Soaring cocaine violence in Uruguay threatens reputation as stable nation

Uruguay’s main port faced a setback sixteen years ago when one of its two drug detecting cargo scanners fell into the sea during delivery. Since then, cocaine smuggling through Montevideo’s port has surged, leading to a record number of containers handled last year. This increase in drug trafficking has fueled gang violence and tarnished Uruguay’s reputation as a stable nation.

The closure of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office in Montevideo in 2019 worsened the situation. Despite Uruguay’s pleas for the DEA’s return, there are no immediate plans for it. With the U.S. prioritizing fentanyl-related issues over cocaine, reinstating the DEA office is not a priority.

European nations, the primary receivers of cocaine passing through Uruguay, have limited presence in counter-narcotics efforts. Uruguay finds itself isolated in combating drug trafficking, with a rise in violence and strained law enforcement.

Uruguay’s struggles with drug trafficking are exacerbated by its political history and complacency regarding the scale of the issue. Despite recent efforts to improve port security with additional cargo scanners, gangs like Brazil’s First Capital Command pose a growing threat.

The DEA’s departure from Uruguay was prompted by difficulties in cooperation and budgetary constraints, aggravated by Washington’s focus on fentanyl. Despite growing concerns about cocaine trafficking to non-U.S. markets, attention remains disproportionately directed towards fentanyl-related issues.

Both U.S. and Uruguayan authorities agree on the need for more significant involvement from European nations in combating drug trafficking in the region. However, European representation remains minimal, leaving Uruguay in a vulnerable position.

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