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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 13:02 GMT
Coca growers protest in Peru
By Elliot Gotkine

Crop pickers
Coca leaf growers in Peru's central jungle region have begun their eighth day of protests over the government's coca eradication programme and the recent arrest of one of their leaders.

Nelson Palomino was detained on Friday in a move that was apparently aimed at stemming the protests.

Peru, the world's second largest producer of coca - used to make cocaine - has vowed to eradicate 8,000 hectares of the leaf this year.

But critics say Peru is fighting a losing battle.

The overall amount of coca grown in this poor Andean nation rose last year despite the destruction of more than 7,000 hectares of coca.

Action

The strikes and demonstrations by coca growers have left highways blocked and thousands of protesters have gathered in towns to vent their anger at what they see as an unnecessarily harsh eradication programme.

In Lima, Peru's anti-drugs chief Nils Ericsson has declared that getting coca farmers to destroy their own crops in exchange for government handouts and jobs is the most peaceful way for Peru to reduce the amount of coca it produces.

At the same time, Mr Ericsson hopes to encourage farmers to switch from coca to alternative crops such as palm oil and rubber.

He hopes to do this by attracting some $3bn worth of private investment by the year 2020, creating up to 2.5 million jobs.

But until Peruvian peasants can get the same kind of returns from legal crops, they are unlikely to give up their coca without a fight.




SEE ALSO:
Bolivian farmers step up protests
23 Jan 03 |  Americas
Country profile: Peru
04 Jan 03 |  Country profiles



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