A spike in coca crops around a national park along the Bolivia-Peru border has accompanied a recent population boom and disintegrating security in the region, as well as a shift to moving drugs by land.
Residents and local authorities reported some 600 hectares of coca growing in the Bahuaja Sonene National Park, a tropical forest in southeastern Peru that lies partially in the Puno department, according to El Comercio.
A 2017 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) illicit crop monitoring program noted only 200 hectares of coca seen within the park.
Meanwhile, another 10,000 hectares of coca crops were reported to be growing in the areas surrounding the park, a fourfold increase from the 2017 report.
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The vast increase in coca production has caused the population of the nearby San Pedro de Putina de Punco district to rise from around 15,000 inhabitants to 40,000. The population boom has been accompanied by rising insecurity, including an increase of robberies and assaults. In the absence of a police station, locals have taken to patrolling the area themselves.
The government’s response to the spike in illicit crops has been a combination of eradication and alternative development projects. In April, a coca plant eradication program was launched in San Gabán, while other regions have seen projects aiming to improve specialty coffee and cacao production chains in lieu of coca.
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The sudden increase in the hectares of coca in the forest and surrounding areas can be explained by their strategic location on the border with Bolivia. Though drug trafficking between the two countries has been recognized for years, it has primarily been via air routes, in which clandestine flights headed for Bolivia take off from Peruvian jungles.
The growth of coca crops along the border area could indicate that land routes are taking on greater importance. The sectors of San Pedro Putina de Punco and San Gabán that saw the greatest increases in hectares of coca, occur along several routes through which drugs easily pass to Bolivia.
Bolivia is a natural Peruvian drug corridor. Peruvian traffickers seek to enter consumer markets in other countries like Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, the main cocaine consumer in the region.
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Also, the fact that Peruvian authorities focus their greatest efforts on traditional drug production regions, like El Huallaga and the valley of the rivers Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro (VRAEM), encourages coca producers to expand into new and potentially lucrative regions such as the country’s borders with Brazil and Bolivia, and the Amazon Basin.