There are over 2,000 Peruvian anti-drug police operating in the East Andes, where most of Peru’s cocaine is produced. Dogged by corruption scandals, the force has done little to win “hearts and minds” across the nation, especially in the crucial coca-producing regions where the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas are growing in strength.
In a national survey conducted in August 2010, 45 percent of Peruvians said they believed the police are corrupt. And there are plenty of scandals that have deepened the public’s distrust of the police, already unpopular for enforcing the government’s eradication programs in coca-rich areas like the Upper Huallaga Valley.
In the past three years, 18 anti-drug officers have been arrested for their ties to the drug trade, most of them based in the Apurimac and Ene river valleys (Valle de los Rios Apurimac y Ene – VRAE). This area remains a safehaven for the Shining Path, who are resurging in strength here thanks to profits from drug trafficking.
Of the 18 anti-drug officers accused of collaborating with the drug trade since 2009, most were found transfering loads of coca base in police vehicles to stash houses, reports Peruvian newspaper La Republica. At least two police captains and one mayor are among those facing charges, indicating that it is not just rank-and-file officers who have been corrupted.
Peru’s main anti-narcotics force, known by its Spanish acronym DIRANDRO, have cited accomplishments like the destruction of 1,148 cocaine laboratories last year, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Narcotics Control Report. But overall trends indicate that coca and cocaine production are on the rise in Peru: Some analysts have predicted that Peru could surpass Colombia in coca and cocaine production by 2011 or 2011.
The drug trade, meanwhile, continues to aid the Shining Path, especially in the VRAE, where the guerrillas are growing in size and sophistication. They have been able to diversify their cocaine smuggling routes from the highlands to the Pacific coast, using the proceeds from cocaine sales to buy high-power weapons on the black market.
Both the police and military have a long history of colluding with drug traffickers in Peru. In the early 1990s, the Army used to charge about $20,000 for every planeload of cocaine that left the airbase in Uchiza, reports the New York Times. Generally speaking, the Peruvian security forces have attempted to combat the Shining Path even while continuing to allow drug traffickers in operate in the VRAE and the Upper Huallaga.
As noted by a U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, the payoffs from the cocaine trade are far too profitable for the military to consider seriously pacifying the VRAE region, even if this means that the Shining Path continue to gain strength here.
Complicating things is the fact that police collusion with the drug trade, especially in the VRAE, is rarely punished. Of the 11officers charged with drug trafficking in 2010, reports La Republica, only one has been suspended from the force. The rest remain on active duty as the official investigation drags along.