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Satellite Images Show Threat of Criminal Activities in Peru’s Amazon

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Satellite mapping of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon shows how criminal activities threaten the world’s largest rainforest. Imaging compiled by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) shows how in 2018 medium scale deforestation affected huge swaths of rainforest in Peru’s central and southern jungle regions. It also highlights five deforestation hotspots in 2018, with the southeast of the country the worst affected.

SEE ALSO: Peru Authorities Struggle to Combat Illegal Mining as Deforestation Continues

Three of the five, La Pampa, the area around Bahuaja Sonene National Park and Iberia are in the Madre de Dios region. In these areas, deforestation is driven by illegal gold mining, and agricultural projects, including some plantations in restricted areas where agriculture is not permitted. The other areas are spread between the central jungle regions of Ucayali and Huanaco and the northeastern forests of Loreto, where agriculture has claimed large jungle areas, many of which lie within forestry zoning areas where it is not permitted.

InSight Crime Analysis

Over 155,000 hectares of Peruvian forests were cut down in 2017, according to figures of the National Forestry and Wildlife Service (Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre – SERFOR. While some of this was a result of legal activities, much of it was a result of multimillion-dollar criminal economies that feed off the Amazon. As the MAAP images highlight, one of the main causes of deforestation is rampant illegal gold mining in the Madre de Dios region. Run by criminal mining clans and a driver of other organized crime activities such as human trafficking and money laundering, illegal mining not only causes deforestation but also widespread contamination of the Amazon, through the use of chemicals such as mercury and the dumping of waste material.

SEE ALSO: Report Exposes Inner Workings of Timber Trafficking in Peru

Peru is also home to a lucrative illegal timber trade. Illegal loggers operating in regions such as Loreto, Ucuyali, Madre de Dios, San Martin and Huanaco, are driving certain species to the edge of extinction in order to supply the domestic market and international markets such as China. Behind the loggers are mafias of timber traffickers, many of which operate behind the front of legal companies, and corruption networks reaching deep into the state. The drug trade is also a major driver of deforestation, as the isolation of the jungle provides the perfect cover for coca cultivation as well as for the clandestine landing strips used by the light aircraft that traffic drugs out of the country. Drug processing also contaminates the environment by dumping the toxic precursor chemicals used into the Amazonian waterways. Even ostensibly legal activities are often fronts for criminality and corruption in the Amazon. As shown by MAAP, agricultural projects often pay little heed to land use and deforestation restrictions as land grabs are easy to legalize thanks to rampant corruption. Land trafficking is also rife, with plots illegally traded and then razed for agriculture.

Peru Running Out of Ideas to Stop Illegal Mining in Madre de Dios

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Authorities in Peru launched a large-scale operation aimed at driving out illegal gold mining and other illicit activities in the Madre de Dios region, where similar, previous operations have had little lasting effects. A force of some 1,800 police and military officers were sent to Madre de Dios — a region of Amazon rainforest bordering Brazil and Bolivia — to take part in Operation Mercurio 2019, El Comercio reported. The operation seeks to remove more than 5,000 illegal miners and evict thousands of merchants that capitalize on other criminal activities in the area, such as sex trafficking. Already 40 women considered to be trafficking victims have been rescued, according to a local news report. Authorities have also dismantled about 30 illegal mining camps in the area during the first week of the operation. The second phase of the operation will last 180 days, during which three military bases will be installed. Each base will staff 100 soldiers from the army’s newly created Amazon Protection Brigade, as well as 50 police officers. The first base has been set up in the zone of “La Pampa,” government officials said in a news release on March 5.

SEE ALSO: Illegal Mining Coverage

The government of Peru has dedicated $60 million dollars to the operation, which also plans to formalize and reintegrate illegal miners.

InSight Crime Analysis

Peru’s recent assault on illegal gold mining in Madre De Dios is just the latest in a string of similar operations that have failed to stop the practice’s expansion. In 2014, police raided the town of Huepetuhe, destroying $20 million worth of mining equipment. Then in 2017, officers destroyed 83 mining camps in an operation also dubbed Mercurio. Yet from to 2009 to 2017, the Madre Dios region saw more than 64,000 hectares of Amazon forest destroyed by illegal mining and logging. In 2018, deforestation from wildcat gold mining, which strips the land and leaves behind pools of mercury, peaked at nearly 10,000 hectares.

SEE ALSO: After Massive Police Op, What’s Next in Fight Against Illegal Gold?

Stopping the illegal gold trade in Peru has proven to be nearly impossible. The gold ore is easily bought and sold by a network of middlemen, known as “acopiadores,” who also provide false receipts, allowing large-scale buyers and export companies to buy the ore, which is then refined abroad. Six years ago, Peru’s illegal gold trade was estimated to be worth more than $3 billion dollars, and it has likely only grown since then. Illegal gold mining also brings with it a number of other criminal activities, such as forced labor. The mining sites have also long been hotbeds for human trafficking and prostitution. Peru’s government has tried to toughen illegal mining laws, declaring it an organized crime activity, and it has attempted to formalize the industry, by offering incentives to illegal miners to register with the government. Mostly, though, it has tried to drive out illegal miners through police and military operations, of which “Mercurio 2019” is the latest example. But it’s unlikely that the miners will stay away for long.

Peruvian Farmers Abandoning Coffee Plantations for Coca Fields

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A drop in coffee prices is forcing hundreds of Peruvian farmers to seek work in coca plantations-a sign that the country, like its neighbor Colombia, is seeing a boom in coca cultivation. A report by the Association of Exporters (ADEX) notes that although coffee production increased by 6 percent in Peru between January and November of 2018, the total value of the exported goods decreased by 6 percent. This is directly attributed to low prices in the international market and obstacles in the consolidation of sales contracts.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Coca

Lorenzo Castillo, a general manager of the National Coffee Board (JNC), stated last December that farmers had started migrating to drug-trafficking regions of the country to work on coca plantations, where they can earn higher wages. Castillo mentioned that the trend is a major issue in regions such as Satipo, Puerto Ocopa, Rio Tambo, and Alto Mayo. The JNC has requested the government of President Martin Vizcarra to intervene and help coffee farmers to remain competitive within the global market.

InSight Crime Analysis

Whereas Colombia has had trouble getting farmers to switch from coca to other crops because of market prices, these same dynamics are now boosting Peru’s coca cultivation. Farmers in Peru can receive approximately 40 Peruvian soles (around $12) for a day’s work in a coffee plantation. For the same day’s work cultivating coca, payment exceeds 100 Peruvian soles (around $30). The discrepancy in wages is being exacerbated by declining coffee prices in the international market. From 2014 to 2019, the cost per pound of coffee declined from $1.784 to $1.016. In addition to these factors, coca cultivation in Peru, which decreased considerably between 2015 and 2016, rose 14 percent to 49,900 hectares in 2017. This is attributed to the price increase of coca leaf and a decline in eradication efforts, according to a joint report in December by the United Nations and the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (DEVIDA).

