Peru Aims to Eradicate a Record 14,000 Hectares of Coca in 2012
By Dialogo October 09, 2012
LIMA — Peru expects to break records this year in its war against drug trafficking.
President Ollanta Humala’s administration is working toward the goal of eradiating 14,000 hectares of coca, from which cocaine is made, and seizing more than 30 tons of drugs this year.
Coca eradication brigades (known by their Spanish acronym CORAH), operate only in the northern Upper Huallaga, one of 10 coca-growing zones in the country. These brigades eliminated just over 10,500 hectares of coca through the end of September.
They also destroyed 918 clandestine drug-producing laboratories and seized more than 21 tons of cocaine and cocaine paste.
Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza said Peru had already surpassed 2011 eradication levels.
“By the end of the year we will reach our goal, which has never been achieved before, of eradicating 14,000 hectares. And the way things are going, it would not surprise me if we beat the goal,” he said at a Sept. 27 press conference.
Slightly more than 10,200 hectares were eradicated in 2011, and 24 tons of cocaine and cocaine paste seized.
UNODC reports 62,500 hectares of coca in Peru
While the targets are in reach, the Peruvian government needs to contend with an illicit drug business that is constantly looking for new production methods, trafficking routes and asset laundering mechanisms to respond to eradication and interdiction efforts.
“Drug trafficking has always shown itself to be very efficient. There is now less land needed to produce coca leaf, opening of more remote areas for production and a diversification of routes,” said Flavio Mirella, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Peru.
The UNODC presented its annual report on Peru in late September, reporting the presence of 62,500 hectares of coca. This represents an increase of slightly more than 2 percent from the previous report and the sixth consecutive year the agency has detected an increase in coca crops. Peru remains the second largest producer of coca, following Colombia with 64,000 hectares. Bolivia has 27,200 hectares of coca.
Coca generates approximately $180 million annually for the Peruvian economy, with some 50,000 families involved in coca cultivation. Cocaine generates roughly $3 billion for the economy.
This year’s report found a consolidation of Apurimac-Ene (VRAE) as the principal coca/cocaine zone. The VRAE claimed the top spot for the first time in 2010. It retained that title in the 2011 evaluation, with 19,925 hectares, an increase of 1 percent.
The VRAE now represents 32 percent of the area cultivated with coca in Peru. It is also the most productive coca-growing region, with yield averaging 3.6 tons per hectare compared to the national average of 2.1 tons per hectare.
Humala follows new policy on VRAE
The Humala administration has decided, following in the footsteps of past governments, to avoid forced eradication in the VRAE. The government has said it fears the possibility of uncontrolled violence due to a number of factors, including the presence of the remaining columns of Shining Path guerrillas who provide protection to drug traffickers.
The VRAE is in the heart of the historic zone where the Shining Path launched its war against the state in 1980. The Shining Path’s leaders were arrested in early 1990s and the outlawed party defeated as a political threat, but a small band remained in the VRAE and has slowly grown.
The VRAE faction, which has broken with the jailed leaders, has around 400 armed fighters. They are responsible for killing 14 soldiers last year and 20 soldiers and police officers through the end of September.
While beefing up the military and police presence in the zone, including the construction of new anti-terrorism bases, President Humala’s 2013 budget earmarks more than $1 billion for the VRAE to build transportation infrastructure, improve basic services and launched social welfare programs.
The UNODC’s Mirella pointed out three other troubling spots requiring the government’s attention. Seven valleys, where coca was first detected in 2010, reported a 27.5 percent increase in 2011. The amount of land under cultivation is 834 hectares.
Coca cultivation in border areas also concern U.N. agency
In addition, the UNODC report noted sustained growth of coca crops along Peru’s northern borders with Brazil and Colombia. Coca cultivation in the zone, known commonly as the Putumayo, increased from 968 hectares in 2006 to 4,450 hectares last year. The increase in 2011 alone was 40.4 percent.
“This shows a trend away from traditional centers to more remote areas. These areas are harder to control and the population is constantly in flux,” said Mirella. “We need to make sure that these areas are not consolidated, because it will be much more difficult physically and financially to address, and will likely be a source of conflict.”
A final area that worries U.N. officials is the spread of coca in the Palcazu-Pichis-Pachitea zone in the jungle of the central Pasco region. Coca cultivation there jumped from 426 hectares in 2006 to 3,734 hectares last year.
The problem here is that the zone had been a major source of illegal coca in the early 1990s, but gradually lost its importance. There was almost no coca there at the start of the past decade. What concerns Mirella is that coca growers from areas where eradication is occurring are moving to the zone and are consolidating areas deforested for cattle raising or other licit activities.
Authorities have also discovered clandestine airstrips in the area used to ferry cocaine from Peru to Bolivia and the on to the Southern Cone, primarily Brazil. Police officers seized a Bolivian-registered plane in Oxapampa province, where this coca-growing zone is located, in mid-September. It was carrying 349 kilograms of cocaine.
Reforms aim to choke off drug trafficking
The Humala government has unveiled a series of reforms throughout the year to improve the state’s efforts in the drug fight. It has put the tax agency in charge of tracking and controlling chemical inputs used in illicit activities. This includes a long list of controlled substances use to extractive cocaine from the coca leaf, as well as chemicals, such as mercury, used in illegal gold mining.
Peru’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office is also investing links between illegal gold mining, illegal logging and drug trafficking.
Pedraza said providing a greater role to the tax agency is a key step, because it has the capacity to cross-reference imports and sales of chemicals.
“We need to hit drug traffickers at every level, and following the money is the best way to do this,” he said.
In late September, the administration established a new working group to measure the “factors” used in converting coca into cocaine. The goal is to create a standard that can be applied to the three cocaine-producing countries — Bolivia, Colombia and Peru — to determine volumes.
The work will be coordinated with the UNODC and authorities hope it will clear up debate on cocaine production.
Peruvian authorities earlier this year rejected reports that the country had surpassed Colombia as the largest cocaine producer/exporters. According to a report from mid-2012, Peru allegedly produced 325 metric tons of cocaine in 2011, followed by Bolivia with 265 tons and Colombia with 195 tons.
Gen. Walter Sánchez, head of Peru’s anti-drug police, said his agency has not measured cocaine production in more than three years, because conversion factors were obsolete.
“We have been inflicting major blows on drug trafficking,” said Sánchez. “We will break our record this year with eradication. Our objective is to stop cocaine production and the new study conversion factors will help us design better strategies.”