A recent cocaine seizure in Peru has shown that organized crime groups have begun to follow new drug routes and smuggling strategies in an effort to outsmart authorities.
On June 1, Peruvian authorities seized 474 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a cargo containing 1,234 cotton balls. The shipment was reportedly destined to the port of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. One Ecuadorean national and six Peruvians were arrested during the operation.
According to sources from the Department for Tactical Anti-Drug Operations (Departamento de Acciones Tácticas Antidrogas – DEPOTAD) consulted by La República, drug traffickers first carry cocaine produced and refined in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM) to selected storage points in the department of Piura, eventually transporting it to the nearby port of Paita, or northward to Ecuador.
But when smuggling cocaine to the storage points, traffickers follow what authorities have dubbed an "ant plan" ("plan hormiga"). In essence, they carry cocaine via smaller shipments throughout several days, in order to avoid being detected by authorities.
"Traffickers carry the drugs bit by bit, in order not to be found out, and to pass as ordinary transporters," a DEPOTAD official told La República.
In order to amass a ton of cocaine in the secret storage locations, criminal groups can take up to 15 days, after which the shipment is sent to the country's departure points.
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The fact that drug traffickers are reportedly relying on smaller shipments stretched over larger periods of time to smuggle narcotics inside Peru suggests crime groups have adopted sophisticated tactics that could make their operations harder to disrupt.
The strategy of trafficking more loads of smaller quantities has successfully been used by arms traffickers smuggling US guns into Mexico. Straw buyers are known to purchase small numbers of weapons from several sources spread out across a large territory, and only consolidate them prior to shipment. The strategy helps to prevent authorities from "connecting the dots" and finding out the criminal organizations behind the individual, small scale shipments.
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The recent drug seizure in Peru also signals an important change in traffickers' preferred departure points.
As InSight Crime had previously noted, an estimated 80 percent of all Peruvian cocaine shipments leave from the port city of Callao, close to Lima, while the remaining 20 percent depart from Paita. It is difficult to tell whether the recent seizure could point to a substantial change in this dynamic, but Paita seems to be growing in attractiveness among traffickers, chiefly because the checks and controls in the northwestern port are comparatively less strict than in Callao.
"Very often it is really difficult [for authorities] to check all the products stored inside the cargos," DEPOTAD chief Beltrán Córdova was reported by La República as saying.