Latin America & Caribbean

Peru suspends coca eradication programme in Huallaga

Coca plant
Image caption The Huallaga valley is Peru's second largest coca producing region

The Peruvian government says it has suspended coca eradication efforts in an area where much coca is grown.

Head of the Peruvian president's anti-narcotics efforts Ricardo Soberon said the new government would halt eradication in Huallaga while it re-evaluated the programme.

He said previous eradication efforts had had little effect.

Analysts said the move raised concerns about Peru's commitment to the fight against illegal coca production.

Peru's President Ollanta Humala, who came to office on 28 July, spoke in his election manifesto of decriminalising coca farmers and even the low-level cocaine processors and smugglers.

But Mr Soberon told AFP the suspension was only temporary and not unusual.

"In every country - in Afghanistan, in Colombia, in Bolivia, in Mexico - it is normal to have these pauses to do the necessary evaluation of what has happened, to correct mistakes," he said.

But the Colombian anti-narcotics police said they had not halted their eradication programme since its inception in 1994.

"The fight against the (illicit) crops is permanent and continuous, with the participation of the military, the police, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Narcotics Office and the Presidency," an anti-narcotics official said.

Sources close to Mexico's anti-drugs fight also denied having stopped their efforts to destroy illicit crops, saying there had been a temporary slow-down due to the lack of equipment in the early 2000s but never a complete halt.

'Wrong message'

In Bolivia, where the growing of coca plants for medicinal, cultural and religious purposes is legal, but the growing for the production of cocaine remains banned, the eradication of illicit crops has also been continuous, according to one former legal grower.

Former leader of coca growers of Los Yungas region Savino Mendoza said the government of President Evo Morales had changed tactics but not suspended its efforts.

"Eradication used to be carried out by force, with the help of the military, but under the new strategy the (government) comes to an agreement with the coca-producing communities to fulfil the international conventions for eradication."

Opposition politicians in Peru have been critical of the suspension.

Former Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi said it sent the wrong signal.

"It says to coca producers and guerrillas, 'Go ahead, plant your coca, nothing will happen'," he said.

Interior Minister Oscar Valdes said the government's commitment had not wavered.

"In his message to the nation, President Ollanta Humala has been very clear: The government will not permit the extension of illicit crops and will work decisively to reduce them," he said.

US Ambassador to Lima Rose Likins said she was awaiting further information on the decision.

But she said it was "natural" that a new government would want to re-assess its programmes and stressed that the US was keen to continue collaborating with the Peruvian government.

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