Peru is now taking an important position in cocaine production and its trafficking. Complicity and corruption.
According to UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), Peru is believed to be second only to Colombia in world production of cocaine. The cocaine is destined for Europa (79%), North America (9%), Africa (5%) and Asia (4%). Peruvian Amazonia is the highest producer, especially the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM), also known as ‘Cocaine Valley’. The valley is situated in the south-east, one of the poorest regions of the country.
Cultivating cocaine plantations and the subsequent processing that produces the ‘white powder’ are often the only source of income for the inhabitants of the valley.
In March 2017, Carmen Masais, head of Peru’s counter-drug organization DEVIDA, reported that the nation had 55,000 hectares of coca under cultivation, an amount higher than that estimated by the U.S., and more than 36% greater than that calculated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2013, the Andean country produced 121,000 tons of leaves of which 95%, around 113,000 tons, are for drugs. Chlorinated cocaine production capacity is estimated to be around 300 tons per year, while that of Colombia is 345 tons.
There are countless ways of transporting the cocaine. One method is that of the mochileros (on the back) who earn 70/80 euro per kilogram carrying the coca on foot and crossing the Bolivian border to reach Brazil. Dozens of small planes are also used with the pilots earning at least 90 Euro per kilogram transported. This ‘air bridge’ can operate up to four times a day with small Cessnas carrying an average of 300 kilos of cocaine, landing in Brazil or Bolivia and then returning to the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM).
However, while the use of small aircraft to fly cocaine out of the VRAEM has received attention, since October 2016 efforts by the Peruvian government against airstrips to transport cocaine out of the VRAEM have reportedly led narco-traffickers to change strategy, moving the drugs to alternative areas, including the Urubamba valley, just to the east, and possibly, to the north, to the Palcazu river valley to be loaded onto planes. The remaining terrorist group ‘Sendero Luminoso’, no more than 120 to 150 (although its numbers are greater when family members, collaborators and sympathizers are included) are concentrated in the VRAEM in the inaccessible mountainous area of Vizcatán. From there, ‘Sendero Luminoso’ reportedly continues to extort the family clans growing and transporting coca in the area, particularly those south of Peru’s principal military base in the region at Pichari. They also occasionally shoot at or attempt to ambush Peruvian military personnel conducting patrols from one of the 64 military bases located in the VRAEM.
In the northeast of Peru, Cabalococha and the surrounding province of Mariscal Ramón Castilla are said to have become a hub for coca growing, synthetic drug production, and other illicit activities, based on their location at the triple frontier between Peru, Colombia and Brazil. The area derives its value not only from the remoteness and intersection of national boundaries – which complicates state control – but also from its position along the Amazon river, the principle route for moving both licit and illicit goods from the Peruvian to the Brazilian Amazon.
To the south, the Peruvian department of Madre de Dios is arguably the core of the country’s growing illegal mining sector. Nonetheless, illegal mining is occurring throughout the country in areas even more diverse than those used to grow coca. Key illegal mining areas outside Madre de Dios reportedly include the neighboring departments of Junin and Cusco, as well as parts of the low jungle in Ucayali, Huánuco, and along the border with Colombia.
The processes and dynamics of each illegal mining region reportedly are different, with the mining activities of the jungle lowlands reportedly concentrating on the extraction and local processing of gold, while a broader array of minerals are extracted in the mountainous areas, with part of the ore often shipped elsewhere for further processing. In all of the illegal mining areas, however, the criminal activities have attracted a variety of foreigners, including Brazilians, Chinese, and Serbians, among others. The activity has also attracted illicit supporting industries including prostitution, as well as shops to supply the miners with food and supplies.
The maritime shipping lane connecting the Peruvian ports of Callao, Chimbote and Paita to Mexico, carries huge quantities of cocaine destined for the North American market.
Peruvian cocaine destined for Europe passes the border between Peru and Bolivia. Once it has been made into chlorinated cocaine in the clandestine laboratories of El Alto, the satellite city of La Paz, the drug reaches Brazil and is then loaded on ships bound for the countries of West Africa (Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana), the last stage before invading the European markets.
In Peru we can observe the third-party extension of the cocaine business: the local market is run by small family clans that do the work of producing and transporting the drug on behalf of the international drug-trafficking organizations. Representatives of the Colombian and Mexican cartels, especially of the Sinaloa Cartel, are present in the country to direct the business. The local clans are also tasked with running local complicity and corruption.
According to Jaime Antezana, an expert of drug trafficking: ‘at least ten of the 130 Peruvian members of parliament are directly involved in drug trafficking’. Antezana has shown that there are at least fifteen high-profile drug bosses in Peru, even though they are not to be compared to the Mexican drug bosses. The more notable of these is Gerson Galvez Calle, known as ‘Caracol’ (the snail), who was captured in May 2016. Less than two years after his arrest, criminal activities and insecurity in the Callao continue at levels comparable to that of before.
Corruption levels have also reached the armed forces. Some time ago the illegal use of military helicopters to transport cocaine from the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM) to the port of Callao and then towards Brazil was reported, with all the cargo apparently belonging to the cartel directed by Caracol.
In its fight against drugs, the Peruvian army also suffers from lack of personnel, with only about one thousand soldiers in the entire Cocaine Valley. The budget of the government of Peru is around 12 million dollars (a further 50 million dollar annual grant comes from the United States), insufficient to cover the purchase of planes or helicopters for the anti-drug departments. Recently the government has acquired new Korean KT-1P aircraft that may be used as interceptors against drug flights. The acquisition includes assistance to assemble the aircraft locally, but the government has not completed the acquisition of radars to make those interceptors effective.(M.L.)