A record-breaking cocaine bust on Peru’s Pacific coast points not only to the country’s booming production, but also the increasing role of the Mexican cartels in the Andean narco economy. Peru’s Interior Ministry announced the haul in a Sept. 1 statement, saying National Police and DEA agents had uncovered an unprecedented 7.6 metric tons of coke hidden in a shipment of coal at a warehouse in the northern fishing port of Huanchaco, Trujillo region. “This is the largest drug seizure ever in Peru,” said Interior Minister Daniel Urresti, speaking at a Lima press conference below a banner reading “Historic Blow to Illegal Drug Trafficking” at the hanger where the shipment had been flown for incineration. “It’s historic.”
Paperwork seized at the warehouse indicated the shipment was bound for Spain and Belgium. Eight Peruvians were arrested in the bust, and two Mexicans. The Interior Ministry said the shipment was arranged by a Mexican gang operating in the nearby city of Trujillo, and that an investigation is underway to nail the other operatives. “In Peru we have no cartels, but middlemen linked to a foreign cartel or organization,” the Interior Ministry statement said. The Ministry’s denial of the existence of cartels in Peru may be somewhat self-serving, but even Peru’s dissident pro-reform ex-drug czar Ricardo Soberon said that the bust indicated a more direct role for Mexican networks in the country. He told NBC News: “What is surprising is that this implies a change in the criminal map. For Mexicans to be running drugs from Peru to Europe, without it ever going anywhere near Mexico — wow!”
Peru’s new cocaine boom can be partially attributed to the “success” of US-led eradication efforts in Colombia, which have merely pushed production back into Peru, in a case of the so-called “balloon effect” — ironically exactly the opposite of what happened in the 1990s, when aggressive eradication in Peru led to the Colombian boom. Perhaps in an effort to scapegoat “foreign organizations” for the boom, Peruvian authorities have in recent years claimed evidence of the Sinaloa Cartel operating in the country—and even charged that the top Mexican cartel has formed an alliance with the Shining Path guerillas.