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Peru wants more US aid for drug war; new ambassador hints 'no'

Peru, the world's second-largest cocaine producer, has asked for more US aid in combating drug trafficking and blamed Washington's policies for driving coca plant production in Peru.

By Staff writer / October 21, 2010

Anti-drug police presented some of the three tons of cocaine they seized in September to the press last month at a police base in Callao, Peru. Police said they seized the cocaine in the southern Peruvian province of Arequipa and arrested 16 foreigners.

Martin Mejia/AP

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Despite Peru's leaders repeatedly calling in recent months for more US aid in fighting drug trafficking, the new US ambassador said in her first media interview published Wednesday that resources are limited.

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“The fight against narcotics trafficking is going to continue to be a high policy priority for the United States,” Ambassador Rose M. Likins, who took office Sept. 30 and formerly served as ambassador to El Salvador, told the Lima-based publication Living In Peru.

“We'd all like to have an infinite amount of resources,” she added, “but that's not the real world. And [Peru's leaders] recognize that. But we'll continue to do the very best job we can.”

Peru, the world's second-largest cocaine producer, is arguing for more aid on the argument that drugs don't go away; they just go elsewhere. Crack down on drug trafficking in Mexico and it spreads to the Caribbean. Eradicate coca production in Colombia and the plant crops up in surrounding Andean nations such as Peru.

Zero-sum game

Peru's leaders “are right to be concerned that the success we've had in Colombia has in fact pushed people who want to look at Peru as an alternative,” Ambassador Likins said. “I think the comments stem from their worry about a push from the trafficking organizations to find a new space in Peru.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has traced the decline in coca production in Colombia and resultant rise in production in Peru, warning that Peru might soon overtake its neighbor as the world's largest coca grower. Peru's coca production rose in 2009 for the fourth year in a row, according to the UN agency, increasing 6.8 percent last year to 59,900 hectares.

Latin America's leaders, during the General Assembly of the United Nations in late September, together called for increased aid to help crack down on drug-trafficking.

"I think we need to take another look at international cooperation because it's not right that Peru is receiving so little," Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Garcia Belaunde told Reuters at the time, hinting that Colombia's share of US aid needed to be redistributed. "The country isn't getting the support it needs in a battle that requires a global effort."

Talks with Obama

Colombia has received billions of dollars in US aid for counternarcotics efforts. Among the $160 million the US has allocated for Peru this year, $71 is earmarked for counternarcotics, according to the US Embassy in Peru.

Peruvian President Alan García met with President Obama over the summer and directly accused Washington of pushing cocaine growth into Peru, he revealed in a September interview with The Financial Times.

“When I was talking to President Obama about this he said: 'It seems there are a few more hectares, four thousand hectares in the coca-growing areas in Peru.' I replied: 'Thanks to you. Because you have been to Colombia with a large amount of resources and implemented them well. Now in the Putumayo area of the border for the first time we have coca plantations. If you had wanted to do a more thorough job you would have prepared us to stop drug activity starting up in Putumayo five or six years ago.' No, this is not an accusation, I am simply saying that we are all responsible to some extent."

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