Peruvians Unhappy With Focus of Drug Plan

Times Staff Writer

Some Peruvians complained Wednesday that President Bush's new drug policy appears to ignore the urgent need to fund economic development in the world's largest coca-producing nation and instead focuses only on attacking cocaine production.

The U.S. policy, outlined by embassy officials here, clearly shifts the anti-drug program's emphasis from eradicating coca fields to intercepting shipments of partially processed coca paste to Colombia. The policy change, in effect recognizing the past failure and future risks of eradication, would target the producers of cocaine rather than the peasant coca growers.

The Peruvian government withheld official reaction to the program, which includes more than $250 million in aid for Colombia, Peru and Bolivia in the year beginning Oct. 1, and a total of $2 billion over five years.

Several politicians and analysts said, however, that while they laud the reduced emphasis on eradication, the focus remains one of police action rather than providing economic alternatives for the tens of thousands of peasants who live off the cocaine industry.

The revised policy, several critics argued, continues to threaten to drive disaffected growers and local traffickers into the hands of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), Peru's brutal Maoist guerrillas.

In an uneasy alliance with drug traffickers, the rebels already control parts of the Upper Huallaga Valley, the world's single largest source of coca leaves, on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Peasant growers often depend on Shining Path for protection from police units, and the traffickers increasingly have relied on the guerrillas to protect clandestine landing strips and jungle laboratories.

"Our opinion is that as long as there is no program for peaceful development in the valley, it will be impossible to execute successfully a plan to repress the trafficking by force," said Gerardo Bailon, a congressman from the ruling American Popular Revolutionary Alliance.

Bailon, from the town of Tingo Maria, in the southern end of the valley, said: "Any intelligent plan has to draw in those campesinos who are willing to accept change and try different crops. Then, with their support, the repression can move ahead."

Mark Dion, the U.S. Embassy charge d'affaires, stressed that the first year's program is designed to allow Peru to undermine the traffickers and thus improve security in the valley. Only after the region is safe, Dion said, can development programs move forward in subsequent years.

Craig Buck, director in Peru of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said: "When the guerrillas blow up bridges, when they kill people, when we can't travel by road, it is very difficult for me to approve projects for development. The area must be safe, not only for AID but for the Peruvian government, so it can attract private investment in the area."

Buck said AID's budget for Peru next year will be roughly the same as this year's $58 million. American officials said they do not know how much of the new $250-million-plus allocated by the President would be committed to Peru, and they noted that the Peruvian government will make the actual proposals for using the funds.

Cesar Bernal, director of the Narcotics Assistance Unit for Peru, the State Department's anti-drug branch, said the overall program calls for "a dramatic increase in interdiction. This is the primary goal."

He said possible programs include radar installations along the Peru-Colombia border to spot small planes carrying the coca paste, the jets needed to force such planes to land, the training and equipping of a helicopter-borne Peruvian "reaction force" to blow up airstrips and water-borne patrols of rivers to intercept shipments of chemicals used to process coca.

The President's policy document notes that eradication will be undertaken "when it can be converted into an effective strategy." A U.S. official said privately that he expects few major coca-cutting missions and then only "if you have a remote hillside, with few people in the area, so you won't drive them into the arms of Sendero Luminoso."

The Peruvian government has already expressed interest in a radar installation, along with a host of other requests, including spare parts to get idle helicopters, some of them Soviet made, back in the air.

Nevertheless, Laura Madalengoitea, a researcher for the Peruvian Assn. of Investigative Studies for Peace, a private think tank, said the plan neglects the more than 200,000 peasants in the valley.

"The whole program gives an overemphasis on repression. The idea should be to separate the growers from the narcos and the terrorists, not to further unite them. This is a fatal policy flaw," she said.

Bernal responded: "The people who have arrived in the last five to 10 years are not traditional farmers who changed from coffee or cacao to grow coca. They came from the cities just to grow coca on virgin land."

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