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Peru Slows Anti-Cocaine Operations

August 6, 2002

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LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peru has agreed to ease up on anti-drug operations in response to protests by coca farmers, the second move in a month that jeopardize U.S.-backed efforts to fight the cocaine trade.

The government agreed Monday to gradually reduce the cultivation of coca _ the raw material in cocaine _ and help find markets for alternative crops grown in Peru’s second-largest coca producing valley, the Ene-Apurimac river basin.

The agreement follows one in late June in which the government suspended a coca eradication program in the Huallaga River valley in the eastern Amazon jungle region.

It ended a three-day sit-in by about 7,700 coca farms in the Andean city of Ayacucho. They had marched more than 90 miles from their farms in the eastern Amazon jungle, and threatened to march all the way to the capital, Lima, some 200 miles away.

Although the government is not currently eradicating coca plots in the Ene-Apurimac river basin, farmers fear authorities might decide to do so under pressure from the U.S. government, according to coca expert Eduardo Musso.

At the time of the June agreement, the government also agreed to suspend the work of Atlanta-based aid agency CARE, which helps farmers cultivate alternative crops.

Protesters in both cases said private organizations that run anti-coca programs absorb aid money poured in by the U.S. Agency for International Development and that poor coca farmers see little benefit.

The Huallaga region and the Ene-Apurimac river basin accounted for almost 65 percent of Peru’s coca cultivation in 2001, according to U.N. figures.

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

But the price of coca has soared to near record levels as the prices of coffee and cacao have dipped to historic lows. The result has been a rebound in cultivation after years of declining coca production.

U.S. officials say satellite photos of coca fields show new acreage last year was offset by eradication.

The U.N. Drug Control Program, however, using satellite maps, aerial surveillance and ground assessment work, comes up with higher numbers of acreage. It says the coca crop has expanded to cover 114,000 acres in 2001, from 107,000 acres in 2000.

Eradication programs and slumping coca prices in the mid-1990s had shrunk Peru’s coca crop from 285,000 acres in 1995 to 84,000 acres in 2001.

Last year, teams of laborers manually ripped up 15,800 acres of coca, according to U.S. government statistics. Peruvian officials say they plan to eliminate up to 17,000 acres of coca in 2002. But the recent agreements have cast doubt on those projections.

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