Peru is the world leader in the production of coca leaves and cocaine. Traditional use of coca is legal in Peru, as Andean people have chewed coca leaves from time immemorial for its stimulant effect similar to that of caffeine.


More than half of Peru’s coca production takes place in the VRAEM (Rivers valley of Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro), in the upper mountainous part of the Amazon. Nothing here suggests that this is the base of the billion dollar industry. On the contrary, the villages breathe poverty, ramshackle houses built of wooden planks. The Peruvian government buys about 8 percent of coca production to supply the country with legal, market-controlled cocaine. The rest goes to the black market to supply the rest of the world.


Since the United States proclaimed the ‘War on Drugs’ in 1971, Peru also carries a repressive regime. The government receives $ 95 million annually from the US to fight drug trafficking. The prisons are bulging with drug runners and drug smugglers, and VRAEM is completely militarized. Latin American governments are increasingly in favor of different, less repressive drug policies. Some presidents suggest the legalization or decriminalization of drugs. However, the United States is not keen on the proposed changes, and so the war continues.


- Text by Marjolein van de Water, de Volkskrant

April, 2015, VRAEM, Peru: Boat at Apurimac River.
April, 2015, VRAEM, Peru: A guy checking dry cocaine base paste.