Cocaine routes multiply across Peru

The number of drug-smuggling Bolivian aircrafts found in Amazon en route to Brazil goes up

A Bolivian plane confiscated in the jungle in Peru.
A Bolivian plane confiscated in the jungle in Peru. J. FOWKS

"They have opened 10 pilot academies in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The tuition costs 30,000 to 40,000 dollars. For what?" asked Carmen Masías, the executive president of Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs, or Devida. In an interview with EL PAÍS, Masías talked about drug shipments leaving the Peruvian jungle in Bolivia n and Paraguayan aircrafts that take off from airfields especially built for this purpose. "The drug is going to Brazil," she said. "The pilots may be Bolivian, Peruvian, or Colombian."

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Peru is the largest producer of coca in the world. Moreover, the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene or VRAE that is made up of towns from four different states, between the central mountain range and the southern jungle, accounts for more than 50 percent of the country's production. According to Devida, the drug-fighting organization in Peru, there are more than 20,000 cultivated hectares and 200 clandestine laboratories.

In November 2013 the government of Ollanta Humala began announcing more and more seizures of small Bolivian drug-smuggling planes in the jungle. The government also reports the destruction of makeshift airstrips. Devida consultant Alberto Hart, however, said the airfields are "rebuilt within five days on the same spot or in another area. Before, the drug cartels handled construction and maintenance. But now they have outsourced the work. When the cartels get to a village they ask the residents to build for them in exchange for 10,000 dollars per flight."

Masías said two million hectares of land have been pillaged to make plantations and airfields.

Other secret airports have been found outside of the VRAE, especially in the central jungle where the topography is flatter. Mochileros, or backpackers, who transport drug cargo by land or waterways from the VRAE to the secret airports are mostly women and youths.

"Some 4,000 youths in the VRAE area are in prison for drug trafficking. Some of them were students at technology institutes; others were adolescents," Masías said. The civilians and military personnel in the region frequently receive emailed reports of underage persons who have been arrested for drug smuggling.

A story in the newspaperLa República reported that local police identified 120 airfields in VRAE and Satipo (the central part of the jungle) in December. Ricardo Soberón, an attorney who specializes in drug and security cases told EL PAÍS Bolivia has fewer regulatory measures on chemical substances. In El Alto, La Paz there is infrastructure to process cocaine at lower costs than in Peru, he added.

Alberto Hart, the Devida consultant, said there are Colombians in Peru who work for Mexican cartels and the Eastern European mafia. He mentioned the Mexican Sinaloa cartel in particular. According to Hart, a diplomat at the Peruvian Chancery who has been assigned this sector, "60 percent of Peruvian drug production goes to Europe. The new routes are ingestion and luggage going to the Baltics- Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia. From there the product heads to the more lucrative markets like Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. "In the face of heavy international customs controls in the Pacific, the cartels cannot rely on just one exit route out of Peru.

At a Devida press conference on Wednesday, Alejandro Vassilaqui, director of a private organization for the prevention of drug use, talked about the recent seizure of Peruvian drug cargo in Serbia to emphasize the variety of routes and destinations. Inserbia reported that customs in Belgrade found liquid cocaine camouflaged in a dried fruits shipment - 126 plastic bags covered in sesame seeds.

Yet, the head of the anti-drug police task force, Vicente Romero, told EL PAÍS that the investigation is working on the assumption that drug cargo leaves the country through Jorge Chávez Airport in Lima en route to Mexico City.

Soberón, director of the Center for Research on Drug and Human Rights and former executive president at Devida, explained how transport and traffic evolved. "Participating in some way in the drug trade has become a business for regular folks, from the small farm to the border, on the wharf, at the airport. There are 60 to 100 small Peruvian organizations who own some part of that business from seed to planting to harvest to transport for retail."

"The Quispe Palomino brothers, the leaders of what's left of the terrorist group Shining Path, are securing water routes toward Brazil through the south, by way of Urubamba and Vilcabamba,down Puno and Bolivia," Soberón explained. "There is a drug corridor deep down south. In the southern Andes it's a network of young people, women, men, donkeys, convoys, tourists, who move around to get the drug out."

Soberón said he heard about the protests from drug planters in Puno-- a province on the border with Bolivia-- who are under pressure from VRAE cartels seeking to buy coca at prices convenient for the drug traffickers.

"If the eradication of the coca plantations in VRAE is coming in 2014 as Devida reported, the Quispe Palominos have already anticipated it because they are going to La Convención in southern Cusco for the raw material," Soberón added.

The fact that VRAE continues to be the prime setting for coca production "is proof of the failed policies of Humala, Alan García, and Alejandro Toledo," he said.

Devida estimates that there are about 60,000 people and 12,000 families involved in the drug trafficking networks of the VRAE.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

Bolivia foils the Peruvian drug trade


Bolivian anti-drug task force seized 386 kilograms of drugs, four light aircrafts and fuel in a raid north of La Paz. A dozen people were arrested, including a Peruvian pilot. The operation is one of the toughest blows for the drug trade.

Felipe Cáceres, vice president of Social Defense, announced the news at a press conference in La Paz. The detained are in custody, awaiting their first court date.

According to Cáceres the police operation was carried out in Abel Iturralde, north of La Paz, close to the Peruvian border. The intelligence agency, Agencia Boliviana de Información, worked on the raid for weeks after they found out there were flights going back and forth between the countries and that Bolivia was now considered a bridge toward Brazil and Paraguay - markets for cocaine made in Peru.

The Bolivian newspapers La Razón and Página Siete published various stories after the Peruvian press began writing about cocaine trafficking in Bolivia last November. Still, the authorities did not give credence to the news and preferred to wait for evidence pointing toward a foreign cartel presence on Bolivian soil.

The Police discovered that the drug dealers were making three or four flights each day from Alto Huallaga or Puno to clandestine airstrips in the northern part of the Bolivian Amazon. The Peruvian press reported that up to eight aircrafts flying under Bolivian flags entered the Valley of Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro. Secret airports in La Paz, Beni, Pando y Santa Cruz received and then flew out the cargo to other countries in the region, mainly to Brazil and Paraguay.

Cáceres said the first plane arrived with 386 kilograms of drugs. Then three more planes brought fuel and foods - each one landing about 30 minutes after the other. The passengers aboard the last plane detoured toward the nearby woods in an attempt to escape.

Bolivia, like Colombia and Peru, produces the coca plant. Cultivation takes up at least 27,000 hectares in the Yungas mountain range a nd Chapare region north of La Paz. About 12,000 tons are set aside for traditional consumption while 90 percent of the rest is used for cocaine production.

Europeans arrested on the drug trail

About 90 percent of foreigners detained in Peru, whether they are sentenced or not, are arrested on drug trafficking charges, according to a study from the National Penitentiary Institute. Out of the 715 foreigners detained in Peru in 2013, 283 were Spaniards -- 242 men, 41 women. This number explains why the Spanish Consulate in Peru said in its end-of-year post on its blog, Desde la Ciudad Jardín , or From the Garden City, that 2013 "broke the record for the largest number of detained Spanish citizens seeking our services."

A growing number of citizens from Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Russia are arrested in Peru. Colombia (298) and Mexico (156) account for the largest number of Latin American foreign prisoners in Peru.

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