Peruvian authorities managed to identify close to 20 methods used to hide illegal chemical components being sent to criminal groups in the VRAEM, the country’s top cocaine-producing region.
During operations carried out by agents from Peruvian customs (Superintendencia Nacional de Aduanas y de Administración Tributaria - SUNAT), several chemical substances used for producing narcotics were discovered hidden in a number of vehicles headed towards the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers (Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro - VRAEM), Perú21 reported.
Chemicals such as acetone were found inside bottles of beer, and sulfuric acid was camouflaged among sacks of sugar and agricultural fertilizers. Hydrochloric acid was found among boxes labeled as butter, and calcium hydroxide was found among vegetables. Other chemical components were found hidden inside electrical appliances like washing machines and refrigerators. All of these chemicals are used in the production of cocaine.
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Unless registered previously, Peruvian legislation prohibits the transport, storage and commercialization of chemical substances to prevent them from being used for the production of cocaine base paste or hydrochlorate. The law punishes this crime with a jail sentence of between 6 to 15 years.
In 2019 so far, authorities have managed to confiscate more than 12.9 tons of illegal chemical substances. This is up 160 percent from the same period in 2018, when authorities seized just over 8 tons, El Peruano reported.
The VRAEM has been Peru's main coca producing region for many years, as well as a stronghold for powerful criminal groups like the Shining Path and family clans.
For this reason, President Martin Vizcarra announced the creation of a new illicit coca crop eradication program in the region in July, El Comercio reported. This initiative would complement the existing VRAEM 2021 Strategy (Estrategia VRAEM 2021) which seeks to attack the drug trafficking issue from different angles.
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Years of government efforts, army operations, drug seizures and arrests have had little impact on reducing the strategic importance of the VRAEM for drug traffickers. This region continues to be an operational center for every part of the cocaine production chain, from the cultivation of coca to the fabrication of the final product - cocaine.
With the objective of combating terrorism and combating drug trafficking, the government decided to militarize the state’s strategy in the region in 2008, with the creation of the Army’s VRAEM Special Command.
Nevertheless, 11 years later, experience suggests that these tough policies have not been effective. It is also unlikely that more seizures of chemical products entering the VRAEM will significantly impact drug trafficking dynamics.
Additionally, drug traffickers in the region have managed to find substitute chemicals and to produce certain components in their own clandestine laboratories within the jungle. Similarly, Peru’s porous borders with Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil also facilitate imports of chemical substance into this region via the same routes used for trafficking drugs.
The obstacles inside the VRAEM are plentiful. In addition to the geographical difficulties of accessing the region, family clans dedicated to drug trafficking hold major sway and often enjoy protection from armed groups, including elements from the Shining Path.