PERU: Second Coca, Cocaine Producer for Nine Years Running
LIMA -- Drug trafficking is still good business in Peru, the world’s second largest producer of coca and cocaine for the ninth consecutive year, according to the latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
By Ángel Páez, IPS
Since 1998, illegal coca plantations have grown steadily. In 2007 they were four percent more extensive than in 2006, increasing from 51,400 hectares to 53,700 hectares, according to UNODC’s survey "Coca Cultivation in the Andean Region", released on Wednesday.
The statistics indicate an increase in the potential production of cocaine, confirming the upward trend which began nearly a decade ago. Peru’s potential production rose by four percent, from 280 tonnes in 2006 to 290 tonnes in 2007.
Actual world cocaine production, according to U.N. estimates, grew by just 10 tonnes, from 984 tonnes in 2006 to 994 in 2007.
There was no significant change in the suppliers of the cocaine market. Colombia produces 60.3 percent of the cocaine consumed worldwide, Peru supplies 29.1 percent and Bolivia contributes 10.4 percent.
UNODC representative for Peru and Ecuador, Flavio Mirella, said that potential production of cocaine was down by two percent in Colombia, and up by 11 percent in Bolivia.
Curiously, though, the study reports a 27 percent expansion in Colombian coca plantations, which it describes as surprising, while in Bolivia coca crops expanded by five percent.
In the view of Rómulo Pizarro, the head of the state National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA), the figures reflect "strong pressure from drug traffickers to increase cocaine production, due to heavy demand."
Pizarro pointed out that 50 percent of the coca is grown in the valleys of the Apurimac and Ene rivers in the south of the country, one of Peru’s poorest regions and known by the acronym VRAE. "This means that in order to fight drug trafficking, poverty must also be decisively eradicated," he said.
Some 200 members of the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas have taken refuge in the VRAE region, where the largest Peruvian cocaine laboratories are located. The government of President Alan García has sent 5,000 troops to crack down on the rebels, who have apparently been strengthened by an alliance with the drug traffickers.
Mirella, the UNODC representative, said that coca cultivation increased less in 2007 than in 2006, when it expanded by seven percent.
However, he called attention to the appearance or expansion of plantations in areas like Marañón-Putumayo, on the border with Ecuador, Inambari-Tambopata, close to the border with Brazil, and in the Palcazú-Pichis-Pachitea river valleys, where cultivation has shot up by 169 percent.
His interpretation of this was that repression only shifts cultivation to new areas.
The UNODC report says that in 2007 the authorities forcibly eradicated 11,056 hectares of coca, and another 1,016 hectares voluntarily, with the cooperation or consent of farmers.
Eighty percent of Peruvian cocaine is directed to the European market.
"But 95 percent of foreign aid for the fight against cocaine production comes from the United States, with Europe contributing only five percent," said Pizarro, who said he found this "inexplicable."
"Between 2006 and 2007, the number of Europeans who took a cocaine-based drug for the first time rose from 3.5 million to 4.5 million. Consumer countries are not shouldering their responsibility in this field," he complained.
"There is no doubt that more aid should be provided, because programmes to eradicate coca and substitute other crops that are legal and equally profitable have had satisfactory results," Mirella said.
"Small farmers who switched from coca to coffee, cocoa and palm oil exported products worth 39 million dollars in 2005, which rose to 70 million dollars in 2007," he said.
Pizarro mentioned that implementation of the Rapid Impact Plan -- direct, speedy investment in the areas where small farmers agree to switch crops -- has begun to show significant results. The executive branch has allocated 15.8 million dollars to the programme.
In 2006, an average of 426 kilograms of cocaine a month were seized by the authorities; in 2007 the average was 522 kilos a month, and in the first five months of this year, an average of nearly 556 kilos a month were seized. The National Anti-Drug Directorate predicts a new record for cocaine seizures in 2008.
"Peru is battling and resisting a real offensive on the part of international drug traffickers," said DEVIDA’s Pizarro.
"The new markets, particularly in Europe and Asia, put pressure on the producer countries, and these respond by increasing coca cultivation, improving production with new technology, diversifying their export methods and opening new routes to get the cocaine out of Peru," he said.
Technical improvements are confirmed by the quality of drugs produced in Peru. In 2003, cocaine hydrochloride was 84.5 percent pure, while in 2007 its purity increased to 88.9 percent. In Bolivia that year, cocaine was 60.9 percent pure and Colombia’s 84.7 percent.
For that very reason, the price of Peruvian cocaine has risen.
In 2006 the average wholesale price of cocaine in producing regions was 825 dollars a kilo, whereas in 2007 it was 851 dollars a kilo, yielding an estimated total of 247 billion dollars for cocaine sales at the point of origin. But prices in Europe are several times higher, which makes the trade highly lucrative.
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi