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Uruguay 2012 Crime and Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Uruguay > Montevideo

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 

Crime Threats 

For various socio-economic reasons, the crime rate continues to be high by U.S. standards. In Montevideo, petty street crimes such as pick pocketing, purse snatching, confrontational robbery, and theft from parked automobiles are common. Thieves prey on targets of opportunity such as tourists openly carrying valuables, motorists stopped at lights with bags visible on car seats, and parked unattended vehicles. Thieves migrate toward tourist spots such as the Ciudad Vieja (Old City), Avenida 18 de Julio (18 July Avenue), Plaza Independencia (Independence Plaza), and the Mercado del Puerto (Port Market). There are increased police patrols during periods of high tourist activity in these areas, like when a cruise ship arrives in the summer season; however, there is a minimal police presence in the late evening and early morning hours. There are no “off-limits” areas of Montevideo, but in addition to areas frequented by tourists, disadvantaged neighborhoods suffer from higher crime rates. 

Criminals often resort to violence if victims resist. Montevideo continues to experience an increase in violent crime to include “express kidnappings” and home-invasion robberies. In late 2010, the Ministry of the Interior publicized statistics that in Montevideo there is one home invasion robbery per week, 32 robberies a day, and one theft every 10 minutes. Final statistics for 2011 have not been released, but in late 2011, the Ministry of the Interior acknowledged that robberies increased in 2011 from 2010, although at a slower rate from previous years. 

The Regional Security Officer advises the use of call-ahead taxis whenever possible.  

Residential burglaries are a significant problem in the Carrasco, Punta Carretas, and Pocitos areas, where most affluent families and resident foreign diplomats reside. Most incidents involve burglaries of homes while the occupants are away, both during the day and at night. Home invasion robberies do occur, though. Burglars often ring the bell to see if anyone is at home. If there is no answer, they will let themselves in. In 2011, two embassy homes experienced break-ins, and several embassy homes experienced attempted break-ins. Single-family homes are more prone to burglary attempts than apartments. 

During the summer months (December to March), beach resorts such as Punta del Este attract affluent tourists - mostly wealthy Uruguayans, Argentines, and Brazilians. During this period, petty street crimes and residential burglaries, similar to the types that occur in Montevideo, follow the wealthy to Punta del Este. 

There has been a noticeable increase in vehicle break-ins in the Pocitos and Punta Carretas neighborhoods. Any item left in plain sight in a car invites thieves to break the window to steal the item(s). Car interiors should be kept clean and free of items, and parking garages should be used when available. Older cars that do not have disabling technology are prone to auto theft. 

Road Safety 

Illumination, pavement markings, and road surfaces are sometimes poor. When venturing outside Montevideo, personnel should always exercise extra caution, as traffic safety is a concern. Although there are a number of factors that feed the problem, chief among them is a severe shortage of police patrols and medical first responders in rural areas. Route 1, which runs between Montevideo and Colonia or Punta del Este, and Route 2, between Rosario and Fray Bentos, are particularly accident-ridden because of heavy tourist traffic. Road accidents rise during the austral summer beach season (December to March), Carnival (mid-to-late February), and Easter Week.

Political Violence 

Historical Perspective

Uruguay is a stable democratic republic. While there is anti-American sentiment in some circles, this sentiment rarely takes violent form. 

International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism 

Due to Uruguay's close proximity to the Tri-Border Area (Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil); plausible illicit financial support activities related to terrorism are a concern in the country. However, as of January 2012, there were no credible reports of direct terrorist threats against American interests in Uruguay. Uruguay’s northern border with Brazil is very porous. 

Civil Unrest

There are some political protests that tend to target the U.S. Embassy, but political violence has been minimal in recent years. However, during the visit of President Bush in March 2007, there was one violent protest in the downtown area that involved vandalism (using incendiary devices, rocks, and paint bombs) against American and foreign businesses, along with anti-American and anti-capitalist graffiti on sidewalks and buildings. Some demonstrators have attacked police, police vehicles ,and even police precincts, but violence is rare and usually brief. During the March 2007 protest, demonstrators vandalized a U.S. fast food restaurant. A week prior to the visit, a U.S.-affiliated bank ATM was damaged by a small explosive device that detonated between 3 a.m.-4 a.m. This was likely a form of political protest. 

In October 2009, demonstrators protesting U.S. government involvement in Latin America vandalized a U.S. fast food restaurant prior to demonstrating at the Embassy. 

Two areas prone to demonstrations are Plaza Independencia and Avenida 18 de Julio.  

Police Response 

Uruguayan National Police officers are well trained but poorly paid. As a result, many are forced to work second jobs to supplement their income. While on duty, they may appear tired or indifferent. Their poor salaries contribute to morale problems and the potential for petty corruption. A related problem is a shortage of significant resources, funding, and technical knowledge needed to counter crime effectively. In addition, Uruguayan law prevents prosecution of minors for non-violent crimes. Many crimes are committed by adolescents, who are released from jail within 24 hours, unless they have committed a violent crime. 

Police response time to emergencies is inconsistent and depends on the location of the emergency, its severity, and the proximity of the nearest police patrol car. The 911 emergency system has improved response time significantly, but resource constraints mean there are not always enough police on duty to respond quickly. Once at the scene of an incident, police are generally polite and helpful, but often they cannot do much more than take a report. Most police officers, particularly those assigned to patrol duty, speak only Spanish. Tourist police officers may speak limited English. 

Medical Emergencies 

Police/Fire/Ambulance - 911
Ambulance - Servicio de Emergencia Medico Movil (SEMM) - 159 or 598-2-711-1111 
British Hospital - 598-2-487-1020  

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim 

Visitors who are aware of their surroundings, exploring during daylight hours, and do not openly displaying cash or other valuables will minimize their exposure to street crime. Visitors should also empty their wallets of unnecessary items to minimize the effects of crime. Do not carry large amounts of cash, multiple credit cards, or your passport. Carry only the money needed for the day, one credit card at most, and a photocopy of your passport’s identification page. 

Tourists should stay at reputable hotels in better neighborhood locations. The hotel should provide private security and rooms with good safes and adequate locks on all doors and windows. Although hotel safes vary, in general, extra cash, credit cards, and passports should be secured in the safe.

Residential precautions include: private security patrols, a centrally monitored alarm, barred windows with tightly spaced cross-members, high perimeter fences, choosing a home that does not have adjacent vacant lots/parks, owning dogs, attempting to always have someone at home, sufficient exterior lighting at night, etc.  

Traveling in pairs or in small groups is recommended -- especially in tourist areas like the Cuidad Vieja, the Mercado del Puerto area, Plaza Independencia, and around the downtown Montevideo beaches. Uruguayans are very friendly, but visitors should be alert of people intent on creating distractions. 

Areas to Avoid

Areas to avoid are Casavalle, Cerro Norte, Malvin Norte and Carrasco Norte, as these are high crime neighborhoods. 

Further Information 

U.S. Embassy
Lauro Muller 1776 
Montevideo 11200
http://uruguay.usembassy.gov   
Embassy Switchboard – 598-2-1770-2000
Regional Security Office – ext. 2318

OSAC Country Council 

The OSAC Country Council in Uruguay was established in 2007 and meets twice per year. For more information, contact the Regional Security Officer at U.S. Embassy Montevideo.