The government in Peru has fired its anti-narcotics chief in a surprise move that could signal a return to the President’s initial — but rapidly abandoned –policy of seeking alternatives to forced coca eradication.
Late on May 27, the president of Peru’s National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA) Carmen Masias was summoned to the office of Prime Minster Rene Cornejo, where she was asked to resign immediately, sources told IDL Reporteros.
According to the news site, the key event that led to Marias’ dismissal was the debate on whether or not to implement DEVIDA’s forced coca eradication plans in Peru’s VRAEM region — the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys — where the last faction of the Shining Path guerrilla insurgency remains active.
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The program, which was slated to commence imminently, had been met by public opposition and dissent among high-ranking government officials, who warned against the program’s negative implications for relations with coca farmers and therefore for the fight against the rebels who facilitate and tax the trade.
Masias was replaced by Peru’s former defense minister and presidential advisor in security issues, Alberto Otarola.
Her dismissal comes only weeks after Peruvian President Ollanta Humala declared that the government’s focus would no longer be on eradication, but on a new “legal development” strategy based on crop substitution.
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In February 2014, DEVIDA announced its plans to eradicate 16,000 hectares of coca crops in the VRAEM region — thought to house over half of the country’s coca cultivations — over the course of the year, in an ambitious strategy aimed at ending Peru’s status as the world’s number one coca crop producer.
The government’s about turn brings Peruvian coca policy back into line with the promises made by President Humala on the campaign trail, when he explicitly stated there would be no more forced eradication. That policy changed when just months into his administration he replaced a progressive anti-narcotics chief, who proposed moving away from coca eradication, with the conservative, US-friendly, pro-eradication Masias. Eradication efforts since then have proved highly controversial, ramping up tensions with coca growers, which have spilled over into violence.
The surprise removal of Masias confirms a move away from this policy. Whether this represents yet another change of heart on the part of Humala, a response to the controversy surrounding eradication, security concerns or just plain political maneuverings remains to be seen. Perhaps more importantly, though, it creates the opportunity for alternative coca policies that drug policy reform campaigners were hoping for with the election of Humala in the first place.