SEE ALSO: Can Peru’s Ambitious Eradication Goal Reduce Coca Crops?

A combination of weak market prices and an increase of coca cultivation is testing Peru’s eradication program which was launched in 2017. The aim of the program was to reduce Peru’s coca space by more than 50 percent and also attract thousands of farmers into adhering to crop substitution programs by 2021. But similarly to Colombia, which has recently announced a new program to forcefully eradicate coca fields, Peru’s initiative looks like it will fall far short of expectations. Without substantial support from the state, it is likely that more and more coffee farmers in Peru will continue to drift into the coca fields.

Ecuador Arms Trafficking Ring More Complex Than Previously Thought

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Organized crime structures are known to be moving entire arsenals from Peru into Ecuador and on to armed groups within Colombia. However, the full details about the origins of these weapons and the specific criminal organizations receiving them remain unknown. On February 13, Ecuadorean authorities carried out an operation in the cities of Quito and Riobamba, dismantling an international arms trafficking network that transported, stored and distributed weapons and ammunition from Peru into Ecuador, as well as along Ecuador’s border with Colombia. In an operation dubbed “Armageddon 9,” authorities intercepted two vehicles, raided several warehouses, arrested seven people, seized 500,000 rounds of ammunition and other explosives seemingly bound for Colombia’s black market. While reports of weapons sales from the Ecuadorean army to Colombian criminal groups continue, this operation revealed that high-tech weapons from the United States and Mexico are entering Ecuador through Peru, and then being smuggled into Colombia at several points along the border.

SEE ALSO: Ecuador News and Profile

A report by Ecuadorean authorities explained that the weapons coming from Peru first arrived in El Oro province. From there, they seem to be frequently moved to the city of Guayaquil before being distributed and sold to criminal organizations and other armed groups operating along the Colombian border, notably in Ecuador’s border provinces of Esmeraldas and Sucumbíos. In the last nine years, Ecuador’s police has seized around 40,000 smuggled weapons, including 12,000 high-caliber rifles, which were all bound for criminal organizations. Authorities have been on particularly high alert since October 2018, when “Operation Chameleon” broke up an arms trafficking ring which smuggled weapons from the Ecuadorean army to an ex-FARC mafia group known as the Oliver Sinisterra Front. This group of dissidents from the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) was under the orders of Walter Patricio Arizala, alias “Guacho,” who was one of the most wanted criminals in both Colombia and Ecuador up until his death in December 2018. Despite these successes, Colombian guerrillas continue to receive “large quantities of munitions and high-caliber weaponry” from transnational organized crime groups through Ecuador, according to Ecuadorean prosecutor Wilson Álvarez Valencia. Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo added that doubts remain regarding which organizations in Colombia are specifically receiving weapons from Peru and Ecuador. While the Oliver Sinisterra Front was among them, Romo said they were also equipped with weapons which are not part of the standard arsenal for Ecuador’s security forces, such as 5.56mm and 9mm caliber weaponry.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Ecuadorean army has long faced an internal crisis about some of its elements selling weapons to criminals. The country has also been unable to curtail its role as a transshipment point for other arms smuggling networks. However, despite repeated operations, specifics about the origins of these weapons, the groups moving them and the criminal organizations receiving them, besides the Oliver Sinisterra Front, remain difficult to come by. The involvement of members of the Ecuadorean army is well documented, but successful seizures reveal an international connection on a far larger scale. Ecuador’s government, while accepting responsibility for actions within its own military, has pointed to these larger arsenals coming from abroad through countries like Peru.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

The weapons seized during “Operation Armageddon 9” were being moved to a “range of local groups” in Colombia, according to a high-ranking government source consulted by InSight Crime. More specific information than that, however, was not available. Henry Troya, Ecuador’s former deputy mining minister, told InSight Crime that caches of high-powered weaponry were discovered in flyovers to detect illegal mining operations, including “bombs, grenades, missiles and long-range weapons.” One high-profile case might shine some more light on this. In April 2018, a team of three media workers from the Ecuadorean newspaper El Comercio was kidnapped and later killed by the Oliver Sinisterra Front along the Colombia-Ecuador border. However, Colombian and Ecuadorean authorities have not released a detailed ballistics report about which weapons were used to kill them. Ecuador has taken steps to curb the sell-off of its military equipment, but the practice still continues. Without major international assistance, the country does not have the investigative capacity to track the weapons coming in from outside, or to follow them once they move into Colombia.

Major Odebrecht Corruption Cases and Investigations in 2019

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Since beginning in Brazil with the “Operation Car Wash” (“Operação Lava Jato”) investigation in 2014, the Odebrecht corruption scandal has been headline news across Latin America. Presidents, lawmakers, and business tycoons alike have been charged and jailed across the region. Here, InSight Crime presents a round-up of investigations or trials against prominent figures in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mexico: Mexico has shown a lethargic approach to the Odebrecht scandal. The only high-profile name being investigated for the largest corruption scandal to rock Latin America is Emilio Lozoya Austin. The former president of the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), who served under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, is accused of conducting a corruption scheme that involved ghost companies between 2012 and 2016. In addition, Mexican prosecutors believe that Austin used the hefty bribes received from Odebrecht to fund the electoral campaigns of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI), including that of Peña Nieto. Many in Mexico believe that the lack of accountability and prosecution by the federal government was a way for the former and current administration to protect those who were involved with Odebrecht.  In a country known for its high levels of impunity, it remains to be seen if this case will eventually lead to more far-reaching investigations. In February, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador vowed that the investigation into Odebrecht would continue, which may see more inquiries begin soon. Dominican Republic: Preliminary Odebrecht hearings have dominated news headlines in the Dominican Republic in recent weeks. Known for its entrenched corruption, the Caribbean nation is currently investigating seven people that reportedly received more than $92 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction giant. Two names that stand out from the investigation are current Senator Tommy Galán and former Public Works Minister Víctor Díaz Rúa. Both men are members of the Dominican Liberation Party (Partido de la Liberación Dominicana – PLD), which is gearing up for the 2020 presidential election.  A guilty conviction could potentially tarnish the image of the party and hamper its chances at retaining power as the current president, Danilo Medina, is also a member of the PLD. El Salvador: Former president Mauricio Funes is being investigated for allegedly embezzling $351 million. Odebrecht is suspected of paying out between $1-3 million to Funes during 2009 presidential campaign. Funes, who was president from 2009 to 2014, is also under judicial investigation for reportedly paying off deputies in order to obtain favorable votes in the Legislative Assembly during his presidency. The ex-president has four arrest warrants out against him for corruption cases. He is now residing in Nicaragua protected by political asylum granted by President Daniel Ortega. However, the spokesperson of newly-elected president Nayib Bukele announced that the government will begin talks with Nicaragua to demand Funes’ deportation. Guatemala: Guatemala’s current investigation into Odebrecht is centered on the former minister of infrastructure, and current fugitive, Alejandro Sinibaldi. The Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) claim that Sinibaldi led a criminal structure within the Communications Ministry. Sinibaldi is currently under an Interpol search warrant and an additional eight people with close ties to him are being sought by authorities, including his brothers, Alvaro and Luis Rodrigo Sinibaldi. Another key figure being investigated in Guatemala is former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizón, who was arrested in the United States in January 2018. Baldizón is accused of allegedly receiving bribes from Odebrecht officials to help them with public works contracts in the Central American nation. After a failed attempt to seek asylum in the United States, Baldizón decided to withdraw his request and is now pending extradition to Guatemala. A constitutional crisis has unfolded in Guatemala after President Jimmy Morales decided to ban the CICIG from the country, a move that has been met with public and international backlash. As a result of the absence of the CICIG, the latest hearing against Sinibaldi and Baldizón was suspended and rescheduled for February 27, 2019. It remains to be seen what impact the ongoing crisis with the CICIG will have on the future of the case.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering

