On June 19, the Peruvian National Police Anti-narcotics Special Operations Division seized 1,466 kilograms of cocaine in La Convención province, in Cusco, and arrested 15 people who carried the drug in backpacks to the Urubamba River valley to be shipped via air, the Peruvian Ministry of the Interior reported.
“Intelligence work enabled us to plan and send our agents […] to those inhospitable areas in Urubamba,” Colonel Percy Pizarro Ramón, head of the Police Anti-narcotics Administration Intelligence Division, told Diálogo. “Backpackers move in groups of 10 to 20 people on seven-day trips. Each one carries about 14 kg of cocaine.”
Urubamba has long been a transport route for cocaine paste from the Andean foothills to processing fields and clandestine airstrips in Brazil, Mongabay, an independent environmental journalism site reported in December. Airstrips are appearing in new areas, and locals report that they are seeing more and more strangers on foot, likely cocaine backpackers, in the country’s most remote native communities, Mongabay says.
“These networks of backpackers have a very dynamic modus operandi, which adapts very well to the demands of a criminal ring,” Col. Pizarro said. “Once the drug produced in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley [VRAEM, in Spanish] is collected, backpackers take it to a different location in the VRAEM, where another group of people coordinates the final arrangements for shipment in light aircraft.”
Narcotrafficking networks look for new routes in Peru to transport their shipments; the frequent seizures in Ucayali department show how important this region is for exporting cocaine to Bolivia and Brazil, indicated InSight Crime, an investigative and journalistic organization that specializes in organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
On March 31, Peruvian counternarcotics security forces confiscated 320 kg of coca base paste inside backpacks, arrested nine people, and destroyed three clandestine airstrips in the Masisea district, Ucayali. The drug was to be transported in light aircraft to Bolivia to be processed and later shipped to Europe, the Peruvian newspaper Ahora reported.
“These groups have improved their response amid police action,” Col. Pizarro said. “Initially, they set up clandestine airstrips in rugged areas. Now, they put the airstrips near rivers, beaches; there are [criminal] rings that set up the airstrips.”