Yesterday Peru’s government shared plans to increase investment in social programs and infrastructure in the country’s impoverished center—a region with the world’s highest coca-leaf production. These investments will complement a renewed military offensive against narcotrafficking.
Speaking at a press conference, Peruvian Minister of Defense Alberto Otárola admitted that the government had previously neglected the area. “The state has had its head turned the other direction,” he told reporters, but now recognizes that one solution to narcotrafficking is in increasing social spending in zones heavily influenced by coca production. According to private reports, the area with the highest concentration of coca cultivation in Peru is the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (known as VRAE), a high jungle region in the south-central part of the country.
Otárola’s announcement followed one made last month by Peru’s new cabinet chief Oscar Valdés, who said that the government would tackle drug trafficking by increasing development and state presence in the VRAE region. This would include building new roads and bringing in the Agriculture Ministry and other organizations to promote crop substitution.
After Colombia, Peru is the world’s second largest producer of cocaine, though analysts predict it could soon surpass its northern neighbor if it doesn’t take steps to combat the drug trade. Though Otárola insisted that the solution to the problem in the VRAE region “is not a military but a political one,” Peru’s armed forces are likely to continue playing a role in the fight against narcotrafficking. This will include seeking the capture of former Shining Path members who now play an armed role in the drug trade, as well as the mass eradication of coca-growing fields. Last week President Ollanta Humala replaced drug czar Roberto Soberon—who had previously suspended manual coca plant eradication, arguing it hurt poor growers—with Carmen Masias, who said in an interview that Peru had “let down its guard” on eradication last year.
Otárola also confirmed yesterday that two U.S. surveillance planes will assist Peru in combating drug trafficking and hunting down former Shining Path guerrillas, flying over the coca-growing regions in the VRAE and Upper Huallaga Valley.