In Bella Unión, in Artigas, there are residents who feel that the sale and consumption of drugs in that area is taking away their peace of mind. The double homicide of the sisters Ana and María del Carmen that occurred this Friday by two men who arrived from Paysandú ended up shocking them.
Although the men are not linked to drug gangs, as confirmed by the deputy chief of Artigas Police, Gabriel Lima, for the residents of Bella Unión, consumers are a scourge.
The city is accessed by route 472 from Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, and due to its location “it is a strategic point” for the large Brazilian drug trafficking organizations. The Artigas headquarters made a heat map with crime reports at the end of 2022 and saw that the situation in Bella Unión was even more critical than in the city of Artigas. For this reason, they reinforced that area with police officers and, according to the deputy chief, they managed to reduce thefts in March. However, the incidence of Brazilian gangs, such as the Os Manos faction, is struggling not to lose ground in Bella Unión.
Below is a summary of the interview with the Deputy Chief of Police of Artigas.
The murder of the two sisters this Friday, could it be prevented?
Without having committed a crime, we cannot carry out an investigation on the person. The most that the police authority can do is stop, search the weapons, ask for the data. You can’t kick him out. We are in a democracy, we are not in a dictatorship, so we cannot do what we want, we have what the legal framework allows us. Within that legal framework we do our best. Those are people who are without a fixed destination. We asked Salto and Paysandú for their identification and they immediately knew where to go to look for them because they do the same control as we do: they search, establish where they are, at what time.
Why do people in Artigas, when they talk about insecurity, refer to the “drug problem”?
The drug issue, as everywhere, is the highest scourge and what drives crime rates. Today, when we refer to a homicide like that of the sisters, obviously there is a consumption problem there. We are very aware of the drug issue, we work together with the National Narcotics Directorate and with other departments.
The clear example is the “Pernambuco” and “Dardo Venenoso” operations that were generated a few days ago. Artigas achieved the conviction of 16 people, all related to drug trafficking in its different modalities.
Most of the people were from Bella Unión, (nine from Bella Unión and seven from Artigas). To achieve this we did a meticulous job, during the work the police chief himself, at the request of the people, had to be present in Bella Unión, but, in turn, on the condition that he could not talk more because the operation could fall.
After the operation we recovered a piece of land and now the second phase is to get into that area so that the drug problem does not rise again in that place. We gained ground, we got those people out, but that doesn’t mean that the drug problem has ended.
So Bella Unión is an epicenter?
No. Bella Unión is a strategic point for people who try to cross drugs, people who are dedicated to this, people who want to enter drugs but not for consumption. There may be a little drug left in Bella Unión for distribution, but let it enter the south of the country. All these problems are being analyzed and working together.
There is a private public project to install cameras in rural areas for different criminal acts. It is an ambitious project, but it is on track.
Bella Unión is a point that is of great interest to drug trafficking, including Brazilian factions like Os Manos, which is a strong faction. Some of these people intervened and formalized by the Justice are related to the Os Manos faction. Artigas is attentive and these operations show it. Some of the people who fell were from the faction, they were ties they had.
The neighbors say they know who sells, who distributes, but do they report?
We work with a lot of technology and with a lot of information. The information does not only come from the police and we are not going to expose anyone who gives it to us. There are anonymous communication channels and there are personal communication channels. Ten neighbors are 20 eyes and a policeman is two eyes.
How many police officers are there in Bella Unión?
The effective force of all Artigas is around 500-odd. The issue is that we have to get out of those 500-odd. Many people who give medical reports, some who for one reason or another are disarmed. We have an effective force of executives that is not real, because today we must have four or five unarmed police officers due to domestic violence.
For victims of gender violence, if there are no bracelets, you have to put two police officers to guard. Those police officers are missing from public safety. When we have more custody, the crime rate will increase because public safety suffers, because we are hiring police officers for those jobs.
So are more needed?
More are needed, obviously, but Montevideo also needs it, it needs Canelones.
With the resources we have, based on the heat maps, we move the staff from one place to the other. For months we have been sending groups of PADO and GRT from Artigas to Bella Unión. We had to buy bunks for them to stay there because we can’t ask them to go eight hours, then have an hour and a half to travel to Artigas. Transport was generated from us there, accommodation, all their needs are covered.
Why were they sent to Bella Unión?
We understand that the situation in Artigas is holding up well and the situation in Bella Unión is not overflowing, but it has to improve. As a result, it got better. In March there was a decrease in theft crimes, for example.
But how do we make a heat map if people don’t inform us? If it is reported, we can handle the information to determine patrols at certain times in certain places.
Do you know that drugs are thrown in the countryside?
Yes Yes. We deal with informants. One of the main projects that we have that we hope will come out is that of the rural chambers. We cannot put personnel in the field in case a plane falls and neglect the commercial area.
Were they not detected by radar?
No no. I guess the Air Force, if detected, will report. With the rural chambers we try to prevent and control rustling. There is private capital that is interested in collaborating. We would also use those cameras, it took a couple of months to establish where the facilities would be that would cover all the rural roads. It would be useful for rustling but also in case a small plane is seen or a vehicle is seen.
The police officers from the departmental Unified Command Center (CCU) would have access. Not everyone is going to have the images. The idea is that the private party has access from his cell phone but that everything falls into the CCU. You have to get internet access networks, light. That’s it, it’s programmed. Meanwhile it is lung, the rural area is lung.