By David Blanco Bonilla
LIMA – A spate of murders by contract killers amid an apparent war among drug gangs has alarmed Lima residents and spurred Peruvian officials to propose harsher punishments for hired guns.
The latest police reports show nearly 40 contract killings in greater Lima during the first four months of 2015.
The threat was highlighted by an April 1 attack on businessman Gerald Oropeza, who is a fugitive from drug-trafficking charges.
Unidentified assailants hurled firebombs and fired shots at Oropeza’s car and.
Police said Sunday that the alleged drug trafficker appears to have fled to neighboring Ecuador after having been wounded in the assault, while Peruvian media reported the businessman was targeted over an unpaid $5 million debt to a drug lord.
A key witness in the attack on Oropeza, Patrick Zapata Coletti, 25, was found fatally shot April 19, a few days after he gave a statement to police.
Last week, Antonio Amadeo Saucedo, a man media accounts linked to Zapata’s death, was shot and killed while traveling by taxi in Lima’s upscale San Isidro neighborhood.
“Murder-for-hire is a relatively new crime that has increased quickly over the past six or seven years,” former Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi told Efe.
“For some time now,” he said, “Peru has been the world’s largest producer of cocaine and this is a problem” that should be tackled by confronting institutional corruption and establishing a special unit to take on organized crime.
According to a report by the newspaper El Comercio, Peru produces annually some 400 tons of pure cocaine and drug trafficking is a $6.5 billion-a-year business.
Peruvian authorities say the problem is far from becoming the critical issue it is in countries such as Mexico, but Rospigliosi said Peru “is on the road to that.”
Last Saturday, Interior Minister Gustavo Adrianzen said he will request more severe penalties for hired killers and an extension of pre-indictment detention periods to facilitate investigations.
The non-governmental organization Lima como vamos, in a report on quality of life in Peru’s capital, found that 82 percent of Lima residents consider crime the main problem.