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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 March, 2003, 11:10 GMT
Peru's coca farmers accept truce

Elliot Gotkine
In Lima

Crop pickers
The government hopes farmers will grow alternative crops
Peru's coca growers have agreed to suspend their highway blockades and protests while the government works on a new anti-drugs policy.

The Andean country's Prime Minister Luis Solari told the BBC he would take his plans to the United States next week.

Peasants who grow coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, have been demonstrating against the forced eradication of their crops and the arrest of one of their leaders.

If a solution is not found in 20 days, coca growers say they will march on the capital in their thousands.

Investment in new jobs

Thousands of coca farmers used trees, burning tyres and rocks culled from the mountainside to block the main roads into Peru's central jungle.

They maintained their blockade for 10 days, before riot police, armed with tear-gas, moved in.

After violent confrontations, which left at least 15 people injured, the roads were cleared.

Peru's anti-drugs chief, Nils Ericsson, last week unveiled an ambitious plan to encourage farmers to switch from coca to legal alternatives, like palm oil and rubber.

He said he hoped to attract $3bn worth of private investment by the year 2020, creating up to 2.5 million jobs.

He believes drug traffickers are behind the protests.

"They've probably influenced, abused the, at times, na´vetÚ of the peasants to co-opt them into a fight that doesn't make sense, because we're going on the path that they themselves chose," says Mr Ericsson.

Poverty and corruption

Some farmers have received money in exchange for destroying their coca crops and switching to alternatives.

But much of the government's scant resources gets soaked up by bureaucracy and corruption.

It also takes time for new crops to grow, prompting one prominent former anti-drugs official, Hugo Cabieses, to say that the policy risks reducing farmers to beggars in the short term.

If Peru's prime minister cannot win US support for new drug eradication plans, or the coca growers reject them, blockades and strikes could return to Peru's central highways before the end of the month.

Coca growers protest in Peru
26 Feb 03  |  Business
Bolivian farmers step up protests
23 Jan 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Peru
04 Jan 03  |  Country profiles

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