The arrest in Brazil of a wanted drug trafficker from Peru who was on the run for more than a decade illustrates how trafficking dynamics have evolved in Peru's coca-producing areas, and points to shifts in the transnational cocaine trade in South America.
Adrián Velarde Huamaní, alias "Chato Adrián," one of Peru's most-wanted drug traffickers, was arrested in Brazil's capital city Brasilia on September 21, Peru's Interior Ministry announced in a September 25 press release.
Velarde first appeared on authorities' radar following a sizeable 2007 coca paste seizure in Peru's Ayacucho region. Part of that region lies in Peru's coca cultivation hub, the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM). But authorities were unable to arrest the suspected capo, who was apparently protected by local inhabitants at the time of the operation.
Other seizures followed, and by 2011 Velarde's organization was also on the radar of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). According to investigative journalism outlet IDL-Reporteros, Velarde was one of the top players in the VRAEM, capable of moving at least 300 kilograms of coca paste each month.
Reports suggest Velarde moved most of the coca paste to Bolivia, where it was refined into cocaine and later shipped abroad. By 2015, Velarde and his associates had reportedly fled Peru for Bolivia, where they continued to manage drug operations. It remains unclear how long he was in Brazil or why he was there at the time of his arrest.
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Velarde seems to be a product of the era that saw coca cultivation in the VRAEM grow to the point that Peru overtook Colombia as the world's top coca producer in 2013. (Colombia has since regained the top spot.) But given recent important shifts in trafficking dynamics, Velarde's arrest also points to uncertainty concerning the VRAEM's current criminal landscape.
Interestingly, Velarde's organization does not appear to have exploited the famous air bridge between the VRAEM and neighboring Bolivia that long stood at the heart of Peruvian trafficking dynamics. But the group's operation did follow the well-established pattern of moving coca paste to Bolivia, where the product was processed into cocaine before being sent to consumer markets. And Velarde was also part of a trend of the VRAEM's most powerful drug clans eventually moving to manage operations from Bolivia.
It is unclear, however, whether Velarde was a wholesale supplier of product for distributors targeting the Brazilian cocaine market -- now the second largest throughout the Americas -- or whether the cocaine was meant to be shipped from Brazil to Europe.
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Velarde's arrest also points to important shifts in trafficking dynamics. In addition to the arrest of several top VRAEM drug traffickers, the region's coca cultivation levels have dropped in recent years. Nevertheless, the fluid landscape could open the door for new groups to attempt to assert control in the area.
An official Brazilian intelligence report released earlier this year said that the powerful Brazilian gang known as the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) is expanding its presence in the Peruvian cocaine trade (and possibly throughout the region). Peruvian officials have echoed this warning, pointing to PCC presence in the VRAEM and the appearance of new land trafficking routes to Brazil.