A large cocaine seizure in a dismantled clandestine lab and repeated ambushes against security forces point to persistent criminal activity in Peru's main coca-growing region, despite previous militarized operations against crime groups in the area.
A joint operation by Peruvian security forces involving the use of four helicopters resulted in the dismantling of a cocaine lab on July 22 in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM) region, the Interior Ministry stated in a press release.
Nearly 1.2 of the total 1.5 metric tons of cocaine were seized in liquid form, according to La República. The 300 remaining kilograms were reportedly seized as coca paste, and another 8.7 metric tons of chemical precursors were also confiscated. The lab was allegedly operated by a criminal known by the alias "Chipi," who paid protection money to the Marxist rebel group the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso).
The compound apparently processed up to 600 kilograms of cocaine per week, placing it in a similar output range as another recently dismantled complex discovered in the VRAEM last month.
A tour of the dismantled lab, courtesy of the Interior Ministry
Meanwhile, an ambush against police recorded on camera the previous day showed a shootout during which four officers were wounded. The attack, carried out in the VRAEM's Huanta province on July 21, was an attempt by criminals to retrieve a drug trafficker who had just been arrested, reported Peru21.
National Police Director Gen. Vicente Romero insisted that the latest incident had nothing to do with the Shining Path, adding that the attackers were "drug traffickers." His comments were reminiscent of those made in January by Defense Minister Jorge Nieto when renewing the state of security in the VRAEM.
"In the VRAEM we have two situations: a small bastion of terrorism [referring to the Shining Path] ... and drug trafficking. Both are completely different and have different solutions," Nieto had said according to El Comercio.
InSight Crime Analysis
The dismantled labs and repeated ambushes are further indications that the VRAEM's criminal dynamics remain strong, even as authorities announced on July 24 the partial lifting of a long-running, militarized state of emergency in the region.
The proportion of cocaine discovered in liquid form is also concerning. Such discoveries indicate a high level of sophistication of criminal groups in the area, as this process is generally more complex than producing solid cocaine. A trend of criminal groups switching to liquid cocaine would also be worrying as it is much more difficult to detect and can be hidden in an array of liquid products or sprayed on clothes with very little loss of the drug product in the process.
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Furthermore, authorities would do well to recognize the links between the still-potent Shining Path and drug trafficking, illustrated by the protection money the rebel group allegedly collected from "Chipi." Drug-related profits such as these have been crucial to the considerable power garnered by rebel groups in neighboring Colombia, while recent signs suggest the VRAEM's coca cultivation is increasing once more -- potentially fueling the continued operations of the Shining Path and other criminal groups in the area.