Panama: Former President Ricardo Martinelli, who is under arrest, and other people with close ties to his presidency are currently under investigation for allegedly receiving bribes from Odebrecht. Panamanian prosecutors indicate that from 2009 to 2014, the duration of Martinelli’s presidency, payments surpassing $96 million were awarded for infrastructure projects such as road improvement in Chanis, the Tocumen Airport expansion, the urban renewal of Curundú, improvements to Line 1 of the Metro, and many others. As a result, the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office in Panama launched an investigation against the former economy minister Frank de Lima, who is accused of receiving at least $7 million in improper payments. Another high-level name that is currently under investigation is the former minister of public works, Jaime Ford. Ford is linked to accepting illegal bribes from the Brazilian company, as well as being accused of overpricing the Arraijan-La Chorrera Highway project for illicit purposes. Colombia: In Colombia, Odebrecht paid at least $32.5 million in bribes to ensure contracts for the building of the Ruta del Sol highway and other infrastructure projects. Colombia’s Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez has found himself in the spotlight  after Jorge Enrique Pizano, an auditor, revealed secret recordings in which he talked about contract irregularities with Martínez, who was at that time an attorney for Corficolombiana, a minor partner of Odebrecht. Pizano’s tapes with Martinez came to light in a television interview. Pizano, who was suffering from cancer and ultimately died of a heart attack, provided the interview on the condition that they only broadcast it in the event of his death. Congress has opened an investigation into Martinez’s statements about the Obredecht scandal, and he is under pressure to resign. Martinez’s conflict of interest doesn’t stop with Corficolombiana. He was also legal advisor to Luis Carlos Sarmiento, Colombia’s richest man and founder of the conglomerate Grupo Aval. Grupo Aval is a part owner of Corficolombiana and is currently cooperating in a US Justice Department investigation, according to Reuters. Former Senator Otto Nicolás Bula Bula, who was sentenced to two years in jail for bribery, has been the government’s key witness in unraveling the graft scheme. The investigation has ensnared a number of government officials during the administrations of both former presidents Alvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos, including former senator Bernardo Miguel Elías. Ecuador: Ecuador’s Odebrecht case illustrates a close-knit corruption structure that took place under the presidency of Rafael Correa. His childhood friend and ex-vice president, Jorge Glas, who is already serving a jail term for the corruption scandal, has been accused by Luis Mameri, Odebrecht’s vice president in Latin America, of accepting further bribes than initially known through a company named Glory International. In September 2018, the Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office opened a preliminary investigation against eight people for allegedly indulging in organized crime within Odebrecht’s corruption scheme. Among those investigated is former President Rafael Correa, who is currently residing and seeking asylum in Belgium. In addition, former legal secretary of the presidency Alexis Mera, former Interior Minister José Serrano, and former Attorney General Diego García are also being investigated for their role in the Hydroelectric San Francisco Project. Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office recently announced that an additional 11 preliminary investigations were going to be targeting Rafael Correa, Alexis Mera, and Jorge Glas. The latest announcement solidifies Ecuador’s efforts to punish those involved in this corruption scandal.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Peru: To say that the Odebrecht scandal has rocked the political class in Peru would be an understatement. Maria Sokolich, Peru’s new attorney general following the controversial resignation of Pedro Chávarry, is currently overseeing the investigation into some of the country’s top politicians, which are holding or have held the highest office in this country. Current president Martín Vizcarra is being investigated for an alleged link between his company and Odebrecht between 2006 and 2008. His predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has an ongoing investigation against him — which forced his resignation in March 2018 — for alleged consultancies that his company, Westfield Capital, made to Odebrecht between November 2004 and December 2007. Former president Alan García, who was denied an asylum request in Uruguay after the allegations came to light, is accused of taking bribes during the construction of the Lima Metro. The two other former presidents being investigated for allegedly taking bribes are Alejandro Toledo and Ollanta Humala. In March, Odebrecht’s former executive in Peru, Jorge Barata, is expected to declare this in Brazil. Barata’s testimony could potentially create new shockwaves in the Andean nation. Recently, Odebrecht has announced it will cooperate with the Peruvian government. Its former executives in the country are set to be interviewed, which may yet lead to further revelations. Argentina: The Odebrecht investigation in Argentina threatens dozens of former high-level officials linked to public works projects during the presidencies of Néstor Carlos Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015). Most notably are the investigations into Julio de Vido and Daniel Cameron. Julio de Vido, a former minister of federal planning under Fernández, turned himself into authorities in October 2018. De Vido is accused of being part of the “Road Works” scandal, which involves the alleged embezzlement of public funds through tender processes for road works in the former president’s home province of Santa Cruz, as well as other infrastructure projects under his supervision. Meanwhile, former Energy Minister Daniel Cameron is being investigated as part of a case known as “Skanska II,” where irregularities in the expansion of gas pipelines in the country are being linked to a corruption scheme with the collaboration of Odebrecht. However, the level of corruption into the Kirchners’ is more profound. Reports suggest that an additional 14 businessmen and five former employees are also being investigated for many illicit activities in cooperation with the Brazilian construction giant. Bolivia: Bolivia’s has a history of favorable dealings with Brazilian companies that dates back to 1987. In that year, then-Energy Minister Carlos Morales Landívar was accused of using his political influence to favor the Brazilian company, Andrade Gutierrez. Now, Landívar is being accused of being involved in 2003 with Camargo Correa — among the 13 major companies in Brazil under investigation in the Lava Jato case — when he was minister of services and public works. However, the names directly linked to the Odebrecht case are the former president and current 2019 presidential hopeful Carlos Mesa and his successor, Supreme Court Justice and former president Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé. Both are being investigated for allegedly receiving bribes from Odebrecht during their presidencies, which spanned between 2003 and 2006. Mesa’s investigation could play a pivotal role in the presidential elections that are to be held in October. A conviction in Mesa’s case could leave the door wide open for Evo Morales to be reelected. Brazil: Over the past five years in Brazil, more than 77 company executives have agreed to plea bargains, one president was impeached, another former president is currently in jail, and his successor is now also being investigated as a result of the Odebrecht scandal. That’s just a slight glimpse of the far-reaching impact that the Lava Jato case has had on South America’s largest nation. On February 6, currently jailed former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was indicted for additional charges that would add 13 extra years to his current sentence. Lula is accused of receiving illicit benefits during his mandate from 2003 to 2010. In addition to Lula, other people close to his inner circle have been accused and arrested for corruption. One of those people, former Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha, has been in prison since 2016. Cunha is accused of receiving a $5 million bribe. However, despite his current arrest, Brazilian prosecutors have requested further charges against him. Meanwhile, Aécio Neves, a former governor and 2014 presidential candidate, is accused of receiving bribes in exchange for support for legislation mainly regarding works that were of interest to Odebrecht when he was governor of Minas Gerais state. Neves’ investigation is ongoing while he maintains a seat as a senator for Minas Gerais. Lastly, former President Michel Temer (2016-2018) has made headlines as Brazil’s federal police have asked for him to be charged with bribery and money laundering. According to officials, while vice-president in 2014, Temer and his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro – PMDB) received more than $2 million from Odebrecht. Now that Sérgio Moro, who was once leading the Lava Jato corruption probe, is the new justice minister under President Jair Bolsonaro, close attention will be focused on sweeping new legislation that he has proposed to combat corruption.  

