HomeNewsBriefOn the Trail of the Cocaine ‘Backpackers’ in Peru
BRIEF

On the Trail of the Cocaine ‘Backpackers’ in Peru

INFOGRAPHICS / 14 MAR 2014 BY MIMI YAGOUB EN

A recent report on cocaine “backpackers” in Peru reveals the workings of a low-tech trafficking technique that is on the increase again, as security forces destroy illegal air strips and seek to restrict the use of drug flights from coca-producing areas.

A 2014 report (pdf) by Peru’s Information and Education Center for the Prevention of Drug Abuse (CEDRO) looked at the Peruvian drug runners, or “backpackers,” are often forced into the trade by “severe economic problems.” They earn a living by transporting coca via the “hormiga” (ant) system, where lots of mules move small quantities in backpacks from the coca-producing regions — like the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys  – known as the VRAEM (see map).

The center interviewed 33 mules, all male, with an average age of 32, nearly all in prison on drugs related charges.  The majority stated that they had been unable to complete their education due to poverty.

While some of the journey may be made by foot, the backpackers also move by bus or using other vehicles. Groups generally vary from one to 15 people carrying between seven to 15 kilos of drugs each.  One interviewee reported earning $35 per kilo for a single journey. They often rely on protection from the guerrillas of the Shining Path, to whom traffickers pay $5 per kilo, as well as often bribing police.

Peru - VRAEM-01

InSight Crime Analysis

The use of “backpackers” became widespread after the CIA’s Air Bridge Denial (ABD) (pdf) program in the 1990s, which effectively restricted aerial drug trafficking from Peru to Colombia. Peru at this time was the foremost producer of coca in the world, a title it reclaimed last year. The Air Bridge Denial program was suspended in Peru after the accidental shoot-down of a plane carrying US missionaries in 2001.

Since that time another major air bridge has appeared, flying Peruvian cocaine and coca paste into Bolivia, where it is later shipped to Brazil and Argentina to feed domestic markets or to be trafficked on to Europe.

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profiles

There are ongoing operations to shut down this route by destroying airstrips as part of a coordinated anti-narcotics campaign in the VRAEM, which could lead to the “ant” system being revitalized.

However, Peru no longer has previous level of US radar and intelligence support, meaning it cannot track drug flights and is currently reliant on blowing up airstrips. These can be rebuilt more easily than they can be destroyed, and also the traffickers just use the backpackers to move shipments to air strips a little further from the coca producing areas and anti-narcotics operations, continuing to feed the air routes that move an estimated 1.2 tons of cocaine every day.

Compartir icon icon icon

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

INFOGRAPHICS / 22 NOV 2013

In our previous posts in this series we aimed to understand the difficulties confronted by police reform in Venezuela. We…

INFOGRAPHICS / 20 MAY 2018

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and…

COCAINE / 18 JUN 2019

Authorities in Peru say they have successfully driven illegal gold mining out of the Amazon, but will other illegal economies…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

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.

THE ORGANIZATION

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

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

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…

BRIEF

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…

ANALYSIS

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. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…