Tackling Drug-Lords in a Nascent Market: Raids and Drug Crime in Uruguay

Published date01 May 2022
Date01 May 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(4) 351 –372
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034211046985
Tackling Drug-Lords in a
Nascent Market: Raids and
Drug Crime in Uruguay
Juan A. Bogliaccini1, Diego Pereira1,
Juan Ignacio Pereira2, Cecilia Giambruno3,
and Ignacio Borba1
This article analyzes the effects of police raids for different types of crime in the
most conflictive neighborhoods of Montevideo, Uruguay. Interrupted time-series and
intervention models are estimated using different specifications of geographical area
where the crackdowns occurred and also different control strategies to produce
robust results. The effect of crackdowns on crime reporting is mixed; evidence
suggesting crackdowns may produce short- and long-term effects on crime depending
on their ability to affect gangs’ competition for the territory and the market. It
appears that the effects of raids are sensitive to the context of the criminal situation.
Crackdowns are not consistently effective in influencing crime. Evidence shows it
is hard to reach levels of critical enforcement through 1-day crackdowns and that
crackdowns’ ability to alter drug-market conditions would depend not only on the
ability to extract drug dealers from the territory but also in preventing a rapid return.
crime, crackdown, Uruguay, drug, police
On August 1, 2019, Hamburg port authorities found 4.5 tons of cocaine hidden in a
shipment of soybeans coming from the port of Montevideo. The news was shocking
1Universidad Católica del Uruguay, Montevideo, Uruguay
2Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
3Inter American Development Bank, Montevideo
Corresponding Author:
Juan A. Bogliaccini, Universidad Católica del Uruguay, Av. 8 de Octubre 2738, Montevideo 11600,
Email: juan.bogliaccini@ucu.edu.uy
1046985CJPXXX10.1177/08874034211046985Criminal Justice Policy Review XX(X)Bogliaccini et al.
352 Criminal Justice Policy Review 33(4)
on the two sides of the Atlantic. This cocaine seizure set a record for Hamburg port
authorities in terms of the amount of drug, even in the context of a steep upward trend
in which 2017 seizures around Europe increased to 140.4 tons from a previous 70.9
tons in 2016.1 This seizure accounted for the biggest drug shipment ever recorded in
Montevideo. The long-lasting war on drugs in the north of Latin America has had the
consequence of moving drug routes for Europe and the rest of the world to the south.
In this context, Uruguay has seen a steep increase in drug-related crimes and a con-
tinuous growth of drug dealing operations, which has proven to be particularly perva-
sive to poor slums at the outskirts of the city of Montevideo. The city is going through
one of the worst periods of violence and crime in recent decades. In 2018, homicide
and robbery figures were the highest on record. These figures also show worrisome
signs of spatial inequality. While the country average homicide rate for 2018 is 11.8
per 100,000 inhabitants—similar to Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic—
Montevideo’s homicide rate of 16.1 is closer to figures of the Democratic Republic of
Congo or Lesotho.2
In Montevideo, violence and crime incidence rates change dramatically between
neighborhoods that are just a few kilometers away.3 Violence is concentrated in the
most disadvantaged social contexts, exacerbating living conditions and generating a
vicious cycle of violence and marginality that conspires against any attempt at social
development or even social order (see Averdijk et al., 2016; Jacottet, 2018). A 30% of
all homicides committed in Uruguay in 2018 were concentrated in four neighborhoods
in Montevideo, home to 9% of the country’s total population. Most of these homicides
occur in a few poor neighborhoods in the north area of the city, among which the
neighborhood of Casavalle ranks at the top, with a homicide rate that exceeds 70
homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
The relation between local distributors and international smugglers, as between
distributors and crime, has been widely documented (see Reuter, 1986, for a classic
study). The drug market in Montevideo began a worrisome trend during the 1990s
with the arrival of coca paste, which rapidly penetrated all social sectors. With it, a
dealer market began an expansive stage due to increased consumption. However, with
the economic effects of the commodity boom, coca paste began to be replaced in the
upper social strata, which shrunk the market and increased violence between drug
dealers due to market competition.
The governmental response to this steep increase in crimes has been varied both in
terms of the level of geographical focus and the diversity of approaches, following
common international practices. Three strategies are worth mentioning. First, the gov-
ernment implemented a strategy of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
(CPTED) beginning in 2012, which involves a high geographical focus and wide array
of approaches. For example, surveillance cameras were installed at different points in
Montevideo, but mostly with a focus on the city downtown, characterized by frenetic
business activity during office hours but lonely otherwise and with hot spots of mid-
dle- and lower-middle-class residential areas.4 By 2017, the government claimed
(although no evaluation has been made public) this system had reduced thefts by 80%
and robberies by 73%.5 Second, in the same vein, the government initiated a Program

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