Peru’s Crusade Against Corruption Faces Severe Uphill Struggle

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With four former presidents embroiled in corruption scandals, Peru’s President Martín Vizcarra described 2019 as the year of the fight against corruption and impunity. But in an unfortunate twist that was sadly predictable, an inquiry has been opened into Vizcarra’s own dealings with Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, potentially leaving his crusade dead on arrival. The year had started brightly. On January 9, alongside Prime Minister César Villanueva and Justice Minister Vicente Zeballos, Vizcarra signed into law constitutional reforms which had been voted on by the Peruvian people in December 2018. These include revamping the appointment of magistrates and prosecutors, halting the immediate reelection of lawmakers to Congress after a five-year term, and instituting regulations to government financing of political parties. Vizcarra’s pledge to combat corruption in the country began in July 2018 when he proposed dismantling the former National Judiciary Council after scandalous reports revealed that members of the council had been involved in corrupt activities.

SEE ALSO: Peru’s Judicial Corruption Scandal, Explained

The measure, which was widely supported by the national congress, consequently paved the way for the creation of a new selection board, responsible for the selection, appointment, sanctioning and ratification of judges and prosecutors at all levels.

InSight Crime Analysis

When Vizcarra arrived to power, the reputation of the Peruvian presidency was in tatters. Former President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) is a fugitive from Interpol, living in the United States and fighting an extradition order on charges of having received $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht. Alan García, the two-time president (1985-1990, 2006-2011) and perennial political comeback king, is banned from leaving the country on suspicion of corruption in the building of Lima’s metro, despite an aborted attempt to seek asylum at the Uruguayan embassy in November. Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) stands charged with receiving at least $3 million from Odebrecht for his election campaign, at the behest of his wife, Nadine Heredia. Vizcarra’s predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned in March 2018 after seemingly lying about previous business ties to the Brazilian firm as well as being accused of vote-buying. And, for years, it has been rather common for embattled elites in Peru to receive either light sentences or no punishment at all. Such was the case in 2014, when more than 115 political candidates were linked and investigated for ties with drug trafficking, however, almost no one was convicted.

SEE ALSO: Odebrecht Scandal Takes Political Elites by Storm in Peru

The task facing Vizcarra was momentous, therefore. His actions in his first year of office seemed to highlight a commitment to combat corruption in a country, which ranks 105th out of 180, in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. But in January, allegations emerged against Vizcarra himself. A congressional oversight committee has opened an investigation into a possible link between a local company of whom Vizcarra was previously part-owner of and the Brazilian construction firm. The president has denied the allegations and has stated that “[he is] not afraid at all.” Despite the announcement of this investigation on January 16, a poll conducted since shows that Vizcarra maintained a 60 percent approval rating in the country. Large street protests against the entire political spectrum were seen when Vizcarra took office. However, he seemed able to rally the population behind him, with almost 80 percent of Peruvians approving the constitutional reforms that he proposed last December. This social pressure has undoubtedly allowed Vizcarra to take rapid strides and he seems keen on continuing this momentum in 2019. Certainly, his reforms, such as the creation of the JNJ and his fight to extradite fugitive officials back to Peru, are laudable. However, one thing is clear, the scandal into Vizcarra’s own dealings risks bringing him down in a country that is already fed up, and wrecking any real chance at reforming Peru’s political system.

InSight Crime’s 2018 Homicide Round-Up

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With a worsening crisis in Venezuela, dark days in Nicaragua, an ever more fragile peace process in Colombia, new governments and new ideas in Brazil, Mexico and beyond, 2018 was a year of turmoil across Latin America and the Caribbean. Homicide levels have reflected this uncertainty, rising sharply in parts, continuing to drop in others. In its Homicide Round-Up, InSight Crime looks into the murder rates country by country and the factors behind them.  Venezuela: 81.4 per 100,000 Venezuela has not given up its status as the Latin American country with the highest homicide rate, at 81.4 homicides per 100,000 people, or 23,047 murders. While this number is slightly down from the 26,616 murders reported in 2017, the country remains wracked by severe political, economic, and social conflicts. A report from the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia – OVV), the only public source of homicides in the country, put the murder rate at 81.4 in 2018, down from 89 in 2017. But this drop might not be cause for optimism, as it is based on 2011 population figures and does not take into account the massive migration of an estimated three million Venezuelans fleeing crisis. The OVV also found that this supposed reduction in homicides contrasts with a sharp increase in killings by security forces — 7,523 victims in 2018 as opposed to 5,535 in 2017 — accounting for an astounding 32 percent of all homicides. While the government has not published official crime statistics for 2018, InSight Crime had access to a leaked document from the Venezuelan Observatory for Public Security, a department within the Interior Ministry. This spoke of an official rate of 10,573 homicides in 2018, or just 33 per 100,000 people, showing that the government does not include cases of “resisting authority” or other categories, such as victims of stray bullets. El Salvador: 51 per 100,000 El Salvador logged 3,340 homicides in 2018, a 15 percent drop from 2017. The resulting homicide rate of 51 per 100,000 people continues the downward trend seen in El Salvador in recent years. As recently as 2016, the country topped InSight Crime’s regional rankings with an alarming rate of 81.2 per 100,000. In 2017, the rate dropped by 20 homicides per 100,000, but the country remained second on the list, only behind Venezuela. El Salvador’s homicide rate has long been linked to its two dominant and deadly gangs: the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and the Barrio 18. Though there may be a number of causes for the reduction in killings, such as the gangs forgoing internecine wars, the government has claimed its “mano dura,” or what are euphemistically termed “medidas extraordinarias” (extraordinary measures) now, was largely responsible. That same crackdown, however, explains a United Nations report that found extrajudicial killings were on the rise and likely to go unpunished. During the first two weeks of the new year, 126 people were murdered. Police officials blamed the gangs for the bloodshed, accusing them of a show of force ahead of presidential elections on February 3. Jamaica: 47 per 100,000 In an address to the House of Representatives, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness said homicides decreased by 21.9 percent last year. The country recorded 1,287 murders in 2018 for a homicide rate of 47 per 100,000 people. The police have attributed this improvement to the creation of Zones of Special Operation (ZOSO), areas in which the military joins in policing efforts. As part of his plan to bring the murder rate to 16 per 100,000 over the next decade, Holness has advocated for 20 more special security zones to be designated in 2019. Last year’s drop in homicides, however, comes after a near 20 percent rise in killings in 2017, which was linked to the poor rollout of the ZOSO plan and similar security crackdowns.

