Peru Mayor’s Arrest Reveals Ties to Drug Trafficking and Terrorism

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On July 26, Peru’s counternarcotics police arrested David Bazán Arévalo, the mayor of Tocache, on charges of financing and supplying weapons of war to a narco-terrorist faction of the Shining Path operating in the Huallaga River region since the 1980s. Ojo Público accessed official documents detailing the investigation of Bazán Arévalo as an alleged member of a drug trafficking organization and as a coordinator and financer of a 2007 terrorist attack that killed a public prosecutor and three police officers in Tocache.

With support from the Lima office of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Peruvian Counternarcotics Directorate (Dirreción Nacional Antidrogas – DIRANDRO) arrested David Bazán Arévalo, the current mayor of Tocache, one of the most crime-plagued regions of Peru in recent decades. Authorities have accused Bazán Arévalo of acting as a member of a criminal organization that trafficked drugs from the coca-producing valley of Alto Huallaga to Colombia during the 1980s and 1990s, as well as financing and supplying weapons to a faction of the Shining Path narco-terrorist group between 2006 and 2011, which led to the murder of a prosecutor and three policemen in Tocache in 2007.

Ojo Público gained access to documents from DIRANDRO and the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, which included statements by key witnesses and records of phone tapping and video surveillance. According to these documents, counternarcotics police have identified Bazán Arévalo, mayor of Tocache from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2014 to the present, as a member of a criminal organization led by his cousin Miguel Arévalo Ramírez, alias “Eteco,” who is currently under investigation by the DEA for drug trafficking. Bazán Arévalo has also been identified as a close collaborator of Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias “Artemio,” the head of the Huallaga Regional Committee of the Shining Path, which fought against the Peruvian government in the regions of Huanuco and San Martín during the 1980s and 1990s.

*This article was translated, edited for clarity and length and published with the permission of Ojo Público. It does not necessarily represent the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

After a three-year investigation, DIRANDRO concluded that Bazán Arévalo “was known by the alias ‘Wicapa’ and alongside his cousin ‘Eteco’ was a member of a drug trafficking organization, which between 1987 and 1992 transported 600 kilograms of cocaine paste each week on small airplanes coming from Colombia, and paid a total of $10,000 to the Shining Path for access to clandestine landing strips.”

The police report stated that Bazán Arévalo, as a member of his cousin’s drug trafficking organization, acted as the group’s coordinator with the Shining Path by “maintaining permanent contact with ‘Artemio'” from the early 1980s through 2011. During this period, Bazán Arévalo paid members of the Shining Path to “provide security for the clandestine airstrips, coves, laboratories and drug shipments” of Eteco’s criminal group, and provided the narco-terrorist group with “FAL and AR-15 rifles and ammunition up until 1993, when law enforcement started destroying landing strips in the Cañuto and Chayayacu regions.”

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profiles

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Ojo Público revealed that Eteco, the cousin of the arrested mayor, was among various suspects in a wide-reaching DEA investigation that also included Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra, a political funder of Keiko Fujimori’s presidential campaign and then Secretary General of the Popular Force political party. During the 2016 campaign, Bazán Arévalo led the Communal Force (Fuerza Comunal) political party and supported the presidential campaign of Keiko Fujimori, as well as several candidates for congress in the San Martín region affiliated with Fujimori’s Popular Force (Fuerza Popular) party, including Rolando Reátegui Flores, who called Bazán Arévalo a “great leader” and “our mayor” at a public event during the election.

Heads of Huallaga

DIRANDRO’s arrest warrants for 18 people (14 of whom have been arrested, including Bazán Arévalo), expose the structure of narco-terrorism in Huallaga. Throughout this region, Artemio formed alliances with various businesses including those of Eteco, who has been investigated for allegedly laundering drug money. Artemio himself was sentenced to life imprisonment after his capture in 2012.

With the arrest of Bazán Arévalo, DIRANDRO and the DEA have taken a first step in targeting drug traffickers who financed Artemio’s narco-terrorist group and until now remained in impunity. Based on their investigation, DIRANDRO stated that “Eteco’s drug trafficking organization coordinated with the [Shining Path] through his brother, [Luis Arévalo Ramírez], alias ‘Lucho,’ and his cousin ‘David,’ in reference to David Bazán Arévalo.”

David Bazán Arévalo under arrest

David Bázan Arévalo was arrested at his home by DIRANDRO on July 26, 2017 / OjoPúblico

Decades after the Shining Path’s violence in the Huallaga region had subsided, and perhaps thinking his past activities would be forgotten, Bazán Arévalo made the following confession during the Tocache mayoral elections in 2010: “I have heard that they call me a cocaine smuggler. I have never denied it; I have lived off of it. Why deny either the good or the bad that we have lived? We have left school and started peddling coca. He who says he hasn’t lived off coca is a liar. It doesn’t bother me that they call me a drug trafficker.”

The relationship between Bázan Arévalo and Artemio’s faction of the Shining Path in Huallaga began in the 1980s and continued through the 1990s, reaching a peak between 2006 and 2011, when Bazán Arévalo served as mayor of Tocache for the first time. The Shining Path helped Bazán Arévalo, then a cattle rancher, win the election, by providing him with security during his campaigning and ensuring the areas where he operated would be free of police presence. In return, the mayor provided the narco-terrorist group with information on logging and construction companies and prosperous business owners who could be extorted via a tax to avoid violence. Bazán Arévalo also supplied the group with military-grade arms and ammunition, contracted orchestras for local parties, and provided payments totaling between $20,000 to $30,000.

“On one occasion the Tocache orchestra … went to the small town of Santa Rosa de Yanajanca to play at an event attended by Artemio and his armed group. The party was organized by a local villager, but it was Bazán Arévalo who paid the musicians $3,000, and sent several boxes of beer,” one of DIRANDRO’s witnesses stated. The police investigation later confirmed that the orchestra traveled to the small town between 2009 and 2010, the last years that the Shining Path was active in that region.

The DIRANDRO investigation also revealed that at the request of one of Artemio’s commanders, Bazán Arévalo had provided the narco-terrorist group with the identity of “an engineer from the Selva Consortium who carried out work on the Ramal de Aspuzana-Tocache highway so that he could be set up and kidnapped.” The plan never materialized because the construction company employee agreed to pay an extortion fee instead. Tocache’s mayor also provided the Shining Path faction with confidential information about the municipality’s suppliers, telephone directories of executives and engineers of major companies, addresses for commercial offices, sawmills and domestic appliance stores, as well as the prices charged by construction companies for every project being carried out in the jurisdiction.

At the peak of the alliance between Bázan Arévalo and the terrorist faction, local prosecutor Arturo Campos Vicente and police officers Jhon Carrasco, José Colca and Billy Gonzales were killed in a June 14, 2007 ambush. A decade later, with conclusion of DIRANDRO’s investigation, it is now known that the massacre that took place on that remote back road on the outskirts of the jungle was coordinated and financed by mayor Bazán Arévalo to address complaints by local drug traffickers and coca growers over stepped up counternarcotics operations in the area. The killings were then carried out by Artemio; his commanders, aliases “JL” and “Piero”; and a troop of 26 members of the terrorist group.

Planning an Ambush

According to DIRANDRO, Bazán Arévalo began preparing for the attack long before June 2007. The police report describes Bazán Arévalo as “having long collaborated with ‘Artemio,’ even before he became mayor, because of his role in the criminal organization belonging to his cousin ‘Eteco,’ who is a prominent drug trafficker. [After] he won the municipal elections for the 2007 to 2010 term, local drug traffickers involved in smaller operations asked him to speak with [the Shining Path leader] to prevent the police from carrying out operations.”

