Police, Coca Farmers Clash Results In Two Deaths

A clash between police officers and coca growers in Peru’s eastern-jungle region left two people dead on Tuesday, Peru’s National Police said.

The violence reportedly occurred when coca farmers confronted police over the government’s eradication of crops in the area. 

RPP radio had originally reported that five people had been killed. Luis Picon,  president of Huanuco region, where the confrontations occurred, told RPP radio that the injured were taken to a hospital in the city of Tingo Maria and to health posts in other smaller towns.

Carmen Masias, head of the drug policy agency Devida, said at the beginning of this year that the government’s aim was to eradicate 14,000 hectares of coca bushes, higher than the standard 10,000 ha in previous years. 

Ricardo Soberon, who headed Devida for a brief six months until January this year, has criticized the program to eradicate illegal crops without the backing of a whole infrastructure to provide alternative income solutions to local farmers, most of whom are poor. He argued for working with the coca growers, to win them over rather than confront them, and gradually implement crop substitution.  His unorthodox views led to his resignation when Oscar Valdes was appointed cabinet chief late last year.

Coca is grown legally in limited areas of Peru, for several processed products including teas and boiled candy, and for chewing with lime, a tradition in the Andes used to ward off cold, hunger and exhaustion. But the vast majority of the leaf is grown and harvested illegally and serves as the base to produce cocaine.

The United States has said that Peru has recently overtaken Colombia as the world’s biggest cocaine producer.

The U.S. is the world’s biggest consumer of the drug, though other consumption in other markets, like Brazil, has been increasing recently.

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