Peru has now overtaken Colombia as the largest cocaine exporter in the world. Some regions produce huge quantities of coca leaves and coca paste – which is then turned into pure cocaine destined for Europe, Asia and Latin America.
|“It’s a fresh approach. I think it’s one that’s long overdue. Peru has been a very obedient student of US drug policies; they’ve done it our way for many, many decades now and look where it’s gotten them.”
– Sanho Tree, an expert on the ‘war on drugs’
Until recently, the government did very little to tackle the problem – making Peru an obvious choice for drug traffickers looking to move from Colombia, where they were hunted by the police and US-backed troops. At times, the government tried a policy of eradication – that is the forced elimination of coca crops by burning or spraying them with chemicals. But many consider this strategy a failure because farmers found other plots of land for coca production.
However, the government of Ollanta Humala, Peru’s new president, is taking a different approach to tackling the problem: getting tough on traffickers and encouraging farmers to grow other crops instead of coca.
|“The economics of the situation is able to defeat the best intentions.”
– Kevin Casas-Zamora, the former vice president of Costa Rica
Firstly, the government wants to help farmers plant alternative crops – such as bananas and coffee. And secondly, they want to increase the state’s investments in infrastructure projects in the area dense with coca farming. This could mean more schools and roads. And, finally, Humala says he will go after the drug traffickers and their money. The Shining Path, the Maoist rebel group, in particular will be targeted.
|“We don’t believe that eradication is an effective way of approaching the issue of coca crop because eradication basically means the disappearance of one plant without being sure that that plant won’t be cultivated again 10 metres from the place it has been eradicated.”
Ricardo Soberon, the director of Peru’s anti-drug commission
- Peru suspends US-funded coca eradication programme (guardian.co.uk)