Peru: A Softening of Drug Policy?

Peru has rarely been vocal on the drug policy debate. Yet the countries approach to cocaine production and trafficking may be softening. Following his election in 2011, president Ollanta Humala announced intentions to reconsider antinarcotics policy – even decriminalising coca farmers, low level cocaine processors and smugglers. Since then though, the focus has continued to be primarily on crop eradication.

Eradication remains firmly on the agenda. The new head of DEVIDA, the country’s anti-drug agency announced in June that the government is on track to eradicate the expected 30,000 hectares this year.

This strategy received criticism earlier this year when DEVIDA announced the planned eradication of 16,000 hectares in the VRAEM region, an area renowned for coca growing and home to Shining Path rebels. The announcement raised concerns of a violent backlash among drug producers and the Shining Path.

In response, the head of DEVIDA, Carmen Masios, was removed – replaced with former defence minister Alberto Otarolo. The eradication programme has now been paired with the promotion of alternative crops. Over 500 programmes and projects are underway to replace coca with cacao, coffee, bananas and palm oil.

Given Otarolo’s background as defence minister it is unclear whether this is a shift away from the ‘War on Drugs’ model or the beginnings of a shift in drug policy. The President has also opened discussions with the US government on resuming air interdictions, where aircraft suspected of trafficking cocaine can be forced down. If this goes ahead, it suggests that drug policy in Peru will continue to be business as usual.