Crime & Justice

Peruvian police play cat-and-mouse with smugglers on Ecuador border

By Carla Samon Ros

Aguas Verdes, Peru, May 18 (EFE).- Peruvian police striving to stop the trafficking of migrants, drugs, and guns from neighboring Ecuador across the Zarumilla River live with the reality that the progress they make in daylight will likely evaporate after dark.

A team of seven officers make their way by truck to one of the spots favored by the gangs who specialize in the lucrative business of smuggling Venezuelan migrants into Peru.

The criminals throw up improvised spans made of wood, sandbags, rocks, cement, and tries near the international bridge and traders in contraband use the same corridors as the human traffickers.

Last month, a joint operation involving some 600 police from both sides of the border used heavy machinery to dismantle a score of clandestine crossings in the area of Aguas Verdes.

While all that remains of some of the erstwhile bridges are piles of rubble, others are already in the process of being reassembled as part of the ongoing tug of war with authorities.

Thirty minutes into the patrol, the Peruvian officers spot a group of Venezuelans – seven adults and four children – sheltering from the sun under a tree.

They initially deny having snuck into Peru with the help of “coyotes” (migrant traffickers), but their story breaks down when the police notice two people wearing ski-masks peeking out from between the bars of a window in a house on the Ecuadorian side of the Zarumilla.

“They are certainly armed,” one of the Peruvian officers says of the people across the river.

After some back-and-forth, the Venezuelans admit having paid the coyotes around $100 to get them into Peru. They hand over their identification documents and board the truck for the ride to the police station in Aguas Verdes.

Once at the station, they will have to sign a paper acknowledging that they entered Peru illegally before they are allowed to continue on their way.

The patrol moves on to another crossing point where blood with spilled a few days ago in a dispute over payments to the gangs who control this stretch of the border.

On this occasion, the police surprise four men passing cans across the river to be filled with gasoline in Ecuador, where the price at the pump is lower.

The presence of smugglers is nothing new, but the gangs grew stronger and bolder during the nearly two years the border was officially closed due to Covid-19.

“Organized crime gained a lot of ground during the pandemic on the question of clandestine crossings. They organized well, definitely, and there is the result,” the director of Social Development for the Tumbes region, Luis Alfonso Cerna, told Efe.

Smuggling in the area is now under the control of multinational criminal outfits that possess “more sophisticated weapons, logistics, and vehicles than the police,” he said. EFE


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