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May 4, 2004 - The Spokesman-Review (WA)

Coca Growers March Into Peru Capital

Demand Stop To Eradication Of Cocaine-Producing Crop

By The Associated Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

LIMA, Peru -- About 3,000 rural coca growers marched peacefully into Lima on Monday to demand the government free one of their leaders and stop programs to eradicate their cocaine-producing crop.

Protest leader Nancy Obregon told the Associated Press that the coca farmers would remain in the capital "until they solve our problems."

She said coca farmers want to speak with Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero and legislators about a law that would protect coca cultivation.

They also want to meet with judiciary officials to discuss the release of Nelson Palomino, jailed for more than a year on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda.

Police say he used a rural radio program to incite civil unrest, and that he threatened journalists who questioned him and growers who refused to support him.

Coca growers frequently complain about government attempts to wean them off of their mostly illegal crop.

They argue that the leaves of the coca shrub are part of Andean culture and have been used in ceremonies or chewed to ward off hunger for centuries -- long before the invention of cocaine.

Most coca, however, is grown by poor Peruvians lured to remote jungle regions by the high prices drug traffickers are willing to pay for the tea-like leaves.

Peru's government permits the cultivation of about 24,700 acres of coca for personal use -- for chewing and making tea -- and for commercial use for sale to soft drink makers.

The 3,000 impoverished coca growers began marching toward Lima from the jungle town of Tingo Maria, 200 miles northeast of Lima, on April 23. Growers in other regions boycotted the march.

About 200 riot police escorted the marchers into the capital.

Peru's anti-drug agency, Devida, reported Monday that 83 percent of the 58,000 tons of coca grown in Peru each year is used to make cocaine.

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