LIMA, Peru – Carmen Masías Claux, the recently appointed executive president of the National Commission for a Drug-Free Life (Devida) is confident her strategy will lead to the Andean nation’s making major strides in its fight against narcotics.
“We’re betting on being able to control drug-making substances, preventing people from using drugs, providing rehabilitation to addicts and getting farmers to grow alternative crops [instead of coca], she said. “This is not merely about eradication or interdiction.”
Masías Claux, a practicing psychologist, took over as director last month, replacing Ricardo Soberón, who stepped down after the government disagreed with his strategy to fight narcotics, as he didn’t want farmers to stop growing coca – the main ingredient used to produce cocaine.
But eradicating illegal coca fields is a top priority for Masías Claux, who said Devida’s goal is to eliminate 14,000 hectares (34,594 acres) of coca fields nationwide annually. She’ll enlist the services of the National Police Anti-Drug Agency and the Special Project for the Reduction of Cocaine Harvesting in the Alto Huallaga, an entity of the Interior Ministry. Previously, Devida’s goal was to eradicate 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres) of illegal coca annually.
In 2010, a total of 151,228 acres was used to grow coca in Peru compared to 148,016 the previous year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In 2009, Peru was home to 45.4% of all global cultivation of coca, ahead of Colombia (39.3%) and Bolivia (15.3%), according to the UNODC report.
But Peruvian authorities are taking steps reduce that number.
In January 2012, 157 hectares (390 acres) of illegal coca leaf crops were destroyed, according to the Peruvian Anti-Drug Police.
“The eradication of coca leaf crops will be carried out in a parallel way with the development of alternative crops in the coca leaf-growing areas,” said Masías Claux, adding authorities will try to replicate the success it’s had in the San Martín region, where farmers have successfully switched from growing coca to harvesting coffee, cacao and palmetto.
Óscar Valdés Dancuart, president of the Ministers Council, said the government would conduct a nationwide agricultural census over the next several months to establish how many farmers are growing coca.
“Our aim is not to allow these farmers involved with drug trafficking to pretend they are harvesting coca leaves legally,” he said.
Peru spent about US$18 million on drug eradication efforts in 2010, about US$3.9 million more than in 2009.
Devida’s budget to fight illegal drugs was increased from US$33.3 million in 2011 to US$44.5 million for 2012.
Narco-traffickers paying top prices for coca
The National Coca Corporation (ENACO), an institution that is authorized to produce coca and its derivates, purchased an average of 10,647 metric tons (23.47 million pounds) annually from farmers during the past four years, paying about US$18.50 per 25 pounds.
But narco-traffickers pay as much as US$55.50 for the same amount, which explains why 91% of the 119,000 metric tons (262 million pounds) of coca harvested in Peru annually ends up in the hands of narco-traffickers, according to the UNODC.
Of the 30,000 farmers authorized to cultivate coca, only 8,000 actually sell their crops to ENACO, according to Jaime García Díaz, a development analyst with the International Studies Institute at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
“ENACO can buy only the coca leaf produced by the coca farmers who were granted prior authorization,” he said. “The dried coca leaf is mostly used in the labs where the drug is made.”
About 8% of the national production of coca is used for its traditional use – chewing it for energy – with less than 1% of it used as a sweetener for beverages, like soda, according to a 2003 national survey on the traditional use of coca leaf by the National Statistics and Informatics Institute and Devida.
Public Prosecutor Jorge Chávez Cotrina, in charge of investigating organized crime involved in drug trafficking and money laundering, said the anti-drug strategy has been bolstered by recent changes in the law.
“We can now pursue [suspects] and film in public places, and we can use undercover agents,” he said. “We can also investigate remittances and can ask a judge for permission to tap phone lines.”
The result: A narco-trafficking ring can be dismantled within six months instead of in 12 to 18 months as in previous years, Chávez Cotrina said.
Those found guilty of narcotics trafficking face eight to 35 years in prison.
Masías Claux, an advocate for the stiff sentences, said she will not endorse any proposal that legalizes narcotics.
“Countries that have liberalized [drug consumption] are turning back on that,” she added. “Just because you tell criminals that drugs are going to become legal, they are not going to become law-abiding, too.”
‘Clans,’ not cartels
Unlike in Colombia, where the narcotics trade is controlled by violent cartels, Peruvian narco-trafficking is dominated by “family clans,” who are prevalent in the rich, coca-producing areas of the Alto Huallaga and the Valley of the Apurímac and Ene rivers (VRAE), Chávez Cotrina said.
The clans’ narco-trafficking system centers on secrecy: Those who transport the drugs don’t know the farmers and the farmers who grow coca don’t know who is financing the operation or where the cocaine made from their coca is sold, be it in Peru or abroad.
The narco-traffickers in this region have “adopted the same systems used by the Shining Path terrorist group in which they compartmentalize so everyone in the clan has a specific role,” Chávez Cotrina said.
But he added advancements in resources, technology and manpower will bolster the government’s fight against narcotics, enabling authorities to dismantle these groups.