Extortion mafias in north Peru have regrouped and restructured after operations to dismantle them late last year, illustrating a pattern of recycled criminality that carries the risk of increased violence and criminal chaos.
On June 16, Peruvian police launched a series of raids in the city of La Libertad against extortion mafias that have risen from the remains of dismantled gangs, arresting 18 alleged members of Los Malditos de Moche, Los Cagaleches de Virú and Los Malditos del Triunfo reported El Comercio.
According to the authorities, these gangs were formed from the remains of three networks taken down in December 2016, when police arrested 13 people, among them some of the leading figures in the city's organized crime.
Officials told the media they believe these now incarcerated leaders directed the new networks after recruiting ever younger members to replace those lost in the police raids, El Comercio reported. Regional police chief Lorenzo Granados Ticona said that each gang had the same structure: a leader inside prison, and on the outside his lieutenants, and payment collectors and collaborators inside the companies they extorted.
These extortion mafias have operated in La Libertad for over a decade and focus on extorting transport companies, an activity that brings them in an estimated 1.5 million soles a month (approximately $450,000), according to comments made by Interior Minister Carlos Basombrío.
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According to a government Business Victimization Survey published in 2015, 55.8 percent of businesses in La Libertad reported being extorted, with the next highest levels going to the Provinces of Lima with 50.4 percent and the northern cities of Tumbes with 42 percent and Piura 41.9 percent. These extortion networks have also been accused of involvement in corruption, contract killing, money laundering, robbery kidnapping and drug trafficking.
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The fact that a major operation against powerful gangs in the most heavily extorted city in Peru could only buy companies a few months respite from extortion is illustrative of how firmly the gangs and the practice of extortion are now rooted in Peru.
Extortion has a very low barrier of entry, so weakening command structures by removing leaders increases the possibility of fragmentation into splinter factions, or of rivals seeking to capitalize on the situation by seizing territory for themselves, both of which increase the risk of violent turf wars.
In addition, the practice of replacing older, more experienced criminals by recruiting ever younger members means that rather than resolving the problem of organized crime groups embedded in communities, the authorities are pushing it into the next generation. In addition, younger members, especially if the influence of leaders over them is weakened by their distance from the streets, can often be more unpredictable and less restrained with violence.