The governor of Peru’s Loreto province has come under investigation for receiving campaign funds from drug traffickers, shining a light on endemic links between local politics and organized crime in the country.
Peru’s Attorney General announced an investigation into Governor Elisbán Ochoa, who raised eyebrows last October with a lavish electoral campaign, featuring huge concerts, caravans of vehicles and the presence of reality TV stars. The allegations against Ochoa hold that funding for these displays was provided by Loreto’s powerful Mamalancha clan, which controls drug distribution across the Amazonian region, according to RCR Peru.
As yet, no charges have been brought against Ochoa, who denies the allegations and insisted that his opulent campaign was financed by his friends. But the case is symptomatic of an issue endemic in the country: the control of local politics by drug trafficking clans.
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Although Peru’s lucrative drug exports are often controlled by foreign actors, local production and trade are managed by family clans. These clans protect their operating space through penetration of local political structures, ensuring official compliance through the financing of so-called “narco-candidates.”
In 2014, Peru’s anti-narcotics police stated that 115 political candidates had ties to drug-trafficking, and the situation appears to have deteriorated since then. Prior to the 2018 local elections, security analyst Jaime Antezana warned of an “immense wave” of narco-candidates, with drug money funding campaigns in 18 regions of the country.
Formal investigations, however, have been few and far between.
InSight Crime Analysis
With inquiries ongoing into four former presidents implicated in the Odebrecht scandal, Peru has been eager to be seen as leading the way in the region’s struggle against corruption. Yet current president Martín Vizcarra, elected on an anti-corruption platform, has been notably silent regarding the grip of drug money on Peru’s local politics.
Although Odebrecht rocked Peru’s political class, it has also allowed savvy politicians to capitalise on a foreign scandal to undermine their rivals. Taking on the narco-candidates would require deeper national soul-searching, in order to unravel the systems that structure Peruvian politics from the base.
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Drug trafficking clans sponsor political candidates not only for protection but also to facilitate money laundering through public works projects, meaning drug money is deeply embedded into local public economies. The clans also fund social projects and sports teams, establishing themselves as the benefactors of local communities. Elections are difficult to win without their support.
This local corruption filters up to national institutions. In 2018, Antezana identified 21 alleged “narco-congressmen,” adding that: “Here [the clans] are not afraid of the Antinarcotics Agency or the National Police because they know that to a large extent these bodies… are controlled by them.”
In this context, Ochoa was remarkable only for his flagrancy, which made his conduct impossible to ignore. While the move to investigate him is a positive sign, his case is merely the tip of an iceberg.