VRAEM Coca Farmers to Meet with Premier Cateriano

Peru’s Premier Pedro Cateriano and the minister of Agriculture, Juan Benites, are scheduled to be in southeastern Peru today, for talks with members of the farmers’ federation of the Apurimac and Ene valleys, Fepavrae.

Talks, which were interrupted in November last year, are focused on the government’s program to reduce or eradicate coca crops and at the same time assist local farmers in not only converting their lands to legal crops but providing markets for their produce.  Infrastructure, education and social services are also on the agenda.

Prospero Ayala, the president of Fepavrae, said that leaders of the farmers and coca growers from every district in the area will be present, and expect to be given clear explanations on how the government plans to carry out this program.  The coordination made for this meeting includes the insistence of a public, town hall meeting rather than closed meetings like those held last year.

If the talks are not held this week, Ayala said the federation and other social and commercial organizations in the area will call a protest strike for July 6 to 8, blocking roads and closing down all commerce.   Last year, Ayala received threats from Ministry of Agriculture officials when his organization would not accept some of the government’s demands.

The mayor of Santa Rosa, Romulo Loayza, said the government needs to take the negotiation table seriously.  Last year, ministers repeatedly did not turn up for talks and instead sent their representatives.

“In many cases, these were military officers who had no interest in talking to civilians,” Loyaza said.

The government’s main focus on the watershed of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, the VRAEM, has been primarily a military one — the montaine forest and wide valleys are now the country’s main coca growing region and also the territory in which remnants of the Shining Path operate as protectors of coca farmers as well as traffickers that send in small planes daily to pick up the cocaine.

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