Skip to comments.Peru Says FARC Growing Coca in Peru
Posted on 02/21/2004 9:26:48 AM PST by Tailgunner Joe
AYACUCHO, Peru (Reuters) - Colombia's largest rebel group is growing coca -- the raw material for cocaine -- over the border in northern Peru, an area that has not typically been used to grow coca, Peruvian Defense Minister Roberto Chiabra said on Friday.
"There is an increase in cultivation of coca leaf in our territory which requires an operation (to prevent it)," he said during a visit to the southern city of Ayacucho.
"If we allow it to grow, it's going to create a big problem because we know it's a source of funds for the FARC," he added, referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the biggest rebel group in the world's No. 1 cocaine producer.
The FARC make a living from taxing the cocaine trade. A U.S.-backed war on drugs and the rebels who profit by them has forced some production over the border into Peru, the world's No. 2 cocaine producer, officials and experts say.
Much of the drugs produced in the Andean region finds its way to U.S. streets via Mexico and Central America.
Chiabra said the coca crops in the northern Putumayo border area were new. "There weren't these types of crops in the area before and it's strange because it's not a (coca) producing area. That's what caught our attention," he said.
Chiabra, a retired general and former commander in chief of the army, said Peru's deadliest rebel group, Shining Path, was also becoming more active in the drugs trade and had adopted a similarly drugs-backed method of raising cash.
"Shining Path have been sowing (coca) for some time. Although they started their activities to finance themselves -- providing security to drugs traffickers, their plantations and their clandestine airstrips, now they sow, harvest, produce and sell (cocaine)," he said.
He said Shining Path was involved in drugs in the Vizcatan region near Ayacucho, south of Lima. Around 200 to 300 rebels were involved, but only 20 to 30 were armed, he added.
Shining Path virtually died out after the 1992 capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman, and the group -- one of Latin America's bloodiest insurgencies at its height -- is reduced to a few hundred diehards holed up in Andean and jungle areas, officials say.
"They don't have the capacity they had before to rally people and to kidnap people to join their ranks. They are smaller, but we can't lower our guard," Chiabra said.
He called for joint action to combat the rebel-backed coca trade from Peru, Colombia and neighboring Brazil. Peru says official data show that the amount of land devoted to growing coca is at its lowest for 20 years after a surge in voluntary eradication of coca crops late last year.
Independent experts cast doubt on the official picture, saying it fails to include new crops that are being sown.
Coca growers have been meeting in Lima this week demanding more state support for legal uses of their crops.
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