Peru Gov’t criticized for temporary suspension of coca eradication

Peru’s government has ordered the suspension of eradication efforts of coca crops in the country’s Upper Huallaga Valley, located in Huanuco region, local media reported.

The Upper Huallaga Valley is one of Peru’s top coca growing regions, in addition to the Apurimac and Ene river valleys, or VRAE. Peru has seen a steady increase in recent years in the territory used to cultívate coca, the raw material used to make cocaine.

The decision by President Ollanta Humala’s government has come under fire by illegal drug traffic experts. Former Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi said the order sends a message to drug traffickers and coca growers that they are open to continue operating.

“He said on July 28 [during his inauguration] that he was going to continue with the eradication of the illicit coca leaf, and yesterday he personally gave the order to the Interior minister to suspend the eradication,” daily La Republica reported Rospigliosi as saying.

Sociologist Jaime Antezana said: “It would be the gravest error because it would mean that President Humala has returned to his discouse of May 31, when in [the town of] Tingo Maria he offered coca growers that he wouldn’t eradicate.”

U.S. Ambassador Rose M. Likins expressed surprise at the government’s decision, commenting that she would have liked to have been advised directly.

The new chief of Peru’s anti-drug agency, Devida, Ricardo Soberon, said the suspension was part of the government’s efforts to re-evaluate the current counter-narcotics plan. “[Eradication] has been reduced before, not only in Peru, but also Colombia, Afghanistan… to be able to evaluate [the policies],” Soberon said.

Newspaper El Comercio quoted a “high-ranking” member of Corah, the project responsible for decreasing coca cultivation in the Upper Huallaga, as saying that the suspension will be for a few days. “It is a question of strategy,” the official was cited as saying.

Premier Salomon Lerner said the government is determined to eradicate illegal crops but that the move is necessary to assess the current situation, “to adjust the instruments necessary to ensure success” in the future eradication plans.

This year, the eradication plan already in place before the new administration, is to cover 10,000 hectares, of which only 4,000 have been eradicated so far.

“After 10 years of failure, it is time to pause and reorganize the house,” Soberón said.

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