Head of Peru’s Anti-Drug Agency Comes Under Fire Following Leaked Emails

The head of Peru’s anti-drugs agency Devida, Ricardo Soberon, has come under fire following the publication by daily El Comercio  of excerpts of some of his e-mails to coca growing members of the National Confederation of Farmers in the coca-growing basins (Conpaccp).

The criticism heightened as Soberon scheduled to visit coca growers in several areas of the central jungle.

Soberon, a lawyer who has advised persons with links to coca growers and worked with grassroots organizations in coca growing areas, was appointed by President Ollanta Humala to lead Devida in August, shortly after the new government took office. His appointment has been heavily criticized by some of the media and analysts.

After he was appointed, the government drew heavy criticism for temporarily halting coca eradication in the Upper Huallaga Valley, which is one of Peru’s top coca growing regions. The government, which quickly resumed eradication within a week, defended the move as necessary to reassess its anti-narcotics policies.

Against the tide of criticism, Jorge Montoya, former commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, praised the government’s revluation of the situation, saying that if the government continued with the policies of previous governments it would only be consolidating failure and mediocrity.  This failure —coca growing areas have increased in recent years— proves that the sole policy of “compulsive eradication” does not work, he said, adding that the problem must be approached from several different angles. 

“This is a serious issue and must be analyzed in a comprehensive, technical way and not as politics,” Montoya said. 

But El Comercio believes Soberon is the wrong man for the job.

 “The former advisor to coca growers and controversial president of Devida, Ricardo Soberon, has become the main stumbling block of anti-drug authorities and the eradication of coca leaf in the country and even a threat to the correct development of State strategies in the fight against drug trafficking,” El Comercio wrote Thursday.

Peru’s largest daily said it received the emails that were sent August 12 from Soberon to members and people linked to coca-growing federation Conpaccp. El Comercio says the emails were confirmed by “reliable sources” and that it shows a contradiction in Soberon’s public discourse.

“I’m absolutely replaceable,” Soberon was quoted as telling the farmers. “They can get rid of me right away. That’s why the great art of my management will be to survive as long as possible.”

According to El Comercio, Soberon wrote to the coca growers that he has the support of Humala’s cabinet chief, Salomon Lerner, but not the full backing of Defense Minister Daniel Mora or Interior Minister Oscar Valdes, who are in favor of eradication.

“The margin for action and negotiation that I have is very limited and I will try to use the best possible,” Soberon said.

He went on to write: “Should there be eradication? You know my historic position, but I should support that the reduction does not need to be violent and should be applied to national units (in reference to protected nature areas), close to [soaking] pits and in extensions of a hectare. That is my point of no return.”

The daily says that Soberon continues to advise the coca union and “worse still is using his influence and the information that he manages to the benefit of the coca growing union.”

“Yesterday, August 11, the secretary of Conpaccp sent me a text message. He was calling me constantly about another eradication program in La Vega [located near Tingo Maria]. At that moment I was attending to people from the VRAE and Satipo. When I returned his call, I couldn’t reach him. I can’t always stop such actions,” Soberon wrote.

The head of advisors to Devida, Julio Castro Gomez, downplayed the messages and said that Soberon has no intention of resigning and is not continuing to work on the side as a consultant for the coca growers.

“It’s not true. What happens is that because he is a researcher, he has to maintain contact with a series of ions and with all of the main actors in this topic. All with the common end, to contribute and finish with this issue,” Castro Gomez said.

“The president of Devida has been clear to say that the anti-drug policy of the country, established by Ollanta Humala, is the reduction of coca leaf cultivations and for that one of the methods is the eradication of the coca leaf in the country,” he added.

Peru is the world’s top coca leaf producer.

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