How Peru Overtook Colombia As Top Cocaine Producer

Though reports say Peru has surpassed Colombia as world's top source of cocaine, it has not faced the same kind of violence. Is Lima turning a blind eye toward drug trafficking?

Lima police with more than 900 kg of cocaine seized in two raids in Aug. 2011
Lima police with more than 900 kg of cocaine seized in two raids in Aug. 2011
Pascual Gaviria

BOGOTA — The four administrative departments in Peru’s so-called VRAE — the Valley of the rivers Apurímac and Ene) — lie between flatlands and the rainforest and produce 200 tons of cocaine every year, making it the world’s premier cocaine production district. By comparison, the whole of Colombia produces about 300 tons of cocaine annually.

But while the two countries have this crop in common, the prevalence of armed gangs and violence as a result of coca cultivation and processing is very different in our two Latin American countries. Somehow Peru has been spared the kind of bloodshed that drug trafficking has caused in Colombia. This, even though the VRAE is home to mafia groups and Maoist Shining Path guerrillas, who move amid the coca-growing peasantry between revolutionary decadence and the bonanza of drug trafficking.

The big question for Colombia as we view an area that is replacing us as the world’s top production district is how Peru has managed to maintain a murder rate of just eight per 100,000 inhabitants while becoming such an important factor in global drug trafficking? Why, despite its problems of violence, is the VRAE not comparable to our “war-like” territories on the Pacific coast or in the Lower Cauca or Catatumbo regions? In the past six years, 90 police officers and soldiers have died in Peru’s great coca-producing area, clearly many fewer than in our country, where a single attack on state forces can cause a dozen or more casualties.

There may be a variety of reasons for this. One could say that the VRAE is just the first link in a coca chain, where criminal action consists merely of buying coca from peasants. The purges are concentrated in Colombia and Mexico, where the multimillionaire lords of international drug routes are based.

Better said, Peru devotes itself to cultivation, and leaves to others the big fortunes and big fighting. Or, the Peruvian state may have decided to overlook the cocaine business, out of incompetence or fear. Part of its cultivation is in any case legal pursuant to Peruvian laws.

Only one of the militiary bases in VRAE works against drug trafficking, while 29 bases are engaged in hunting down the Quispe Palomino brothers, local leaders of the Shining Path. Eradication has been more a threat than a reality, and the State itself has offices to legally buy coca leaves for traditional uses. Perhaps it is this low-intensity strategy that has meant less violence than what we see in Colombia’s cultivation and processing districts.

Now, as the government talks of eradication, mayors in the VRAE have warned that people are armed and will defend their crops. We know what fighting to the death means here — production may drop a little, but violence will increase — while the Shining Path will step forward as defenders of the peasantry.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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