It is a lightning logistics exercise involving loaders, landing strip signalmen, one or two cartel pilots and typically a single-engine Cessna plane purchased on the second-hand market in the United States. The operation is repeated once or twice a week in an area with no radar. Surveillance is carried out by a small fleet of anti-narcotics police aircraft.
The operation begins with a drug trafficker who hires a plane and its pilots in Bolivia to fly to the central jungle of Peru and pick up a drug load. The pilot takes with him the money to pay for the cargo.
The plane lands on an improvised track in the middle of the jungle and signaled by two men with a colored plastic banner as beacons.
A group of locals, commonly called ‘backpackers’, transports the drug from collection points in the jungle to the landing strip. Each backpacker loads up to 30 kilos of cocaine on trips that can take all day. Each will receive $15 to $20 per kilo, the equivalent to almost three times the minimum monthly salary ($262) in Peru.
While the backpackers are loading the drug on the plane, the money is delivered in boxes and suitcases. The drug trafficker who ordered the drugs will pay an average of $1,000 per kilo of cocaine. According to Colonel Jhonel Castillo Mendieta with the Peruvian National Police, as many as 30 people participate in the operation: backpackers, pilots, security and landing strip signalmen.
The fate of the drugs
Only seven minutes after landing, the plane takes off over the jungle packed with 300 kilos of cocaine. It is headed back to Bolivia, where the drug is will be distributed to markets in Brazil and Argentina. Some loads will be sent to Venezuela, for the U.S. market.
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