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Humala’s Drug Czar Vows to Halt Growth in Peru Coca Output

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will stem rising production of coca leaf that has made the country the world’s largest exporter of cocaine, using crop eradication he’s previously criticized, the Andean nation’s new drug czar said.

Peru will increase spending 20 percent next year, step up drug seizures and tighten controls on chemicals used to process cocaine, said Ricardo Soberon, who was named last month to head the nation’s counter narcotics agency, known as Devida.

The government suspended an eradication program last month, sparking concern Humala planned to enact pledges during his election campaign to end forced eradication at the expense of reduced foreign aid. Soberon said the pause, which lasted about a week, was necessary as the government weighs a new drug strategy.

Humala will implement a “sustainable” eradication program that replaces coca, a native plant whose leaves are used to make cocaine, with alternative crops such as coffee and cocoa, Soberon told reporters in Lima today. Soberon, himself a critic of eradication in the past, said the government will contribute more to the fight against drug-trafficking as foreign aid declines, he said.

Alternative Crops

“Crop reduction must be definitive, which means replacing coca with an economically viable alternative,” said Soberon, a lawyer and expert on drug policy. “This problem is well beyond our ability to confront alone so we’re worried about the trend of declining international aid.”

Peru rivals Colombia as the world’s largest producer of coca leaf after land dedicated to production of the crop rose 2.2 percent to 61,200 hectares in 2010, according to the United Nations.

Though Colombia produces twice as much cocaine as Peru, the country’s 50 percent seizure rate limits the amount available for export, Julio Castro, Soberon’s chief adviser, said in an interview in Lima.

Money laundering has increased to about $4.3 billion a year in Peru compared with $3.5 billion 18 months ago, the banking regulator said Sept. 7. Drug trafficking accounts for about 80 percent of the total.

Opposition lawmakers this week called for Soberon’s resignation saying his previous opposition to eradication as a means of fighting drug-trafficking makes him unfit for the job.

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