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Peru Government Launches Broadside Against Coca Growers

Coca eradicators in Peru Coca eradicators in Peru

The Peruvian government has sent a no compromise message to coca growers, reinforcing the Humala administration's hardline policies against coca cultivation.

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In an interview with La Republica, Carmen Masias, the President of the government's Governing Board of the National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA), dismissed calls for a truce from coca growers in the Monzon Valley region in central Peru.

"These people have asked for a truce. But what do they want, a truce of 10 years or 20 years? They were already given a truce and what did they do? They planted more coca," said Masias.

Masias also rejected the coca growers' demands for compensation immediately after eradication.

"These people sell to narco-traffickers, and you have to bear that in mind," she said. "They have money saved away, they won't die of hunger."

In the future the government would carry out a soil analysis to determine what legal crop substitutions are appropriate for the region, she said, but did not specify when this would take place.

In January, President Ollanta Humala's government announced its eradication targets for the coming year -- which were 57 percent higher than 2012. For the first time, eradication efforts will include the Monzon Valley -- which has long been an epicenter of coca cultivation. A previous incursion into the valley by Peru's main coca eradication authority, known as the CORAH, sparked a confrontation that left two dead.

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Unlike the picture painted by Masias, in most regions farmers plant coca out of necessity and are rarely if ever party to the huge profits made by drug traffickers. Without sustainable, long-term economic substitution programs and significant social investment, growers are likely to have little choice but to return to coca cultivation.

To be sure, Masias comments reflect a stubbornly persistent approach to combating the drug trade that has had little tangible success. Peru, like Colombia and Bolivia, has for years targeted coca growers with eradication programs, which have had minimal impact on the availability and prices of drugs or the profits of traffickers, but have left poverty-stricken communities vulnerable.

The plan could also cause political issues for Humala, who was the only candidate in the last elections who pledged to move away from forced eradication.

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