Brazilian Gang Runs Cocaine Trade in Peru’s Rebel Heartland

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An emerging criminal group from Brazil may control up to 60 percent of the cocaine trafficked out of Peru, as Brazilian organized crime moves closer the source of the illegal drugs demanded by its booming domestic market, apparently securing supplies directly from the world’s top cocaine producer.

According to a confidential report from Peru’s anti-drug authority (DIRANDRO) accessed by La Republica, a Brazilian organization known as the First Catarinense Group (Primeiro Grupo Catarinense – PGC) is the top client for several drug trafficking clans based in Peru’s Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (known as the VRAEM). The PGC is reportedly displacing Mexican groups like the Sinaloa Cartel, who were formerly responsible for much of the drugs moved out of the VRAEM and the Upper Huallaga Valley.

One of the PGC’s principal connections is reportedly Peruvian national Fortunato Lagos Lizarbe. His brother Luis was known as the “King of the VRAEM” as far back as 2007

The PGC moves product directly to Brazil using light aircraft – they allegedly control some 52 clandestine landing strips in the VRAEM and surrounding regions. Neither Peru nor Bolivia have effective control over their air space. They also rely on a combination of land and river routes leading to the Colombian and Brazilian border. The group has reportedly moved drugs through Peru’s southern Cusco region into Bolivia as well, before exporting the cocaine and its derivatives to Brazil.

InSight Crime Analysis

The VRAEM is Peru’s top coca growing region, producing around 200 tons of cocaine each year. A faction of the Shining Path guerrilla group dominates the region, overseeing coca purchases and protecting the drug shipments that move through their territory.

According to La Republica, the PGC has been operating in the region since 2008 and was a key player in the re-establishment of the country’s cocaine air bridge. Peruvian traffickers were once heavily dependent on moving cocaine to Colombia by air, but this route was largely blockaded by the authorities in the 1990s. In recent years, traffickers have turned to a new route that moves cocaine by air into Brazil, often via Bolivia or Paraguay

While Brazilian criminal networks are known to be top purchasers of Peruvian cocaine, this is a rare case of a Brazilian criminal group establishing themselves inside Peru, so as to be closer to the source of their illicit product. Powerful gangs including the First Capital Command (PCC) of Sao Paulo and the Red Command of Rio de Janeiro have mostly confined their presence to Paraguay and Bolivia, two transit nations for the cocaine trade. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration

The cited Peruvian anti-drug agency report, of which no copy has yet appeared, highlights the growth of this relatively small Brazilian organization, and indicates that perhaps they sought to establish a foothold somewhere neither the PCC nor the Red Command have yet reached. As their name indicates, the First Catarinense Group’s base of operations is Santa Cantarina, a state in southern Brazil. The organization is modeled on the PCC, but was created much more recently and is believed to have around 2,000 member, compared to the PCC’s nearly 12,000. Last year, Southern Pulse reported the group was attempting to expand.

The PGC’s alleged leader, Osmar de Souza Junior, has twice escaped jail, once in 2009 and again in 2013 after being captured in Paraguay in 2012, where he was allegedly coordinating the shipment of some 300 kilos of cocaine per month to Brazil. 

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