Jaime Aranzazu’s restaurant in the Peruvian capital Lima was shot at and chef Javier Vargas’s house burned down for refusing to pay extortion money to criminal gangs.

The cases of collection of “security quotas”, an old practice established in Peru, have been rebounding with the economic reactivation after a fall due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Prosecutor’s Office and local experts.

Ten days ago, several men arrived in three cars and two motorcycles at the “Los Parceros” restaurant in Comas -in the north of Lima-, where they left a telephone number so that the owner could communicate with them.

“They told me that we had to pay a weekly silverthat they were going to come by on Mondays to pick her up and that if something happened to the collector, they would take it out on me,” Aranzazu told AFP.

Every Monday he had to deliver 1,000 soles ($263). As long as he didn’t pay, his restaurant couldn’t operate.

As this Colombian businessman refused, two motorcyclists shot at the business on Thursday morning. There were no customers, only three employees.

“Los Parceros” offers Colombian dishes such as “chuletas a la llanera”, “bandejas paisa” and “sancochos”. It opened in 2021, but now its owner, who has lived in Peru for six years, doesn’t know what to do.

“It scares me to go to the business, now I don’t leave my apartment,” he maintains, without ruling out returning to his country.

from five soles

The “quotas” range from five soles (1.3 dollars) for a minibus or “combi” van, the popular transport that takes passengers in a neighborhood, according to witnesses.

“First they warn you and if you insist on not paying, they follow you and at night they burn your combi,” a transporter who asks not to be identified explains to AFP.

Motorcycle taxis, another popular means of transportation in Lima’s slums, also have to pay a small fee, but the rate is higher for businessmen.

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“They ask businessmen for 5,000, 10,000 and 15,000 soles,” Police Colonel Rómulo Reyes told AFP.

In 2015, the director of a school was murdered for refusing to pay the criminal fee. That is why many people prefer to assume the cost and remain silent.

“People don’t want to file complaints out of fear, out of fear of being assassinated,” César Ortiz Anderson, of the Asociación Pro Seguridad Ciudadana, told AFP.

Until 2019, more than 5,000 extortion attempts were reported each year in Peru, but the figure fell by half with the pandemic, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

“In 2022, from January to May, we are already counting on approximately 2,000 complaints. Like the trend returns to the same level as it was before or it can probably exceed the limit,” explains prosecutor Jonas Padilla Morán to AFP.

They are also common in other Latin American countries

Media reports that in Mexico City the gangs charge for the use of the streets to informal vendors and car attendants. They also extort formal merchants.

In Medellín (Colombia) it is also a widespread practice: from street vendors to owners of large stores, they must pay the gangs in exchange for “security”, according to the Human Security Observatory of the University of Antioquia.

Nightmare

In the house of Javier Vargas in San Juan de Lurigancho, northeast of Lima, a firebomb was thrown through a window on May 2 in the evening of May 2. The flames consumed the second floor, but firefighters saved the first floor, where his wife and two daughters were.

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“This has been an attack against my family, an attack against my home, already a product of the extortion and insecurity to which I am being subjected with previous threats,” the gastronomic businessman told AFP.

“It’s a nightmare, a terror, [pero] I am not willing to give in,” adds the owner of the “Piscis” restaurant chain.

In March, Peruvian salsa singer Brunella Torpoco abandoned her career after her mother’s house was shot at for refusing to pay “quotas” for her concerts.

“I have made the sad decision to walk away from music for the safety of my family and my peace of mind,” he explained to his fans.

Boom

“Extortion has always existed in Peru […]but between 2006 and 2012 the collection of quotas began to spread like an oil stain in the face of economic growth and the low capacity of the police,” former Deputy Interior Minister Ricardo Valdés told AFP.

“The current boom is due to the increase in the informal economy, which increased with Covid-19,” he says. “All economic activity is likely to collect quotas for the mafias,” he points out.

The law punishes extortion with up to 30 years, but there are only 1,024 prisoners for this crime, 1.18% of the country’s prison population, according to the National Penitentiary Institute.



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