coca leaf

Peru escalates cannabis crackdown

Peru's National Police on Feb. 4 announced the discovery of over 100,000 cannabis plants at the high Andean community of Minasel, 4,000 meters above sea level, on the border of Áncash and Huánuco regions. The plants were burned in the fields, police said, while the growers escaped into the mountains. (RPP, Feb. 4) On Jan. 15, elite troops of the Special Anti-drug Operation Division eradicated 65,000 plants of moño rojo (red bud) at the remote mountain village of San Martín de Porres, Chinchao district, Huánuco. (Peru21, Jan. 15)

FARC proposal to protect coca, cannabis growers

At the peace talks with the Colombian government that just re-convened in Havana after a holiday break, the FARC rebels released a proposal Jan. 14 outlining a plan to decriminalize and "regulate the production of coca, poppies and marijuana." The proposal came in a lengthy document entitled "The National Program of the Substitution of the Illicit Uses of Coca, Poppy, or Marijuana Crops," described in a press release as a "special chapter of rural and agricultural reform, social-environmental reform, democracy reform, and participatory reform." The guerrilla group, said to largely finance itself through the drug trade, agreed that growers should be encouraged "to voluntarily grow alternative crops"—a reference to the largely ineffectual crop substitution programs the US has long funded in Colombia. But FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo rejected the model of prohibition and eradication. "Instead of fighting the production [of illicit substances] it's about regulating it and finding alternatives," he said. "The fundamental basis of this plan lies in its voluntary and collaborative nature, and in the political will on the part of the growers to take alternative paths to achieve humane living and working conditions." Catatumbo also said that the "medicinal, therapeutic and cultural" uses of the substances should be taken into account.

Colombia: US suspends spraying after pilots downed

News accounts revealed in December that the US-funded glyphosate spraying in Colombia has been indefinitely suspended after presumed FARC guerillas shot down two fumigation planes—killing one US pilot. One plane came down Sept. 27, killing the pilot, whose name was not revealed. Reports were unclear where this incident took place. The Los Angeles Times on Dec. 17 named the village of Tarra, which is in Norte de Santander, along the Venezuelan border; Bogotá's El Tiempo implied it was in the southern jungle department of Putumayo. A second crop-duster was brought down Oct. 5, apparently at a location in Caquetá—also in the southern jungle. This prompted the US embassy to halt the spraying, according to anonymous sources. Neither the embassy nor the State Department would confirm the report.

Peru claims new blow against Sendero Luminoso, assails Bolivia

Peru's President Ollanta Humala on Dec. 9 announced the capture of the new commander of the remnant Sendero Luminoso column in the Upper Huallaga Valley—one of two remaining pockets of coca-producing jungle where the scattered Maoist guerilla movement is still keeping alive a local insurgency. The commander was named as Alexander Fabián Huamán AKA "Héctor"—said to have assumed leadership of the guerillas' "Huallaga Regional Committee" after the capture last year of "Comrade Artemio," the last "historic" Sendero leader (that is, dating back to the insurgency's heyday 20 years ago). Gen. Víctor Romero Fernández, commander of the National Police Anti-Drug Directorate (DIRANDRO), called the arrest a "hard blow" against the guerillas, and predicted that "Sendero Luminoso is disappearing in this zone." (InfoBAEAndina, Dec. 9)

Peru: deadly clash as narco-flight intercepted

Agents of Peru's National Police force intercepted a small plane loaded with 300 kilos of cocaine paste in Oxapampa province, Pasco region, on Nov. 24, mortally wounding the pilot, a Bolivian national. Authorities said the agents, attached to the elite Tactical Anti-drug Operations Directorate (DIRANDRO), were staking out a clandestine airstrip they had discovered when the Bolivian-registered plane landed there. Three Peruvian crewmen were taken into custody, but the pilot was apparently shot in the stomach when he resisted. He was evacuated by helicopter to the nearest town, Ciudad Constitución, where he died in the hospital. The cocaine paste is believed to have been locally produced, and bound for Bolivia.

Peru: 'narco-terrorist' busted; narco-politician exposed

On Oct. 23, National Police in Peru apprehended in Lima an accused commander of one of the two surviving remnant factions of the Sendero Luminoso guerilla movement. The Interior Ministry named the detained man as Rolando Pantoja Quispe, and said he was under the orders of Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala AKA "Comrade Artemio"—the notorious Sendero commander who was captured last year and condemned to life in prison. The ministry said Pantoja Quispe controlled cocaine trafficking in the Yanajanca Valley of Huanuco region, and hailed the arrest as a further blow against Artemio's crippled network. (BBC Mundo, Oct. 23)

Sendero Luminoso in Bolivia?

On Oct. 19, a patrol of Bolivia's Joint Task Force, coordinating National Police and army troops in coca-eradication missions, was ambushed by unknown gunmen at  Miraflores pueblo, Apolo municipality, in the coca-growing Yungas region, sparking a gun-battle that left four dead—three troops and a medic. Up to 30 were injured, but all the assailants seem to have escaped. Government vice-minister Jorge Pérez said the attack was "planned by people related to the narco-traffic," adding that the partially buried remains of a cocaine lab had been found nearby. Days later, Leopoldo Ramos, the public prosecutor appointed to investigate the case, said that "by the form of execution, for the Public Ministry it is probable that those who attacked in Miraflores are persons trained by Sendero Luminoso."

Bolivia, Venezuela reject US drug criticism

On Sept. 13, the White House released its annual score card on other countries’ compliance with US drug policy demands, the presidential determination on major drug producing and trafficking countries. It identified 22 countries as "major drug transit and/or major illicit drug producing countries," but listed only three—Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela—as having "failed demonstrably" to comply with US drug war objectives. Among those countries that are not listed as having "failed demonstrably" are the world's largest opium producer (Afghanistan), the world’s two largest coca and cocaine producers (Colombia and Peru), the leading springboard for drugs coming into the US (Mexico), and the weak Central American states that serve as lesser springboards for drug loads destined for the US. They are all US allies; Bolivia and Venezuela are not.

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