Peru Aims to Eradicate Record-Setting 22,000 Hectares of Coca in 2013
By Dialogo January 21, 2013
LIMA — Peru’s government wants the world to know it’s dead serious about eliminating illegal coca crops used to produce cocaine.
Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza announced Jan. 14 that his government will eradicate at least 22,000 hectares of coca in 2013. This is 4,000 hectares more than the original target for the year, and well above the record-breaking 14,100 hectares destroyed in 2012.
Meeting the ambitious eradication target would be a major step in reversing the upward trend in Peruvian coca production that began around 2005. While previous governments met eradication targets, coca-growing farmers replanted at a faster rate.
The government’s new plan includes a much broader reach for the eradication squad, known by its Spanish acronym CORAH, an increase in the budget for coca eradication and drug interdiction, and a program to dramatically boost the state’s presence not only in zones where coca is currently grown, but in areas where it could be grown.
“We are developing post-coca and preventative strategies,” said Mario Ríos, head of the promotion and monitoring unit at state anti-drug agency DEVIDA. “We need to provide alternatives to farmers leaving coca, and make sure coca does not spread to other areas.”
It’s still unclear if the CORAH eradication brigades will move into Loreto. Zarate said an eradication program similar to the Upper Huallaga would be too costly, because of the remoteness of the area. An alternative would be periodic eradication missions, as well as anti-drug operations coordinated with Brazilian and Colombian authorities.
Peru and Brazil set up a task force late last year to develop protocols for joint police and military operations in border zones, given the fact that the two countries share nearly 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) of jungle border.
Peru recorded 62,500 hectares of coca in 2011, according to the annual report presented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), an increase of slightly more than 2 percent over the previous year. That gain came despite the eradication of more than 12,000 hectares in 2010.
Peru is the world’s second-largest coca producer, according to UNODC figures — right behind first-place Colombia, with 64,000 hectares under cultivation, and ahead of Bolivia, with 27,200 hectares. President Ollanta Humala has declared he’d like to see Peru fall to last place by the time he leaves office in July 2016.
While estimates differ on production, most analysts believe Peru produces between 350 and 400 metric tons of cocaine annually.
CORAH extends coca eradication efforts to VRAEM
This year, Peru plans to extend its forced eradication program to major hotspots. The eradication brigade, CORAH, has focused exclusively on the northern Upper Huallaga Valley since its founding. Ríos said the coming year will see eradication in the valleys formed by the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, known as the VRAEM, and possibly in the Putumayo zone, in the department of Loreto, along the northern border where Peru meets Brazil and Colombia.
In 2012, the VRAEM was home to nearly 20,000 hectares of coca, said the UNODC report, accounting for 32 percent of Peru’s total land devoted to coca cultivation. Coca crops have been on the rise there since early in the past decade. The area — the last bastion of leftist Shining Path rebels — has also been under a state of emergency since June 2003. Last year saw a jump in Shining Path violence, including the mass kidnapping of gas pipeline workers in April, and the killing of 20 police officers and soldiers.
While coca crops in Loreto represented just 7 percent of land used for coca in the UNODC report, they have expanded rapidly, increasing from 1,209 hectares in 2008 to 4,450 hectares in 2011; that same year, coca output jumped by 40 percent.
“This is the first time there will be eradication in the VRAEM and it has to be done correctly, accompanied by a state platform that provides all the necessary services. Isolated programs will not work,” said Ríos.
Authorities say eradication will succeed only if coca farmers have viable alternatives and markets for what they grow. Peru has already replaced coca with coffee and cacao; other alternative products that show promise include rubber, biofuels and tropical fruits.
“Alternative development is working and we are focusing on cooperation, not only in financial assistance but cooperation for technical assistance, creating markets and certifying products. We have to guarantee a diversity of products and markets for farmers,” said Carmen Masias, the director of DEVIDA.
Project gets $1.1 billion in funding this year
TThe Peruvian government had kept eradication brigades out of the VRAEM for fear of a social explosion, fueled not only by the Shining Path and drug traffickers, but also due to the lack of a state presence. Yet the Humala government, faced with increased violence and the spread of coca crops in the Belgium-sized zone, ultimately announced a major offensive for 2013.
The Humala administration has earmarked $1.1 billion for the VRAEM this year, more than double the previous year’s budget. This includes major outlays in roads, water, electricity systems, education and health care. Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano announced in late December that the state would also incur $300 million in new debt in 2013 to fight terrorism and drug trafficking in the zone, including the construction of eight anti-terrorism bases and acquisition of boats and aircraft.
Former coca farmer Teodoro Rojas said extending eradication to the VRAEM is contingent upon the government following through on its development pledge. “Coca can be eradicated, but the state also needs to eradicate the root cause behind coca-growing, which is poverty,” he said. “If the root cause is not eliminated, coca will only spread elsewhere.”
Ríos said that Loreto is “a troubling new scenario.
We are seeing a spread of coca and [opium] poppies happening at a fast pace.”
Retired Police Gen. Juan Zarate, who coordinates CORAH, said the VRAEM and Loreto pose different challenges. The issue in the VRAEM, according to Zarate, is security, and the eradicators will require protection. This should be helped by legislation passed by Congress in late 2012, which gives Peru’s Armed Forces a role in fighting drugs. The government estimates that it will need at least six years to get a firm grip on the coca-cocaine problem in the VRAEM.
The Humala administration has budgeted about $15 million for CORAH in 2013. This may not seem like much, but it’s the first time the program has its own line item in the budget. In the past, CORAH has been funded primarily by international donors led by the United States and the 27-member European Union.