Uruguay Crime Rates Rising as Guns Proliferate in Once-Peaceful Nation
By Dialogo May 20, 2013
MONTEVIDEO — Uruguay, historically one of South America’s least violent countries, now averages one homicide per day, says Observatorio FundaPro, a security research organization based in Montevideo.
The group said 289 people were killed in Uruguay last year, up from 196 in 2011. That translates into a homicide rate of 9.19 per 100,000 inhabitants — the country’s most violent year on record. In 2011, the homicide rate was 6.27 per 100,000.
In addition, traffickers from Colombia, Mexico and Bolivia are increasingly using Uruguay as a transit point for drug shipments, said the U.S. State Department’s latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. According to Edward Fox of Insight Crime, “Uruguayan officials are also concerned that Brazilian gangs may be using their country as a haven from the attention of Brazilian authorities, and that criminal organizations may even be shifting cocaine production operations to the country.”
Uruguayan police said a 19-year-old man who recently shot and killed a 17-year-old near Montevideo Shopping — one of the capital city’s most fashionable malls — had “admitted purchasing the gun for security reasons” at the Feria Piedras Blancas, an open-air market.
“If he bought the gun at a fair, obviously there aren’t enough controls,” Internal Affairs Minister Eduardo Bonomi, who is in charge of police and internal security, told reporters. “We are trying to improve controls but much remains to be done. We must improve legislation on buying and selling weapons. Often they are sold illegally, but they can also be purchased legally very easily.”
‘Armas para la Vida’
In January, Bonomi unveiled a program called “Armas para la Vida” to exchange firearms for computers and bicycles. In addition, a bill pending approval would tighten controls on the legal possession of shotguns and handguns up to nine millimeters.
Under that law, now before the Uruguayan Parliament, authorities would impose harsh sentences against those caught with such weapons, though it does allow a six-month grace period to give gun owners a chance to either register them or turn them over to the Ministry of Defense’s Equipment and Weapons Service.
Uruguay also has 32 civilian firearms per 100 inhabitants, giving it the highest ratio of gun ownership in Latin America, and the ninth highest in the world, said the Small Arms Survey. For comparison, the top three countries on that list are the United States (89 firearms per 100), Yemen (55) and Switzerland (46). No other Latin American country made the top 15.
Marcelo Barzelli, a spokesman for the Uruguayan Ministry of Internal Affairs, recently said “there’s a general consensus that the number of weapons is too high.”
Violent crime takes a chunk out of Uruguay’s GDP
Last year, the Inter-American Development Bank approved a $5 million loan to help reduce violent crime in Montevideo. The bank, noting that one out of every three crimes in Uruguay is committed by a minor, said the program would focus on improving police management and preventing youth violence.
In a recent poll conducted by the Uruguayan Center for Economic Studies, 65 percent of respondents cited “lack of security” as their chief concern. The same study estimates that the economic costs of crime — including detention of suspects, rehabilitation of prisoners, their productive time lost in prison, stolen property costs and loss of life due to violence — are equivalent to 3.1 percent of Uruguay’s GDP.
At the same time, the private security industry has grown to the point where more than 300 companies employing 1,500 people are now registered, with demand for such protective services led by the retail sector. In January alone, Uruguay recorded 30 homicides, including several instances in which shopkeepers shot attackers during attempted robberies.
Dear Wagner Rios,
Unfortunately here in Brazil homicides reached almost 50,000 a year in the last few years. Itâ€™s a real war and with such a strong weapons control that inhibits the good citizens to possess them.
Itâ€™s obvious that such weapons control does not exist for the criminals, and they are getting more and more armed with weapons more potent and modern.
Itâ€™s incredible that the Brazilian states (equivalent to the provinces), where there are more legalized weapons per inhabitants, the violence rates are smaller.
In addition, it is known that in the United States of America, with about 300 million inhabitants, there are more than 200 million legalized weapons and less than 10,000 homicides per year. Switzerland also has also lots of legalized weapons and violence rates are very low. Yemen has great domestic conflicts that justify the killings figures.
For that reason, I believe that the articleâ€™s name disagrees with its content. Weapons control only interests a State/Government which has second (and unconfessable) intentions, since the weapons are not the point, but the citizens â€œcontrolâ€ through fear and subjugation to the State apparatus that is incompetent to offer the citizens a peaceful and safe environment.
The most important right a human being has is to be able to guarantee his or her own life, to defend him or herself. Uruguay has become a violent country, and I only realized that when it happened to my family. My mother was almost killed at 1:30 P.M. inside a car with the windows closed next to 18 de Julio Avenue. The number of homicides during the 2013 parties was 9, according to the newspaper El PaÃs Uruguay. For a country with a small population, it has [homicide] taxes bigger than several Brazilian states. I met a young lady in Porto Alegre city who had her clavicle broken at that same period. I met Argentines and other Brazilians who were also mugged, besides, of course, several Uruguayans. Crime news spread all over the country, Montevideo, Punta del Este, and La Paloma. The problem is that tourists like myself had in mind a recent past image of an Uruguay that doesnâ€™t exist anymore, that almost cost my motherâ€™s life. Some pressed tourist guides, magazines and advertisements, due to lack of information or bad intentions, continue to advertise that Uruguay is safe, but unfortunately itâ€™s not like that anymore. Be careful!! I was so indignant about it that I created a site telling the case www.UruguayViolento.com I respectfully agree completely with JosÃ© L. NetoÂ´s words. It is unfortunate there is so much violence, but I live in a very violent country. It was my intention to emigrate with my family to Uruguay, buy a farm in Maldonado to produce, and a nice home near Punta del Este. However, my mind is changing after reading various reports about the violence in the country. I became familiar with Uruguay in 1971 and 1972, and I see a lot has changed since then. The peace and tranquility is gone! Brazil banned weapons, exchanged them for cash and homicide rates are on the rise. Disarming the population is a leftist strategy so that they can stay in power. It serves no purpose. Countries with lower rates of homicide have the free movement of weapons. Very well put! UK Lima, you said a lot in just a few words. You're right on point. Violence is a worldwide epidemic. I hope that Uruguay gets better results than Brazil. This is repressing juvenile offenders to the fullest extent. Antonio Machado, stop exaggerating. I've been to Uruguay with my family 12 times and not once has anything disastrous or unpleasant happened to us, much less to any friends or acquaintances. In Porto Alegre, where we live, we see dozens of violent and tragic news reports everyday like in the other capitals of our country. And, it's not much different in the cities outside of the capitals. Your obsession against Uruguay has gone beyond bias. There is not one place in the world where the situations described in your website do not occur. The best, or the worst, can happen just by the simple fact that people exist. Change the record and your holiday destination. In every comment you make, the discourse changes. There was almost a murder recently, while in your "website", it was an injured arm. this is good information for people that want to get to know the country. And how the people there live, and there crime rate.