In a development which illustrates the complexities of Peru’s struggle against drug trafficking, several high-ranking soldiers have been charged with selling drug precursor chemicals to a businessman, who in turn sold them to traffickers.
Fredy Marcelo, the owner of a chain of gas stations in the country’s remote Apurímac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region was arrested in February after being charged with selling kerosene illegally. The government has recently cracked down on sales of the fuel in this region, a key location for coca growing, because it is commonly used to process cocaine. However, according to a special investigation by news program 24 Horas, although he claimed it was kerosene, investigators discovered that the chemical was actually Jet A-1 fuel, which is used to power aircraft like the helicopters the army uses to patrol the region.
Marcelo’s legal defense team now claims that he purchased the fuel from a military technician, with permission from the military chief of the VRAE, General Benigno Cabrera. As La Republica reports, Peru’s anti-drug prosecutor Erwin Rojas Trujillo is investigating at least 12 members of the military in connection with the scandal.
Although the allegations are alarming, they are not necessarily anything new. As InSight Crime has reported, a November 2009 diplomatic memo released by the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks alleges that the Peruvian army is extensively involved in drug trafficking, and has been for some time, especially in the VRAE. According to the cable, officers are routinely given fuel by the military command as a means of boosting their pay.
“Officers are officially provided periodic fuel allotments, usually more than can be reasonably consumed, and consider this a perquisite that complements their base salary,” the cable claims. It also maintains that a military base in the country’s north allowed Mexican drug trafficking organizations to use the facility — including its military vehicles — to ship cocaine to a port controlled by the navy. At the port, the drugs were hidden in fishing boats and sent northward.
As a result of the entrenched level of collusion between elements of the military and organized crime, drug trafficking in the country is extremely difficult to target. As is the case in many other Latin American countries, the military in Peru has long held a privileged social status, and is rarely held accountable by the justice system for abuses of power.
Because of the military’s impunity, it is not surprising that Fredy Marcelo is seeking police protection after making his accusations. According to El Comercio, the businessman had been intimidated into not divulging details of the case, and had kept quiet because he feared for his life.
A video of the initial 24 Horas investigation (in Spanish) is available below.