Peru wants U.S. help to stop cocaine trafficking planes

FILE PHOTO: Drugs seized in operations at different locations in Peru are presented to the media, in Lima
·2 min read

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru wants to secure a deal with the United States as soon as possible to help it tackle the use of planes to smuggle cocaine at a time when coca cultivation has been growing, the Andean nation's anti-drug chief said on Wednesday.

Peru, one of the world's top producers of cocaine, has been seeking an agreement with the United States since March for "non-lethal" support in intercepting planes transporting illegal drugs.

That support was once in place but the U.S. suspended its program two decades ago when the Peruvian Air Force accidentally shot down a plane after mistaking it for one belonging to drug traffickers, killing two U.S. citizens.

Efforts to uproot coca plantations - the plant used to make cocaine - have been undermined by growing global demand for the drug, said Ricardo Soberon, head of the national anti-drug agency DEVIDA, at a conference. He added that it was time to review the "principle of shared responsibility."

"The process now is strictly one of bilateral negotiation. The Peruvian Foreign Ministry has it in its hands, so we hope to finish that as soon as possible," said Soberon.

Production in Peru has been mostly growing along the border with Brazil in the Ucayali region, where coca leaf crops have almost sextupled in size in two years, adding 10,229 hectares (25,276 acres) in 2021, Soberon said.

He added that the national growth of coca leaf crops is expected to have risen in 2021, although official figures have yet to be published. In 2020, Peru estimated there were 61,700 hectares of coca leaf crops.

Soberon expects to travel to Washington in August or early September to meet with the U.S. State Department to discuss the matter.

The U.S. Embassy in Lima did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Josie Kao)