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Peru: Coca Programs to Return

July 6, 2002

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LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peru’s top anti-drug official said the government hopes to soon resume a recently suspended program to wipe out illegal coca cultivation.

``It won’t be very long. From our point of view the sooner the better,″ Nils Ericsson told reporters. ``In no way have we canceled the program.″

Facing protests by thousands of coca farmers, Peru’s anti-drug agency agreed June 28 to suspend efforts to eradicate coca _ the raw material of cocaine _ in the Huallaga River valley in the eastern Amazon region.

Work by Atlanta-based aid agency CARE to wean farmers in the Ene and Apurimac River valleys from cultivating the coca leaf has also been suspended.

Raul Pena, who heads an association of coca growers in the Huallaga region, said the protesters want eradication to be more gradual. He also said poor coca growers receive little of the aid money poured into the anti-coca programs.

The two programs are key to the U.S.-backed war against the cocaine trade. The Huallaga region and the Ene-Apurimac river basin, also in the eastern Amazon, accounted for almost 65 percent of Peru’s coca cultivation in 2001, according to U.N. figures.

Ericsson said the government will work with coca growers from the Huallaga area to relaunch eradication efforts with ``less social resistance and more effectiveness.″

CARE said in a statement that the Ene-Apurimac alternative development program would not resume until a commission formed by the aid group, coca growers and the U.S. and Peruvian governments reaches an agreement.

Ericsson said a meeting about the matter was scheduled for July 18-19 in the Apurimac valley.

CARE has used U.S. government funds to promote a legal economy in coca-growing areas by building roads and schools and helping coca farmers switch to crops such as coffee, asparagus and cacao, from which chocolate is made.

CARE said its activities continue in the Huallaga region.

Peru has eradicated about 5,000 acres of coca fields this year, Ericsson said. The government hopes to eliminate up to 17,000 acres in 2002, he said.

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