Peru’s president has declared that drug traffickers are no longer a “parallel power” in a major coca producing valley that has long been a guerrilla stronghold for the Shining Path. However, coca cultivation figures from the United Nations contradict the president’s narrative.
In an address to Congress on July 28, President Ollanta Humala made claims that his administration has had unprecedented success in tackling coca cultivation and drug trafficking in the tri-river valley known as the VRAEM. The president specifically noted that since he assumed office four years ago, 98,000 hectares of land previously used for illicit coca cultivation are now being used to grow other crops.
Humala went on to assert that he will “pacify” the VRAEM in the same way that he pacified Alto Huallaga, another Shining Path stronghold region in Peru that just recently had its 30-year state of emergency lifted in June.
However, claims that drug cultivation, production, and trafficking is no longer a significant phenomenon in the VRAEM is contradicted by figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), reported La Republica. The VRAEM saw only a 1.7 percent decrease in coca cultivation between 2013 and 2014, while other regions saw decreases as large as 64 percent. The VRAEM’s share of Peru’s total illegal coca production spiked from 32 percent to nearly 44 percent during that same period, mostly due to the success of coca eradication efforts in other parts of the country.
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The UNODC data suggests that the VRAEM is still a powerful drug production hub in a country that is the world’s number two coca producer behind Colombia. The statistics that Humala cites regarding coca eradication in the VRAEM are not factually incorrect, but he seems to have significantly overstated their importance as a milestone pointing to “victory” in the region.
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Humala’s rhetoric comes just a year after authorities were forced to halt coca eradication efforts in the VRAEM due to security threats posed by the Shining Path. Security forces have also had trouble interrupting the Shining Path’s overland trafficking routes in the region. All of this makes it clear that there is still much work to be done before the government can say it has upended the VRAEM’s role as a key drug trafficking region and guerrilla stronghold.