President Ollanta Humala announced a change in the drug policy. Placing on hold the forcible eradication of coca plants in the Vrae area, a valley noted for its cocaine production from the coca plant, Humala has pushed forward the policy of crop substitutions.
The announcement follows the dismissal of the president’s drug czar, Carmen Masias. The decision signals a reversal in Peru’s approach to the drug production in the Vrae region. Earlier this year, Masias had announced a joint effort of militarized eradication that would be half-funded by the United States.
The previous policy was heavily opposed by the farmers in the region, resulting in protests and threats of resistance. Critics of the policy stated that such efforts would only serve to benefit Shining Path rebels by turning the coca plant growers against the authorities.
The coca plant functions as the region’s only cash crop and many livelihoods are dependent upon the plant. In 2013, the government eradicated 23,947 hectares (One hectare is approximately equal to 10,000 square meters,) a quantity that made little difference once farmers quickly replanted new coca plants.
The valley contains approximately 12,000 families dependent on the coca plant and 300 labs that produce semi-refined cocaine, as well as comprising 54 percent of Peru’s total coca crop production.
Humala has committed $214 million to building roads to help the region ship alternative crops to markets. In addition, the government hopes to reduce the chemicals required to manufacture cocaine.
Although the Vrae region will no longer see forcible eradication, the policy will continue in other parts of Peru. The government aims to eradicate 23,000 hectares in 2014, a decrease from the original goal of 30,000 hectares.
In 2012, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration named Peru the largest cocaine producer, surpassing other cocaine producing countries such as Colombia and Bolivia.
As a component of the U.S. drug war, Peru received $100 million from the U.S. government to combat drug production — half of the U.S. aid that is provided to Peru.
The changing policy of Peru may indicate a growing sentiment in Latin America toward the ravages of the drug war.
Uruguay has become the first Latin American country to legalize marijuana and Bolivia utilizes a voluntary reduction program. Guatemala and Colombia also have been backing changes to the drug policy despite few actual changes to policy.
Critics of the drug war condemn the innocent loss of life that has resulted from the war. Colombia has lost over 15,000 lives, many innocent victims, over the course of its 20-year drug war.
In addition, many believe the influx of funds that are used to combat cartels and drug production could be better used to reduce poverty. For many of the farmers that grow the coca plant, its production is the only crop that provides enough funds to survive.
– William Ying