Latin America: In Break With Campaign Promises, Peru's New Government Will Accelerate Coca Eradication

When new Peruvian President Alain Garcia was in a tight race against pro-coca populist upstart Ollanta Humala earlier this year, he promised his government would oppose coca eradication because Peruvians consider the leaf sacred and a part of their tradition. But Reuters reported Wednesday that the Garcia government is now seeking US support for a new push against coca production in what is now the world's second largest coca producer.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/cocafield.jpg
coca field
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's annual report on coca production, Peru produces 30% of the Andean coca crop. Colombia accounted for 54%, while third place Bolivia accounted for 16%. While the UN reported a slight decrease in Peruvian coca cultivation last year, the US government estimated production had actually increased by 38%.

While some coca is cultivated legally and sold to the Peruvian national coca monopoly to be made into various products, some doubtless is diverted to the black market and made into cocaine. Peruvian police report busting some 500 cocaine labs last year.

More than $330 million in US aid since 2000 has failed to rein in Peru's coca-growing peasantry. Now, the Peruvian government wants more. "We want a greater state presence in coca-growing areas, more effective coca eradication, coca crop substitution and security for export cargo to limit smuggling," Peru's anti-narcotics chief Romulo Pizarro told Reuters. "We can't let these traffickers continue to poison people's lives."

That was music to the ears of Susan Keogh, narcotics affairs director at the US embassy in Lima. She said eradication must be part of the new campaign because alternative development alone would not be enough to end the drug trade. "There are so many illegal drug laboratories that they're like the McDonald's on every corner (in Peru's coca regions)," Keogh told Reuters. "You can't just flood those areas with development, you need eradication too."

While not as politically potent as their Bolivian counterparts, Peruvian coca growers are increasingly organized, if fractious, and they and their representatives in the parliament, like coca grower union leaders Nancy Obregon and Elsa Malpartida, are bound to make life miserable for the Garcia government over this issue. It won't help matters that Garcia is breaking his vows to them.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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