Twenty jailed as police smash Peru-Mexico drug exportation network and seize two and a half tons of cocaine paste

Peruvian drug enforcement police seized two and a half tons of high purity cocaine paste hidden in shock absorbers used as fenders for ships  and arrested more than 20 people allegedly tied to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, Interior Minister Luis Alva Castro said Monday.

The operation, carried out simultaneously in various districts of Lima last Friday, led to the seizure of two and a half tons of cocaine paste as it was being prepared for shipment in 200 shock absorbers from Peru to Europe, where the illicit cargo would have had a street value of $125 million. The shock absorbers were being stored in a car deposit ringed with electric fences in Lima’s Chorrillos district.

Twenty people, including Colombians, Mexicans and Peruvians, were arrested and according to police, all were members of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa drug cartel. Passports, cash, guns, and other weapons were also seized.

This is a new, harder to detect method of camouflaging the drugs, said Alva Castro, because neither X-rays nor dogs can detect it.

“We had to call for welders to open each shock absorber,” said Alva Castro in comments to state news agency Andina. “We can say that this has been one of the Anti-drug Agency’s most important operations and that we will go all the way in this fight against this scourge.”

So far, in 2008, approximately 27 metric tons of illicit drugs have been seized by Peru’s counter-drug police, added Alva Castro, and the number of hectares of illegal coca crops greatly reduced.

“In San Martín, up until a few years ago, 47 percent of the economy depended on drug trafficking, but today it has been reduced to 7.6 percent,” said Alva Castro. “This means that 250,000 hectares that used to be dedicated to illegal coca crops… now grow agro exportation crops.”

In late August, Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel lost out on more than 700 kilos of cocaine paste worth approximately $24 million after Peruvian drug enforcement police seized the illicit cargo as it was being prepared for shipment from Peru to Mexico’s busiest port in the Pacific coast city of Manzanillo.

The paste, which is the middle step in processing between coca leaf and powder cocaine, had been mixed with 8 tons of paprika, one of Peru’s major exports.

Peru was once the world’s leading producer of coca. But the country slashed its production by 70 percent between 1995 and 2001 primarily because of low coca prices, interdiction, forced eradication of coca fields and programs that encourage farmers to grow alternative crops.

But by 2002, the number of hectares used to illegally grow coca in Peru increased as efforts to eradicate the crop in Colombia forced production southward.

This can be explained by the balloon effect, or the drug fields’ tendency to shift elsewhere and sometimes to smaller and harder-to-reach plots in response to local eradication campaigns, and the fact that for farmers, the coca harvest provides more money than any other crop: up to five times as much can be earned for a kilogram of coca than for a kilogram of coffee.

In June 2008, a study conducted by Peru’s National Commission for the Development of Life without Drugs, or Devida, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicated that coca crops had increased by 4.5 percent in 2007 and that approximately 92 percent of Peruvian coca production is destined for the fabrication of cocaine paste and cocaine hydrochloride.

According to official data, RPP reported, approximately 60,000 Peruvians families illegally produce coca for drug traffickers.

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