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Colombian Police Have Tracked Down 'The Snail', Peru's Most-Wanted Drug Trafficker

Gerson Gálvez Calle, aka the Snail, is allegedly the leader of the Barrio King criminal organization that is involved in the trafficking of cocaine to Mexico and Europe.
Photo de Leonardo Munoz/EPA

Peruvian crime lord Gerson Gálvez Calle — alias "Caracol" or Snail — was arrested in Colombia on Saturday and immediately deported home.

Colombian authorities uploaded a video of the alleged head of the Barrio King criminal organization being forced through a scrum of journalists and shoved into a waiting plane on Sunday. After arriving in Peru that evening, soldiers in fatigues paraded him in front of local media. He wore a blue smock with big yellow letters saying "arrested by the police."


Both the Colombian and the Peruvian authorities have promoted the arrest as a major achievement in the struggle to bring drug trafficking under control in South America.

"The police and justice have long arms," Peruvian interior minister José Luis Pérez told reporters. "No criminal will be able to get free of the National Police whether in this country or abroad."

The kingpin was arrested on Saturday in the Colombian city of Medellin, Colombia's National Defense Ministry said in a statement that described him as "the most wanted drug trafficker in Peru."

The statement said he was picked up in a shopping mall in the north of the city after intelligence officials became aware of his presence in the country and began monitoring his movements.

Related: Peru's Booming Cocaine Business Is Turning It Into Latin America's Newest Narco State

It said he was first traced to a luxury apartment it appeared he had rented in order to be closer to his Venezuelan girlfriend who moved to Medellin several months before. The statement mentioned that an Ecuadorian associate did most of his shopping.

"It is an important blow against transnational crime. No nation in the hemisphere will be a safe haven for drug traffickers," said General Jorge Hernando Nieto, director of Colombia's National Police.

Caracol was a wanted man since his controversial 2014 release from a prison in Peru where he had served 12 years of a 15-year sentence for attempted murder, robbery, and drug trafficking.


The prison authorities ordered the sentence reduced in the name of addressing overcrowding in the prison system, despite the fact that hours before he was freed prosecutors requested Caracol remain incarcerated on new drug trafficking allegations. Peru's director of prisons, Julio Magán, said prosecutors and police had failed to notify him of new criminal charges pending against the prisoner who went underground as soon as he was set free.

Many, however, suspected Caracol's premature release stemmed from corruption.

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Peru had offered a reward of approximately $150 000 for Caracol's recapture, and got interpol involved in the search.

According to the United Nations, Peru is currently the world's second largest producer of cocaine, after Colombia. In 2014, Peru had an estimated 42,900 hectares (106,008 acres) of the coca plant that serves as the base for the drug. This is more than double the area of cultivation in Bolivia, the third highest producing country.

The Barrio King is alleged to be behind the shipping of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine from Peru's largest port, Callao, to Mexico and Europe. The organization was also reportedly behind a bloody turf war that left 140 dead in Callao last year.

Police sources have said Caracol's goal is to turn the Barrio King into Peru's first "true cartel," capable of competing with Mexico's drug trafficking organizations. The Peruvian media has continually called Caracol the new "El Chapo" — referring to Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán who was rearrested in January.

Caracol, however, is not ready to embrace being seen as one of Latin America's most important drug traffickers. As he was handed over to Peruvian authorities with the cameras clicking and the officials gloating, he reportedly shouted, "I have the right to be presumed innocent."

Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz

Watch: The New King of Coke (Full Length)