Anti-drug police in Peru have eradicated a record number of coca crops this year, beating its target of 30,000 hectares, a top government official said.
Interior Minister Daniel Urresti said law-enforcement teams had eradicated 30,349 hectares by the end of November, according to daily La Republica.
That is more than the 24,000 hectares that were eradicated in 2013, which was also an annual record and up 68 percent from 2012.
Under President Ollanta Humala, Peru’s government has stepped up eradication as a pillar of its anti-drug plan. In the past few years, Peru has overtaken Colombia as the world’s top cocaine producer.
And the eradication efforts are impressive in comparison with eradication programs in the three previous administrations, when the annual goal was around 10,000 hectares.
Urresti, a former military officer, said that the eradication this year has allowed Peru to prevent the production of 233 metric tonnes of cocaine.
Reports said there were about 48,000 hectares under coca cultivation last year. The record eradication means that the number of hectares will likely decline this year, although it is unclear by how much as farmers who are targeted for eradication often plant crops in other areas soon after.
Peru’s eradication program takes place in select coca-growing valleys. It had planned earlier this year to start eradication in the top coca growing valleys in south-central Peru, known strategically as the VRAEM, but canceled that plan over security concerns. Instead, the government wants to convince farmers to replace their crops with legal products such as coffee and cacao.
And the traffic goes on
Legal crops, however, hardly offer the returns of the cocaine trade. In the VRAEM — particularly the valleys in the Mantaro basin of Ayacucho— drug traffickign remains strong and is growing, as covered in several recent reports on IDL-Reporteros. Reports show videos of a single-engine Cessna aircraft touching down on one of three packed earth landing strips in Mayapo, in the high jungle of Ayacucho. It is met by a string of bearers quickly appearing out of the undergrowth carrying maybe 10 sacks of cocaine, probably weighing around 30 to 40 kilos each. Cash is exchanged, the aircraft turns around and lifts off to head for Bolivia, and the whole operation has taken under six minutes.
According to police reports, flights have increased sharply in recent weeks, from maybe three to five flights per day to as many as 10 or even 13, each aircraft taking off with around 350 kilos of cocaine, all bound for Bolivia.