Pubdate: Mon, 25 Jun 2012
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2012 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Frank Bajak


LIMA, Peru  Peru's struggle with a resurgent cocaine trade is in the
spotlight as it hosts nearly 60 nations in a conference on illicit
drugs beginning Monday.

The Andean country's cocaine production likely now exceeds Colombia's,
making it the world's No. 1 source of the illicit drug, the United
States and United Nations say.

President Ollanta Humala said when he took office a year ago that he'd
make the drug war a priority, and his government announced an
ambitious anti-narcotics plan in March.

So far, though, the corrupting influence of drug money has badly
weakened Peru's law-enforcement agencies and judiciary, consistently
frustrating money-laundering and drug prosecutions, says Sonia Medina,
the counternarcotics chief in the attorney general's office.

There is no shortage, meanwhile, of cocaine, which Peru supplies to
neighbors including Brazil, the world's No. 2 consumer after the
United States, as well as a growing European market.

Under the previous administration of President Alan Garcia,
eradication of Peru's coca crop, the raw material of cocaine, did not
keep pace with new plantings.

In October, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence chief
Rodney Benson said Peru surpassed Colombia in 2010 "in potential pure
cocaine production" and was at about 325 metric tons a year compared
to 270 metric tons from Colombia.

>From 2006 to 2010, the area under coca cultivation in Peru jumped 35
percent to 236 square miles, the U.N. says. That's double the size of
the crop in Bolivia, the No. 3 cocaine-producing nation.

Colombia's coca crop encompasses nearly twice as much area as Peru's
by U.S. measure but gets thinned regularly by herbicides sprayed by
planes flown by U.S. contractors. Peru's coca fields, by contrast,
yield more because areas that produce some of Peru's bestquality coca
remain untouched by eradicators. Many are protected by armed gangs,
including those in the Monzon region of the Upper Huallaga Valley of
central Peru, experts say.

About 55 percent of Peru's coca crop is in the Ene and Apurimac Valley
to the south, where the presence of leftist Shining Path rebels is so
strong that the government hasn't yet dared try to eradicate.

The United States has firmly backed the Humala government's
counterdrug efforts and shares Peru's opposition to drug
decriminalization, which is not on the official agenda for this week's

That omission has upset drug-production and -transit nations promoting
a debate on legalization, arguing that they pay too heavy a price
trying to fight traffickers.

"We've had 40 years of the fight against drugs, and that's time enough
to evaluate whether a strategy is successful or not," said Guatemala's
ambassador to Peru, Gabriel Aguilera.

Proponents of legalization were heartened when Uruguay announced plans
last week to legalize and sell marijuana and use the revenues to
strengthen the fight against harder drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Matt