The Evolution of Peru’s Multidimensional Challenges, Part II: Transnational Organized Crime

posted by R. Evan Ellis on July 10, 2022 - 12:00am

This publication is possible thanks to a collaboration between the Strategic Studies Institute - U.S. Army War College (SSI) and the Peruvian Army Center for Strategic Studies (CEEEP).

Peru’s crisis of politics and governability has reinforced economic and fiscal pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic and increased in food and fuel prices due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, to greatly complicate grave challenges from transnational organized crime and terrorism in the country. Those crises have also undermined the resources available to the country to effectively respond through investing in the modernization, adaptation, and strengthening of its security institutions, and other parts of its whole-of-government response.

In terms of traditional measures of citizen security, the criminal challenge in Peru is far less than in other parts of the region, with 3.3 murders in the region per 100,000 people in 2021,2 although increasing rates of other forms of crime led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the Lima metropolitan area in February 2022.

The challenge in Peru is not simply a matter of individual criminal groups. In Peru, the web of money and influence from such criminality has profoundly permeated and undermined the nation’s political and economic institutions and social structures, particularly at the provincial level in the interior of the country, so that organized crime from narcotrafficking to illegal mining, to illegal logging, among others, is together an interdependent, synergistic, if decentralized criminal economy. Indeed, in 2022, Peru’s own government calculated losses to the state from corruption and malfeasance of at least $6 billion.

By contrast to countries such as Mexico or Colombia, in which named groups struggle, often overtly, generating high levels of public violence to impose their criminal dominion, the culture and geography of Peru has led to a different dynamic. In Peru, the geographic separation of the mountainous and jungle interior from the coast, the isolation of individual mountain valleys from each other, and the relative lack of land transportation within the Amazon jungle interior, has led to a highly fragmented criminal culture in which the relative isolation of each geographical subregion from the others give individual family-based clans relative security from outsiders and unity in the area that they dominate,5 while at the same time limiting their ability, and their development of interest in extending their domination to the national or international level.

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