International Human Smuggling Ring Dismantled in Peru and Chile

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A multi-country operation has dismantled a human smuggling ring described as the largest criminal organization bringing Dominican migrants to Chile, as those fleeing physical and economic insecurity continue to seek the “Chilean Dream” in a country known for low crime rates and economic stability.

Operation “Desert,” a multilateral undertaking involving the governments of the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, launched simultaneous operations on October 28 in Chile and three Peruvian municipalities, El Mercurio reported.

The operations resulted in the capture of four of the network’s leaders, including Soledad Maquera, who is believed to be a top figure in the smuggling ring. So far nine of the network’s members — eight Peruvians and one Colombian — have been identified. The process of extraditing four of them to Chile has begun, reported El Mercurio.

The smuggling ring in question operated out of Peru, and on average smuggled three people into Chile each week, according to El Mercurio. Nearly all of those smuggled were reportedly from the Dominican Republic. They were enticed by packages offering transportation, guaranteed work visas, employment, and housing.

El Mercurio reports that the migrants were charged between $700 and $1,300. However, Diaro Corerro claims that the migrants were charged anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000. There are also conflicting reports as to how long the smuggling operation had been operating, with El Mercurio saying it has been operating for two years, and Diaro Corerro saying it has been operating for six years.

The journey for many of the migrants could last more than a month. The trip often began with a flight to either Colombia or Ecuador. From there the migrants made their way to Peru, where the criminal group sheltered them in safe houses, before making the arduous journey over the border. Although they believed they were going to Chile’s capital Santiago, many were reportedly abandoned along the way in northern Chilean cities such as Arica.

InSight Crime Analysis

The so-called “Chilean Dream” has attracted thousands of migrants to Chile over the years from various nations in Latin America. The southern cone country represents a relative oasis of economic prosperity and lower levels of crime in a region known for high levels of poverty and violence. Unsurprisingly, criminal groups have reacted to the demand for smuggling services driven by the push and pull factors bringing migrants to Chile. In fact, other Peru-based organizations smuggling Dominican migrants to Chile have been discovered in recent years. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Chile

Not only has increased migration fueled human smuggling networks — and a housing crisis in northern Chile — it has also led to the development of related criminal industries. According to the US State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (pdf), migrants from Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Colombia, and Ecuador have become victims of forced labor in Chile, working in slave-like conditions in the country’s mining, agricultural, and domestic service industries.

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