Despite not getting the same attention as major ports in Ecuador or Brazil, Peru’s port of Callao, near the capital Lima, has remained a crucial launchpad for cocaine heading for international markets.

The latest seizure came when authorities seized some three tons of cocaine hydrochloride in a house just outside Callao, the Interior Ministry reported on January 7.

Last year, seizures came thick and fast. In December, a major Peruvian coffee producer issued an alert after it found one of its containers at Callao had cocaine hidden inside it. In November, around 100 kilograms of cocaine were found hidden inside a shipment of scrap metal bound for Chile.

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And in June, authorities interdicted 2.2 tons of cocaine hidden in cans of asparagus and set to be shipped to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. In 2021, officials seized over eight tons of cocaine and cocaine base in Callao.

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The port of Callao has so far avoided the attention paid to ports in neighboring countries, such as Guayaquil in Ecuador, which has been devastated by gang violence, or Santos in Brazil, which has become the main exit point for cocaine headed to Europe.

But its overall importance to the international cocaine trade should not be ignored.

Alex Kouri, the former three-time mayor of Callao, told local media that the port of Callao handles almost 40% of Peru’s total drug exports, mostly through cargo ships. He added that foreign mafias, including Mexican, Italian, Serbian, and Croatian drug traffickers, maintain a presence in Callao through alliances with local gangs.

Despite Callao being on the Pacific coast, most cocaine shipments made at the port have been destined for Europe, including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain.

This would make Callao one of Latin America’s key cocaine export points, especially since Peru is the second-largest producer of cocaine, after Colombia.

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Some experts remain doubtful about Callao’s current role but warn it could increase.

Javier Montana, a United Nations expert on port control and security, told InSight Crime that the amount of cocaine leaving through Callao remains modest. It handles less cocaine than Santos in Brazil, from where the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), the country’s powerful drug trafficking gang, supplies Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta Mafia with vast amounts of cocaine, and Ecuador’s port of Guayaquil, which has seen extreme violence as gangs fight over control, according to the experts.

Nevertheless, they stressed that controlling cocaine exports out of Callao was a considerable plus for international drug traffickers.

Some action has been taken to improve security there. Since 2017, when Callao joined the global Container Control Program (CCP), run by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), over 15 tons of cocaine have been seized at the port, according to Montana.

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