The Peruvian government has announced its intention to buy the entire coca leaf crop, legalizing illegal cultivation, to combat cocaine trafficking in the country, a member of the top three countries that produce the world’s largest quantities of the drug.
The planned measure, which is difficult to implement as the number of people cultivating coca illegally is high, is already causing objections.
“It is necessary, for at least a year, to buy coca leaves from the already registered producers and those who will be registered in the register being created,” Prime Minister Anival Torres explained yesterday, Wednesday, presenting the initiative.
About 95,000 legal coca growers are registered in the official register. The leaves they produce have been purchased by the National Coca Company (ENACO) since 1978, paying 100 soles (approximately 25 euros) per aroba (11.24 kg).
They are consumed in the form of mats (popular drinks in Latin America), sweets, flours, or by chewing them, a tradition in the Andes to combat fatigue and high altitude, in Peru as well as in Bolivia.
According to official figures, there are about 400,000 illegal coca growers. The area of the crops is estimated to reach 620,000 acres; the production is 160,000 tons. Of which ENACO currently buys only 2,500 tons, a percentage that hardly corresponds to 1.5%.
“The message that the government is sending is that it is legalizing coca cultivation and that it will buy coca leaves that are grown illegally. The message is ‘grow coca’, and that is very dangerous, because we are talking about the raw material used by drug traffickers.” , speaking to Agence France-Presse, Rouven Vargas, former Minister of Interior of Peru, said.
According to the UN, Colombia and Bolivia are the countries with the highest production of coca leaves and cocaine in the world. In Peru, cocaine production is estimated at around 400 tonnes a year.
“By encouraging coca cultivation, the producer will obviously have two markets: that of the state, which the government promises, and that of drug traffickers,” said former caretaker President Francisco Sagasti (2020-2021).
For former Interior Minister Fernando Rospiliosi, “the creation of a new list of producers” will allow “drug traffickers to legitimize” part of their activities.
“Drugs and drug trafficking are destroying and depriving us of our freedom. No room should be given to drug trafficking and illegal activities,” Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, who attended the cremation of several tons of cocaine, said last week.
In 2021, more than 84 tonnes of cocaine were seized and incinerated, according to Peruvian police.