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.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HOMICIDES / 26 JAN 2018

Organized crime-related homicides reached a record high in Mexico in 2017, according to a recent study which compares government statistics…

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 9 MAY 2019

Illegal timber in Peru is sourced and sold across the country. But most of the money laundering happens in between…

CARACHO / 31 DEC 2010

A chart (pdf) released by Colombian Police identifies the remaining levels of the drug-smuggling group the Popular Revolutionary…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.