Anti-drugs chief says Peru must better use foreign funds

Peru’s new chief of the anti-drug agency Devida, Ricardo Soberon, said that the government will look to better utilize funds from the United States to combat the country’s growing drug trade.

Soberon said during an interview with Ideele radio that he is scheduling meetings with the U.S. Embassy and Drug Enforcement Administration to discuss plans to increase drug seizures in Peru and strengthen the anti-drug police office, Dirandro.

“In the minds of the Americans, it is very important to spend the money well [to combat the drug trade] and Peru hasn’t always been able to demonstrate that,” Soberon said. “We are going to emphasize work methods so that Dinandro and the coast guard are better equipped to seize large shipments. That is where we will cause the damage.”

Soberon also said that Peru will seek to increase ties with the European Union to contribute to the country’s efforts in tackling trafficking. He said that Peru will have an “open door” policy with Europe.

“It is a real concern that in Western Europe there is so much demand for cocaine. I think we will seek to increase cooperation,” Soberon said.

Soberon was recently appointed to lead Devida by President Ollanta Humala, who took office on July 28.

Many analysts have said that tackling Peru’s growing and deadly drug trade could be one of Humala’s main challenges during his five year term.

According to the most recent UN World Drug Report, Peru has overtaken Colombia as the main producer of coca leaves, which is used to turn out cocaine. Remnant groups of the once bloody Shining Path insurgency work as security for drug traffickers located in the country’s top coca growing regions: the Apurimac and Ene river valleys, or VRAE, and the Upper Huallaga Valley.

These groups regularly launch attacks on military and police bases, killing state security personnel. Soberon has said that about 40% of Devida’s budget will be used exclusively for the VRAE.

Meanwhile, Lima and other urban centers have also seen drug-related violence, with foreign and local nationals targeted in hit-and-run shootings by organized groups.

However, some analysts and local press have questioned whether Soberon is the right pick to tackle the drug trade and called his appointment “a hit” to Peru’s anti-drug efforts.

According to El Comercio, Peru’s largest daily which has been fairly critical of Humala, Soberon formerly advised coca growers, and has had contact with people involved in the illicit trade.

He  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 reported earlier.

Soberon 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. He has co-authored numerous reports, including “Coca Yes, Cocaine No.”

In the interview, Soberon said he will look to “avoid confrontations” with government efforts to eradicate crops. “Eradication should be an administrative act… but not necessarily compulsory except in determined circumstances.”

Soberon said there are three criteria for eradication. The first is for cultivations in conservation areas in the high and low jungle; the second is cultivations located near maceration pits; and the third is related the size of the cultivation. “It could be a quarter, half or even a hectare depending on the zone, where larger areas should be subject to eradication,” he said.

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