LIMA, Peru — Peru’s illegal cocaine industry, the world’s largest, will begin contracting next year as the government destroys the crops that form the basis of the drug at a record pace, U.S. Ambassador Rose Likins says.
Eradication partially financed by the United States will remove about 22,000 hectares (54,360 acres) of coca plants this year, about a third of Peru’s crop, depriving the drug trade of 110 to 160 metric tons of potential cocaine, Likins said in an interview at U.S. Embassy in Lima.
President Ollanta Humala has doubled the pace of eradication since taking office two years ago after drug gangs expanded cultivation in Peru and the Andean nation overtook Colombia as the top producer. The previous government’s goal of removing 10,000 hectares of coca plants annually was “nibbling at the edges,” said Likins. Producers compensated for the reduced coca supply by lowering purity levels while maintaining exports at an estimated 375 metric tons, she said.
“If you believe the total is 50,000 to 60,000 hectares, if you’re not getting a third of it, you’re not hurting them enough to drive them out of business,” Likins said Sept. 12. “By 2014 and certainly 2015 you’ll see the effect of less cocaine available from Peru because of this eradication.”
Peru’s pure cocaine production fell 4.9 percent to 290 metric tons last year, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Output in Colombia dropped 7.9 percent to 175 metric tons.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates Peru’s coca crop increased for a sixth straight year in 2011 to 62,500 hectares as producers diversified away from areas targeted by eradication. The organization hasn’t issued estimates for 2012 output.
President Barack Obama approved an additional $20 million in counter-narcotics aid to Peru after Humala visited the White House in June, boosting this year’s budget to $100 million from $55 million last year.
“Hopefully we’ve hit the bottom and are on our way back up in terms of resource commitments from the United States,” which “is in a difficult budget climate,” Likins said.
Peru’s largest coca growing area is the valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers, an area of jungle in the south of the country where holdout members of the Shining Path, a Maoist insurgency group, remain active. The area is the government’s next target for eradication.
Drug gangs are encouraging coca production in parts of the country that aren’t affected by eradication and may spur an increase in cultivation in neighboring Bolivia, the world’s third-largest producer, said Jaime Garcia, a former Peruvian deputy interior minister, in an e-mailed response to questions.
Technological advances are also reducing the impact of eradication. Coca leaf output per hectare has doubled in the last 12 years while producers need fewer kilograms of leaves to produce a kilogram of cocaine, Garcia said.