A leader of Peru's business community has highlighted the extensive profits and impact of extortion gangs throughout the country, and their increasing targeting of small businesses, in another sign low-level organized crime in the country is growing and evolving.
Moises Mieses Valencia, president of Peru's National Confederation of Businessmen (Conaco) and a mayoral candidate for the capital, Lima, said over 500 businesses nationwide had been extorted in 2014, collectively paying around $18 million in the year so far in the capital, reported Peru 21.
Around 100 extortion gangs exist in Lima alone, targeting florists, restaurants, taxis, and small stores to demand between $3,500 and $355,000 in payment, according to Mieses. Many of these groups operate from prison, and use social media, cell phones, or mail to intimidate and threaten businesses, Mieses told La Republica.
The crime -- which Mieses labels "urban terrorism" due to its destabilizing effect on the economy -- has caused 30 percent of extorted businesses to move or close over the past several years.
InSight Crime Analysis
Extortion has become a widespread phenomenon in Peru, as proliferating local criminal groups have increasingly turned to a source of revenue that has caused a major headache in other countries from the region, such as Colombia. The crime also seems to be following a "micro" pattern similar to that seen in Colombia, in that it is not just major companies being extorted, but small street-level businesses. The growth of extortion in Peru has arguably been facilitated by a culture of impunity, with some police even protecting and colluding with criminal groups.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion
Rising extortion is one of a number of signs that low-level organized crime groups are increasingly flourishing in Peru. The country's cocaine trade is also now run mainly by family-based criminal clans operating in the Huallaga Valley, rather than cells of major transnational groups. Peru is also affected by human trafficking networks, which target victims largely for the domestic trade, and widespread illegal mining that helps fuel sex trafficking and forced labor, and is also thought to have connections to the drug trade.
Peru's status as the world's primary cocaine producer has likely contributed to the growth of local organized crime, with micro-trafficking catalyzing the birth of small local criminal syndicates. While it is unclear whether the gangs operating around the country have any connection with the wider drug trade at the moment, as they continue to grow stronger, it is possible they will step up to play a significant role.