Peru cracks down on cocaine production
By Dialogo October 18, 2013
Peruvian security forces have made important inroads in their battle against drug traffickers, reversing a seven-year trend in the amount of land used to cultivate coca, the raw material which is used to make cocaine, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In 2012, Peruvian Coca Eradication Brigades (CORAH) destroyed 14,000 hectares used to cultivate coca, authorities said. The eradication effort reduced Peru’s coca crop by more than 3 percent, officials said. It was the largest amount of drug-producing land ever eradicated by Peruvian security forces in one year.
Peruvian security forces are continuing to eradicate record amounts of drug-producing land. As of early October 2013, security forces had destroyed 19,000 drug-producing hectares, establishing a new annual record, authorities said. Officials have said they plan on eliminating 22,000 drug-producing hectares by the end of 2013.
The administration of President Ollanta Humala is spending about $15 million to fund CORAH.
Coca cultivation along the border
Security forces are focusing more of their efforts on the border that Peru shares with Colombia and Brazil.
For generations, Peruvian drug traffickers cultivated more than 90 percent of the coca produced in that country in jungle valleys not near the border region. In recent years, drug traffickers have shifted most of their coca production to the border that Peru shares with Colombia and Brazil.
In 2012, Peru and Brazil set up a task force to develop protocols for joint police and military operations along the 3,000 kilometers of jungle border the two countries share.
Authorities have found near nearly 3,000 coca-producing hectares in the border region in Peru, an increase of 73 percent from previous years, according to the UNODC report.
Eliminating new coca-producing zones
Security forces should concentrate on preventing drug traffickers from establishing permanent coca-producing fields in the border region, said Flavio Mirella, who heads the UNODC office for Peru.
“Authorities need to make sure that these new zones do not become areas where coca is hard to eliminate,” Mirella said. “The valley is not only a coca-growing zone, but has become a logistical base for drug trafficking.”
In addition to eradicating hectares used for the production of coca, Peruvian security forces are also identifying and destroying clandestine air strips used by drug traffickers to transport cocaine.
The National Police has reported finding 50 secret airstrips used by drug traffickers to transport cocaine and unrefined cocaine paste to neighboring countries. Such airstrips are typically about 300 meters long.
Drug traffickers use small airplane to transport cocaine and cocaine paste to Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Mexico.
Airplanes transport a small percentage of the drugs smuggled out of Peru. Most drugs are smuggled out on large ships. On Oct. 8, 2013 Peruvian security forces seized 3.7 tons of drugs from the port of Paita.
The eradication efforts of the CORAH brigades is having a substantial and positive impact, said Carmen Masias, who head the Peruvian government’s anti-drug office, DEVIDA.
“I am optimistic, even though the task is huge,” Masias said. “There will be a reduction after years of seeing increases,” she said.
Shining Path threat
The majority of cocaine-producing hectares are in the VRAEM region, where the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers converge. Nearly 20,000 hectares in the region are used to grow coca, authorities said. That is about one-third of the national total.
The VRAEM is a dangerous region, and not just because of the presence of drug traffickers. The Shining Path, an outlawed Maoist organization that declared a war against the state in 1980, has about 300 armed fighters in the VRAEM area. Shining Path rebels have ties to drug traffickers.
Some Shining Path members protect drug traffickers as they transport cocaine out of the region.
“The Shining Path is telling peasant farmers to resist the government’s plans and offering to help defend their lands and crops,” Antezana explained. “There is a lot of disillusionment with the state, so this argument could resonate in the zone.”
The Shining Path’s criminal enterprises extend beyond drug trafficking. Shining Path rebels have committed attacks against workers who are laboring to double the capacity of the pipeline which crosses the VRAEM region from the gas fields of Camisea to Lima. Once completed, the pipeline would produce an estimated $1.5 billion in natural gas exports, as well as 40 percent of Peru’s power supply.
Officials slowed down the pace of the pipeline expansion in April 2013 after Shining Path rebels kidnapped 40 people, most of whom were employees of the construction company working on the pipeline. Rebels killed eight security agents during an operation to rescue the workers. All of the workers were released unharmed.
The pipeline itself has not been attacked.
The VRAEM region
Peruvian security forces are planning a sustained eradication campaign in the VRAEM region, which will be launched in 2014, Masias said.
“We are going to begin work there,” Masias said. “Eradication will start, but we cannot say when.”
Shining Path rebels and drug traffickers will probably resist the eradication initiative, said Peruvian security analyst Jaime Antezana. The Shining Path is already trying to derail the eradication effort, according to Antezana.
The Shining Path’s criminal enterprises extend beyond drug trafficking. Shining Path rebels have committed attacks against workers who are constructing a natural gas pipeline in the VRAEM region. The pipeline would
The eradication initiative will succeed if the state moves in “with a solid post-eradication strategy that does not offer momentary solutions, but long-term changes that require a strong state presence, access to markets and jobs,” Antezana said. “The population has to know there are other options.”
An eradication effort in the VRAEM region is crucial, said Peruvian security analyst Ruben Vargas. Eradicating drugs in the VRAEM region is the only way Peru will make a serious dent in the coca-production business, Vargas said.
“The government wants to eradicate 30,000 hectares annually starting next year. This would change the dynamics of drug trafficking, but it is only possible if the VRAEM is included,” Vargas said.