A high-level government official has said Peru is at risk of becoming a narco-state, a questionable claim that nevertheless reflects the apparent deep penetration of drug trafficking groups into the country’s politics.
In an interview with newspaper Peru21, Congresswoman Rosa Mavila said that drug planes move about 1.5 tons of cocaine out of Peru’s coca-growing hub — a region known as the VRAEM — every day. “You can understand why this might merit the label ‘narco-state,'” she said.
Mavila heads a congressional commission that investigates links between politicians and organized crime. In later comments in the same interview, she clarified that she does not think that Peru is currently a narco-state, but is at risk of becoming one in the future. Politicians are typically co-opted by organized crime at a local rather than national level, she added.
She also observed that one of the strongest indications of a narco-politics nexus in Peru is the disappearance of court documents in cases involving suspected drug traffickers, as well as lengthy delays in the justice system. “That’s how networks of corruption for bribery are created,” she said.
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Mavila is arguably overstating Peru’s potential to become a narco-state — there is no set definition for the term, but is typically used to describe countries where rule of law has been almost totally supplanted by transnational criminal groups. The fact that a large amount of drugs are being produced in and smuggled out of the VRAEM isn’t, by itself, enough to merit the “narco-state” label, as Mavila implied.
But it is also true that drug trafficking groups are well positioned to subvert Peru’s political institutions. In August 2014, Peru’s Interior Minister Daniel Urresti said no less than 115 candidates running for political office at the local or regional level have been investigated in drug trafficking cases. Last December, Peru elected at least six governors who had previously faced investigations for drug trafficking, corruption or money laundering. Another 350 candidates for municipal office were barred from running due to their criminal records.
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Contrary to what Mavila claimed, corruption appears to be endemic at the national level as well. Prosecutors recently reopened an investigation into Peru’s First Lady and president of the Nationalist Party, Nadine Heredia, for money laundering. Meanwhile, former President Alberto Fujimori is in prison for human rights abuses and embezzlement, while another, Alan Garcia, is facing a possible indictment for selling “narco-pardons.” In September 2014, Congress approved bringing charges against a third former head of state, Alejandro Toledo, for money laundering and criminal conspiracy.