Peru Surpasses 2015 Goal for Eradicating Illegal Coca Crops

Peru, with the cooperation with neighboring countries and the United States, eradicated almost 36,000 hectares that were being used to illegally cultivate coca, and has introduced a number of crop substitution programs.
Isabel Manuela Estrada | 6 January 2016

Peru ended 2015 on a positive note, as it eradicated almost 36,000 hectares of coca cultivation, surpassing the government's goal of wiping out 35,000 hectares of the crop used to make cocaine. President Ollanta Humala, who said security forces typically dismantle 10,000 hectares of the crop annually, announced the achievement during a ceremony on December 13th – two days before the end of the year's eradication season.

The mark was achieved through logistical and technological support provided by the United States and a comprehensive initiative that provided farmers the option of cultivating alternative crops. The success of the illegal coca eradication programs were “primarily from a comprehensive model of intervention and not an isolated action,” said Ninoska Mosqueira Cornejo, General Secretary for the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (DEVIDA). “The goal is to provide sustainability to the reduction of illicit coca plantations while maintaining respect for human rights.”

“Another aspect to highlight was the close international collaboration to our sovereign intervention model,” Secretary Mosqueira continued. Jose Robles Montoya, Director of Policies and Strategy of the Ministry of Defense, agreed, adding that government officials are maintaining vigilance in the fight against drug trafficking and production, an attitude that “received significant logistical and technological contribution and support from the United States.”

“I think it was important to understand that [drug trafficking] is the main threat to our security," Robles added. "Therefore, the response of the Peruvian state has been comprehensive and multidimensional."

Law enforcement, crop substitution initiatives, and social programs

The government is fighting the illegal coca cultivation problem through a combination of Military and police initiatives, crop substitution programs, social programs, and investment projects that support agricultural entrepreneurship in areas where farmers have cultivated illegal coca. In 2015, these alternative crops, which include cocoa, coffee, and palm oil, generated $270 million for the Peruvian economy, according to DEVIDA.

The comprehensive strategy to eradicate illegal coca crops involves three phases, Secretary Mosqueira stated. During the pre-eradication phase, the government intervenes early and strategically with various programs and projects while “strengthening the state presence in the areas of influence.”

Security forces eradicate illegal coca crops during the second phase, destroying seeds that could be used for new plantations and dismantling makeshift labs that drug-trafficking operatives use to process illegal drugs.

In the third phase, authorities provide “short-term activities to ensure food security, basic social infrastructure, and the strengthening of democratic institutionalization and community development,” Secretary Mosqueira said. “This creates the basis for alternative, comprehensive, and sustainable development.”

Cocaine trade impacts society and the environment

The Shining Path terrorist group finances some of its violent crimes by working with narcotrafficking groups by, for example, protecting cocaine shipments destined for other countries. In addition to the illegal drug trade, organized crime groups also engage in illicit enterprises such as human trafficking, illegal logging, and the theft and sale of valuable Peruvian antiquities. Between all of these illegal activities, organized crime groups in Peru generate between $5 billion and $7 billion annually, giving them the financial power to influence and bribe customs and immigration officials, as well as security forces.

Drug cultivation and refining also harm the environment. In the process of refining cocaine, drug organizations produce about 2 metric tons of waste per hectare of coca, which can negatively impact a region's hyrdology, soil, and biodiversity. Coca farmers often use toxic pesticides to clear land used to cultivate the drug, which destroys the soil. Drug-cultivating farmers also often dump processed coca leaves near streams, which can harm plants, animals, and fish.

Neighboring countries also promote substitution alternatives

Like Peruvian officials, Colombian authorities are shifting their counter-narcotics strategy toward illegal coca crop substitution and funding the planting of alternative crops, according to President Juan Manuel Santos' announcement in September 2014.

Since 2008, Bolivia’s government has been implementing crop substitution policies as well, creating incentives for growers to cut the production of illegal coca leaves, and substituting some of it with other crops, such as pineapples and bananas. It is also working on developing the infrastructure of coca-producing regions, while allowing the growing of legal coca for chewing or using to make tea.

“Crop substitution is part of the successful Peruvian model of alternative, comprehensive, and sustainable development,” Secretary Mosqueira said. “More than a promising strategy, it is a reality seen in the average of more than 50,000 hectares of legal crops per year; the improvement of more than 1,100 kilometers of neighborhood roads; and the more than 50,000 titles of rural property we will provide during 2016.”

While seeing crop substitution as a plausible and promising strategy, Robles believes there is still plenty to do. “We need to deepen the reforms against corruption in all the entities involved in fighting drug trafficking, the police, the judicial power, and the overseers.”

Robles says there is a need to increase local entrepreneurism and workers' wages, which will make growing illegal coca less cost-effective for local farmers.

“We have to emphasize the changes in the economic matrix of the illegal coca areas to reduce to a minimum the commercial value of the coca leaves," Robles said. "For this, we need to formalize the economy of these areas, incentivize the creation of local productive projects through tax advantages, and reduce the bureaucratic burdens and roadblocks. This will generate economic returns promptly and consistently."

However, Secretary Mosqueira and Robles agree on the crucial importance of social programs as part of the short- and long-term development, which includes providing better healthcare and educational opportunities to residents in former coca-growing areas.

Cooperation with the United States

Peru and the United States are working together on a number of security issues. For example, in late 2015, the U.S. Navy conducted a bilateral exercise with the Peruvian Navy and Air Force

Aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23 deployed to waters surrounding Latin America and the Caribbean to conduct a bilateral exercise with the Peruvian Navy and Air Force from September 30th through October 3rd as part of Southern Seas 2015, a bilateral exercise that helps regional forces work together to address shared maritime security priorities during a series of cooperative training events and subject matter exchanges.

The two partner nations also work together to protect human rights. For instance, U.S. Southern Command sponsored the second Human Rights Initiative (HRI) Strategic Process Assessment Seminar with the Peruvian Armed forces in February 2015.

In another example of bi-national cooperation, on December 14, 2015, U.S. Army South opened inaugural Army-to-Army staff talks with Peru in Lima. Armed Forces officials from the two partner nations conducted a series of presentations to discuss topics such as regional security, human resources management, education and training, operational law and Military justice, logistics, health, engineering, Information Operations, civil affairs, peace operations and planning.

“This important event has plans of action to interchange topics on defense and security as well as the elements we will have to consider to counter new threats to the security of our region,” said Peruvian General de Division Luis Ramos Hume, the chief of staff of the Peruvian Army. “This will allow us to draw conclusions which will enrich and stoke the developments of our institutions.”

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