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Uruguay Fears Brazilian 'Narco Incursion'

Uruguay is one of Latin America's safest countries, but according to the Ministry of the Interior the country is threatened by Brazilian drug traffickers who may be making their way south. 

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Sources from Uruguay's Interior Ministry told Ultimas Noticias, "There is a great fear that the [Brazilian] traffickers will begin to operate from [Uruguay]. The only way to avoid this is to increase border control and prevent their entry."

Some experts have said that due to Brazil's newly assertive security policies, in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Brazilian criminal groups are in search of a more hospitable environment. According to Uruguayan Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi, "What can happen is that in searching for a safer area to operate from, [the Brazilian traffickers] come here. Not in order to use the Uruguayan market, but to continue their activities from a safer place."

Police officials from Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil will convene in Buenos Aires next week at their biannual meeting. Interior Ministry sources told Ultimas Noticias that Brazilian gang activity will be a major topic at the conference, adding, "We have still not observed the arrival of these traffickers [in Uruguay], but we will not wait to start acting."

InSight Crime Analysis

These statements by Uruguay's Interior Ministry follow a warning issued by Brazilian Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo that Brazil's crackdown on drug gangs in the country's favelas could trigger a migration of criminals south.

While Uruguay has long been cited as one of the region's safest countries, there are some warning signs that drug trafficking and related gang violence may be increasing. Minister Bonomi's fears stretch back as far as 2010 when he warned of the internationalization of organized crime in the country, pointing to the presence of Mexican, Serbian, Colombian, and Brazilian groups.

To date, however, Uruguay has not suffered to the same extent as other countries bordering Brazil, notably Paraguay, where Brazilian gangs like the First Capital Command (PCC) and Comando Vermelho (Red Command) reportedly both have a foothold. This is largely because Uruguay is not a drug producer like Paraguay, the largest producer of marijuana in South America. Instead, Uruguay is primarily a transit country for narcotics, meaning Brazilian traffickers have less interest in setting up a permanent presence here.

However, this means Uruguay has received comparatively little attention from Brazil's .3 billion border security initiative that aims to crack down on drug trafficking, with most of the resources reserved for the Brazilian frontier along Bolivia and Paraguay. The Commander of the Brazilian Army South Region, General Carlos Goellner, admitted last year that the troop deployment along the Uruguay border was "soft."

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