Uruguay Beefs Up Border Security in Advance of Sporting Events in Brazil
By Dialogo June 03, 2013
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — With the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil planned for June, the World Cup for 2014 and the Summer Olympics for 2016, military officials in Uruguay —— which shares a 1,068-mile land border with Brazil — are taking no chances.
The Uruguayan Army plans to increase border patrols and step up its presence along its coastal border with Argentina in advance of these sporting events as a deterrent against possible incursion by armed groups and illicit activities such as weapons or drug smuggling.
In a recent news conference, Army officials said Uruguay’s frontier with Brazil is notoriously porous, with local residents walking freely between the two countries with little risk of being stopped by authorities.
Army Commander Gen. Pedro Aguirre ordered the border patrols with the support of Uruguay’s Ministry of Defense. As a consequence of the military presence, reports of cattle rustling common on both sides of the border have fallen significantly, he said.
The deployment — involving six Uruguayan departments that border Brazil — has been in the planning stages for months, and the Navy is preparing similar measures on the coastal border with Argentina, military sources said. The military presence seeks to dissuade terrorist groups from using Uruguay as a logistics base from which to stage actions in Brazil.
Navy Seals train in Uruguay
In addition, a team of U.S. Navy Seals has been dispatched to Uruguay. The team’s 15 members will train local Navy officers how to intercept suspicious vessels linked to both terrorism and drug trafficking. Late last year, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta traveled to Uruguay, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration opened an office in Montevideo.
Speaking to the press, Uruguayan President José Mujica said planes are entering Uruguayan airspace possibly carrying drug money.
“Where do the drugs come from?” he asked. “It doesn’t go through Customs, it doesn’t go through controls, it doesn’t come through the airport. There is clandestine traffic.”
For that reason, since 2010 the Uruguayan Air Force has beefed up its radars, though it recognizes that this isn’t enough to control the country’s airspace completely; for this reason it plans to acquire additional surveillance equipment.
“Every year, dozens of illegal planes are detected on irregular flights to Argentina and Brazil that are not possible to intercept,” the Air Force told the website infodrogas.com.
Taking action against ‘irregular’ flights
Uruguay’s system for monitoring and controlling its airspace consists of three fixed radars located throughout the country as well as one mobile unit — but the Air Force conceded there are “gaps” in which no one knows what happens. The Ministry of Defense plans to add small radars to cover these so-called dead zones.
However, due to the lack of fast interceptor aircraft, Air Force personnel can do little when they see “irregular” flights showing up on their monitors.
The term “irregular” indicates flights whose pilots did not communicate their flight plan, and aircraft of unknown identity, purpose and destination. Regular flights comply with a protocol to transfer information to the country to which flights are destined.
“There’s always actions taken against irregular flights,” said Col. Alvaro Loureiro, the Air Force’s public relations manager, in comments to the Montevideo daily newspaper El País. “If possible, and if there’s sufficient time, they are intercepted.”