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Peru

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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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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