(InSight Crime map of homicide rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. Click the picture for a larger version.)

Honduras: 40 per 100,000* Between January to November 2018, Honduras saw 3,310 murders, according to the Observatory of Violence at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras – UNAH). This would point to a homicide rate of 40 per 100,000 people, a minor decrease from the 42.8 per 100,000 registered in 2017, when there were 3,791 murders. After hitting a high of 85.5 murders per 100,000 people in 2011, Honduras’ murder rate was cut in half by 2017. As in neighboring El Salvador, security officials attributed the downward trend to a government crackdown against drug traffickers and gangs. But officials have also blamed limited year-over-year reductions in the homicide rate on the very same security strategy, saying it leads to retaliation by criminal groups. In the first two weeks of 2019, 30 people were murdered in eight separate massacres, showing that the regular cocktail of gang violence, high levels of impunity and corruption continue. Trinidad and Tobago: 37.5 per 100,000 The year proved to be the second deadliest in the country’s history with 516 homicides, behind only 2008 when 550 people were killed. Despite its relatively small population of 1.3 million people, Trinidad and Tobago has seen violence grow steadily worse in recent years. Impunity continues to be a major challenge, as the Caribbean nation’s police officials have admitted that at least 83 percent of the murder cases from last year remain unsolved. Belize: 35.9 per 100,000 Despite being the smallest country in Central America, Belize has faced a stubbornly high homicide rate. While official stats have yet to come out, local media tallied 143 murders in 2018, just two less than in 2012, the country’s most violent year. The government has denied that Belize is a staging base for criminal groups such as the Zetas and Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) from Mexico, or the MS13 from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. However, a persistently high homicide rate shows that while Belize may have stayed out of the headlines, organized crime appears to be a major threat. Mexico: 25.8 per 100,000 Enrique Peña Nieto’s tenure as Mexico’s president ended with homicides at a record high. In 2018, the country logged 33,341 murders, up from 31,174 in 2017, according to data from the National System of Public Security. This brings the murder rate to 25.8 per 100,000 up from 22.5 in 2017 and 16.2 in 2016. The spike in homicides has been spurred by the continued fragmentation of larger cartels, and the government’s inability to react to the less organized, smaller gangs, which kill for control of territory. The new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has reversed his security plans, advocating for the creation of a national guard and keeping the military in the streets to try and stem the bloodshed after an average of 91 people were killed per day last year. Brazil: 25 per 100,000* 2017 marked a sad record for Brazil: 175 people were killed every day.  Last year saw slight improvement, with 39,183 murders between January and September, down from 44,733 killings in the same period in 2017, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum (Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública). If this reduction held, it would bring the murder rate to 25 per 100,000 people for the year. But insecurity and violence continue to be top concerns for much of the population, as Brazil struggles to find effective ways to stop violent crime. The army was sent in to Rio de Janeiro in 2017, the latest example of a militarization strategy that has consistently failed in Latin America. Jair Bolsonaro was propelled to the presidency largely by pledging to allow police to shoot criminals and to simplify gun ownership laws. So far in 2019, criminal groups have unleashed an assault on the state of Ceará, and the government has responded to the violence with federal troops, turning northeastern Brazil into a battle zone. Such outright conflict may add to the body count, meaning Brazil will be unable to address the root causes of its consistently high murder rate. Colombia: 25 per 100,000* After seeing its lowest level of violence in 42 years in 2017, Colombia saw a small resurgence of violence in 2018, increasing to 12,311 homicides from 11,381 in 2017. This four percent rise takes the homicide rate to 25 per 100,000 people, up from 24 last year. In 2018, Colombia saw an increase and diversification of criminal groups in Colombia, including former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), who have gathered into ex-FARC Mafia groups that are growing in strength, as well as members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN). The increasing number of FARC dissidents abandoning the peace process and the breakdown in talks with the ELN have emboldened these organizations. Furthermore, violence has risen along the border with Venezuela while social leaders have been killed as a result of fighting over control of illicit crops and land. Guatemala: 22.4 per 100,000 Guatemala continued to show marked improvements in its homicide rate, ending the year at 22.4 per 100,000 people. The country recorded 3,881 killings in 2018, down from 4,409 murders and a homicide rate of 26.1 in 2017, according to government officials. But civil society figures tell a different story. The Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo – GAM), a non-governmental organization which tracks crime in the country, said the official tally was short by over 1,000 homicides, placing the total at 4,914 and the murder rate at 28 per 100,000. Either way, Guatemala remains less plagued with violence than its Northern Triangle neighbors in Honduras and El Salvador. The findings of InSight Crime’s 2017 investigation into homicides in Guatemala remain valid. President Jimmy Morales’ war with the anti-corruption body known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) has left little room for the government to improve on rampant impunity for murders and faulty data-gathering about such crimes. Puerto Rico: 20 per 100,000 Puerto Rico saw its murder rate remain at 20 per 100,000 people in 2018, about four times that of the mainland United States. Records show that 641 people were killed last year, a dip from the 710 murders in 2017, and far below the record 1,164 homicides in 2011. Local drug gangs are largely to blame for the body count, with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) saying some 60 percent of homicides there are drug-related. This year, Puerto Rico has already seen a wave of killings, worrying residents and federal law enforcement. A police force struggling to maintain its ranks, as well as solve crimes, will only fuel insecurity on the island. Costa Rica: 11.7 per 100,000 With just 17 fewer homicides in 2018, Costa Rica saw its homicide rate remain relatively stable. The Central American country counted 586 murders, dropping the murder rate slightly from 12.1 to 11.7 per 100,000 people. Until last year’s drop, the homicide rate had steadily increased since 2012. The country’s Judicial Investigation Agency (Organismo de Investigación Judicial – OIJ) had even predicted the same for 2018. Traditionally one of Central America’s more peaceful nations, the country has suffered from rising levels of crime recently, thanks to its position as a key transit point for Colombian cocaine. The government has struggled to respond to an increase in available drugs, which has led to groups fighting for control of local markets. Uruguay: 11.2 per 100,000 Uruguay