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Uruguay: Fighting the Increasing Transit of Cocaine to Europe

Uruguay: Fighting the Increasing Transit of Cocaine to Europe

By Guillermo Saavedra/Diálogo
August 09, 2021

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In early July, an investigation under the leadership of the Uruguayan General Directorate for the Control of Illicit Drug Trafficking of the National Police, led to the capture of three people allegedly connected to the June 17 seizure of 1 ton of cocaine in a container in the Port of Barcelona, Spain, the Uruguayan Ministry of the Interior said in a statement. According to Euronews television network, the drug, which was hidden in two steam boilers that had left from the Port of Montevideo, amounted to one of the largest caches seized in Barcelona​​.

Authorities carried out several raids in Montevideo, as part of the investigation that led to the suspects’ arrest and the seizure of nearly 103 kilograms of additional cocaine in a warehouse, where the boilers that transported the drug to Barcelona had been stored, the Ministry of the Interior said in the statement.

According to the international organization InSight Crime, which investigates organized crime in Latin America, Uruguay now increasingly serves as a transit point for cocaine coming from Latin America to Europe and Africa.

Uruguayan authorities have been dealing hard blows to narcotrafficking, seizing a record amount of 6 tons of cocaine in late December 2019, four of those in soybean flour containers bound for Togo, Africa, and the rest in the farm where workers had loaded the containers, El País reported.

Criminals, however, continue to explore new methods to evade security forces. In August 2019, German authorities found 4.5 tons of cocaine coming from Uruguay, hidden in sports bags on a cargo ship bound for Antwerp, Belgium, in the Port of Hamburg. Hamburg custom authorities said this was the most important seizure in Germany, the German news portal DW reported.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international journalistic investigation organization that specializes in organized crime, pointed to the Italian criminal organization ‘Ndrangheta as one of the most powerful criminal networks in Europe that engage in purchasing cocaine in Latin America and then transferring and selling it in Europe.

“The ‘Ndrangheta’s reach stretches well beyond Europe, to Colombian and Mexican cartels. Through brokers in Paraguay and Uruguay — with logistics provided by a feared prison gang in Brazil — they ship drugs to the ports of Antwerp in Belgium, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Hamburg in Germany, often via West Africa,” the OCCRP said. “Once the cocaine hits northwestern Europe, the Italians take control.”

In late June, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned about a growing cocaine problem in Europe. “We have seen that cocaine is getting cheaper and purer in Europe, and that there are larger quantities, which is very worrying, so we have to increase cooperation, international collaboration, and the exchange of information between countries of origin and ports of reception,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly, Euronews reported.

For its part, Uruguay continues the fight to stop the shipment of drugs abroad. Just two weeks after the seizure in Spain, Uruguayan police forces seized 400 kg of cocaine base paste found in a truck, in Río Negro department. During this operation, agents arrested four people, members of a transnational criminal organization, El Observador reported.