HomeNewsAnalysisMore Mexicans Jailed for Cocaine Indicates Peru’s Role in Drug Trade

More Mexicans Jailed for Cocaine Indicates Peru’s Role in Drug Trade


Peru has the second largest number of Mexican prisoners of any country after the United States, the vast majority of whom are held on drug charges, an indication of Peru’s growing international role in the drug trade and its importance for Mexican drug cartels.

According to figures from Mexico’s Foreign Ministry (SRE), as of April 2014 there were 191 Mexican nationals imprisoned in Peru, 97 percent of whom either faced or had been convicted on cocaine trafficking charges, reported El Universal.

Judging by their relatively brief sentences, many of the Mexicans detained in Peru likely served as so-called “drug mules” — individuals who transport small quantities of drugs in their luggage, under their clothes, or ingested in capsules — or as low-level cartel operatives. Seventy-five percent of those who had been sentenced received terms of between four and 15 years. The remaining 25 percent were sentenced to more than 15 years in prison, a length of time typically given to higher-level cartel operatives, who may have organized or financed drug shipments.

The figures show a drastic increase in the number of Mexicans detained in Peru in recent years. Between 2001 and 2009, the Mexican Embassy recorded an average of 10 Mexicans detained annually in the country, according to La Republica, but between 2010 and April 2014 that figure rose to 37.

According to the newspaper, close to half of the Mexican prisoners detained in Peru were between 18 and 35 years old. A survey conducted by Mexico’s Embassy in Peru found that 85 percent of detained respondents said they had traveled to Peru because of unemployment, debts, or other economic difficulties. A small number reported making the trip because of threats or extortion.

According to Foreign Ministry figures published in January 2014, Panama and Colombia had the third and fourth highest numbers of Mexican prisoners after Peru. In Panama, close to 96 percent of the country’s 94 Mexican prisoners had been detained on drug charges, while 92 percent were behind bars for the same reason in Colombia (see map). Japan, Costa Rica, and Spain also held significant numbers of Mexican prisoners.

20141113 perumexico prisonersmap

InSight Crime Analysis

Although the number of Mexican prisoners detained in Peru pales in comparison to the number locked up in the United States — which was at 35,734 in September — Peru has nearly twice as many Mexican prisoners as the third and fourth countries on the list. The sharp increase in the number of Mexicans imprisoned in Peru in recent years and the fact that the vast majority are accused of drug trafficking indicate that foreign nationals are being drawn in as Peru takes on a growing role in the regional drug trade.

Peru has become a major source country for Brazilian-bound cocaine, which is typically transported in planes to Bolivia en route to Brazil. A portion of that cocaine feeds the domestic market, while the rest is sent on to Europe and Asia. An investigation by a Brazilian journalist found that traffickers from Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay had over the last 14 years formed the most powerful drug trafficking alliance in the world, which he dubbed “Narcosur.” This phenomenon is propelled by significant domestic drug markets in South American countries such as Argentina and Brazil, and lucrative markets in Europe and Asia, accessed via trafficking routes from South America.

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profiles

Peru is currently the world’s largest coca and cocaine producer, driven by corruption and the presence of transnational criminal groups. Increased law enforcement efforts in Mexico and Colombia have pushed criminal groups to expand operations into Peru, where the risk of interdiction is lower and corruption is rampant.

One of the groups that appears to have taken root in Peru is Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. A 7.6 ton cocaine shipment seized in the Peruvian province of La Libertad in August was attributed to the group, leading to the arrest of two alleged Sinaloa operatives working in the country. According to Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, as of 2012 the Tijuana Cartel also maintained a presence in the country. In addition, US investigators have uncovered links between Peruvian criminal groups and Mexico’s Zetas.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profiles

Peru’s status as the world’s number one cocaine producer has drawn so-called “drug mules” from other countries, often motivated by poverty, as the Embassy’s survey suggests. According to Peruvian police, the majority of the “mules” detained at Lima’s international airport in the first 10 months of 2011 were foreigners. In 2012 Peruvian authorities detained 248 “drug mules” in the Jorge Chavez International Airport, the majority of whom were Spanish, Peruvian, and Mexican.  

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

MEXICO / 25 JAN 2013

Some officials are calling for the legal recognition of vigilante groups active in the southwest Mexican state of Guerrero, suggesting…

EL CHAPO / 8 NOV 2011

Journalist Karl Penhaul talks to former cellmates of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman about the fugitive drug lord's character, and…


Sandra Avila Beltrán, better known to the Mexican media as the "Queen of the Pacific," and her love interest, Colombian…

About InSight Crime


Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…


We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.


InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area


Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…


InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…


InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …