Peru: Wire: Peruvian Coca Farmers Demand End To Govt Restrictions

Pubdate: Mon, 21 Apr 2003
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 Associated Press
Author: Associated Press
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


LIMA (AP)--Thousands of poor coca farmers converged on Lima Monday,
demanding an end to restrictions on their cocaine-producing crop and the
release of one of their prominent leaders.

The farmers arrived in several groups, which began marching to Lima about 10
days ago from coca-growing mountainous jungle valleys to the northeast and
southeast of the capital.

Police arrested Nelson Palomino, head of a national organization of coca
producers, on Feb. 20, days after farmers in several rural coca-growing
regions began a 10-day protest of government plans to destroy coca bushes.

Police originally said Palomino had been detained on "terrorist
propagandizing" charges. Interior Minister Alberto Zanabria later said that
the coca leader is instead being held for threatening and even abducting
coca farmers who refused to support him.

The February protests ended when officials from Peru's anti-drug
organization, Devida, agreed to meet with coca leaders.

Devida published a statement Sunday stating that coca farmers and government
representatives had agreed, during meetings held earlier this month in Lima,
on a gradual reduction of illegal coca plants to be coordinated with the
coca farmers.

The anti-drug organization also said police would intervene only to destroy
new coca plantings and clandestine chemical pits used to make raw cocaine
paste, a partially refined product used in making the illegal drug.

"We come marching to prove the president of Devida wrong," said Guillermo
Mendoza, a leader of coca farmers from the Huallaga River valley. "It is
completely untrue that everything is solved."

Peru was once the world's leading coca producer but low coca prices,
interdiction, eradication and alternative crop programs cut cultivation from
285,000 acres in 1995 to 84,000 acres in 2001.

Last year, overall acreage of Peruvian coca fields increased for the first
time since the mid-1990s to 90,400 acres.

After years of hailing Peru as a success story in its war on drugs, the U.S.
government in February criticized the nation for dropping its police
presence in some coca-growing areas and slowing eradication programs.

In addition to feeding the global cocaine market, coca leaves play a
traditional role in Andean highland culture. Indians chew them to stave off
hunger and fatigue and Peruvian law permits the legal cultivation of 30,000
acres of coca shrubs.
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