In late July, as millions of Peruvians prepared to celebrate their country’s Independence Day, government forces descended upon “Sector 5,” a guerrilla installment in the heart of the coca-producing region of Junín. What they found there was stunning: a “production camp” of 39 Asháninka Indians, most of them children, living in apparent captivity as prisoners of the Maoist militants Shining Path. Some of the adults had been living in the camp for 30 years. According to an internal communiqué from the Peruvian national police, the captives had been forced to work as agricultural laborers and the women were expected to breed and raise a new generation of militants.
The home of cocaine production has a new address. Stepping out from behind the shadows of its more notorious peers in the region, Peru is taking the helm from its South American neighbors as the leading producer of cocaine in the world. While Colombia’s production declines due to concerted efforts by both its government and U.S. foreign agencies (along with FARC being open to negotiations), a once dormant industry from Peru’s troubled past has resurfaced to meet market demand.
In the early 1990s, Peru was a major producer of cocaine but was eventually surpassed by Colombia following aggressive government policies in Peru to combat the black market trade. These policies have faded over time, and thus the expansion of cocaine growing has boomed once again.
International boundaries are often blurred by the processes of globalization, but in South America some maritime borders remain contested. For instance, Chile and Peru, neighbors that have enjoyed sustained economic development over the past few years, remain at odds over approximately 38,000 square kilometers of sea located along their maritime border.
Bilateral negotiations between the two countries were first held in 1980 but no agreement was reached. In 2008, Peru took the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which, in turn, considered the issue at a public hearing in December 2012. The ICJ is expected to make a ruling on the dispute in mid-2013.
In the meantime, Peru continues to argue that the maritime border has not yet been defined by any agreement, with documents signed in the 1950s only relating to access to fishing grounds. Lima also claims that maritime limits should run diagonally south-west from the land border.
The coca plant is native to the Andes. Its bush has been cultivated and traditionally consumed by local people for centuries. Many products and the leaves themselves can be legally purchased in Peru and Bolivia.
However, coca leaves are also the raw material for the production of cocaine. As a result, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia are the three largest illegal cocaine producing countries in the world.
According to the UNODC World Drug Report 2012 there was an overall decline in global production of cocaine between 2006 and 2010. This was in part due to the reduction of coca bush cultivation in Colombia. In spite of this, the report also underlines that in the same period coca bush cultivation and cocaine production actually increased in Bolivia and Peru.
“Peru provides a dramatic example of a growing trend across Latin America where indigenous groups are challenging governments’ economic development programs by raising their voices against extractive industries,” Patricia Vasquez argues in USIP Peace Brief 19.
Across Latin America, economic growth is happening at a steady clip. Similar to many countries in Africa, sustained growth is spurred by a demand for commodities – think oil, iron, ore, copper, gas, etc. – needed to feed burgeoning economies, especially those in Asia. Indeed, such growth is counter to the trends happening in other parts of the globe where countries, in particular the United States and members of the EU, continue to grapple with economic contraction that has brought about hard policy decisions in the form of bailouts, stimulus packages, and cuts to social programs. In fact, a recent article in the New York Times noted how this trend has not only surprised analysts but also “surpassed the expectations of many [Latin American] governments themselves.”
Narrowing the focus to Peru, the country I am currently traveling through, the growth is palatable. Though great economic disparities exist and poverty is pronounced one can’t help but feel a buzz in the air – one aided and sustained by the development of Peru’s hydrocarbon areas and plans for expansion in the oil and natural gas sector (ONG). In 2009, as Peru’s GDP experienced over five percent growth, multinational oil and gas companies poured $800 million into the economy – making up for 50 percent of the nations tax revenues. A viable future in liquefied natural gas (LNG) production ensures that another $1 billion will be invested in the next few years.