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Uruguayan Government Exchanges Weapons for Bikes or Laptops Destined to Students

By Dialogo
January 31, 2013

Weapons for life: this is the slogan used by the Uruguayan government in the promotion of a campaign to exchange weapons for bicycles or laptops intended for students. In turn, this will increase the penalties for the illegal possession of arms and create a traffic offense.

“The campaign ‘Weapons for Life’ proposes an exchange in which citizens surrender weapons, and receive a ‘weapon for life’, in turn,’” the Interior Ministry said in a statement on January 29.

These “weapons for life” would be a laptop from Plan Ceibal; a Uruguayan version of the program “One Laptop per Child”, or a bicycle.

According to the Uruguayan government, there is a great deal of unregistered fire arms in the hands of citizens. “At some time and for several reasons (trade, theft, etc), these fire arms might enter the illegal arms market in which criminals resort to,” he explained.

After the program is launched, citizens will have a six-month deadline to surrender or register their weapons. Otherwise, they will be liable to imprisonment for one to 12 years. The penalty will be higher if the person is involved with a criminal organization.

Despite its traditional quiet character, Uruguay “is the most armed country in America by far, ranked in the top ten worldwide” in weapons per capita, Gustavo Guidobono, president of the Association against Civil Disarmament, told AFP.

This country of 3.3 million inhabitants has an estimated number of one million weapons in the hands of civilians, very few of which are held by security firms, collectors or sportsmen, he said. Only half of them are registered.

“These are mainly 38 caliber revolvers and pistols; they are conventional weapons that can be purchased at armories for personal defense,” Guidobono added.

“People have weapons for security reasons; if they do not get security from the police …, this is a campaign destined for failure,” he predicted.

So far this year, there were over 30 murders in the country, which in 2012 had an increase in violence and ended the year with a record number of 290 murders – 90 more than the previous year – representing a rate of eight murders per 100,000 inhabitants.