Devida: drug trafficking is contributing to deforestation and contaminating rivers in Peru’s Amazon region

More than 15 million liters of toxic chemicals used in the processing of coca and production of coca paste and cocaine are dumped into the Amazon’s rivers every year, reported Peru’s National Commission for the Development of Life without Drugs, or Devida on Thursday.

“The perverse business of drug trafficking has no consideration for the economy, for society or the environment,” said Lucio Batallanos, an environmental expert at Devida.

According to Batallanos, 27 different chemicals are used to produce coca paste and cocaine, most of which are solvents and acids.

The conversion of coca leaf into coca paste is usually accomplished in what is known as a coca paste maceration pit. The leaves are first dusted with an inorganic base, usually lime or carbonate salt, then dampened with a minimal amount of water, and then placed in a pit. A water-immiscible organic solvent — usually kerosene, less commonly diesel fuel or gasoline — is added to the dampened coca leaf and the mixture is either vigorously mixed or left standing with occasional stirring for up to 3 days, thereby extracting the cocaine free base into the solvent.

In addition to the pollution caused by the chemicals, it is estimated that drug trafficking has also contributed to the deforestation of Peru’s Amazon jungle. Approximately 2.5 million hectares of forest have been cleared to grow coca crops, according to Devida.

Peru was, until 1996, the world’s largest coca leaf producer, and is now the world’s second largest producer of coca leaf, though it lags far behind Colombia.

Peru slashed its production by 70 percent between 1995 and 2001 primarily because of low coca prices, interdiction, forced eradication of coca fields and programs that encourage farmers to grow alternative crops.

But by 2002, the number of hectares used to illegally grow coca in Peru increased as efforts to eradicate the crop in Colombia forced production southward.

This can be explained, in part, by the balloon effect, or the drug fields’ tendency to shift elsewhere and sometimes to smaller and harder-to-reach plots in response to local eradication campaigns, and the fact that for farmers, the coca harvest provides more money than any other crop: up to five times as much can be earned for a kilogram of coca than for a kilogram of coffee.

In June 2008, a study conducted by Peru’s National Commission for the Development of Life without Drugs, or Devida, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicated that coca crops had increased by 4.5 percent in 2007 and that approximately 92 percent of Peruvian coca production is destined for the fabrication of cocaine paste and cocaine hydrochloride.

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