Peru Drug Trafficking Groups Expanding to New European Markets

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Drug trafficking routes out of Peru have taken a new direction in recent years, suggesting a shake up in the criminal networks operating in the country and the emergence of new consumer markets, particularly in eastern Europe.

Peru is the second largest producer of coca in the world. Traditionally, Colombian and Mexican organizations have trafficked cocaine from Peru up through the main drug trafficking corridors to the United States. However, recently such groups have lost their dominance in the country.

“The dynamics of drug trafficking in Peru have changed a lot,” Rubén Vargas, the head of the National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo y Vida Sin Drogas – DEVIDA), told InSight Crime. “The trafficking routes now basically head south, towards Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, but most of all to Bolivia.”

According to Vargas, trafficking groups use Bolivia as a bridge, transporting drugs in small planes overseas or by terrestrial routes to markets in neighboring Brazil.

Now, only about 10 percent of the drugs produced in Peru end up in the United States.

“Most of the drugs produced here end up in Europe, Brazil, or Oceania. The market is now starting to open up in Asia too,” said Vargas.

InSight Crime Analysis

The directional change of drug trafficking in Peru indicates that criminal groups are capitalizing on emerging markets elsewhere, and avoiding the territorial struggles and violent clashes between groups vying for control of routes heading north.

Over the years, consumer markets have expanded across western Europe. Demand is now growing in less traditional eastern European and Asian markets, facilitating the entrance of local criminal organizations into the network of transnational drug trafficking groups.

“Serbian groups are starting to have a really formidable presence here,” Vargas told InSight Crime. In March, authorities captured one and a half tons of cocaine from Serbian mafias in Peru.

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Serbian groups are believed to work in conjunction with family clans based in the coca-growing region of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM). These clans transport drugs to the capital city Lima’s Callao port and to border zones ready for trafficking overseas, National Police Chief Héctor Loayza told Peru 21.

There has long been a presence of eastern European criminal groups in South America. Previously, Balkan organizations have provided a link to markets and entry points in the west of Europe. The rise in demand further east has presented the opportunity for such groups to tap into relatively unexplored markets and work with more local connections.

This new market growth is due to a rise in global salaries and economic growth in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. According to Vargas, a kilogram of cocaine, which costs between $100,000 and $150,000 in western Europe, can fetch up to $300,000 on the streets of Russia.

Criminal actors in Peru are capitalizing on this newfound profitability.

*James Bargent contributed to reporting for this article.

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