Peruvian President Alan Garcia had coca on his mind this week. In response to an attack Saturday by presumed Shining Path guerrillas working with drug traffickers that killed five police officers and two government coca control workers, Garcia called for the imposition of the death penalty. Just a day later, perhaps to indicate he is not anti-coca, he told a foreign press news gathering that coca would be wonderful consumed in salads.
But Peru is also the world's second largest producer of cocaine, which is derived from coca either grown legally and diverted from ENACO or grown illegally. For years, the country has embraced a policy of eradication of illicit crops, which has pleased Washington but left Peru's coca growers angry and frustrated. President Garcia in October pledged during a Washington meeting with President Bush to continue the policy of eradication.
Some coca growing areas have been under a state of emergency for the past two months, and the Garcia government announced this week that it would be continued for another two months after the killings, which took place in Ayacucho province. The attack, described as a carefully-planned ambush, took place during a police crackdown on unsanctioned coca growing in the region. More than 20 police have been killed in similar attacks in the past year.
Two days after the attack, Garcia told lawmakers they should allow the death penalty for such crimes. Currently, the death penalty in Peru is allowed only in cases of treason during war-time. Congress should "give the necessary tools to the judges and to the executive branch to definitely eliminate these leftover [Shining Path rebels]." They should be dealt with using "the most energetic and harshest sanction that the law... permits," Garcia said.
But the next day, Garcia defended the coca leaf and his drug policy to foreign reporters. Coca leaf is great in salads, Garcia said. "I insist that it can be consumed directly and elegantly in salad. It has good nutritional value." Garcia added that one of the country's best-known chefs, Gaston Acurio, had recently served several coca-based dishes at the Government Palace. "He offered us some tamales and pies made with coca flour. He offered us a coca liqueur cocktail," Garcia said. "Could eating coca leaf be harmful? No, absolutely not."
Such talk aligns Garcia with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Those two leaders are touting the industrial uses of coca and collaborating on a production plant in Bolivia.
Garcia told reporters that Peru's anti-drug policy is based "fundamentally" on controlling the sale of precursor chemicals used for cocaine production, but that Peruvian police must also do a better job of combating the cocaine traffic. As much as 90% of Peruvian coca goes to the cocaine trade, not the coca industry.