How Organized Crime Corrupted Peru’s Main Seaport

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A new report sheds light on how criminal groups coordinate with corrupt officials to smuggle hundreds of tons of cocaine out of Peru’s principal seaport every year.

According to an investigation conducted by La Republica, criminal groups are able to smuggle drugs through Peru’s major port in the city of Callao by bribing workers and other officials. One source quoted in the report — a former drug trafficker — said the port’s security chief charges around $20,000 dollars for entry to the port, and longshoremen are paid at least $10 dollars per kilo of cocaine. 

The networks of corrupt port workers know to only load containers with cocaine once they have already passed a customs inspection, according to the drug trafficker interviewed by La Republica. If containers are selected for a second inspection, traffickers are typically notified by their customs contacts hours in advance. 

Furthermore, interdiction efforts at the port are hobbled by a lack of detection equipment like mobile scanners. Coupled with the criminal infiltration of police and customs agencies, this results in a situation in which authorities detect less than 20 percent of the cocaine that moves through Callao’s port, reported La Republica. 

According to the former head of Peru’s anti-drug police (Dirandro), 80 percent of the country’s cocaine leaves through Callao and, to a lesser degree, the port in the northwestern city of Paita. With an estimated 320 tons of cocaine produced in Peru every year, according to Dirandro, this would mean 256 tons are trafficked through these two seaports.

However, Ricardo Soberon, the former head of the Devida, another anti-drug agency, told La Republica that he estimated only 120 tons of cocaine were smuggled out by sea every year, with 80 tons moving through Callao.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Callao is undoubtedly a major smuggling route, it is unlikely the port sees 80 percent of the country’s cocaine traffic. In Peru’s major coca growing region, the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM), an estimated 200 to 240 tons of cocaine are transported every year using an air bridge that connects Peru to Brazil via Bolivia. One security expert told InSight Crime in 2014 that 90 percent of the cocaine produced in the VRAEM region is trafficked by air. 

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profiles

Still, the importance of seaports in the cocaine trade should not be underestimated. In Colombia, for example, a fight between rival criminal groups has erupted over control of the Pacific port of Buenaventura, where upwards of 250 tons of cocaine are smuggled out of the country each year. In Peru, a similar dynamic is taking root: drug gangs have begun fighting for the Callao port, a battle that has so far resulted in at least 26 homicides.

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