The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   N E W S W A T C H

Peru: U.S. Government Proposes Coca Eradication to Solve Cocaine Problem

The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) is considering contributing more than $52 million to a $167 million program aimed at eradicating coca plants-which are used to make cocaine-in a 1,052,200-hectare area of north central Peru. Herbicides similar to paraquat will probably be used in the program, according to the State Department's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-which may also contribute $17.5 million to the project.

The program would represent one of the largest single expenditures for an AID project in Latin America, and the first time that AID and DEA monies have been used jointly on a project. It has sparked criticism from both within and outside the U.S. governmeni because of its high cost, environmental implications, and emphasis on wiping out coca production-by force if necessary-even if viable economic alternatives to coca growing cannot be found by the approximately 30,000 families which live in the Upper Huallaga Valley target area and who obtain most of their income from coca. AID estimates that more than one-third of the coca sold illegally worldwide is grown there.

"All agricultural costs and return studies have clearly demonstrated that there is no, other crop or livestock activity that can realize the returns to land, labor and capital associated with coca production," states an AID Project Identification Document. "The establishment of a systematic eradication program and the creation of an efficient control system with consistent application of stiff sanctions, will raise the level of risk associated with coca, production to the point where other alternatives become attractive."

The project would provide AID funding for new farm-to-market road construction, the supply of agricultural credit, inputs, and seeds for farmers who wish to cultivate crops other than coca (such as bananas, corn, coffee, oil palm, rice and yuca). It would also assist the Peruvian government in setting up land offices to give titles of land possession to farmers who have their properties inspected by government extension agents accompanied by Guardia Civil (national guard) members, who will ascertain that there is no coca on the property or eradicate any coca they find. This is called the "voluntary coca eradication" part of the program.

Drug Enforcement Administration monies will be used in the second stage, "compulsory coca eradication" part of the program, which involves teams of "five to 20 men, accompanied by Guardia Civil" who will "visit each parcel with coca that has not been eradicated in the voluntary program and proceed to spray each plant with an approved herbicide."

The best means for wiping out the coca plants is by application of a herbicide related to 2, 4-D, which is the active ingredient in paraquat, according to Don Mudd of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters. The State and Agriculture Departments are conducting research to find the most specific, safe and effective herbicide for the job, Mudd said.

Critics within the State Department, in internal memos concerning the project, have pointed out that:

  • Destruction of the coca plants, which thrive on steep hillsides, is likely to contribute to soil erosion. Herbicide residues in the soil could kill many other species of plants.
  • Decreased coca production in the Upper Huallaga Valley is likely to be compensated for by increased production elsewhere as the eradication program proceeds, with a net result of no difference in the amount of cocaine reaching the U.S.
  • The new roads meant to facilitate export of new agricultural products from the region might be used by coca transporters.
  • Financing for the overall project is shaky: aside from $52.6 million from AID, $17.5 million from DEA, and $42 million from the Peruvian government, the remaining $54.9 million needed for the project will have to come from other international donors who are as yet unspecified. AID might end up having to pitch in further, raising the cost per family in the area even above the present $5,500.
  • Less expensive means of stopping the flow of coca from the region-for example, through a series of road checks and fines-are available. These might prove less destructive to the area's environment and economy than the proposed scheme.

A final decision on the project is expected to be made late in June or early in July by the State Department.

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