Cabinet Chief Valdes Says Development Needed for VRAE

Following an attack Monday by traffickers that claimed the life of one military officer and wounded four soldiers, Peru’s new cabinet chief, Oscar Valdes, said the government will tackle drug trafficking in the Apurimac and Ene river valley, or VRAE, by increasing development and state-presence in the isolated coca-growing region.  

Valdes, the former Interior Minister, said that development in the VRAE will include the construction of roads by military engineers, state news agency Andina reported.

“We are going to bring in the state first. We are going to bring the engineer battalions. We are going to buildroads, we are going to bring in other organizations, like the Agriculture Ministry, Sierra Exportadora, [in order to promote] crop substitution,” Valdes said.

Valdes said that after development increases in the VRAE, the government will pursue those who support the illicit drug trade.

Valdes’ announcements back the strategy laid out by Ricardo Soberon, head of Devida, the counter-narcotics agency, which focuses on the need to provide alternative sources of income and development to the area before coming down hard on peasant farmers who grow illegal coca crops.   Valdes, as Interior Minister, initially questioned Soberon’s proposals when Soberon came under harsh attack by the opposition.

Peru is the world’s top producer of cocaine, according to the U.S. government. The VRAE, a 12-km2 area located in Peru’s central-south regions, is the country’s biggest producer of coca leaf, the raw material used to make cocaine.

A remnant group of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency operates in the VRAE, providing armed protection to drug traffickers. The group regularly launches attacks on Peruvian military and police.

The new Defense Minister Luis Otarola called the attack on Monday a “cowardly ambush.”  The troops were providing security support for a mobile hospital providing services in a nearby valley.  On the same day, a press release from the Navy indicated that six marine infantry were injured during an attack on their helicopter in the same area.

“Supposedly they say they defend an ideology, but they are basically huntsmen for the drug traffickers,” said Valdes.

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