Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

The Evolving Transnational Crime-Terrorism Nexus in Peru and Its Strategic Relevance for the U.S. and the Region

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

The Evolving Transnational Crime-Terrorism Nexus in Peru and Its Strategic Relevance for the U.S. and the Region

Article excerpt

In September, 2014, the anti-drug command of the Peruvian National Police, DIRANDRO, seized 7.6 metric tons of cocaine at a factory near the city of Trujillo. A Peruvian family-clan, in coordination with Mexican narco-traffickers, was using the facility to insert the cocaine into blocks of coal, to be shipped from the Pacific Coast ports of Callao (Lima) and Paita to Spain and Belgium.2

Experts estimate that Peru now exports more than 200 tons of cocaine per year,3 and by late 2014, the country had replaced Colombia as the world's number one producer of coca leaves, used to make the drug.4 With its strategic geographic location both on the Pacific coast, and in the middle of South America, Peru is today becoming a narcotrafficking hub for four continents, supplying not only the U.S. and Canada, but also Europe, Russia, and rapidly expanding markets in Brazil, Chile, and Asia. In the multiple narcotics supply chains that originate in Peru, local groups are linked to powerful transnational criminal organizations including the Urabeños in Colombia, the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, and most recently, the First Capital Command (PCC) in Brazil. Further complicating matters, the narco-supply chains are but one part of an increasingly large and complex illicit economy, including illegal mining, logging, contraband merchandise, and human trafficking, mutually re-enforcing, and fed by the relatively weak bond between the state and local communities.

In this illicit economy, the residual elements of the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso, now concentrated principally in the region known as the VRAEM (defined by the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys) play a relatively minor role, principally taxing narcotrafficking and other criminal activities in the limited areas under their influence. Yet the marginal role of Sendero Luninoso as one among many players does not make the collective challenge of the growing illicit economy any less severe.

The combination of narcotrafficking and other criminal activities represents not only a significant challenge for Peru's neighbors and the region, but also a significant distortion of the national economy, which already includes a large informal sector, consisting of people who work in businesses from selling food to merchandise, generally on a cash basis, without being registered with, or paying taxes to the state. The rapid growth of that economy during the past decade has been driven principally by exports from extractive industries such as mining and petroleum, complemented by traditional agriculture and fishing sectors. Yet slowing growth in the People's Republic of China has driven down prices for both Peru's mining and petroleum exports. These prices, in combination with social unrest in the mining sector, have also delayed new investment in extractive industry projects. The combination of these factors has caused the nation's growth, once among the highest in the region, to fall to 2.4 percent for 2015.5

What is at Stake

Terrorism, narcotrafficking, and the transnationally connected criminal economy in Peru form a destructive and reinforcing dynamic. Both the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso and other criminal groups are sustained by the revenue from narcotrafficking and other illicit activities. The intimidation by both Sendero Luminoso and local criminal elements, complemented by the dependence of local residents on the illicit economy limits cooperation with legitimate authorities and the ability of the state to combat the threat. The same violence and pressures also block development projects such as highways, that could transform economically marginal regions, locking local populations into dependence on the illicit economy and alienation from the state. In the context of limited and ineffective state presence and weak government bonds with the local population, the expansion of illicit activities in affected zones means even more revenues for criminal organizations to corrupt law enforcement, win over local populations, and conduct operations of expanding scale with impunity, with implications not only for Peru, but for the region more broadly. …

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