Never before has Peru produced so much coca leaf, and never before has the Peruvian government expressed such defense of an illegal business that fuels drug trafficking. Peru Libre, the party of President Pedro Castillo and the first group in the national Congress, is preparing a bill against the eradication of coca cultivation and in favor of expanding the production allowed for presumed traditional use, and which it proposes to expel from the country to the DEA, the US anti-narcotics agency.
The initiative has been defended by the proposed new Minister of the Interior, Luis Barranzuela, and follows the direct advice offered by former Bolivian President Evo Morales, who promoted a similar policy when he reached the
can. With this, Peru Libre seeks to lean on the coca-growing sector, also financially, as the MAS, the ruling party in Bolivia, has been doing.
Second country of origin of cocaine consumed in the world, behind Colombia and ahead of Bolivia, Peru doubled in 2020 the production of coca leaf that it had been sustaining throughout the last decade. If for several years it moved around 50,000 hectares of cultivation, which allowed the potential production of around 400 tons of cocaine, in 2019 it jumped to 72,000 hectares and 649 tons, and in 2020 it reached 88,200 hectares and 810 tons, according to US estimates (figures that Peru partially questions).
The notable increase – 100% in the case of the resulting potential cocaine, compared to recent years – has to do with the cessation of the official program for the forced eradication of coca plants, the suspension of which was due to the emergence of the pandemic. of coronavirus. The confinements and the concentration of budgetary spending in the economic rescue packages aimed at individuals and companies paralyzed much of the activity of the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (Devida), which is the body in charge of designing and conducting the strategy national anti-narcotics campaign. Now that Devida should resume this activity on a large scale, Peru Libre wants to prevent it and also raises a reform of the committee itself, which it pressures by promoting an “internal and external” audit.A police career full of penalties
It remains to be seen if the proposal ends up being approved as law, given the internal disputes between President Castillo and the leadership of his party, as well as the lack of a majority in Congress; However, an attempt by Peru Libre to copy the coca-growing model followed by the MAS in Bolivia can be seen, as a way to gain a social base among the rural sectors dedicated to this crop and to establish its financing.
Castillo’s reluctance towards the most radical sector of his party, sometimes linked to the justification of Shining Path terrorism and the illegal activity in the region known as the Vraem (where the practically extinct guerrilla group operates), led last week to the removal of Prime Minister Guido Bellido, the man of Vladimir Cerrón, the leader of Peru Libre (Castillo was recruited as a presidential candidate because Cerrón could not stand in the elections for criminal reasons).
Although Castillo operated the change by putting someone with a more moderate profile at the head of the Cabinet – the president of Congress, Mirtha Vásquez -, he has had to agree with Cerrón on other names, such as the incorporation of Luis Barranzuela at the head of the Ministry of the Interior. The new Executive is pending ratification by Congress.
Barranzuela, with a not very clean record During his time with the Police (in that body he accumulated 158 reprimands, which gave rise to 837 days of sanctions), he has been a lawyer for Cerrón y Bellido and an advisor on coca-growing issues for the deputy Guillermo Bermejo, one of the members of the Peru Libre bench most questioned by the opposition. Bermejo is the one who leads the proposal regarding coca crops.
Increase legal production
Barranzuela accompanied Bermejo to a meeting in Cuzco with coca growers days prior to his appointment to the Cabinet. In that act, Bermejo encouraged producers to continue with their crops, without lending themselves to official eradication programs. He also wanted to convince them of the family prosperity that they can achieve with a greater “industrialization” of the sector, converting the coca leaf into various products, such as mate, candies or cookies.
That legal consumption, linked to the traditions of the Andean population, would be covered with some 9,000 hectares, according to the coca growers unions, but the figures add up. This extension supposes an annual production of about 11,000 tons of coca leaf, an amount much higher than traditional consumption (which is basically chewing the leaf). This is insured by the National Coca Company (Enaco), which is the only permitted buyer of the legal production and its commercialization. There is also this distortion in Bolivia, which Morales expanded in 2016 with a law to increase legal production from 12,000 to 20,000 hectares, an expansion that increased drug trafficking.
Experts warn that the argument in favor of “industrializing” the coca growing sector is false because, despite efforts to diversify non-harmful products derived from the coca leaf, it will always be more profitable to divert the surplus left over from traditional use to drug trafficking. In addition, the products derived from the coca leaf have barely been accepted in the market or among the peasants themselves.