In their January 4, 2022 report Cocaine Trafficking from Non-Traditional Ports: Examining the Cases of Argentina, researchers from the Center for Studies on Transnational Organized Crime (CeCOT, in Spanish), at the National University of La Plata, and from the University of Buenos Aires, both in Argentina, found that criminal gangs are now prioritizing certain South American ports. The “non-traditional ports” of Buenos Aires; San Antonio, Chile, and Montevideo, Uruguay, have become “very good options for criminal organizations smuggling cocaine overseas.”
These countries are considered to have low organized crime penetration and low levels of public violence, the report says. Narcotraffickers are using these ports “to launder and disguise the origin of the drugs” and “reduce risks, and maximize profitability,” the report adds.
An example is Chile, where the presence of organized crime is less evident than in other Latin American countries. Narcotraffickers take advantage of busy Chilean ports to export cocaine, paving the way for new threats, such as the production of synthetic drugs, the BBC reported.
In the last five years, cocaine trafficking from South America to the United States has increased, according to a September 2021 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and EUROPOL. However, narcotrafficking networks have also been focusing on Europe, which has greater potential and a less saturated market than the United States.
As a result, Europe has taken a central role, considering that its geography allows the passage to new markets where cocaine attracts steep profits, the report says. Simultaneously, increased controls in the last five years in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru have led to a shift of narcotrafficking routes southward, the report adds.
The ports studied are further south than cocaine-producing countries and the main transit country, Brazil. This means longer journeys and higher costs for criminal organizations, but greater security for cocaine shipments, CeCOT says.
In addition, the report indicates that although some routes make no economic or geographic sense; the routes and frequencies of shipments departing from Buenos Aires, San Antonio, and Montevideo have a regular connection with container ports that are considered gateways for cocaine, particularly in Europe. In addition, shipping cocaine through traditional routes always entails losses. Pacific and Caribbean routes are also quite complicated, the report indicates.
Traffickers send the drugs produced in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru to transit areas such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay; then ship them to the European market, the Europe Latin America Programme of Assistance against Transnational Organised Crime (EL PAcCTO) says on its website.
EL PAcCTO highlights the increase in drug seizures in Uruguay as evidence of the extent of the threat and the growing concerns for all those fighting narcotrafficking. In addition, EL PAcCTO notes that narcotrafficking is the main activity of 75 percent of organized crime groups. It estimates that there are 436 major organized crime groups in Latin America.
“Unfortunately, cocaine trafficking is expected to rise even more due to the growing demand from traditional (the United States and Europe) markets and new markets (Oceania and Asia),” CeCOT concludes. Latin American countries, however, are fighting back.
In this context, on December 3, 2021, Uruguay received a delegation of the Container Control Programme, a project of the United Nations and the World Custom Organization that seeks to improve the detection of drug shipments and other activities of transnational organized crime, the Uruguayan National Directorate of Customs said in a statement. Uruguay is set to join the program in March 2022.
Also in December, the Uruguayan Navy received a donation of three U.S. Coast Guard Protector-class ships, valued at nearly $8.7 million, “to strengthen maritime security and economic sovereignty in Uruguayan waters,” the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay said. The vessels will arrive before the end of 2022.