Most of your contact with the police will, with any luck, be at frontiers and controls. Depending on your personal appearance and the prevailing political climate the police at these posts ( Guardia Nacional and Aduanas) may want to search your luggage. This happens rarely, but when it does it can be very thorough. Occasionally, you may have to get off buses and register documents at the police controls which regulate the traffic of goods and people from one departmento of Peru to another; these are usually situated on the outskirts of large towns on the main roads, but you sometimes come across a control in the middle of nowhere. Always stop, and be scrupulously polite – even if it seems that they’re trying to make things difficult for you.
In general the police rarely bother travellers but there are certain sore points. The possession of (let alone trafficking in) either soft or hard drugs (basically grass or cocaine) is considered an extremely serious offence in Peru – usually leading to at least a ten-year jail sentence. There are many foreigners languishing in Peruvian jails, some of whom have been waiting two years for a trial – there is no bail for serious charges. If you want to visit one of them you can get details from your embassy.
Drugs apart, the police tend to follow the media in suspecting all foreigners of being political subversives and even gun-runners or terrorists; it’s more than a little unwise to carry any Maoist or radical literature. If you find yourself in a tight spot, don’t make a statement before seeing someone from your embassy, and don’t say anything without the services of a reliable translator. It’s not unusual to be given the opportunity to pay a bribe to the police (or any other official for that matter), even if you’ve done nothing wrong. You’ll have to weigh up this situation as it arises – but remember, in South America bribery is seen as an age-old custom, very much part of the culture rather than a nasty form of corruption, and it can work to the advantage of both parties, however irritating it might seem. It’s also worth noting that all police are armed with either a revolver or a submachine gun and will shoot at anyone who runs.

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