recorded a record high 382 murders in 2018. With 99 more homicides than in 2017, this marked a brutal year-over-year increase of 35 percent and a homicide rate of 11.2 per 100,000 people. These statistics are drawn from the Propuestas Foundation (Fundapro), linked to the opposition Colorado Party. Official figures have only been released for the first half of the year, showing 218 murders, as compared to 131 from January-June 2017. For one of the traditionally more peaceful and stable countries in the region, this sudden rise is alarming. Authorities are convinced fighting between organized crime groups is to blame. However, this may provide a convenient scapegoat to justify a militarized response when other problems, such as lackluster resolution and conviction rates for homicides, may also have contributed to the situation. Dominican Republic: 10.4 per 100,000* The Citizen Security Observatory reported that 801 murders were registered in the Caribbean nation during the first nine months of 2018, a drop of 145 when compared to the 946 homicides registered for the same period in 2017. Although this shows a continued downward trend that has lasted since 2011, a recent poll shows that public insecurity remains a top concern for the Dominican population. Panama: 9.6 per 100,000* In December, Panama’s Public Ministry released a report showing that there were 401 murders between January and November of 2018, about a dozen fewer than the 378 deaths in 2017. At this count, the homicide rate sits at 9.6 per 100,000 people. The report highlighted that more than 40 percent (169) of the incidents occurred in the capital, Panama City. National Police Director Alonso Vega Pino says that the slight increase is “directly related to organized crime.” Panama’s geography makes it a vital transit point for illegal trade in the region. An internal investigation into an international arms trafficking network in October 2018 illustrated the country’s ongoing challenges with confronting corruption and organized crime. Peru: 7.8 per 100,000* In 2017, Peru registered 2,487 murders, slightly up from the 2,435 in 2016, for a homicide rate of 7.8 per 100,000. No data is available for 2018 so far. The country has maintained relatively low levels of violent crime in recent decades, though institutionalized corruption is threatening resources dedicated to fighting Peru’s ongoing drug trafficking challenges. Bolivia: 6.3 per 100,000 During a televised news conference, Bolivia’s Interior Minister Carlos Romero announced that the country had registered a homicide rate of 6.3 per 100,000 people in 2018, a more than two percent improvement compared to the first half of 2017, when the country recorded a rate of 8.5 per 100,000. The announcement comes as the country prepares for primary presidential elections on January 27.  In the past year, opposition groups who firmly reject Evo Morales decision to run for a fourth consecutive term have conducted mass demonstrations and national strikes. The presidential elections, which will take place in October, are likely to take the focus away from national security issues at a time when Brazil’s gangs are moving into the South American nation. Ecuador: 5.7 per 100,000 Ecuador saw 975 murders in 2018, 18 more than the 957 recorded in 2017, giving the country a homicide rate of 5.7 per 100,000 people, according to figures from the national police. Less than a decade ago, Ecuador faced murder rates three times as high, but a process of so-called “gang legalization” has helped drastically reduce killings. However, an increase in drug trafficking from Colombia to Ecuador has renewed concerns about violence. The high-profile killing of three journalists by an ex-FARC mafia group has also made cross-border security a priority for the government. Argentina: 5.2 per 100,000* In the midst of a deep economic crisis, Argentina continues to have one of the lowest homicide rates on the continent. Argentina recorded a homicide rate of 5.2 per 100,000 people in 2017, a slight decrease from 6.6 in 2015, according to Security Ministry figures. No data was available for 2018 so far. Low levels of violence, however, haven’t translated into security. In December, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich signed a decree giving federal forces greater use of deadly force. The measure, expected to be implemented six months from now, is already creating controversy and uncertainty within the Argentine population. Paraguay: 5.1 per 100,000* The latest homicide report by Paraguay’s National Observatory of Security and Citizen Coexistence indicates that a total of 350 murders were recorded between January and September of 2018. This statistic yields a murder rate of 5.1 per 100,000, considerably lower than the homicide rate of 7.8 recorded in 2017. However, Interior Minister Juan Ernesto Villamayor recently stated in a radio interview that the country must reevaluate its transnational strategies with Argentina and Brazil to combat organized crime in the region. The First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), Brazil’s most powerful gang, continues to threaten the country’s security. Chile: 2.7 per 100,000 Chile continues its reign as the country with the lowest homicide rate in Latin America. From January to October 2018, a total of 488 killings were recorded, accounting for a homicide rate of 2.7 per 100,000 people. This is even lower than the country’s homicide rate of 3.3 that was registered for the same period of time in 2017. Even with low levels of homicides, Chile has seen random acts of violence. An explosive artifact, for example, was detonated at a local bus stop in the capital city of Santiago, resulting in multiple injuries. With organized crime expected to strengthen in 2019, it remains to be seen if Chile can continue to uphold its low levels of violence. Nicaragua: N/A In 2017, Nicaragua registered a homicide rate of 7 per 100,000 people, with 431 total murders, continuing a positive trend of lower violence seen over several years. However, levels of violence soared in 2018 due to the brutal repression of civilian protesters by the regime of President Daniel Ortega. Incomplete statistics of killings have been provided by civil society and non-governmental organizations. The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (Asociación Nicaragüense Pro Derechos Humanos – ANDPH) recorded in July that at least 448 had been killed and 595 people disappeared. Further information from the group has not been issued since it closed its offices in Nicaragua in August due to consistent government threats. * Murder rates calculated by InSight Crime based on partial homicide data for 2018 and the country’s 2017 estimated population total, according to the Population Reference Bureau. These will be updated as full 2018 figures become available.

Trans Women: The Unseen Victims of Human Trafficking

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Sharon welcomes us to her home in the baking jungle of Pucallpa. She wears sandals and a long dress with her hair tied back. She has finished serving dinner to her family and invites us into the yard, away from prying ears. She tells us how, at just 20 years old, she has already escaped human traffickers twice. Back in October 2014, she was just 16 when her life changed. Her parents had begun to accept her trans identity, and she was looking for new ways to bring money home — other than prostitution. When a woman offered her a job as a cashier in a bar in Huánuco, eight hours from her hometown, she leapt at the opportunity. But when she got to the bar, they locked her up, dressed her as a man and offered her up to customers looking for beer and sex.

