Brazen Murder of Soldiers Latest Incident to Raise Alarm in Uruguay

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The unprecedented murder of three soldiers in Uruguay has again raised the alarm about the seemingly growing brazenness of criminal actors in a country long believed to be one of Latin America’s safest.

Uruguay’s armed forces confirmed in an official press release that the bodies of three executed soldiers standing guard at the Fortaleza de Cerro naval base in the capital, Montevideo, had been discovered early in the morning on May 31.

Colleagues found the bodies as they came to take over guarding the base and observed that three Glock pistols, the corresponding magazines and a portable radio kit were all missing, according to the press release.

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Authorities have since arrested and charged a former marine for allegedly being the material author of the crime, in addition to a woman and another man suspected to be involved, El Pais reported.

Police raided a house where the three were staying and found one of the pistols stolen from the soldiers, as well as three magazines. The slain soldiers were not suspicious as the former marine approached them at the naval base, according to El Pais, as they had served with him before he had left the post months earlier. 

Authorities are reportedly investigating a number of possible motives for the crime, according to El Observador, including a possible connection to criminal groups operating in the west of Montevideo or that the weapons may have been stolen to be resold later. 

Defense Minister Javier García called the crime an “atrocious execution.” President Luis Lacalle Pou added that “we are not ready for violence to become natural in society … [and] we are going to use all the constitutional and legal tools that allow us to use the force of the state to repel aggression against Uruguayan citizens,” according to a May 31 statement.

InSight Crime Analysis

In recent years, Uruguay’s image as a safe haven free of the violence and insecurity that many other countries in Latin America have confronted has been upended by continued acts of violence.

Just last month, on May 9, security footage showed a remarkable scene where an explosive device was lobbed into the headquarters of the country’s anti-drug trafficking unit (Dirección General de Represión al Tráfico Ilícito de Drogas — DGRT) in the capital, according to a press release from the Interior Ministry.

While the explosion only caused material damages and didn’t appear to be an attempt to kill any officers, it sent a very clear warning message to the country’s security forces.

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Police officers have also come under increased attack. During the first few weeks of 2020, assailants killed two officers and injured nearly 80 others, at times stealing their service weapons in the process, according to an Interior Ministry report.

The uptick in violence comes at a time when the South American nation’s role in the international drug trade continues to evolve. The May 2019 seizure of half a ton of cocaine in Switzerland that departed from Uruguay, for example, added to evidence that the country may be developing a bigger role in feeding European demand for drugs.

So far, no conclusive link has been drawn between the attack on the three murdered soldiers and organized crime or drug trafficking. But even as details continue to emerge, it’s clear the attack is part of a broader uptick in violence targeting security forces that have long avoided such assaults.

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