From May 8 through May 13, I had the opportunity to participate in the international Special Operations Forces exercise “Fuerzas Comando” in Lima, Peru. The event occurred at a pivotal moment, just after the first round of Peru’s presidential elections in early April.
The exercise also occurred little more than a month after the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso, often referred to as the Shining Path, (SL) ambushed a convoy of soldiers and government officials in Junin, killing 10 people.
But if Sendero Luminoso impacted the Peruvian election, it was remarkably absent from Fuerzas Comando. My Peruvian colleagues concurred, almost universally, that with the exception of the pre-election attacks, Sendero is now less of a topic of conversation in Peru, reflecting, in part, government successes against the group, and its diminished level of terrorist activity.
Organized Crime and Cocaine
What was on the minds of the security officials that I spoke with in Lima was organized crime. While the government has been successful in eradicating a record quantity of coca plants (key to the production of cocaine), criminal activity in the country has both fragmented and spread. With respect to coca production, the entire region along the Putumayo river border with Colombia has become an area of concern, as well as multiple areas through the center of the country where the Andes mountains transition to jungle.
Much of the success in coca eradication achieved to date occurred in the pacified Upper Huallaga valley, with almost no progress made in the Apurimac, Eni, and Mantaro river valleys (the VRAEM), where government security and eradication efforts face not only SL remnants, but also criminal family clans. In these areas, this criminal groups make up an integral part of the community; the state is seen as a stranger and threat to the resident’s livelihood.
Peru continues to compete with Colombia for the title of the region’s leading producer of cocaine. Yet, not only is the geography of coca crops becoming more diverse, but the entire coca to cocaine hydrochloride production and logistics cycle has fragmented among numerous small players. These players include multiple “firms” who import precursor chemicals into the country; others who collect and process the coca leaves; others, such as Sendero, who collect extortion fees for the conduct of operations within the terrain they control; and still others who transport the product to market.
A substiantial amount of the cocaine and intermediate products produced in Peru is moved out through the Peru-Bolivia border, since Bolivia is considered even less well controlled. In addition, cocaine is also reportedly flown across the border with Brazil, where it is reportedly dropped into pre-agreed to sites in the Amazon, and from where it is picked up by personnel on the ground moved to Brazilian and European markets. It is also moved to Peruvian and northern Chilean ports, where it is smuggled out, often in containers or other commercial vessels, to Europe and Asia.
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