Violence and Slavery

“The police raided us and pushed us outside. They left me in a men’s shelter with nothing but my clothes. My dad had to go and get me out. We found the owner of the bar, but she wouldn’t pay me the salary she owed me.” Police and judicial records of the raid on October 23, 2014, show that “acts against morality” were recorded on the premises but nothing identifies Sharon as a victim. *This article was originally published by Ojo Público. It was translated, edited for clarity and reprinted with permission, but does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the original version in Spanish here. Sharon’s mother hugs her between photographs and asks if she’s eaten enough. The second time Sharon was taken, her mother felt she was to blame. An adult trans woman, well-known in the neighborhood, promised to take Sharon to work as her assistant at a beauty salon in Argentina. All her mother had to do was sign the travel permit. The journey was over land and seemed to last forever. They stopped over in Lima and passed through Santiago de Chile before reaching the city of La Plata, near Buenos Aires. And Sharon’s body already had a price when she arrived: a year and a half as a prostitute to pay for the trip. She was there six months before her mother raised the money to buy her return ticket. “That neighbor still comes back to the neighborhood, but she doesn’t say anything to me because she knows I can defend myself,” Sharon says.

The Road to Exploitation

In this report, we document the vulnerabilities that surround the lives of trans adolescents and adults when they leave their homes, whether to simply express their sexual identity or whether they are driven out by violence from their families, and how this uprooting makes them easy targets for human trafficking or the child sex trade. The main route for this kind of exploitation runs through the Peruvian jungle to Lima, then continues into countries such as Argentina and Italy. However, the full nature of this violence eludes most victims because they believe it is the price to pay for being who they are. Requests were sent for public information to the national police, the Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Populations (Ministerio de la Mujer y Poblaciones Vulnerables – MIMP), the Attorney General’s Office and the court system to find out how many LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) minors and adults have been rescued from sexual exploitation and human trafficking, how many were granted government protection and which cases resulted in legal action. Figures show that in 2017 alone police freed 725 people from trafficking, the Attorney General’s Office had 1,464 cases underway and the MIMP admitted seven at-risk women. But it is unknown how many of the alleged victims belong to the LGBTI population because the government registration system is binary, meaning it only allows victims to be classified as male or female. Appealing to the memory of the officials who handled the cases is the only way to learn a victim’s LGBTI status. Because of such oversights, stories like Sharon’s become invisible, disappearing into statistical data that does not recognize the existence of trans people. To reconstruct these cases, we contacted the eight prosecutors specializing in human trafficking — assigned to eight regions in Peru for the past two years — as well as the 24 organized crime prosecutor’s offices, which operate nationally. Only in Lima’s human trafficking office were we able to confirm four investigations in progress involving transgender minors or adults alleged to have been trafficking victims. Meanwhile, the central region of Junín has no records. There is no judicial process for victims such as Otilia. “I filed the complaint by choice. They’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing,” she told us. We went to the same square in Pucallpa where, three years ago, a woman approached Otilia to buy some food. At the time, she was working as a street vendor selling food out of a wheelbarrow. The woman praised Otilia’s cooking and offered her a job as a cook in her restaurant. She accepted and left home. Her journey took her to the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers (Valle de los ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro – VRAEM), an area known for extreme poverty and a high incidence of terrorism and drug trafficking. “I was locked up for a year and eight months, without seeing the light of day, without a good night’s sleep. The woman fed me like a dog. It was a bar, and she wanted me to sell my body. I never did it. I refused and locked myself in the kitchen. Maybe she locked me up because I was a faggot or because I didn’t want to work. I escaped through a window. I broke it. Nothing mattered to me anymore. I told the police everything, but they didn’t believe me,” she said. But a woman who sold lunches in a village in Junín’s Pangoa district did believe her. She gave her a job washing dishes, and after four months Otilia earned enough money to return home. Her family had already given her up for dead. And the complaint she filed with the Junín police department? It never made it to the human trafficking prosecutor’s office.

IQUITOS, LORETO

The Amazonian city of Iquitos houses a robust tourism industry thanks to its location and the neighborhood of Belén, known as the Venice of the Amazon. But it is also the first stop for many girls and trans adolescents poverty or violence in their native communities around the region of Loreto. The first leg of their trip can often only be completed after or days of travel by boat. “K” left her native village of Tamshiyacu, on the bank of the Amazon River, at the age of 12, weeks after she was diagnosed with HIV. It was at this young age that she had to decide whether to continue living in a conservative, religious community where transgender people and HIV are believed to be the work of the devil and antiretroviral treatment is scarce. “Finding out (she was HIV-positive) was the most difficult thing that ever happened to me,” she said. Today, she is 23 and has still not told her parents of her diagnosis, which is why she does not want to share her real name. According to Ximena Salazar, an anthropologist at the Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University, trans people begin to reveal their identity between 10 and 13 years old. At that age, they usually have no documents and no means of financial support, have not completed their education, and leave home because their families have rejected them or they seek a place where they can come to terms with their gender identity. Their migratory journey is clandestine and often marred by violence, persecution, discrimination and denial of their human and civil rights. These circumstances make them high vulnerable to traffickers and others who would exploit them. Chriss is also from Tamshiyacu and arrived at Iquitos at the same age as K. She had not even completed primary school. She and her parents were eventually able to resolve their initial rejection of her gender identity, and they all live under the same roof. Chriss helps to care for her siblings, nieces and nephews with the money she earns as a prostitute. At 23 years old, she wants to go to Italy because she has heard that other trans women earn more money there, perhaps enough to buy homes for their families. Carlobi Ríos, coordinator of the Trans Network (Red Trans) in Loreto, acknowledges that girls willingly go to Italy and Argentina to prostitute themselves, but most of them are not warned that they will be forced to sell drugs or to steal to pay for their travel and accommodation costs. “It brings in more profits. And do you think they can say refuse,” she asks. Older trans women or “mothers” often front the money for the trips. Other times it may be criminals who control several girls at a time, even deceiving them into believing they are a couple. But, again, the Loreto police department does not identify trans victims. Prostitution is not illegal in Peru, but facilitating or profiting from the sexual activity of a third party falls under laws banning aiding and abetting, procurement and pimping. Peru’s criminal code also includes the more serious crimes of sexual exploitation — forcing someone to perform sexual acts in exchange for money — and human trafficking. Victims often become dependent on their captors and ultimately submit. “The mother feeds you or protects you from being beaten, but in return she uses your body to make money. The ‘husband’ lives off of us, beats us, harasses us, and we don’t say anything because we think it’s normal. The girls don’t think it’s exploitation, trafficking or abuse. You could make them sleep on the floor, and they’d be grateful because they don’t know anything else. We’ve entered a cycle of normalized violence,” explains Miluska Luzquiño, director of nonprofit organization Peru Trans Network (Red Trans Perú), which defends the rights of trans people. Of all the members of the LGBTI population, trans people have the least opportunity to escape from this cycle. A 2016 survey of 118 trans women across six regions of Peru, by the organization No Tengo Miedo (I Have No Fear), found that 38% had not completed elementary or secondary school and 50.8% had no medical insurance of any kind. Nor do they have national identification documents. In some cases, they may choose not to obtain or renew them as because they know it will not reflect the gender they identify as. Without family, school or a workplace that accepts them, trans people survive in a world of exclusion. In 2016 Peru’s Congress introduced Bill 790, supported by the Peru Trans Network. If passed, it would allow trans people to modify the name and gender that appears on their national identification. It would also enact measures to stop discrimination and support their access to decent work. However, the bill has been languishing in the legislature’s Women and Family Commission since December 2016.

