Peruvian President Ollanta Humala suspended U.S.-backed plans to begin eradication there and replaced the Peruvian drug czar who was advocating it

LIMA, Peru — Colombia surpassed Peru last year in land under coca cultivation, with Peru experiencing a 14 per cent drop in acreage for the plant used to make cocaine, according to UN data released Wednesday.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s annual report on Peruvian coca’s crop said it encompassed 42,900 hectares. It’s the crop’s fourth straight year of decline and the smallest area under cultivation since 1998.

The finding does not necessarily mean Colombia is now the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer, however. Much of Peru’s crop is more mature and higher yielding, having never been subjected to eradication.

Peru’s government does not destroy coca in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley, the world’s leading coca-growing region, citing security concerns. The size of Belgium and Israel

combined, the valley accounts for 68 per cent of Peru’s coca crop.

Last year, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala suspended U.S.-backed plans to begin eradication there and replaced the Peruvian drug czar who was advocating it.

The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates Peru’s potential cocaine production for 2014 at 285 metric tons, versus 245 metric tons for Colombia.

Peru’s drug czar, Alberto Otarola, said his government is not finished measuring potential cocaine production but estimated it at currently “no more than 270 tons.”

Two weeks ago, the UN said Colombia’s coca acreage skyrocketed in 2014 from 48,000 hectares to 69,000 hectares. That’s in large part because of reduced aerial spraying. The herbicide used, glyphosate, was recently classified by a UN health agency as a probable carcinogen.

Peru only eradicates manually.

“We are the Andean region country that has advanced most in reducing coca leaf,” Otarola told reporters. Peru destroyed 31,000 hectares of coca last year and has set the goal of destroying 35,000 hectares this year.

The policy provokes resistance from the tens of thousands of Peruvians who depend on coca for their livelihood.

On Tuesday, at least one person was killed and 25 people, including seven police officers, were injured in a clash between coca farmers and police in the Amazonian town of Constitution, local officials said. The farmers were protesting eradication and a lack of alternative development in the region.

One indicator of cocaine production is the amount of coca leaf harvested per country.

In 2014, Peru produced an estimated 100,800 metric tons, compared to 132,700 metric tons for Colombia, said Flavio Mirella, the Peru country representative for the UN agency.

The vast majority of coca leaf grown in both countries is used to produce cocaine.

The UN and the U.S. both agree that Bolivia is the No. 3 cocaine-producing nation after Colombia and Peru. The White House put Bolivia’s estimated potential cocaine production at 210 metric tons, up from 145 metric tons in 2012.

Bolivia has become a major transit and refining country for Peruvian cocaine in recent years.

The U.S. ended counter-narcotics assistance to Bolivia in 2013, five years after its government expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

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A pie made of coca leaves awaits the Pope when he visits Bolivia

Coca planters will be giving Pope Francis a pie and other goods made out of coca leaves, when he arrives next July for an official visit to Bolivia. The gifts will be delivered during the scheduled meeting of Francis wish social movements’ organization in Santa Cruz, according to the organizers.

 

Coca leaves are part of Bolivia's indigenous population culture and medicine, and as such are recognized by the country's constitution

Leonardo Loza, vice-president of the Cochabamba Tropic Federations, an organization of coca planters, said that a group of them will be handing the Pope a pie, mate (infusion coca tea), and other ‘products’ which are made out of the coca plant which is so closely ingrained in the country’s culture and natural medicine.

“The initiative is to show the Pope how much has been advanced in the industrialization of the coca plant, which will obviously have a great national and international repercussion” indicated Loza.

The gifts presentation will take place in the framework of the meeting with social movements in the city of Santa Cruz in parallel to the Pope’s visit who will be staying in Bolivia from 8 to 10 July, as part of a tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Bolivia together with Colombia and Peru are three of the main world suppliers and producers of coca leaves, which is the main ingredient for elaborating its illegal derivate, cocaine, amply consumed in the Western world.

However coca leaves in Bolivia are closely linked to the country’s indigenous culture and organic medicines, and as such are recognized in Bolivia’s constitution, but a significant part of the leaves production ends up with the drugs industry and cartels.

The Bolivian government has insisted in advancing with the industrialization of the plant with the purpose of exporting derivates, although coca leaves remain in the narcotics list of the UN convention against drugs, which thus bans any kind of exports from coca.

A year ago the coca planters gave UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon a coca leaves pie during his visit to Bolivia when the G77 plus China summit in Santa Cruz. The top diplomat accepted the pie but was never seen eating it.

Pope Francis is expected in Bolivia on 8 July where he arrives from Ecuador. He will spend a few hours in the capital, La Paz and the neighboring city of El Alto (3.500 meters above sea level) before travelling to Santa Cruz, on the plans, where most of his activities will take place.

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