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PERU
Zero Coca
Cecilia Remón
3/13/2003
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Government follows US script.

The images of protesting coca growers, roadblocks and violent police repression in the last week of February could easily have come from Bolivia. This time, however, the disturbances took place in the central Peruvian Amazon, where thousands of campesinos protested the forced eradication of coca crops.

Coca growers from the Huánuco department began their strike Feb. 18, blocking the main highway between the Amazon cities of Aguaytía and Tingo María and demanding respect for agreements made with the National Commission for Development and a Drug-Free Life (DEVIDA) between July and August last year.

DEVIDA agreed to implement "the gradual and sustainable reduction of coca crops and the fight against drug trafficking and subversion." Running in tandem would be a rural development plan to create jobs and income for campesinos through emergency loans for products that have a sure market, as well as police interdiction of drugs shipped along land, air, river and ocean routes (LP, Oct. 21, 2002).

The agreements gave coca growers four credit possibilities: a payment of approximately US$100 per hectare for voluntarily destroying their own crops; $342-370 for each hectare reforested; $600-685 per hectare for up to four legal crop harvests; and a certificate entitling campesinos to benefits for taking part. The plan would have cost $3 million a year, a fraction of the $300 million approved by the US government for eradication and alternative development over the next five years.

Although coca growers and authorities approved the plan it was rejected by its main financier, USAID. The radical alterations that followed had disastrous results on the coca plantations.

"USAID never accepted the credit mechanism — a fundamental element for any producer — because it meant handing over control of funds to the Peruvian state-run Financial Corporation for Development. It finally approved a set fee of approximately $160 for each hectare destroyed plus a one-off pack of provisions worth $150 per family," said Hugo Cabieses, Peruvian economist and drugs expert. "The campesinos wanted credits and sure markets for their products. They did not want to be treated like beggars," he said.

The coca growers called a truce 11 days after the protests began in order to seek dialogue with the government, but the conflict is far from over. At the heart of the matter, say the experts, is the lack of Peruvian State policy in the fight against drugs and for alternative development. Peru, like Bolivia and Colombia, has imposed US anti-drugs policies, which emphasize forced eradication and interdiction of crops, but not crop substitution.

"Peru has lacked and lacks integral and coherent policies to tackle drug production or trafficking and the implicated security, order and public health issues. Since 1978, successive governments have merely copied policies used in other countries, bowing their heads to receive crumbs for implementing development models that ignore campesino opinion," said lawyer Ricardo Soberón. "All we see is knee-bending compliance with US State Department dictates."

Observers say the United States could pressure the Peruvian government into enforcing the "zero coca" policy that has been used in Bolivia since 1997, setting a limit of 1,000 hectares for the cultivation of coca for traditional consumption. The rest, which is supposedly grown for drug traffickers and is therefore illegal, would have to be forcibly destroyed, otherwise Peru would not be eligible for tariff exemptions under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) (LP, Oct. 21, 2002).

"What the US wants is the strict enforcement of its war on drugs, whatever the social cost. They want Peru to eradicate coca crops using, as in Colombia, indiscriminate crop spraying and, as in Bolivia, the ‘zero coca’ strategy," said Cabieses.

Billions of dollars of US money have been injected into the Andean countries’ anti-drug programs over the years, yet there has been little return. The US government estimates that coca cultivation in Bolivia rose from 19,900 hectares in 2001 to 24,400 hectares in 2002, while in Peru there was also an increase, from 34,000 hectares in 2001 to 36,000 hectares last year. In Colombia coca cultivation fell by 15 percent from 169,800 hectares in 2001 to 144,400 in 2002. Between 2001 and 2002, coca cultivation in all three countries has only been reduced by a combined total of 8 percent. Over the last 20 years, the combined coca cultivation of the three countries has averaged 200,000 hectares (LP, March 11, 2002).

Cabieses explained that the existing policy has resulted in "crop migration, where coca growers, responding to the authorities’ eradication efforts, simply move elsewhere, sometimes crossing borders." This is known as the "balloon effect" because when pressure is exerted on one area, another area inflates.

This year, Peru must destroy at least 12,000 hectares of coca to stay off the US State Department’s drug certification "majors list" and remain eligible for ATPDEA benefits. Such an objective, according to congressman Javier Diez Canseco, "is inconceivable, because it would create a situation similar to that of Bolivia." Coca growers in Bolivia have staged massive protests against the "zero coca" policy in recent years, and disturbances last January left 20 dead (LP, Jan. 29, 2003).

John P. Walters, director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, called Peru and Bolivia’s 2002 hike in coca cultivation a "regional threat." The US government, he said, is "worried" that both countries can’t deal with pressure from coca growers unwilling to destroy crops supposedly grown for drug traffickers.

The cost of coca has risen to almost $4 per kilo, its highest value since 1989, after over production caused it to fall to $0.40 in the mid-Nineties. The rise, according to Cabieses, is directly linked to market forces such as "the significant increase in demand for cocaine in the United States and other countries."

The superior value of coca over other crops makes legal alternatives extremely unattractive to campesinos. "A box of 4 papayas costs $1, coffee costs $0.80 per kilo, and cocoa fetches $1.20 per kilo," said Cabieses.

Experts agree that the successful eradication of illegal coca crops will combine repression of drug traffickers and coherent alternative development that results in a better standard of living for campesinos. "The government must open its doors to dialogue," said Cabieses. "The coca growers’ demands can be met."

 

 

 


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