The heirs to a recently captured Peruvian drug kingpin have reportedly already taken over criminal operations in Peru’s largest seaport, a development that speaks to the strategic importance of port cities for Latin American organized crime.
Anti-drug police chief Luis Pantoja told El Comercio that the arrest of Gerson Aldair Gálvez Calle, alias “Caracol,” would do little to stem the flow of cocaine exports from Peru’s chief seaport, Callao. While Pantoja has previously called Caracol “the most important capture” for Peru in recent years, he told El Comercio that police “still needed to make more arrests” in order to better disrupt criminal dynamics in Callao.
El Comercio reported that intelligence gathered by Peru’s anti-drug police indicates that Caracol’s heirs have already taken control of his drug trafficking operations in Callao, which mainly involve exporting cocaine to Europe, using Panama and Mexico as transit countries. The newspaper did not report on the identities of these heirs, nor have Peruvian security officials spoken elsewhere on the matter.
Since Caracol was taken into custody in Colombia on April 30, various Peruvian officials have acknowledged shortcomings in the battle to break the hold of organized crime over Callao. Peru21 reported that only two percent of all departing containers in Callao are inspected by anti-drug police and port authorities. In comparison, US officials scan 99 percent of arriving sea containers with radiation detection. A top prosecutor for the Attorney General’s Office organized crime unit has also bemoaned the lack of intelligence work on the criminal groups active in Callao.
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In some ways, Peruvian officials have painted Caracol as a one-of-a-kind violent mobster, who was not only able to successfully exert control over Callao but also planned to turn his street gang, Barrio Kings, into a transnational drug trafficking operation. “Peru has never had drug cartels, but he had every intention to establish the first,” anti-drug police chief Pantoja told La Republica.
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However, arguably one of the most significant lessons that Peruvian officials could draw from Caracol’s rise to power is that another entreprising street gang leader could step into his shoes. As outlined in a profile by La Republica, Caracol started out as a small-time drug dealer who was then able to move into trasnantional drug trafficking while serving time in prison. Once he was released, he formed the Barrio King gang, which engaged in a violent turf war for control of Callao, eventually prompting Peru’s president to declare a state of emergency in the area.
Given Callao’s importance for Peru’s drug traffickers and smugglers, the area should remain a priority for security officials even with Caracol in prison. As has been evidenced elsewhere in Latin America, port cities tend to be among the most violent in the country, due to their strategic importance. In Colombia, for example, the port cities of Tumaco and Buenaventura are hubs for organized crime, as is Acapulco in Mexico.