“They want to paint it like Ciudad Juárez, but it is not”said a neighbor of the border to The Observer. Although the dispute over the drug market between the factions – which the Uruguayan police call “imported” – Os Manos and Os Tauras plagues the border and certain neighborhoods in the department of Rivera, merchants and neighbors consulted agree: beyond circumstantial robberies, “They don’t mess with you if you didn’t mess with them first.” Of the eight homicides carried out between January and March of this year, six were linked to drug trafficking, one is unclear and one was due to “coexistence problems.”
A legal operator who controls the evidence presented in the case told The Observer that, when the information from the confiscated phones is analyzed, the leaders of these gangs speak of Rivera as an “easy land border”. This made the northern department the only one to exceed 15 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021. In total, according to the Ministry of the Interior, there were 17.
“Here in Rivera everyone walks in the street with a weapon, like someone who walks with a cell phone in their pocket,” said another judicial operator.
In Rivera there are three prosecutors’ offices and they receive all kinds of cases: from drug trafficking crimes to sexual abuse. Together with the Rivera Police Headquarters and its Investigations Department, they have clarified the vast majority of the homicides. However, they fail to avoid them.
The factions that dispute the drug market so much recruit people to work together with them and the fact of “changing sides” often provokes confrontations that end with the deaths of some of those involved. They also face addicted consumers who do not pay. They go from one side of the border to the other, which is why coordination with the Brazilian police is crucial.
Rivera Police Chief Wilfredo Rodríguez told The Observer that coordination with their Brazilian peers is “excellent” and occurs at all levels of the forces: federal, road, military, etc.
The drug traffickers “live changing the strategy” and force them to change it, he said. Although he warned that these criminal organizations “come from less to more”. However, he stated that the streak that had occurred in January was cut short, when 75% of the homicides occurred this quarter. The members are changing: some are imprisoned and others die. The leaders of the two gangs “are already in jail.”
In the case of Os Manos, a specialized source told The Observer, He settled years ago in the La Humedad neighborhood and expelled several families from the area.
The map of the eight homicides that hit Rivera
The first homicide of the year was double. The January 12, 2021, a couple appeared charred inside a car on the border with Santana do Livramento. Her five-year-old son remained missing for almost a month and a half, until he appeared in Canelones, thanks to a woman alerting the police. The crime was linked to the sale of drugs and illegal transfers. The alleged perpetrators will be charged in the coming days, sources in the case told The Observer.
Three days later, a drug confrontation claimed another two lives in less than five minutes. It was in the middle of an altercation in the street. The two victims fled in opposite directions and behind them were two teenagers – a Uruguayan and a Brazilian – who ended up killing them. The murderers were charged by the Justice and the accusation that will lead to the trial has already been presented.
One of those involved in the initial fight carried out an abbreviated process and the others are charged.
The January 20, an 18-year-old boy was found dead, with gunshot wounds, on the border between Uruguay and Brazil. Although the prosecution managed to charge the alleged culprit, the Justice did not grant his request that he be a preventive prisoner and it was determined that he should go to house arrest. Prosecutor Serrana Corsino appealed the measure, but while the appeals court was studying the case, the man fled. Days later, the court ruled that the man should have been imprisoned. Currently an international arrest warrant weighs on him. The motive for the crime was a drug settlement.
The January 23, a 35-year-old man was killed while walking down the street, accompanied by another. There are still no defendants in this case: there are no security cameras in the area and there were no witnesses. The reasons are not known either, although, according to what police sources indicated to The Observer, it is presumed that it was a settling of scores. The person who was next to her did not want to testify.
A month later, the 26 of February, a man was stabbed and a few meters later he collapsed, at the height of Spikerman and Manuel Lavalleja streets. Hours later he died. The reason, again, was related to drug trafficking. A minor and an adult are being investigated for this homicide. On the first already weighs a fiscal accusation.
The March 12 the only homicide that was proven to be unrelated to drug trafficking took place. It was that of a young man who was sheltering in his house the man who was later his murderer and his partner. Due to a fight that, according to the Attorney General’s Office at the time, was related to issues of coexistence, the aggressor hit the victim on the head and she began to bleed. Hours later he was treated at the local hospital, but he died. Based on witness statements, security camera videos and the forensic report, the Rivera Justice convicted the man through an abbreviated process for the charge of ultra-intentional homicide. He must serve four years and six months in prison.
Villa Sonia, one of the hardest hit
Neighbors of the neighborhood told The Observer that the problem there is the distribution of pastabase and all the conflicts, whether they are minor thefts or murders, arise because of that.
“Capable they are killing for a thousand pesos”, pointed out one of them and warned that “they spend every day going around the streets asking for money”.
Although he stressed that most problems occur “between them.” Another trader agreed: “It’s for territories or account adjustments. I have not heard of any innocent being killed.”
The position of the Ministry of the Interior and the FA
When Minister Luis Alberto Heber had to report the increase in homicides this quarter, he focused on three departments: Montevideo, Canelones and Rivera. “In Rivera we are giving battle, in a place where there is a lot of penetration of northern crime. That invades and generates (crimes) throughout the area”, he had said last year. On that same occasion, he stated that “rushing” the construction of the new Republican Guard detachment in the city of Tacuarembo would improve patrolling along the routes that connect with Rivera. Some time before he had expressed: “The Republican Guard is a shock force that is necessary, especially in sectors of the border where we have seen the penetration of Brazilian organized crime.”
The former director general of the Secretariat, Charles Carrera, stated in January that the Rivera case was one of the examples that “the presentation of general data on homicides makes the reality of the different territories invisible, with significant heterogeneity in the distribution of cases and in the level of violence”.
The number of homicides in Rivera has fluctuated in recent years. In 2021 there were 17, in 2020 there were 16, the previous year 7, and in 2018 there were 16.