Don't Burn Peru's Coca Farms, Negotiate With Coca Farmers

Since the 1960s when the liberal cultural movement began in the United States, Peru has struggled with drug trafficking of coca — the plant used to make the illegal narcotic cocaine. In an attempt to stop the coca farmers and the Peruvian terrorist guerrillasShining Path, from continuing their drug trafficking, the government has implemented a policy of eradication where the military uses force to destroy coca farms. Shining Path’s involvement is particularly dangerous because they have used terrorism since 1964 to rid Peru of all the elite class members to create a communist state run by indigenous farmers.

When newly-elected President Ollanta Humala temporarily suspended the eradication of coca in the Upper Huallaga Valley — the second largest producer of coca in Peru — many Peruvians were shocked. His opponents feel this allows Shining Path to receive a free-flowing supply of coca profits to fund terrorist activities. Former Peruvian Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi argues, “It says to coca producers and guerrillas, 'Go ahead, plant your coca, nothing will happen’.” However, Humala’s decision is wise, as continued eradication will only worsen the problem by forcing coca farmers to ally with Shining Path, in order to protect their coca farms. Instead, negotiations with coca farmers could solve the drug trafficking problem in Peru and bring down Shining Path in the process.

Eradication has already proven ineffective in the fight against coca. Coca production has increased 2% in 2010 , making Peru the second largest producer of coca after Colombia. Humala's new head of the National Commission for the Development of Life Without Drugs, Ricardo Soberón, told reporters "on August 17th that the program is being suspended so the government can "evaluate the policies … to correct mistakes” – one being unintentionally funding Shining Path.

Eradication produces funding for Shining Path by forcing coca farmers into extreme poverty. Eradication destroys the coca that farmers use for profits. Coca allows farmers to make more money because it can be harvested five times per year compared to traditional crops, which can only be harvested one to two times per year. When coca farms are destroyed, coca farmers must then rely on Shining Path to protect their coca farms because the government’s development policy is inadequate.

To combat extreme poverty, coca farmers ally with Shining Path. Shining Path offers protection to coca farms in exchange for coca profits. Forcing coca farmers into more poverty makes them create stronger alliances with Shining Path to offset financial losses by growing even more coca.

To stop Shining Path’s terrorist activities, the government needs to cut their funding from the profits of coca that farmers produce. The best method to achieve this is to stop eradication. Eradication only forces farmers into more poverty, and these farmers need a livelihood to become self-sufficient from Shining Path. Negotiation gives farmers the means to live without the need of Shining Path’s protection.

To eliminate Shining Path’s funding, the Peruvian government should negotiate with farmers like Bolivia does. Bolivia’s “(government) comes to an agreement with the coca-producing communities to fulfill the international conventions for eradication.” Under a legal negotiation with coca farmers, they would receive enough profits to reduce drug trafficking and break ties with Shining Path. This would decrease Shining Path’s funding to help bring them down. Farmers could also make a deal with the government to protect them from the threats of Shining Path, who would use violence to keep receiving profits from coca. Negotiations on coca have benefits that extend beyond drug trafficking.

Photo Credit: Valerie Everett

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Jacinda Chan

Jacinda graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a dual bachelor's degree in rhetoric and political science. She is currently pursuing a masters in international criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. She is fluent in German. Since then, she has done various research and writing internships covering Turkish politics at the Diplomatic Courier, writing reports on legal systems in the Middle East, and researching the entire human rights history of Iran and Egypt. At the Levin Institute, she wrote news analysis about human rights in Latin America.

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