Authorities in Peru have seized over 200 tons of contraband after a violent confrontation with smugglers operating as part of the so-called "Snake of the North" -- a smuggling chain in which convoys of vehicles move products originating from Chile through Bolivia and into Peru.
The operation, which took place on July 14 in the southwest border region of Puno, involved around 300 police and customs officers and culminated with the capture of numerous trucks and buses carrying over 220 tons of contraband -- including gasoline, clothes, liquor and cigarettes -- worth an estimated $2 million reported La Andina.
The smugglers violently resisted the raid, local media reported, although exactly what took place remains unclear. According to Los Andes, the seizure followed an exchange of fire between the smugglers and the security forces, while according to La Republica, police were forced to confront some 200 smugglers who attacked them with sticks, rocks and homemade explosives. However, just two people were detained as a result of the operation. Pachamama Radio reported that some police were injured in the confrontation.
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent operation serves to highlight the ongoing activities of the so-called "Culebra del Norte" (Snake of the North), a name used to refer to convoys of trucks that move contraband west along the route from the Bolivian border through the Puno province to the hub city of Juliaca, from where the illicit merchandise is shipped out to various southern provinces and regions. The contraband originates in Arica and Iquique in northern Chile, from where it is brought up through Oruro and La Paz in Bolivia.
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According to a 2011 article from La Republica, convoys of between 30 and 100 trucks leave twice a week from the Bolivian border carrying up to 15 tons of contraband at a time. Customs authorities have said there are four main contraband families controlling the movement of these caravans on the Peruvian side.
Efforts by Peruvian authorities have had little impact in slowing the trade, with just a couple of trucks usually caught in a given caravan, and the contraband runners constantly expanding routes, according to La Razon.
The Peru-Bolivia border region is home to a thriving smuggling trade, which is propagated in part by impoverished border communities on the Bolivian side that have a long history of subsisting off the contraband economy. In Bolivia, smugglers exploit porous borders with the country's more prosperous neighbors by trafficking goods such as contraband cigarettes, stolen cars and gasoline -- the last of which is a lucrative trade due to Bolivian subsidies on fuel. Sources in the region told InSight Crime contraband operations are separate from drug trafficking but smuggled cars are sometimes used as collateral or payment for drug deals.