Operation Desert: traffickers found guilty of bringing in hundreds of migrants

ARICA – Members of the biggest human trafficking network in Chile have been found guilty of different charges. In the so-called “Operation Desert”, an investigation that has taken more than two years, four Peruvian smugglers are standing trial. They are accused of illegally having brought over 200 people into Chile.

The criminal organization, led by four Peruvians, flew Dominicans to Colombia or Ecuador. From there, the Dominicans travelled over land to Peru, where the organization smuggled them over the border with Chile. They entered there through the Colchane pass, but testimonies from victims showed that groups of migrants often were left in minefields on the border, abandoned by the organization.

The four Peruvians who stand trial have been found guilty of human trafficking by the prosecutor of Arica today, and await prison sentences up to 10 years. According to the prosecutor, it’s the first time people are convicted in Chile for committing a transnational crime. Two of the suspects, the Zárate brothers, in October of last year extradited by Peru.

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“They abandoned us in a minefield”

Over the last two months, Dominican migrants who had contracted the organization have given testimonies on the activities of the Peruvian gang. According to La Tercera, during the trial, the lawyer of one Dominican told about the crossing that the organization accompanied them “until they reached a minefield, where they were abandoned by ‘the coyotes’. One of the groupmates lost one of his legs”.

Other testimonies of victims told stories about rape and sexual abuse by both members of the organization as the Peruvian border police. Next week the trial against the leader of the organization starts.

Chile has dealt for the last couple of years with a big influx of immigrants. Most immigrants who enter Chile illegal do so by crossing the border with Arica in the far north. Apart from Dominicans, it are often Bolivians, Haitians and Venezuelans who try crossing in this manner.

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