The increase in drug production in Peru, especially in the Ucayali region, is noticeable due to the increase in clandestine airstrips that narcotraffickers use.
To date, authorities have found 46 clandestine airstrips in forests; many of them are located on indigenous community lands, the Ucayali regional government’s Regional Forestry and Wildlife Management said on February 28, 2021.
“They exist not only in Ucayali, but also in the Puerto Inca area, Huánuco, Palcazú, the entire southeastern axis. In this area [in Ucayali], there are 13 active airstrips […],” Colonel Mario Villacorta, secretary of the Peruvian National Police’s Anti-drug Directorate (Dirandro, in Spanish) told Diálogo on April 13.
“We’ve started to work […] on destroying these airstrips […]. We have […] April and May to carry out these operations with the [Armed Forces] Joint Command,” Col. Villacorta said. “We are working on two axes: the technological one, using satellites to identify the airstrips […], and coca crops eradication,” he added.
Although Ucayali is not the largest coca-growing region in Peru, it has become a strategic point for exporting drugs by air and river to Bolivia and Brazil, said in April 2020 InSight Crime, a research and journalism organization specializing in organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. “There has been an increase in new airstrips compared to previous years,” Col. Villacorta added.
He also said that “the dynamics of narcotrafficking are making much use of […] river banks, which are ideal for light aircraft — they just use them very superficially; they land and leave.”
From 2015 to March 2021, authorities have reported the assassination of 10 indigenous leaders who were demanding the exit of coca growers who engage in the production of cocaine base paste and later export it via illegal airstrips, the Peruvian newspaper La República reported.
“I have received direct threats; they sent me images of [mutilated] people, saying that I’d be the next victim,” Miguel Guimaraes, head of Ucayali’s Federation of Native Communities, told Mongabay Latam. As a result, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights provided protection to Guimaraes for being in a “serious and urgent” situation.
“We are like [we were] in the 1990s,” Herlin Odicio, head of the Native Federation of Cacataibo Communities, told the Spanish news agency EFE on March 9, referring to the persecution of Amazonian indigenous people by the Shining Path and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement criminal groups, which caused the forced displacement of millions of natives to avoid slavery or murder.
Narcotrafficking is “cutting down forests; it is displacing and threatening our natives. It is taking them out of their habitat and involving them in this illicit activity. We cannot ignore the fact that it is endangering the lives and integrity of these native brothers,” Col. Villacorta said. “This airstrip destruction task requires international support, so that the issue of fighting narcotrafficking is decisive in the Peruvian State.”
This airstrip destruction task requires international support, so that the issue of fighting narcotrafficking is decisive in the Peruvian State,” Colonel Mario Villacorta, secretary of the Peruvian National Police’s Anti-drug Directorate.
Col. Villacorta said that the Peruvian Police and Armed Forces destroyed 12 illegal airstrips during the first 100 days of 2021. He added that they also rely on Operation Troy (Operación Troya) to destroy the remaining airstrips.