Peru Surpasses Coca Eradication Goal, Aims to Expand Program Next Year

Peru’s government has surpassed its goal this year to eradicate more than 14,000 hectares of coca bushes in the eastern slopes of the Andean, according to Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza.

“Two days ago we surpassed our goal for 2012. We’ve eradicated 14,023 hectares,” Pedraza said in a statement. “The goal was 14,000, so this is very good news.”

In 2010 and 2011, Peru eradicated about 11,000 hectares per year. The goal prior to 2011 was 10,000 hectares per year. Peru’s eradication program is largely financed by the U.S. government.

“For next year, we are going to propose much higher goals, which in a few more days we will make public,” he added.

Peru is one of the world’s top producers of coca, which is the base for making cocaine. Other major producers of the leaf are Colombia and Bolivia.

While eradication is seen as one of Peru’s main tools for tackling cocaine production, there are also a number of weaknesses, including long-term support for crop substitution. The policy of forced eradication has been heavily criticized, including by Ricardo Soberon, an expert on the drug trade who served as President Ollanta Humala’s anti-drug czar during the start of his administration.  

In mid-2011, President Humala’s new administration temporarily suspended the eradication program in order to reassess the strategies and seek new solutions, but the suspension was sharply criticized by the U.S. and the Peruvian military and security specialists, and the program was reinstated within a month.

A few months later, Soberon was replaced as the head of anti-drug agency Devida.  The incoming premier, Oscar Valdes, said Peru was in no position to begin experiments.

The weakness of the eradication program —despite annual eradication targets, there are currently 20,000 ha more being cultivated than three years ago —lies in corruption and a lack of long-term government support and infrastructure in the intervened areas, but also because growers and traffickers seek new areas to open up.

For example, the Amazonian basin, known as the “low jungle,” has seen a rapid expansion in coca crops in recent years. The area of Caballococha, located in the northeast of the Loreto region near Peru’s border with Colombia and Brazil, has seen a surge in coca fields and is now one of the world’s fastest growing areas for the crops in the world.

This has come as a particular surprise, and growing concern, because the humidity in the lower jungle has long been seen as inhospitable to coca, which is normally grown at higher altitudes along the montane forest on the eastern slopes of the Andes.

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