Peruvian customs authorities were in triumphant mood this Sunday after seizing a shipment of 10,000 panettone being smuggled by truck into Peru over the Bolivian border.
It is thought that the contraband confectionary was destined for the capital Lima, to be sold over the christmas period when panettone mania strikes Peru.
Originally an Italian invention, the bread characterized by a rich sweetness and dried fruit and/or raisins baked into its center, has become the de facto national confectionary of Peru. About 23,000 tonnes of panettone is consumed each year fuelling a market worth over $150 million.
Demand reaches its height during the Christmas holidays where it is traditionally consumed at the end of a midnight feast and washed down with copious amounts of hot chocolate.
The driver of the truck carrying boxes of well known panettone brands is alleged to have failed to produce the required import documentation when stopped at a checkpoint in the department of Junin. It is suspected that the intended recipients of the delivery were informal vendors.
The street value of the panettonnes is estimated to be over $50,000.
For the authorities the action demonstrates their resolve to enforce proper procedures, but for others it is just another incident indicative of a wider campaign to strangle the informal economy that provides a lifeline to millions of Peruvians.
Peru’s Labour ministry estimates that 68 percent of Peruvians work in the informal sector which constitutes 35 percent of the country’s GDP. However, new laws prohibiting street vendors to sell in restricted areas following heavy handed police actions against clothes vendors in Lima’s La Parada, the tenure of current president Ollanta Humala has been marked by a definite shift away from laissez-faire attitudes of old, towards a concerted effort to formalize the economy.
The Government argues that such measures are necessary to establish quality control and grow a tax base capable of providing modern public services. Many argue that they punish the poorest and most vulnerable sections of Peruvian society.
For Erick Flores of Libertarian think tank the Amagi Institute, it is a question of fundamental freedoms:
“There is growing threat to the concept of a free society in Peru, and it’s occurring in the economic sphere in the form of the idea of ’formality’. According to this idea, anything that escapes the standards set by political arrogance is considered informal. Any informal activity is illegal and therefore must be prosecuted and punished until it’s disappearance. This idea has spawned an entire institutional system of cruelty and persecution of free individuals by the state.”
For now, it does not appear that there will be any shift in the political climate. Last week Peru’s economic and finance minister Alonso Segura implored all the candidates taking part in Peru’s upcoming elections to formulate policies that will more effectively combat the informal economy.
So the message to Peruvians who want panettonne this Christmas is clear: eat to your heart’s content, but only from licensed supermarkets.