Peru’s new anti-drug chief assume post amid controversy

Peru’s new president of the anti-drugs agency Devida, Ricardo Soberon, took up his post on Monday, promising to fight drug trafficking with social inclusion.

During the ceremony, Soberon said Devida will maintain an open policy to suggestions from other sectors, and focus on development, fighting corruption and increasing international cooperation to tackle the illegal drug trade.  He also said that reducing rural poverty is essential to the success of counter-narcotics actions.

Soberon is a lawyer and analyst of drug trafficking and counter-narcotics policies in the Andean region, and the author of several papers and studies on the subject. He is a member of the drugs and democracy team of the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute, a “worldwide fellowship of scholar activists” that works with grassroots organizations to seek long-term solutions.

President Ollanta Humala’s appointment of Soberon has drawn criticism from analysts and local media, with Peru’s biggest daily, El Comercio, calling it a hit to the country’s anti-drugs efforts.

“The state policies against drug trafficking and money laundering took a hit [Friday], after President Ollanta Humala named Ricardo Soberon, 50, the director of Devida,” El Comercio said in an August 6 article.

According to El Comercio, Soberon has formerly advised growers of coca, the raw material used to make cocaine. Peru is the world’s top coca producer, recently overtaking Colombia.

Soberon also, according to El Comercio, has ties to the illicit drug trade and even remnant groups of the Shining Path insurgency, which today work as hired guns for traffickers, according to the daily.

He has previously defended members of the Sanchez Paredes clan, a family frequently reported as being a major drug running and money laundering organization in Peru, El Comercio reports.

Meanwhile, during the ceremony on Monday, cabinet chief Salomon Lerner Ghitis reiterated that Peru should provide an example on how to combat the drug trade.

“In the head-on fight against drug trafficking, Peru should be an example, not only for Peruvians but for the entire world, for the values and defense of a more just society with incorruptible values,” he said.

Soberon said that Devida should begin to actively formulate policies for counter-narcotics success rather than just be called “to put out the fires.”

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