Surging cocaine violence has Uruguay clamoring for DEA help

February 18, 2024 11:26 am

[Source: Reuters]

Uruguay’s main port received two cargo scanners sixteen years ago to detect drugs and other suspicious loads. Unfortunately, during delivery one of them fell into the sea.

Since then, cocaine shipments to Europe have surged through the port of Montevideo, which handled a record 1.1 million containers last year, fueling a rise in gang violence and undermining Uruguay’s reputation as a beacon of stability in turbulent South America.

Uruguay, a small, affluent nation sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, is desperate for help.

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shuttered its Montevideo office in 2019 after years of strained ties with local law enforcement, four former DEA officials said. The details of the DEA’s exit are previously unreported.

Uruguay’s current center-right government, which took office the following year, has repeatedly asked the DEA to return but U.S. officials say there are no imminent plans to do so.

Three former DEA officials told Reuters that – with Washington focused on fentanyl flooding its borders from Mexico and little of the cocaine that transits through Uruguay heading to the United States – there’s scant appetite for seeking congressional approval to re-open a Montevideo office.

“Everything’s fentanyl now,” said former DEA official Larry Reichner, who oversaw Uruguay as the DEA’s assistant regional director for southern South America from 2015-2019. “They couldn’t give a rat’s ass about cocaine.”