Peru Faces Fierce Opposition as Coca Eradication Program Intensifies

By Dialogo
July 01, 2013

LIMA — Peruvian authorities remain confident they’ll meet their goal this year of destroying 22,000 hectares of coca — the raw ingredient used to make cocaine — even in the face of local opposition as eradication brigades intensify operations into new areas.
The administration of President Ollanta Humala, who took office in July 2011, eradicated a record-breaking 14,171 hectares of coca last year. His 2013 goal of 22,000 hectares is double the annual average of the six previous years, and the eradication target will increase incrementally to 30,000 hectares by the end of Humala’s term in 2016.
Authorities reported that the eradication brigades, known as Corah, eliminated slightly more than 9,500 hectares through mid-June. They also destroyed nearly 250 clandestine laboratories used to produce cocaine or cocaine paste. Authorities seized about 500 tons of chemicals and other inputs used in drug production, a 150 percent increase over the same period last year.
“We are convinced that we will meet the goal of 22,000 hectares,” said Carmen Masias, who heads the country’s anti-drug agency, DEVIDA. “We know that with eradication and interdiction we will be able to bring about development.”
Peru may reach a turning point in the anti-drug fight, if DEVIDA meets this year’s target, said Ruben Vargas, a Lima analyst who studies drug trafficking and security issues.
“Eradication of 22,000 hectares could be a breaking point and reverse the annual increase in crops we have seen. It would send a clear message that there is a political decision to stop the expansion of coca crops,” Vargas said.
Corah brigades expect resistance as eradication gets underway
While going strong, the government’s eradication plan could run into fierce opposition as Corah brigades expand aggressively from their traditional zone in the Huallaga Valley to more combative coca-growing areas.
The eradication brigades have initiated work in an area known as Pichis-Palcazu that straddles the jungle zone of the Huanuco and Pasco regions. Coca had disappeared almost entirely from the area, falling to 211 hectares in 2005, but began increasing rapidly in 2008. Coca crops there reached 3,734 hectares in 2011, according to the most recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Flavio Mirella, UNODC’s representative for Peru and Ecuador, told Diálogo that getting a handle on the spread of coca crops there is critical.
“We are seeing coca moving from areas where eradication is taking place to zones that coca farmers already know and where they have planted in the past,” Mirella said.
Corah brigades eradicated slightly more than 600 hectares in Pichis-Palcazu in the first half of June. They also destroyed 17 laboratories used to transform coca into cocaine paste. In addition, the anti-drug police (known by the Spanish acronym DIRANDRO) have located and destroyed six clandestine airstrips in Pasco’s jungle region this year. The airstrips are used to ferry cocaine from Peru to Bolivia — a new transshipment point for markets in Brazil and Europe.
Replanting of coca fields a major obstacle
But even before eradication has begun, the zone already has seen a clash between police officers and farmers angered by the Corah brigades’ impending arrival.
In addition to expanded coca plantations, Corah must also contend with farmers replanting coca once the eradicators move out. This already is happening in the Monzon Valley, where Corah focused its work in the first half of 2013. It was the first concerted eradication effort in the valley, made possible only since the February 2012 arrest of Shining Path rebel leader Florindo Flores, also known as “Artemio.” Authorities say 806 out of the 9,525 hectares eradicated have since been replanted.
The major challenge will come when eradication moves to a valley formed by the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers known as the VRAEM. This zone has been under a state of emergency since June 2003, due to terrorist violence at the hands of Shining Path remnants led by Victor Quispe Palomino and two of his brothers. The VRAEM is home to 19,925 hectares of coca, or 31.9 percent of Peru’s total coca, according to the UNODC.
The Shining Path already has made its strategy known. It has blanketed villages with leaflets and painted graffiti with anti-eradication slogans. In a clandestine broadcast that interrupted local radio stations in late May, a Shining Path spokesman urged farmers to defend their coca with weapons.
Masias told reporters that besides eradicating 3,000 hectares of coca in the VRAEM this year, the government also plans ramped-up social programs and a major infrastructure campaign that will invest up to $1 billion in the VRAEM in the coming three years. On June 14 — in a sign of things to come — Peru’s Ministry of Economy and Finance earmarked an additional $4 million to contract 846 new schoolteachers, as part of efforts to improve educational levels in the VRAEM.
Mario Ríos, a development expert at DEVIDA, said the state strategy is to “implement productive activities and social programs that will protect the social fabric in the VRAEM as the illegal coca economy is replaced.”