The demands were passed on to Artemio. According to one of DIRANDRO’s witnesses, “drug traffickers and coca growers in the area complained that they could not work discreetly because the police were carrying out operations on the road to Tocache, seizing the fuel they used to process coca into cocaine and preventing them from transporting their coca leaves.” Artemio ordered his lieutenants Piero and JL to select 26 combatants who would receive 15 days of training to carry out the ambush.

A key figure in the preparation for the attack was Fidel Castro Tenazoa, alias “Larry,” a current government official in Tocache who was Bazán Arévalo’s confidant and personal security guard during his 2007 to 2010 mayoral term. Larry helped coordinate the attack and housed the combatants in two local hotels, Las Palmeras and San Martín, from which “they could see the movements of the police.” Larry also provided the group with $1,500 to buy the explosives needed for the ambush, as well as 600 rounds of ammunition for AKM rifles and pistols.

Cash seized from mayor David Bazan Arevalo

Cash seized by DIRANDRO from David Bazán Arevalo’s bedroom (courtesy OjoPúblico)

After the attack, according to another of DIRANDRO’s informants, a meeting was held in a camp in the area of Alto Uchiza and was attended by “David Bazán [Arévalo], drug traffickers like ‘Miki Tuesta’, the Coyumbuque, loggers and others. There the mayor of Tocache told [the Shining Path commander] Piero that ‘it was a good hit and it was good that the prosecutor [Arturo Campos] ended up in the ambush because he was corrupt.’ All the narcos agreed and they started to celebrate.” Another witness said that Bazán Arévalo had spoken with Artemio about the “success” of the attack at that meeting and they then had lunch together.

According to witness statements obtained by DIRANDRO, in the meeting between Bazán Arévalo and Artemio, a third party was also present: the coca leader of Tocache and then-Nationalist Party congressional representative Nancy Obregón, who could face a 35 year prison sentence if court proceedings launched in 2013 find her guilty of involvement with terrorist and drug trafficking groups. “Bazán Arévalo arrived in the company of Nancy Obregón, a drug trafficker known as ‘Diego’ and two members of the Shining Path in a 4×4 truck. The meeting took place in a rustic, two-story wooden house, where ‘Artemio’ and his security squad were already located. It lasted from 11 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, and then they had lunch together.” DIRANDRO is currently investigating the presence of Nancy Obregón in this meeting.

SEE ALSO: Shining Path News and Profile

In recent years, several other mayors in the Alto Huallaga region have also been accused of having ties to the Artemio faction or to the drug trafficking mafias, including Wilder Miranda Ordoñez, the mayor of Aucayacu who was killed in 2010; Iburcio Morales, the mayor of Monzón who died in prison in 2012; Abelardo Payano, the mayor of Puerto Pizana who was detained with almost half a ton of cocaine in 2012; and Alan Valdivia Beteta, the mayor of Daniel Alomía who was arrested in 2010.

During the operation to arrest Bazán Arévalo on the morning of July 26, police also arrested Miguel Herrada Morales, the mayor of a district in the same region of Alto Huallaga. Through surveillance of municipal employees in Tocache, DIRANDRO determined that Herrada Morales, the highest authority in the area between 2006 and 2014, had held meetings with Artemio. The police operation also led to the arrests of several other individuals on similar charges.

Six men close to Bazán Arévalo were also arrested: Fidel Castro Tenazoa “Larry,” who was directly involved in communication with the terrorist faction; Antonio Barazorda Falcón, a former army colonel who claims to be an advisor to mayor Bazán Arévalo; Lorenzo Cárdenas López, administrator of the mayor’s companies in the cities of Lima and Trujillo; and Tony Espinoza, a public prosecutor of the Municipality of Tocache. In recent months, DIRANDRO determined via phone taps that these individuals were involved in several attempts to disrupt the progress of their investigation.

*This article was translated, edited for clarity and length and published with the permission of Ojo Público. It does not necessarily represent the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

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