The congressional report into the influence of drug trafficking on politics in Peru was published this week. Amongst other things, the commission (chaired by Rosa Mavila) points to the way in which two political parties that are contending the forthcoming elections, APRA and Fuerza Popular, have at various points been tainted by ties to drug trafficking. http://larepublica.pe/impresa/politica/719031-comision-de-narcopolitica-menciona-infiltracion-en-el-fujimorismo-y-en-el-apra
In the case of APRA, this goes back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the scandal surrounding Carlos Langberg, a leading supporter of APRA in the 1980s elections, was arrested in Acapulco aboard his yacht on drugs charges. The report traces a number of ties over the years between top APRA politicians and members of the drugs mafia, concluding in the recently notorious case of Gerard Oropeza López, a young man with strong connections to APRA recently jailed for involvement in drug trafficking operations through the port of Callao. It also highlights the ‘narcoindultos’ scandal in which Alan García used his presidential prerogative to pardon (or reduce sentences for) hundreds of people convicted for drug trafficking.
In the case of the succession of parties associated with the Fujimori family, the report refers back to the involvement of Kenyi Fujimori, involved in a fishing company (Limasa) involved in tampering with containers in Callao in 2013. It also highlights the role played by known drug traffickers in financing the campaign of Fuerza Popular in 2011. The report also harks back to the role played under the government of Alberto Fujimori of Vladimiro Montesinos who had close ties to well-known drug traffickers, including the notorious ‘El Vaticano’ (Limoniel Chávez Peña Herrrera). It helped wreck relations between Fujimori and Washington.
However, the report does much more than simply provide examples of how drug trafficking interests have sought to manipulate political parties. It traces the evolution of the drug industry in Peru and its need, at different stages, to provide itself with the necessary security to protect its operations and to guarantee its survival.
In the 1970s, when Peru’s role in the cocaine industry was simply to supply cocaine paste to the Medellín and Cali drug cartels, this consisted mainly of providing security to coca producers in the high jungle in and around the Huallaga valley; political influence was largely restricted to bribing local police and other officials in the main areas of production. The Huallaga valley was a ‘wild west’ where state institutions barely existed, and there was little to interfere with drug trafficking operations and the shipments of coca base by air to Colombia for subsequent refining.
Since that time, much has changed. Peru now is probably the world biggest producer of pure cocaine. The routes have shifted away from Colombia towards using maritime routes through Mexico (and from there to the United States) and air routes to Bolivia (and thence to Western Europe through Brazil). The amounts of money involved have thus increased hugely. And the threshold of violence has increased substantially.
In order to protect their interests, drug trafficking groups need to buy political support. They do so by funding increasingly expensive electoral campaigns, both in those regions and cities where this is most necessary to them (primarily coca producing areas and ports). Some even seek election to Congress themselves, achieving parliamentary immunity. But, as the report shows with depressing clarity, it is also a matter of buying support in the justice system (chiefly the judiciary and the public prosecutor’s office or Ministerio Público) to ensure impunity, and among enforcement agencies (chiefly the police and the armed forces).
The report highlights the way in which drug trafficking organisations work in parallel with legal businesses which provide them with cover and (often) provide all-important routes to facilitate money laundering. These cover mining operations, manufacturing firms, service industries (like transport), gaming and financial operations. Some drug traffickers own major companies, as was the case of Fernando Zevallos, the boss of the former airline Aerocontinente. Privatisation and deregulation, prevalent since the early 1990s, the report contends, have helped drug trafficking organisations consolidate their operations.
The Commission’s findings will now be debated in Congress. This, of course, comes at a critical moment as next year’s elections get under way. It also comes at a time when there is renewed interest (opposed by many sitting legislators) in looking a little more carefully at the way in which political parties fund their activities and choose candidates from sectors dedicated to drug trafficking and other nefarious activities.