Regional authorities are alarmed by the penetration of Mexican drug cartels into Peru and their alleged funding of Peru's Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group.
Cooperation between Shining Path and the Sinaloa cartel — led by fugitive billionaire kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán — is well-documented, said Pedro Yaranga Quispe, a Peruvian drug trafficking analyst. Shining Path is the group that waged a bloody civil war in Peru between 1980 and 1992.
“We have detected the presence of the Sinaloa cartel in the Lochegua district, in the valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers in the Ayacucho region,” Yaranga said.
Shining Path members have become in effect a full-service security firm for the Sinaloa cartel. They protect laboratories, oversee the cultivation, harvesting and refinement of coca (the raw material for cocaine) and offer transportation services at $40 per kilo of drugs, Yaranga said.
In December, Peruvian police dismantled a huge drug lab and seized 200 kilos of cocaine and 300 kilos of coca paste, which can be processed to make cocaine. The lab was disguised as a barn on Los Pecanas, a ranch about 38 miles south of Lima in the coastal area of Canete.
Fifty agents armed with machine guns took down a lab that had equipment worth about $50,000, authorities said. Eight Peruvians, five Colombians and one Ecuadorian worked at the lab, said officials with the Peruvian National Police Narcotics Directorate (DIRANDO).
“It has been many years since we have come across a lab of this type, very similar to the ones used by the Colombian drug lords,” Raul Salazar, director general of police, said in a press release.
The workers at the labs processed the coca “very rapidly, with the method utilized in Colombia,” Salazar said. The lab had sophisticated processing and drying equipment, he said. Mexican cartels directing drug trafficking in Peru.
Mexican cartels directing drug trafficking in Peru
In the last four months of 2011, DIRANDO arrested more than 20 Colombians involved in trafficking drugs to the United States and Europe, officials said. Many of them operated on instructions from Mexican transnational criminal organizations, which also collaborate with Shining Path rebels, Yaranga said.
“The drug traffickers use Shining Path terrorists as their security service. They are commanded by Orlando Borda Casafranca, alias Comrade Alipio,” Yaranga said.
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report confirmed that Shining Path has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with transnational criminal organizations, such as the Sinaloa cartel, which are operating in Peru.
“Shining Path provides protection to criminal organizations that operate in their territories, and they (the Shining Path) use the drug proceeds to finance their own anti-government agenda,” the report stated.
Peru has now surpassed Colombia in terms of the capacity to produce pure cocaine, the DEA report stated. “For 2010, we estimate that 53,000 hectares were under coca cultivation in Peru, compared to 100,000 hectares in Colombia,” said the DEA report. “However, due to the higher yield in the Peruvian fields, Peru could have potentially produced 325 tons of pure cocaine, compared to only 270 tons in Colombia.”
A quarter of the cocaine produced in Peru is destined for the United States, and is controlled almost exclusively by Mexican cartels, the report stated.
Overall, cocaine production in Peru increased by 44 percent from 2009 to 2010, and is at its highest level since 1995, according to the DEA report. The Sinaloa cartel and other Mexican organized crime organizations consider Peru and Bolivia key nations for expanding their operations. In fact, the Peru-Bolivia border has become an ideal base for transnational drug trafficking operations, the DEA said.
Mexican organized crime groups are attracted to the Andean region’s temperate climate, its strategic geographic location, and its huge expanses of territory.
Sinaloa cartel’s long history in Peru
The Sinaloa cartel has been active in Peru since the 1990s. In 2010, Peruvian prosecutors filed a criminal complaint alleging that the cartel operated two armed bands in the mountains of Piura dedicated solely to the production of cocaine and marijuana.
The Sinaloa cartel had “between 40 and 60 people outfitted with long range weapons, grenade launchers, hand grenades and satellite communications equipment,” in Peru, according to the complaint, filed by prosecutor Luís Arellano Martínez.
The cartel has installed coca processing plants in Bolivia, which shares Peru’s southeastern border. “The entire Chapare Valley and the Cochabamba zone [in Bolivia] have become the preferred area for the Sinaloa cartel,” Yaranga said. “Due to the lack of control existing in Bolivia, many coca processing labs have been installed in this area.”
The majority of the coca from Peru goes directly to Bolivia for processing, and the DEA notes a significant increase in the amount of coca base sent from Peru to Bolivia for processing.
The government’s response
Since taking office in July 2011, the Ollanta Humala administration has emphasized the war on drugs as one of its top priorities. Since 2008, Peru has spent more than $120 million to fight drug trafficking.
The government should provide additional logistical support for its national police force, Yaranga said. “The very professional work of the National Police is producing the most arrests. What we need in Peru is more intelligence work and better security.”
The Sinaloa cartel and other transnational criminal organizations won’t be leaving Peru and other Latin American countries any time soon, Yaranga said. “As long as they can continue the illegal cultivation of coca in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, the cartels will continue to operate, collaborating with many different groups who receive money, collect the drugs and send it to the processing labs.”