From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Fri Mar 10 11:02:40 2000
Date: Thu, 9 Mar 2000 12:48:41 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: DRUGS-PERU: US Certification Ignores Local Problems
Article: 90799
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

US Certification Ignores Local Problems

By Abraham Lama, IPS, 6 March 2000

LIMA, Mar 6 (IPS)—The US Department of State certified Peru's cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking and lauded the drop in exports of basic cocaine paste, despite the shortcomings of the goverment's anti-drug policies as pointed out by peasant farmers and analysts.

Coca growers complain of abuses by authorities involved in the eradication of crops, while experts warn that although sales of basic cocaine paste to Colombia have dropped, production and consumption of cocaine are on the rise at home.

The annual US certification process unilaterally judges the efforts of 25 to 30 countries considered major drug producers or trafficking sites. Certification means that the president informs Congress that these countries are cooperating fully with Washington in fighting drug traffickers.

The process is an instrument of political pressure, say analysts, who point out that certification is an indispensable condition for the countries to receive US financal aid and credit from international lending institutions, in which Washington's vote is decisive.

Coletta Youngers, the head of the Andean Region programme of the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-governmental organisation that promotes human rights, said Wednesday that the certification exercise undermined the aim of cooperation policies by creating tension between Latin American countries and the United States, as well as among countries in the region.

Until around two years ago, Peru was the world's top exporter of coca, the leaves of which are used to produce basic cocaine paste, which through a chemical process is refined into cocaine.

Peru was outstripped by Colombia and Bolivia, and is now the world's third leading producer.

According to the US State Department, 15,000 hectares of coca bushes were eradicated in Peru in 1999, after the area under coca had already been reduced by 66 percent from 1995 to 1998.

Washington's certification of Peru's anti-drug policy has triggered a heated debate here, not only entailing criticism by organisations of coca farmers on the procedures used to eradicate the illegal crop, but also a diplomatic row between Peru and neighbouring Colombia.

President Alberto Fujimori protested that despite his government's success in fighting the drug trade, the United States grants Peru less economic aid than Colombia, where production is on the rise, and whose anti-drug policy the president criticised as soft and inefficient.

The Colombian Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic message protesting what it termed meddling in matters that were none of Peru's business.

According to a source close to the Peruvian government, who requested anonymity, Fujimori later told Colombian officials confidentially that he was not trying to criticise Colombian policies but US aid to Lima.

We are bearing not only most of the costs of the war against international drug gangs, but also the cost in human lives, said the source.

Representatives of coca producers, meanwhile, complain that the Fujimori administration uses illegal procedures, such as the spraying of internationally banned defoliants, to eradicate coca crops.

On Wednesday, the day the State Department sent the US Congress the report certifying both Peru and Colombia, representatives of the Andean Council of Producers of Coca Leaves met in the city of Tocache, in Peru's central jungle region, to denounce the methods used by the government to destroy their crops.

Eugenio Rojas, a delegate of coca farmers from the Marona region, protested that police helicopters had sprayed a bitter, irritating powder that dries up all crops, not only coca.

Rojas and Clementina Huam n, the delegate of female peasants in the region, said that through the use of force and tear gas, police prevented farmers from saving their crops.

Felix Human, vice-president of the coca farmer organisation of the region of Alto Huallaga, said at the meeting that the government did not offer real alternatives to replace coca with legal crops.

Peasants in the region are caught in a difficult economic situation. The loss of crops has brought a rise in malnutrition and tuberculosis, he said.

At an assembly on Feb 20, subsistence farmers from the Monz˘n valley confronted the regional director of the Ministry of Agriculture, Donald Espinoza, who admitted that coca crops in the area had been fumigated with a fungus that attacked the leaves.

But according to the farmers, the fungus does not differentiate between crops, but also attacks plantains, yucca and corn.

In Mor n as well as Tocache, peasant leaders said they would fight the forced eradication of their crops, and warned of a repeat of the violent clashes between security forces and coca growers that occurred in Peru's central jungle region several years ago.

Independent experts Roger Rumrrill and Luis Lamas said that while it was true that the area planted in coca in Peru had shrunk, the processing and internal consumption of cocaine had grown in the past two years.

Rumrrill, who is a consultant on questions of drug trafficking and environmental issues involving rainforests to several international organisations, pointed out that the air interdiction of cocaine shipments to Colombia had led to an increase in sales on the local market.

The United States applauds the reduction of cocaine from Peru in its market, but ignores—because it doesn't care—the fact that cocaine is now being produced locally from the basic cocaine paste that was previously exported to Colombia, said Rumrrill.

That increase in processing compensates the local drug gangs for the reduction in sales to their traditional market, the United States, while the surplus is now sold in Lima, he added.

Processes cannot be measured in parts, nor can isolated accomplishments be applauded, without the total social consequences being taken into account, argued Rumrrill.

According to lawyer Luis Lamas, the results of the policy aimed at eradicating coca crops are vulnerable, because reducing the crops can push up the price of the product, and make it profitable once again, despite the risks of smuggling.