Peruvian police detained the suspected head of a major drug trafficking clan in the VRAE, the country’s biggest cocaine-producing region, drawing attention to the changing tactics of traffickers in the zone.

Peru’s anti-drug police unit Dirando announced on August 12 that they had detained Luis Amarildo Montero Lopez, suspected of being the leader of a drug trafficking network operating in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE). The authorities arrested two others who were travelling in the same truck as Montero, and seized 250 kilos of cocaine hidden beneath a false floor of the truck. The narcotics were reportedly due to be sent to Europe, where they would have fetched around $12.5 million.

According to La Republica, Montero was the successor of Jose Manuel Lopez Quispe, alias “Papitas,” who was arrested on June 27. Papitas allegedly served as a major supplier of cocaine to Mexican gangs such as the Sinaloa, Juarez and Tijuana Cartels, operating as an “acopiador,” a middle man who purchased coca leaf from local farmers before processing it into coca paste or cocaine hydrochloride (HCI).

The head of Dirando, Walter Sanchez, described Montero’s capture as “a blow to international drug trafficking,” adding, “the fight against trafficking is relentless. We are intensifying operations along the coast, in the mountains and in the jungle.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Investigative news organization IDL-Reporteros recently released a series of reports on the VRAE’s drug trade, identifying the region’s biggest players and how their trafficking networks have evolved in recent years. One key trend they identified was the increased use of trucks and other vehicles to traffic cocaine, as opposed to using “backpackers” to move it on foot through the VRAE’s rugged terrain. The capture of Montero with cocaine hidden in his vehicle supports this observation.

However, the report also noted that traffickers were more often moving the drug in its less-refined paste form, preferring to traffic it south to Bolivia for processing. The fact Montero was found with cocaine hydrochloride shows that some traffickers who have international networks still prefer to process it before export. Indeed, Montero’s alleged former boss Papitas was detained in June in a house that was being used to produce HCI. This form of the drug can fetch $950-$1100 per kilo compared to $600-$800 for coca paste.

Montero’s arrest draws attention to the make-up of Peru’s drug trafficking organizations. Unlike 20 years ago when Colombian criminal groups such as the Medellin Cartel had a direct stake in coca paste and HCI coming from Peru, the trade is now mostly in the hands of family clans — some 15 of which are believed to operate in the VRAE alone — that produce anywhere between 300 and 500 kilos a month, according to IDL-Reporteros.

Added to this mix is the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrilla group, which is estimated to control around 30 percent of the VRAE’s cocaine exports. According to IDL-Reporteros, the group charges $50-$60 per kilo for protecting shipments owned by other groups or individuals.

The seizure also highlights the importance of the VRAE, which has become Peru’s biggest cocaine producing region. Based on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime‘s most recent report on Peru coca cultivation, the VRAE (with 19,723 hectares) now accounts for almost one third of the 61,200 hectares of coca cultivated in Peru, producing around 80-90 tons of cocaine a year.

In a recent interview with InSight Crime, Soberon added that around one third of the VRAE’s cocaine is heading south to markets in Brazil and Argentina, the top two cocaine consumers in Latin America, and that if Peru continues its current drug policies the area of coca in the country could grow to 80,000 hectares by 2016, driven up growing demand in the Southern Cone.

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.