Drug smuggling at ports in Peru rises as dockworkers lured: government

November 28, 2016 6:44 PM EST

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LIMA (Reuters) - Drug trafficking from Peruvian ports has risen in recent years as criminal networks groom dockworkers to smuggle packets of cocaine into shipping containers, the country's new anti-narcotics agency, Devida, said on Monday.

Some 90 dockworkers in Peru have been killed in the past two years in crimes believed to have been linked to smuggling, said Devida's president, Carmen Masias.

Traffickers lure dockworkers by getting them hooked on drugs or offering lavish pay to gain access to ships bound for ports around the world, where their counterparts pick up the cocaine in a sophisticated cross-border smuggling ring, Masias said.

"When they're no longer useful, they're killed," Masias said on the sidelines of a news conference. "So this is also a big human rights issue."

Peru is virtually tied with Colombia as the world's biggest cocaine producer and is also a leading exporter of copper, gold, fishmeal and coffee. In recent years, cocaine has been seized from containers holding goods ranging from paprika to industrial ovens, according to local media reports.

Masias credited the trend to expanding corruption as drug mafias grow more powerful. To tackle the problem, the official said, authorities should work with dockworkers' unions and must ensure containers are scanned by trustworthy people before shipment.

Exporters can reduce risks by following protocol established by the Business Alliance for Secure Commerce (BASC), a U.S.-based non-profit, Masias added.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who took office in July, appointed Masias in September. Masias previously headed Devida for two years under former President Ollanta Humala, who replaced her in 2014 with a close ally.

The new government's five-year strategy for combating drugs, to be unveiled next month, will aim at strengthening development work so that farmers do not replant coca crops - the main ingredient in cocaine - following eradication, Masias said.

Masias said about 90 percent of fields are now replanted with coca after the crops are uprooted by authorities, up from about 40 percent in 2014.

"Eradication goals must be coupled with development goals," Masias said. "They call it the war on drugs, but it's not a war, it's a struggle. It's a process that takes years."

Masias said the government would look closely at methods for calculating how much coca is grown and eradicated in Peru amid questions about the accuracy of government figures.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)



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