Peru's National Police have arrested a man identified as one of the country's most wanted criminals and the leader of an international drug trafficking organization with ties to the Tijuana Cartel, highlighting the continued transnational operations of the weakened Mexican group.
On July 24, Peruvian police arrested Alberto Santillan Zamora, alias "Chang" or "Viejo," the leader of a criminal organization called "Safari," which allegedly provided cocaine to the Tijuana Cartel, in the San Martin region of Peru's Upper Huallaga Valley, reported La Republica. Authorities believe Santillan's organization set up clandestine laboratories to manufacture cocaine and then transported the drugs to a Peruvian port, from where they were trafficked by sea to Tijuana, reported EFE.
The Safari criminal organization allegedly includes individuals from Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala, reported AFP.
According to Interior Minister Daniel Urresti, Santillan had been involved in drug trafficking since 1999.
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The Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization, was once a powerful criminal organization that controlled the drug trade from the Tijuana area into California. The cartel lost a series of leaders between 2002 and 2008, however, which left the group fragmented and weakened. The cartel is now thought to be largely working under the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, which also has a reported a presence in Peru, but the connections with Santillan could mean they are still involved in their own operations.
SEE ALSO: Tijuana Cartel News and Profile
The alleged links between Santillan and the Tijuana Cartel have existed for years. In 2002, Peruvian authorities captured Miguel Angel Morales Morales, alias "Malamud," a high-level Tijuana Cartel operative, for processing cocaine and trafficking drugs from the Peruvian port of Chimbote to Mexico. As part of the operation, over 30 people involved in the cartel were arrested and later sentenced and 1.7 tons of cocaine were seized. According to Urresti, Santillan was linked to the operation, but managed to evade capture.
Peru is currently the world's largest coca and cocaine producer. The Upper Huallaga Valley where Santillan was captured is an important coca growing region and a former stronghold of the faction of the Shining Path led by Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias "Artemio," who was captured in 2012.
The country's importance to the cocaine trade has seen transnational criminal groups establish a presence in Peru. According to the police anti-drug directorate (DIRANDRO), authorities have identified the presence of Mexican, Colombian and Russian criminal groups in the country. The Sinaloa Cartel reportedly has armed cells operating near the border with Ecuador.