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Argentine, Chilean and Uruguayan ports through which cocaine is exported to Europe increase

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Investigators are studying the routes and methods used by organized crime to smuggle drugs from South America, but a part of the logistics is still largely overlooked: ports.

So say Carolina Sampó, of the National University of La Plata and University of Buenos Aires’ Institute of International Relations (IRI) and IRI’s Center for the Study of Transnational Organized Crime Valeska Troncoso.

Non-traditional ports in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina are an “ace up the sleeve” for criminal organizations. (photo internet reproduction)

They conducted a study entitled “Cocaine trafficking from non-traditional ports: examining the cases of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay,” published in the international journal Trends in Organized Crime. Although attention is paid to ports as part of the drug smuggling logistics, much more attention is paid to where the drugs enter than from where they leave.

European ports are the main studied, while “cocaine exit ports located in South America have been poorly examined.”

In June 2021, a ton of cocaine was intercepted in the port of Barcelona (Spain) in a container traveling on a ship coming from Montevideo.

In November that same year, more than 4 tons traveled from Uruguay to Rotterdam and were seized only once in the Netherlands. In March, another ton of cocaine was seized, partly inside the port of Montevideo and partly outside. The drugs were bound for a European port.

The authors state that South America is “the world’s region where the vast majority of coca is grown and cocaine is produced, and Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, in that order, have a near monopoly on cocaine production.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that cocaine production in these 3 countries increased from 869 tons of 100% pure cocaine in 2014 to 1,723 tons in 2018.

Countries like Uruguay, which do not have coca or cocaine production, are caught in “a spillover effect outside of the producing countries.” In addition, “supply and demand from the global north have grown not only in Europe, but also in new markets such as China, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in South America,” they warn.

Why does organized crime choose ports such as Montevideo, Buenos Aires or San Antonio in Chile? Because “they exploit looser controls in these ports,” the study says.

Apparently, these Southern Cone ports are of particular interest because they are countries with “low penetration” of organized crime and low levels of public violence, so they are off the radar of international authorities. This is why these types of ports are used for the re-export of cocaine.

According to the authors, re-exporting is the “strategy of using ports and routes not typically associated with drug trafficking to launder and disguise the origin of drugs.”

The study reports the testimony of a Brazilian official who estimated that trafficking drugs through traditional or typical routes entails an estimated loss of 20% of profits. “By using alternative routes, they maximize the profit of the whole business, because the chances of seizures are much lower in alternative routes,” the official said.

“Non-traditional ports are considered those that are not located in coca-producing countries” and are identified as “clean transit areas.”

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