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20 August 1999

Fears of Increase In Cocaine Production

By Abraham Lama

LIMA, Aug 9 (IPS) - The crackdown on drug production in Peru won international acclaim for President Alberto Fujimoro's government but the country may soon be resuming its place as a leading cocaine producer, according to experts here.

For years Peru was the world's leading producer of the base paste made from the leaves of the coca plant, used to manufacture cocaine, but government efforts to stamp out coca proved so successful that Colombia and Bolivia overtook Peru in production table. Between 1995 and 1998, Peru reduced its lands sown with coca by 60 percent. This moved Barry MacCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, to praise the government's campaign as a model worthy of being emulated by other coca-producing countries. MacCaffrey emphasized that the Peruvian model combined programs to promote the cultivation of alternative crops with strict police and military action to curb exports of cocaine paste.

Last year however, some 198,000 peoples were employed in the production of coca in Peru and coca plants were growing on about 51,000 hectares of land - of which only 7,500 of which were designated for legal use in the pharmaceutical industry, according to official sources.

Given the social dimensions of coca production, none of the successive Peruvian governments have accepted U.S. proposals to penalize illegal cultivation. Government policy currently is to induce farmers to substitute illegal coca plantations with alternative crops, such as coffee, cocoa and fruit. Methods used to achieve this have included technical support from official organizations and lower tariffs on agricultural exports to the European Union.

According to diplomatic sources, MacCaffrey has praised the role played by Peru's National Intelligence Service in intercepting small planes used in drug trafficking and liquidating the armed groups that protected the clandestine airports hidden in the jungle.

Still, according to various other sources, the extensions of land sown with coca in Peru's tropical valleys have once again begun to expand, for the prices paid by international drug cartels for the base paste of cocaine have gone up dramatically, sources say. The going price for an ''arroba'' (11 and-a-half kgs) of coca leaves, which two years ago stood at 4.5 dollars, is now close to 50 dollars.

MacCaffrey, who visited Colombia and Venezuela in July, will visit Peru this month on a tour that will also include Bolivia and Brazil. He will ''verify the true failure of Fujimori's anti-drug policies,'' says researcher Roger Rumrril, the author of a report presented to the United Nations on the ecological and social impact of the drug trade and the methods employed by Peru to eradicate the cultivation of coca.

The drop in prices paid for coca leaves was the real motive behind the reduction in Peru's production of cocaine, according to Rumrril. He also points out that prices fell due to the oversupply of drugs on the international market and the decision of Colombian cartel leaders to increase the cultivation of coca in their own country. Rumrril explains that the cartels have already depleted a good part of their on-hand stock and, furthermore, Colombia's internal warring has compelled them to seek supplies from other countries.

Another specialist in this field, lawyer Javier Baldeon, points out that the Peruvian government has not taken advantage of the coca price crisis to stimulate the cultivation of alternative crops. Baldeon claims the official support offered to rural farmers who abandoned the cultivation of coca has been weak and insufficient. ''The success stories are on paper - numbers on statistical charts. At any moment, as the prices being paid for coca leaves again become attractive, or when plagues or market-placing problems arise with alternative crops, the farmers will return to the cultivation of coca,'' he says.

According to Rumrril, plague conditions in the tropical valleys of Apurimac and Ayacucho during the first months of this year affected 80 percent of the 20,000 hectares sown with cocoa. The price per kilogram of coca was already almost double that of cocoa, so that when the plague hit, many rural farmers returned to their abandoned coca plantations in the mountains, Rumrril says in his report. ''The alternative programs will continue to fail if they continue on the same course, designed with the valley regions in mind, and lacking integral projects for regional development,'' he says.

Josi Corbera, head of the Alternative Development Unit of Peru's Anti-Drug Commission, recognises that the increase in the price of coca ''is a difficulty and a negative factor'' for the program ''as it again puts coca at a comparative advantage with licit agricultural products.''

''Faced with this situation, the Peruvian government is intensifying its efforts, increasing its support for the farmers and seeking new sources of financial backing,'' Corbera says. He also indicated that the government plans to invest 100 million dollars annually, beginning this year until 2003, in the development of alternative crops.

Juan Gil, executive director of the Anti-Drug Commission, stated that the United States will contribute 150 million dollars to Peru's efforts, while the United Nations Program for the International Control of Drugs has promised to provide an additional 32 million. Furthermore, the European Union will contribute 31 million dollars; Canada, 10 million; Holland, 5 million; and Spain, 6 million.

Last month, in Washington, the Peruvian government held a forum titled ''Opportunities for Investment and Commerce in the Peruvian Amazon'' to attract private investment with the beneficial tariffs granted by Europe and the United States for alternative crops.

[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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