Peru achieves drug eradication milestone in the VRAEM
By Dialogo February 10, 2014
Peruvian security forces made significant gains in 2013 in their ongoing effort to destroy coca crops, and are planning to build on that success by increasing the eradication of coca fields in 2014, authorities said.
In 2013, Peruvian security forces destroyed about 24,000 hectares which were used to cultivate coca crops in the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), the largest coca-growing basin in the country, Carmen Masías, president of the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (DEVIDA) announced at a press conference on Jan. 4, 2014. Authorities have set a goal of destroying 30,000 hectares of coca crops in 2014.
“This marks a milestone in the fight against drugs because this is the first time we will eradicate in the VRAEM,” the director of the Anti-Drug Police of Peru (DIRANDRO), General Vicente Romero Fernández, told the newspaper El Comercio.
Building on successful security initiative
The eradication efforts are part of a broad strategy to crack down on drug trafficking. The DIRANDRO and the Ministry of Interior will cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking and will share a centralized command, according to published reports. For security reasons, authorities declined to provide details about the initiative.
“For strategic reasons, we cannot reveal what security forces will do in the main coca-growing valley,” Masías said. “But, they are going in to do what they need to do. The strategy has been in planning for months with President Ollanta Humala and various ministers”, Masías said.
The government’s anti-drug plan will focus on a major offensive against drug trafficking. The plan will have a centralized command for police and military forces, according to published reports.
The eradication efforts will continue to focus on the VRAEM, where 54 percent of the country’s coca crop is produced, authorities said. There are a little more than 60,000 hectares in the VRAEM that drug traffickers use to produce coca, authorities said. The VRAEM is the world’s leading producer of coca leaves, coca paste, and cocaine hydrochloride, according to a recent United Nations report.
In addition to eradicating coca fields, security forces will intercept narco-flights between Peru and Bolivia, authorities said.
“The first reaction from drug trafficking groups and the Shining Path organization will be to increase violence in the VRAEM region as a deterrent exercise to try to demonstrate that they have control,” Mendoza Mora explained.
Providing an alternative to farmers
As part of the anti-drug trafficking initiative, the government is providing financial support to farmers, so they can make money growing legal food crops rather than coca crops. Authorities estimate that 75,000 farmers will participate in the program and cultivate legal food crops.
Providing alternatives to cultivating coca corps would eliminate the economic incentive for farmers to work for organized crime groups, said security analyst Carlos Mendoza Mora, director of Strategic Projects Consulting, a private security company in Mexico City.
Helping farmers convert from cultivating coca to legal crops would be an important element of a successful strategy against drug trafficking, the security analyst said. It is important to help farmers continue to make a living without relying on working with organized crime groups, Mendoza Mora said.
“It is possible for the strategy to not be a strategy of confrontation, but a strategy of serving and making viable communities,” said Mendoza Mora.
Drug eradication is a challenging task
Identifying, reaching, and eradicating coca fields will be a challenging task and potentially dangerous task for Army soldiers and police agents, Mendoza Mora said. Security forces may confront armed drug traffickers who will try to protect their illegal crops, the security analyst said.
“The Armed Forces and police know that they will not only face rough and inaccessible terrain, but will also face a scenario of conflict and confrontation,” Mendoza Mora explained. “The first reaction from drug trafficking groups and the Shining Path organization will be to increase violence in the VRAEM region as a deterrent exercise to try to demonstrate that they have control. It will involve intelligence work that is precise and surgical. The authorities will try to stay a step ahead.”
Fighting the Shining Path
A Shining Path faction is responsible for much of the drug cultivation in the VRAEM region, authorities said.
The “Proseguir” faction is operating in the VRAEM region. This faction is led by two brothers, Víctor Quispe Palomino, who is also known as “José”, and Jorge Quispe Palomino, who is also known as “Raúl.”
In recent years, members of the Proseguir faction have killed 65 police agents and Army soldiers who were carrying out security operations in the VRAEM region, according to published reports.
The Shining Path traffics drugs and engages in other criminal enterprises, such as extortion, to buy weapons and fund its terrorist activities. The Shining Path and drug traffickers from Colombia and Mexico operate about 300 clandestine laboratories in the VRAEM region, authorities have said. The laboratories are where organized crime operatives process coca leaves into coca paste.
International cooperation is crucial in the fight against drug trafficking, Mendoza Mora said.
Peru is working with international partner nations in the fight against transnational drug trafficking.
For example, Peru and the United States share information about transnational criminal organizations. The U.S. is also providing $85 million (USD) in 2014 to Peru for security initiatives. The European Union is providing $43 million (USD), part of which will be used for programs to divert young men from drugs and crime.
In 2013, Peru spent $278 million (USD) of its own money to fight drug trafficking. Much of that money was spent on equipment and technology, authorities said.
“Peru is heavily investing in equipment and satellites. If you’re not armed, if a government and its Armed Forces, its police forces, are not equipped, it’s unlikely that operations will be successful,” Masías said.