Lima: Transit Point and Shelter Area

Behind a church in the center of Peru’s capital city, the night keeps the sexual exploitation of trans people well hidden. Slaves of the Sacred Heart (Esclavas del Sagrado Corazón) is the name of the church that stands less than a block from Tacna Avenue, Lima’s major artery leading to its historic center. The church’s walls also reach Washington Street, where dozens of transsexual prostitutes speak of violence and the violation rights they did not know they had. Many of the trans people along Washington prostitute themselves without pimps because the last one who operated there was arrested eight months ago. Only by striking up a conversation with them could we learn who migrated to Lima from other cities like Iquitos, Pucallpa, Chiclayo and Trujillo in their adolescence, whether in the footsteps of an older trans person or with a false boyfriend whom they ultimately paid back for the protection or love they were promised through prostitution. Only 15 years old, Daleska says no one is exploiting her, but she knows what is happening. “People like me, or younger, fall in love with a man, but he only sees money. He sees that he can make money because of their age or maybe because they’re pretty. The emotional blackmail attached to our sexuality is normal because we feel lonely, because we never had affection, because they throw us out. So they blackmail you. They do what they want with you, and the only thing left is to obey and give them the money. They buy them clothes and let them live off of them.” Daleska migrated from Chiclayo, a city on Peru’s northern coast, at the age of 13. She lives with other trans people in some of downtown Lima’s old mansions, in cubicles measuring two square meters for $10 a night. The only thing she has from her past are two childhood photographs. In its report Trafficking in Persons, the US State Department warns that LGBTI people — especially those who are trans — are susceptible to every type of vulnerability linked to sex trafficking. Since 2015 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has recommended improving victim identification procedures and adapting assistance services to meet the needs of such vulnerable groups. But in Peru, the Investigative Division Against Human Trafficking (División de Investigación contra la Trata de Personas – DIVINTRAP) does not investigate who belongs to the LGBTI population, nor does it keep tabs on where they are. “We’re waiting for this vulnerable population to come to us in order to know what problems they’re going through and, from there, establish different strategies. We have trained personnel, and we ask them to trust the police,” stated DIVINTRAP head Colonel Antonio Capa. But Luzquiño maintains that the only relationship the trans population has with the Peruvian authorities — especially the local police — is violence. In the most extreme cases, water hoses have been used to throw them out onto the streets, beat them, or abandon them in vacant lots. They have also insisted on treating trans women as males and made fun of them when they accuse their partners of assault. The rejection of trans people by local authorities is so severe that 11 of Lima’s 43 municipalities include the “eradication of homosexuals” or “transvestites” in their public security plans. The Attorney-General’s Office is the only institution in Peru to have included the LGBTI option in its registration system, when entering data about the victim of a crime. For Para Rosario López Wong, the head of the Assistance to Victims and Witnesses Bureau (Udavit), that is where the invisibility of these victims begins. Reversing this process is crucial; not only for trans people but the entire LGBTI community, and will have no effect if other institutions do not follow suit. “We need to show that we can apply drastic sanctions to traffickers who take advantage of the discrimination and exclusion suffered by transgender people. This is a challenge because it is difficult for this group to understand that their dignity has been violated, “explains Wong. The current National Plan against Trafficking in Persons 2017-2021, dedicates, for the first time, a few paragraphs to the LGBTI population. It recognizes their vulnerability and the difficulty they have in “accessing protection and care services, creating a double victimization.” The plan states that LGBTI people have full rights as victims of human trafficking but includes no plans or measures to ensure this happens. “How do you denounce the disappearance and exploitation of a trans person?” asked Luzquiño. Any missing persons poster would likely bear a name and photo that do not correspond to reality. In most cases, there is no identity document to track them. Relatives may not be worried about their absence, ignoring the fact that they are potentially trapped in sexual slavery. “We practically do not exist,” the activist replied. These are silent victims, yet authorities expect them to speak up first. *This article was originally published by Ojo Público. It was translated, edited for clarity and reprinted with permission, but does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the original version in Spanish here.

Soccer Corruption Hits Peru With Leading Arrest

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The arrest of former president of the Peruvian Soccer Federation, Edwin Oviedo, showcases a new chapter in the profitable relationship between soccer and corruption in Latin America. On December 6, Oviedo was arrested for crimes he allegedly committed as a member of the “White Collars of the Port“, based in Callao, including influence peddling and bribery, Led by former Supreme Court Judge César Hinostroza, the White Collars were made up of business leaders, judges and other judicial officials, among others. Oviedo allegedly covered up illicit expenses by Hinostroza during the 2018 World Cup in Russia and gave him several tickets for matches by the Peruvian national team, according to a witness under protection.       SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer Crime In exchange for these gifts, Oviedo was seemingly favored in a legal case against another criminal network he is suspected of belonging to, known as the Wachiturros of Tumán. He is accused of having led the group, which allegedly orchestrated the murder of two trade unionists at the Tumán sugar company, owned by Oviedo’s conglomerate. “There was a criminal organization within the sugar mill that silenced anyone who opposed the judicial administration chosen by Mr. Edwin Oviedo,” said prosecutor Juan Carrasco, who is in charge of the Wachiturros case. Right now, Oviedo is in detention awaiting the next steps in the White Collars case, while Agustín Lozano has been named acting president of the FPF. However, Lozano is close to Oviedo and is also under investigation.

InSight Crime Analysis

When the FIFA graft scandal broke, it was the biggest corruption scandal in the history of soccer, leading to the downfall of 16 leaders of soccer governing bodies across in Central and South America and other high-ranking figures within FIFA. Many of those implicated in the case were accused of bribery and illicit enrichment. It was hoped that the scandal would be a wake-up call and usher in a new push for transparency in soccer associations, especially throughout Latin America. But that has not come to pass, as more cases continue to make headlines and tarnish the reputation of the most popular sport in the world.

SEE ALSO: Jail Time for LatAm Officials Won’t Kick FIFA Corruption Problem

Crooked soccer executives throughout South America have a thorough understanding of how powerful the fanaticism the sport generates can be. They take full advantage of the sport’s ability to distract while it entertains in order to amass their illicit profits. The love affair between soccer and organized crime has not only manifested itself in acts of corruption and fraud, but also drug trafficking and money laundering. In some cases, it has gotten to the point where supporter groups of particular teams have become comparable to all-out gangs, as with many of Argentina’s barras bravas. As further cases are revealed, current soccer scandals may barely be the tip of the iceberg.