A clash between police and coca growers left at least two people dead in one of the epicenters of Peru’s coca production, a reminder of the state’s inability to properly carry out eradication campaigns in the area.
On August 28, police accompanied personnel from Peru’s main coca eradication authority, known as the CORAH, into the Monzon Valley (see map below), where some of the greatest concentrations of Peru’s coca crops are found. According to police, they began firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the air after they were confronted by some 800 coca growers, who tried to block the eradicators from entering the area. Two civilians were reported killed, a figure that was initially reported as five.
The director of CORAH told La Republica that his team had not been planning to carry out a forced coca eradication campaign in the Monzon Valley, but in a nearby district where they did have the consent of the local community. The Monzon Valley protesters mistakenly thought that the CORAH team had arrived to destroy their coca crops without prior consultation, which helped spark the riots, the director added.
According to the president of anti-drug agency DEVIDA, coca production in Peru’s Monzon Valley represents 25 percent of the country’s total output. The Monzon is found in central Peru’s Upper Huallaga Valley, a region which is traditionally Peru’s top producer of coca. And within the Upper Huallaga, an area about the size of Massachusetts, the Monzon is where the greatest concentration of coca is found. According to La Republica, of the 13,025 hectares of coca found in the Upper Huallaga in 2010, 10,000 hectares are found in the Monzon.
According to the Minister of the Interior, Peru has eradicated slightly under 10,400 hectares of coca so far this year, reports EFE. This already puts Peru over the amount of coca crops — 10,290 hectares — eliminated last year.
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The clash between coca growers and police calls attention to the fact that the Monzon is truly Peru’s last great hold out of coca crops. As a 2010 report on Peru’s coca cultivation by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) points out, some of the oldest coca plantations in Peru — more than 15 years old — are found in the Monzon. And even as coca cultivation overall has decreased in the Upper Huallaga, in Monzon the local economy remains fiercely tied to the coca trade.
The area is also a refuge for guerrilla group the Shining Path; top leader alias “Artemio” was captured in the Monzon earlier this year.
Monzon has a long history of violent resistance against forced eradication. Notably, in 2005, when police sent several helicopters to survey the area, they were fired upon by local residents, who believed the helicopters were being used to prepare a forced eradication campaign.
Such is the resistance in that area to eradication efforts that the government is not even attempting manual coca eradication campaigns in the Monzon and instead has prioritized “alternative development” programs aimed at gently steering farmers from coca to legal crops.
The recent confrontations appear to have been the result of a misunderstanding. But they serve as a reminder that any attempt at forced eradication in an area like Monzon could result in casualties on both sides.
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