Peru police destroy 128 kilos of macerating cocaine paste and smash five clandestine jungle labs

Peru anti-drug police shut down five active clandestine drug labs in Peru’s central highland department of Ayacucho and seized and destroyed 128 kilos of semi-processed cocaine paste.

On Monday, a late-night helicopter raid in the small town of Novilloccasa, located in Ayacucho’s Huanta province, led police and anti-drug prosecutor Carlos Minaya Basilio to find five clandestine drug labs and 128 kilos of cocaine paste.

Police destroyed the illegal brew — the conversion of coca leaf into coca paste is usually accomplished in what is known as a coca paste maceration pit — including 400 gallons of kerosene, 220 kilos of calcium hydroxide, 88 kilos of muriatic acid, 20 kilos of sulfuric acid, 5 kilos of sodium carbonate, 60 kilos of sodium chloride and 12,800 kilos of coca leaf.

A number of chemicals and solvents which play vital roles in the processing of coca leaves to paste are common and all have legitimate uses,  making sale for illicit drug processing difficult to control.

On September 8, Peruvian drug enforcement police seized two and a half tons of high purity cocaine paste hidden in shock absorbers used as bumpers for ships. More than 20 people allegedly tied to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel were arrested. Just a week prior, the same cartel lost out on more than 700 kilos of cocaine paste worth approximately $24 million. The paste had been mixed with 8 tons of paprika, one of Peru’s major exports.

Coca leaf, which is the raw material for the manufacture of cocaine, has a nearly 4,000 year tradition in South America, and it is an important element of Andean culture. It is also widely used by Peruvians of all social classes for therapeutic teas used to alleviate fatigue, hunger, gastro-intestinal disorders, rheumatism, and, among other things, altitude sickness.

Coca leaves sold for teas and chewing, as well as the small amount of legally produced cocaine which is sold to pharmaceutical companies, is marketed by the state-owned National Coca Enterprise (ENACO). This “legal” coca is produced on registered land in the Cuzco province of La Convención y Lares, the Huallaga Valley, and small areas in the departments of Huánuco, La Libertad, Ucayali and Puno.

The precise number of hectares of illegally grown coca, however, is much more difficult to ascertain.

There are more than 250 varieties of the coca plant, but only three are widely used in the illegal cocaine drug trade: Huanuco coca, grown in Bolivia and Peru, Amazonian coca, grown in the Amazon River basin, and Colombian coca, grown primarily in Colombia.

Peru was, until 1996, the world’s largest coca leaf producer, and is now the world’s second largest producer of coca leaf, though it lags far behind Colombia.

Peru slashed its production by 70 percent between 1995 and 2001 primarily because of low coca prices, interdiction, forced eradication of coca fields and programs that encourage farmers to grow alternative crops.

But by 2002, the number of hectares used to illegally grow coca in Peru increased as efforts to eradicate the crop in Colombia forced production southward.

This can be explained, in part, by the balloon effect, or the drug fields’ tendency to shift elsewhere and sometimes to smaller and harder-to-reach plots in response to local eradication campaigns, and the fact that for farmers, the coca harvest provides more money than any other crop: up to five times as much can be earned for a kilogram of coca than for a kilogram of coffee.

In June 2008, a study conducted by Peru’s National Commission for the Development of Life without Drugs, or Devida, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicated that coca crops had increased by 4.5 percent in 2007 and that approximately 92 percent of Peruvian coca production is destined for the fabrication of cocaine paste and cocaine hydrochloride.

According to official data, RPP reported, approximately 60,000 Peruvians families illegally produce coca for drug traffickers.

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