Peru’s top drug official Carmen Masias, speaking before the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, expressed support for Bolivia’s position on refusing to recognize coca as an illegal drug.
Bolivia withdrew from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on January 1 this year, and wants to rejoin if a reservation is added that coca chewing is not illegal. It can be blocked from rejoining if a third of signatories vote against it.
IDL-Reporteros reports that Masias’ words of support for Bolivia were surprising to delegates, who had expected to hear a hardline speech in keeping with the US’s traditional position in the “war on drugs.”
Masias took the position of Peru’s drug czar in January, replacing Ricardo Soberon, in what was interpreted as a move away from Soberon’s progressive positions and back towards US-approved policy. Soberon, who has links to coca-growing unions, had criticized forced coca eradication, and called a temporary half to eradication programs when he took office, saying instead he would focus on attacking the structures of drug trafficking groups. This caused concern in Washington, and Soberon was replaced following President Ollanta Humala’s cabinet shake-up, which moved his government further towards the right and put the ex-military officer Oscar Valdes as prime minister. Masias was a more traditional appointment to the post, and announced plans to eradicate some 14,000 hectares of coca in 2012, up nearly 50 percent from last year. IDL-Reporteros describes the handover as being as if the moderate left had been replaced by the ultra-right.
After Soberon’s departure, Valdes said that drug policy would focus on prevention and rehabilitation of addicts. InSight Crime described this as “a clear step by the department towards softer social policy and away from the issues of supply and interdiction.” Masias said in recent weeks that her anti-drug policy will work to empower rural women, as a way to decrease farming communities’ dependence on coca, noting that in these women are often heads of families.
IDL-Reporteros reports that the transition between the two officials was so dramatic that, after Masias took office, delegates from the Transnational Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) arrived in Lima for a meeting on reformist drug policy, organized under Soberon, and found that it and their welcome reception had been canceled.
The website suggests, however, that “all is not as it appears to be” under Masias, noting that her new drug strategy has not yet been published, and that the president is dissatisfied with her work, while Soberon has been asked to contribute research on drug policy. According to the site, Masias’ speech to the UN was heavily edited and corrected by her predecessor -- “in the uncertain world of coca policy,” concludes IDL-Reporteros, “no one knows who they work for, or rather no one knows who works for them.”
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