Peru national police crack down on Mexican travelers to curb drug trafficking

Peru is closely monitoring Mexican tourists and businessmen on arrival to the Andean country as part of a government operative to fight crimes related to drug trafficking, reported daily La Republica Monday.

“(Mexico and Peru) have common ties, many things in common, such as the language, the history,” said the Director General of Peru’s Immigration and Naturalization Bureau, Juan Álvarez Manrique. “But, we also have a common enemy: drug trafficking and violence.”

“Mexican cartels have captured or are trying to capture the Peruvian market,” Peru President Alan Garcia told reporters in November.

Since 2007, the number of Mexicans entering Peru has rising considerably, coinciding with an upsurge of Mexican anti-drug campaigns.

Once merely known as “mules” for Colombia’s indomitable cocaine cartels, Mexican groups such as the Juarez, Sinaloa, Tijuana and Gulf cartels have become significant players internationally, now bypassing the Colombians to buy cocaine directly from producers in countries like Peru.

In the past, Mexican organizations willing to buy directly from Peruvians were almost anecdotal. Peruvian drug traffickers, rather, in their attempt to see their business flourish, were the ones who contacted Mexican gangsters by jumping the “imposed Colombian filter.”

Though the Andean region remains the production heartland of cocaine, for several years there have been indications that rising Mexican cartels are overtaking Colombia as the primary movers of cocaine to North American and European markets.

Mexico’s drug kingpins are only recently making their way South, but some Peruvians worry that their country may spiral down in a maelstrom of drug-related violence and corruption similar to that which is now gripping Mexico and which afflicted Colombia during the late 1980s and 1990s.

Today, approximately 80 percent of drug production in Peru is being financed by these “Aztec Mafias,” which are now occupying territories once controlled by the Colombian Cali and Medellin cartels.

The first clear Mexico-Peru “cocaine connection” came to light in 2006.

Colombian citizen Andrés Murcia Hernández was severely beaten, stabbed 100 times in his back and stomach and thrown from a second-story window before he died for allegedly betraying the Guadalajara-based drug cartel.

Soon after the murder, Peru’s Anti-Drug Unit, or Dirandro, confirmed the presence of Mexican cartel cells in Peru.

In 2008, at least 90 percent of some 35,500 Mexicans who entered Peru had been issued tourist visas, which makes for tracking down potential drug traffickers a difficult task. Of the 70 Mexicans currently serving time in Peruvian prisons, all have been convicted or are awaiting trial for drug-related felonies.

The most recent arrest of Mexican citizen in Peru occurred last September, when police seized two and a half tons of high-purity cocaine paste hidden in shock absorbers used as bumpers for ships. More than 20 people allegedly tied to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel were arrested. Just a week prior, the same cartel lost out on more than 700 kilos of cocaine paste worth approximately $24 million. The paste had been mixed with 8 tons of paprika, one of Peru’s major exports.

In the 1980s, the primary route for moving drugs out of Colombia, into the Caribbean and then into Miami or South Florida, which was referred to as the Caribbean corridor, began to be tightly monitored by anti-drug task forces. The presence of peacekeeping contingents in Haiti, a transit hub for drugs shipped from northern Colombia, has further disrupted – though perhaps temporarily – drug traffic in the Caribbean corridor.

The old route has been replaced by that of Central America-Mexico, which has become the most important for drugs coming from the South.

Peru was, until 1996, the world’s largest coca leaf producer, and is now the world’s second largest producer of coca leaf, though it lags far behind Colombia.

Peru 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, in part, 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, Radio Programas radio reported, approximately 60,000 Peruvians families illegally produce coca for drug traffickers.

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