rivera into Brazil.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite efforts by the Uruguayan government to better regulate the possession, transport, and sale of weapons, arms trafficking has steadily increased in Uruguay over the past few decades, according to the Global Organized Crime Index.
The country’s location between Argentina and Brazil makes it ideal territory for this criminal economy.
With high rates of legal gun ownership, Uruguay has long been a prime source of weapons for Brazilian gangs operating across the border in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Firearms have previously been smuggled to the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV), by members of Uruguay’s police force and military, while members of another Brazilian gang, Os Manos, were detained last year stockpiling pistols on the border.
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Some of these gangs are now expanding into Uruguay, where they are fighting to control drug dealing in border provinces. Along with unrelated clashes between small drug trafficking groups in the capital Montevideo, these may explain increased demand for guns and ammunition.
The market’s growth is also corroborated by the fact the guns came from Argentina. Argentine gun runners have long supplied Brazilian gangs, primarily via Paraguay. According to a 2021 country profile by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), Argentina's own domestic gun market has also recently grown.
That surplus of options suggests shipping to Uruguay - previously an uncommon route for Argentine arms - is a deliberate choice. “Uruguay is...a destination country for illegal weapons,” reported the GI-TOC’s 2021 Uruguay profile.