The Peruvians

There was a sad report on the Beeb last week about the Woodwards from Guernsey who were robbed by a gang on the A7 near Tarragona after having a tyre shot out:

The incident is the third of its type in the area in the last month. Spanish authorities believe the shooting of car tyres is a new tactic being employed by highway robbers.

Mr Woodward and his wife, who were unharmed but shocked by the attack, have condemned the behaviour of local police officers.

Mr Woodward said: “We had extremely unhelpful police. They did literally nothing to help us.

“I’ve been talking with the Consulate General in Barcelona and I’ve been asked to make a formal report, which is going to be sent to the authorities in Spain and also to the Foreign Office.

“Basically, the Spanish police didn’t tell me anything.”

In 2001 in answer to a written question in the Madrid parliament, the Interior Ministry described the so-called banda de los peruanos as a stable, structured organisation with its origins in the settlement in the early 90s of Barcelona of a colony of South Americans, principally Peruvians. They worked the Catalan and Valencian motorways in three- to five-member mixed gangs, each member having a distinct function (driver, distractor, carjacker). The day commenced with the theft of one or more high-powered vehicles, in which they prowled the motorways and toll and rest areas in search of foreigners, preferably elderly, with luggage in the back. They then drove alongside the target, indicating to the driver that his/her car had a puncture, an engine fire or some such. Once the driver had pulled over, his/her attention was distracted and other gang members emptied the car. If the victims became aware of what was going on an protested, the gangs did not hesitate to use violence. Robberies typically only took a few seconds, and the thieves fled at great speed, leaving victims often unable to recall their appearance.

The first strategy adopted by the National Police Force (CNP) consisted of putting units onto the roads most affected, the A7 and A2, but this was abandoned because the chases were too dangerous for other road users (So it was that in January this year it was the victim of an attack who pursued some robbers, hitting them near Castelldefels and enabling their capture.) Checks were subsequently introduced at tolls frequented by the gangs, and these, together with other measures, seemed to have been effective in reducing attacks in 2001 relative to 2000. A report from 2002 speaks of the problem being displaced but also greatly diminished by police action, but it is still very much with us: Barça star Javier Saviola was robbed coming into work in November 2003, and courts have been persistently unwilling to imprison suspects, with the result that in January 2004 Luis Quispe, a long-time gang leader, was able to abscond while awaiting trial on eight charges, including the attempted murder of a policeman.

It is possible that shooting out car tyres is a new strategy, but the gangs have been using guns in a careless fashion for much longer. In 2000 A Costa Blanca Nachrichten special on the phenomenon reported that a gang fired at police when surprised during a robbery, and a senior gangleader was arrested in March following a wild shooting spree in Barcelona’s Vila Olímpic – a doorman wouldn’t admit him.

I don’t know what percentage of the criminals are actually Peruvian, and the civil rights lobby correctly gets in a huff when the phrase la banda de los peruanos is used without quotes round los peruanos. Certainly, Argentinians, Chileans, Cubans, people pretending to be Cubans to impede international police cooperation, and even Pakistanis have been arrested and headlined as Peruvians. Although Maghrebis are accused of specialising in rest area theft, car chases don’t seem to be their thing, and I remember a Moroccan neighbour in Holland packing a gun under the driver’s seat with which to defend him and his family if need be during their annual trek down the Spanish coast to visit relatives back home.

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  1. One ‘peruano’ gang turned out to have a Cuban ring leader, one Miguel Mendoza, alias Ojitos, sentenced last month to 13 years in jail for armed robbery. It has taken the police six years to break up Ojitos’ band, responsible for hundreds of attacks and dozens of injuries in the 90s. As far as I know, Luis Quispe, another notorious bandit on the A7 highway, is still at large.
    In his book ‘Atracadores’, SER crime correspondent Carles Quilez describes how one infamous gangster outran a cop copter on the road to Zaragoza in his Audi A8 (presumably the copter ran out of fuel).

  2. Blimey! Just how common an occurence is this kind of thing?

    (Now nervous, having drive back from Girona last night along the A7 on a pretty empty road in my British-number-plated Peugeot. Still, the main reactions I did get to the UK plates were from French cars on their way home… Bast&%&s!)

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