Pubdate: Mon, 14 Jun 2010
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: A4
Copyright: 2010 The New York Times Company
Author: Simon Romero


TINGO MARIA, Peru -- Coca cultivation is surging once again in this 
country's remote tropical valleys, part of a major repositioning of 
the Andean drug trade that is making Peru a contender to surpass 
Colombia as the world's largest exporter of cocaine.

Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking rings are expanding their 
reach in Peru, where two factions of Shining Path guerrillas are 
already competing for control of the cocaine trade.

The traffickers -- fortified by the resilient demand for cocaine in 
the United States, Brazil and parts of Europe -- are stymieing 
efforts to combat the drug's resurgence here and raising the specter 
of greater violence in a nation still haunted by years of war.

"The struggle against coca can resemble detaining the wind," said 
Gen. Juan Zarate, who leads the country's coca eradication campaigns.

The increase in Peru offers a window into one of the most vexing 
aspects of the American-financed war against drugs in Latin America, 
which began in earnest four decades ago. When antinarcotics forces 
succeed in one place -- as they recently have in Colombia, which has 
received more than $5 billion in American aid this decade -- 
cultivation shifts to other corners of the Andes.

This happened in the 1990s, when coca cultivation shifted to Colombia 
after successful eradication projects in Peru and Bolivia. More 
recently, coca growers moved to dozens of new areas within Colombia 
after aerial spraying in other areas. Scholars of the Andean drug war 
call this the balloon effect, bringing to mind a balloon that swells 
in one spot when another is squeezed.

"Washington's policy of supply-oriented intervention inevitably 
improves the efficiencies and entrepreneurial skills of traffickers," 
said Paul Gootenberg, who wrote the book "Andean Cocaine."

The balloon effect -- and its consequences -- is coming full circle 
in the jungle valleys of central Peru, the cocaine industry's storied cradle.

In late April, a faction of the Shining Path, the rebel group held 
responsible for tens of thousands of deaths from 1980 to 2000 during 
its war against the government, killed two eradicators and one police 
officer here in central Peru.

This is the same region that experienced the first cocaine boom in 
the 19th century, after German chemists developed the formula for 
making cocaine from the coca leaf, feeding a legal trade in the 
United States and Europe. Sigmund Freud was among its early users.

By the 1970s, with cocaine illegal here and Peru's government 
outlawing much of the new coca cultivation in the country, Colombian 
drug lords put in motion another boom, exporting Peruvian coca leaf 
to cocaine laboratories across the border. Columns of the Shining 
Path later worked to protect farmers growing coca in the region, 
consolidating Peru as the world's top coca grower.

In the 1990s, President Alberto Fujimori militarized the region to 
crush the Shining Path, lowering cultivation levels. Now many farmers 
are planting coca once again. "Coca lets us feed our children," said 
Jacinta Rojas, 45, a grower near Tingo Maria, explaining that coca 
can be harvested up to five times a year, compared with one or two 
harvests for crops like cacao.

The resurgence of Peru's cocaine trade is on display in Tingo Maria, 
a bustling town that suffered when coca growing plunged during the 
1990s. Now legions of motorcycle taxis swarm the streets and small 
hotels and restaurants cater to free-spending farmers.

Nightclubs feature Peruvian bands belting out cumbia, the folk music 
transplanted from Colombia, with lyrics that celebrate and lament the 
travails of cocaleros, or coca growers.

"Cocalero, your pots are empty; cocalero, your wife is crying," goes 
a passage by a local cumbia band. "But keep planting more coca, so 
that money will sprout."

The increased cultivation in central Peru contrasts with the 
situation in Colombia, where cultivation fell 18 percent in 2008, 
according to the United Nations. In Peru, cultivation climbed 4.5 
percent that year, capping a decade in which areas under cultivation 
had increased 45 percent since 1998. Cultivation is also rising in 
Bolivia, though that country remains third in overall production.

Pointing to Peru's anemic interdiction efforts, antinarcotics 
specialists in Lima, the capital, contend that Peru may have already 
surpassed Colombia in cocaine exports. An analysis of cocaine 
interception in Colombia and Peru by Jaime Antezana, a security 
analyst at Catholic University in Peru, found that in Colombia, which 
still cultivates more coca and produces more cocaine than Peru, the 
authorities seized about 198 tons of the drug in 2008, compared with 
just 20 tons in Peru. That left traffickers in Peru free to export 
282 tons of cocaine, about 50 tons more than Colombia's estimated 
cocaine-export capacity, he said.

"If current cultivation trends continue, we could also surpass 
Colombia as the world's largest producer of coca leaf by 2011 or 
2012, putting us back in the same place we were in the 1980s," Mr. 
Antezana said.

President Obama's top drug policy adviser, R. Gil Kerlikowske, 
announced a drug plan in May emphasizing prevention and treatment in 
the United States. But the administration has left financing for 
eradication projects in the Andes largely unchanged, despite debate 
over whether such efforts can sharply restrict the supply of cocaine 
or significantly increase the price in the United States in the long run.

American antinarcotics aid for Peru stands at $71.7 million this 
year, slightly higher than last year's $70.7 million. American 
antinarcotics officials operate from a newly expanded Peruvian police 
base here in Tingo Maria, overseeing Peruvian teams that fan out to 
nearby valleys to cut down coca bushes by hand.

"We view drug trafficking in Peru as part of a regional and global 
phenomenon," said Abelardo A. Arias, director of the narcotics 
affairs section at the United States Embassy in Lima. "In response to 
law enforcement pressure in one area, drug cultivators and 
traffickers switch operations to new territories."

Peru uses some American aid to buy helmets and vests to protect 
against land mines planted by the Shining Path faction here, which is 
competing with a separate guerrilla faction over some coca-growing 
areas, according to Peruvian military officials. Other American aid 
goes to American contractors like DynCorp, which maintains the 
helicopters operating from Tingo Maria.

 From one helicopter, Gen. Horacio Huivin, director of Peru's 
antidrug police, gazed at coca fields, minutes from Tingo Maria. "We 
have fallen into a vicious cycle," he said, "because we are 
eradicating in the same places where we were eradicating last year or 
in previous years."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake