In the fourth part of its series on drug trafficking in Peru, IDL-Reporteros looks at the methods used to move some 200 tons of cocaine a year out of the VRAE region, and maps out the routes employed by traffickers.
The Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) is Peru's biggest drug-producing region -- about a third of the country's coca is cultivated there -- and much of its output is transported to Bolivia as less refined cocaine paste for processing. The Shining Path guerrilla group are active there, though the extent of their involvement with the cocaine trade is unclear. This report shows that although they play an important role, they are not the only players in the valley's cocaine business.
Instead, the group is employed to protect cocaine shipments on the routes it controls. The trafficking clans of the VRAE hide their shipments in the bodies of trucks, some of which are chosen to blend in with the vehicles of the local mining and construction companies.
A caravan of seven four-door pickup trucks leaves Kimbiri, in Cusco, headed for Desaguadero, in Puno. Hidden in the bodies of the vehicles is about half a ton of washed cocaine paste, which in the valley is worth about $400,000.
Some of the drug is hidden in stashes inside the beds of the trucks, and some in the gas tanks, in plastic bottles. Each truck can carry a hidden load of up to 150 kilograms of drugs: 100 in the bed and 50 in the tank.
Five of the seven trucks entered Cielo Punku in the morning, after passing through Lobo. Soon after, the drivers had to stop short in a blocked section of the road.
Nine anti-drug agents, who were hiding behind a bush, surrounded the trucks and captured the drivers. While they searched the trucks, the two remaining vehicles that had been delayed got past the roadblock before they could be stopped. They were heading to Cusco.
The agents followed the vehicles and stopped them in Cusco. It was April of 2010, and the Anti-Drug Squad (Dirandro) seized about half a ton of drugs in this operation.
As sources familiar with the issue confirmed to IDL-Reporteros, more than 80 percent of the drugsthat leave the VRAE through Cusco go in pickup trucks, cargo trucks and transport vehicles. Double-cab pickup trucks, especially Toyota Hiluxes, make a good disguise because this is the type of vehicle used by mining and construction companies.
Heavy cargo trucks are also in high demand. They transport an average of half a ton of drugs, hidden in stashes in the bed, in sacks or cases of fruits and vegetables, and groceries.
Union Mantaro, Llochegua. A group of 20 backpackers or "cargachos" prepare their backpacks and supplies. Between them they will carry around 200 kilograms of washed cocaine paste.
The "cargachos" had been recruited in Puerto Cocos and Puerto Ene, where drug trafficking trade fairs are held on weekends. In greatest supply are precursor chemicals, washed and simple cocaine paste, gasoline, and (one has to eat) groceries.
The backpackers are used in the "ant trafficking" method, which is one of the most common and secure forms of taking drugs out of the valley. If the "cargachos" are ambushed or captured by the police, the loss is not great.
But if an important shipment of drugs is going to be transported, more than a half a ton, some traffickers contract the services of the Shining Path's VRAE faction so they can take charge of the transport, using routes they control.
As we also saw in the first installment: "The Shining Path and Drug Trafficking in the VRAE," the Quispe Palomino brothers charge between $50 and $60 per kilo, whether it is cocaine paste or hydrochloride.
At four in the morning, while the "cargachos" were sleeping in two large rooms in a house in the center of Union Mantaro, a group of 30 police officers entered in silence and suprised them before they could wake up. They were caught in their underwear, with backpacks of cocaine close at hand.
As often happens, the people of Union Mantaro tried to stop the arrest, but ultimately they could not do so.
Since the operation, in 2008, there has not been any other such large capture of backpackers. The fact that a detention of such magnitude has not been repeated indicates the limitations of interdiction operations in the VRAE.
But the methods are changing. According to well-placed sources, the shipment of drugs by cargachos has been reduced significantly, while the smuggling of drugs hidden in vehicles has increased in the valley.
Through these routes -- in backpacks and stashes in the bodies of vehicles -- around 200 tons of cocaine is exported from the VRAE each year, the majority washed cocaine paste, and a smaller proportion cocaine hydrochloride. [See IDL-Reporteros' maps of the land and river routes for trafficking drugs out of the VRAE, below.]
When it starts its journey to the consumer markets, cocaine in the VRAE (using quantities and prices from 2010) is worth about $200 million.
This is a small sum compared to what the same amount of drugs, partially adulterated, would cost at its destination. But it is sufficient to mobilize the energies and the cunning of thousands of people who work in the drug trafficking chain in the VRAE, and to disrupt lives and corrupt people and institutions in the valley.