Coca farmers launch indefinite strike to protest government forced crop eradication policy and operations in Huánuco

An indefinite strike ran for a second consecutive day Tuesday as coca farmers in the central highland department of Huánuco — one of Peru’s largest coca growing regions — demanded the suspension of operations to enforce the government’s forced crop eradication policy in the region.

“The farmers in the zone have been completely abandoned,” said Congresswoman Yaneth Cajahuanca, a member of Ollanta Humala’s left-leaning nationalist opposition party, which opposes Peru’s eradication policy. “The State is completely absent … the regional and local governments have made a diagnosis and have designed a strategic plan for development in the area, but, unfortunately, the plan has yet to be implemented.”

For more than a year and a half talks between FPAF and the Peruvian government have been completely stalled though, the coca farmers argue, a 2008-2018 plan for sustainable development elaborated by Tingo María’s National Amazonian Agricultural University was deposited by Huánuco’s regional government in June. In 2007, an agreement signed between the coca farmers and Peru President Alan García’s top Cabinet Chief Jorge del Castillo provided for “non-aggression,” and “peaceful life” until the plan was presented.

“Nontheless, they are compulsively eradicating the coca leaf plantations,” said Aquino Durand, a local cocalero leader, in comments to daily La República. “And the campesinos are left in appalling poverty.”

“An agrarian policy is needed in this zone in order to give these communities life tools,” added Cajahuanca, in comments to the National Radio Coordinator. “Alternative crops must be implemented so that the coca leaf is no longer sowed and these families get a chance at a brighter future.”

“The farmers aren’t dissatisfied with the new crops,” added Cajahuanca, “but they are waiting for the projects to be carried out. They have come to an agreement with the government and will abandon coca crops, but only if they are given an alternative… they sow coca leaf because of necesity, not because they commercialize drugs.”

Approximately 500 coca farmers are camped outside the Special Project on Coca Crop Reduction and Control in High Huallaga, or CORAH, the institution responsible for eradiction operations in the region.

Protesters are also blocking highways and roads, reported daily La República, and a short confrontation between protesters and police broke out early Tuesday morning after some coca farmers threw stones at vehicles that squeezed past their road blockade.

Thirty farmers were arbitrarily arrested, Durand contended, though they were standing 500 meters, or 1.6 feet, away from the road, and inside a building.

The forced crop eradication policy implemented by the Peruvian government over the past 25 years has largely failed and left many poor regions to fend for themselves.

According to the Transnational Institute, “the official strategy has exacerbated social conflicts; contributed to various types of subversive violence; jeopardized local economies, also affecting the national economy; and destroyed forests as crops have become more scattered. Worst of all, it has not resolved any of the underlying causes of drug trafficking, such as poverty, marginalization and government neglect.”

In April 2007, Garcia stepped up his counter-drug rhetoric, with a call to “bomb and machine-gun down” all coca paste maceration pits and clandestine airports used to transport illegal drugs out of the Peru’s jungle.

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