22 August 2011

Doug and I spent a couple of  days in Lima.  Doug called me from the states Wednesday morning and said there were a lot of people who wanted to visit with him.  He suggested I meet him there and join him for the visits.  I got on the bus Wednesday evening and was at the airport to meet Doug on Thursday night.

On Friday we met friends Maricruz and her daughters, Mafer and Adriana for lunch at their home.  Antonio wasn’t able to join us as his work keeps him in Piura.  After lunch, Maricruz took us to her dental office.  She cleaned both Doug’s and my teeth and refused payment for her trouble.  She was both thorough and gentle.  Both Doug and I were so glad to meet Maricruz… we both knew we needed to have our teeth cleaned and to have a dental exam, but were reluctant to go to someone we didn’t know.

Later in the evening, we ate dinner with our long time Peruvian friend and guide, Luis and his family.  He has three children, Nicole (8), Rosemary (4) and Luis (4 months).  His apartment was full of life; children playing, squealing and having a good time.  Luis has been so helpful to us and has made our transition to Peru so much easier than it might have been.  He is an excellent guide and knows some of the most incredible archeological sights in Peru; many that most people don’t even know about.

Saturday morning we rested in the hotel, catching up on some long awaited sleep.  Then we went to lunch with Rafo’s family; Roseanne, Ursula, and Mateo.  Rafo and his family were guests in our home during the SudAmerica Cup soccer games.  We ate lunch at one of the private country clubs in Lima where Rafo has had a membership most of his life.  The club had a golf course, two swimming pools, tennis courts and at least a couple of restaurants.  We had a great meal and then went to their home.  Georg’s family, Nathalie, Melanie and Matias joined us there.  Rafo played his guitar and we all sang songs and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

We got back to the hotel relatively early, 10 p.m., as we were supposed to be at the airport by 4 in the morning.  We had tickets on a Peruvian Airline flight at 6.   However, the government grounded all of Peruvian Airline planes for an unspecified reason.  They were given 90 days to make corrections or be shut down permanently.  So…what about our tickets?  We were told to appear at the airline’s counter at the airport and show our vouchers.  They then sent us to LAN Airlines where we were put on a flight that left at 5:40 a.m.  We were fortunate to be going to a less traveled destination as people with tickets to Cusco (and thus Machu Pichu) were not able to be accommodated as easily.

By some fluke of the universe, we met up with friends Edhie and Sarah in the airport.  They were taking the same flight as we were, although all four of us were seated separately.  We then shared a taxi to the bus station in Piura and caught buses to our home towns.  All in all, it was a quick trip with no real hitches.

The Peruvian government has limited the number of visitors to Machu Pichu, one of the seven wonders of the world.  The UNESCO designation requires that the number of people within the park at any one time be limited to 2500 people.  The problem has been that no provisions had been made to limit the number of people who came to Agua Calientes, the village from which people access Machu Pichu.  Many tourists were arriving, expecting to be able to visit the park, but would not be able to do so because of the restrictions.  Another criticism I’ve heard from Peruvians is that the park should stagger visitors for various times throughout the day.  In general, visitors can easily see the park within two or three hours.  So, if entrance to the park were broken into three or four sessions a day, they could increase attendance three or four fold.

The other “big” news in Peru lately is the decision by the president to suspend cocaine eradication programs.  Peru is now the number one producer of cocaine in the world.  Most of the cultivation of the coca plant is done in the most remote parts of Peru.  Some of these areas are strictly forbidden to foreigners and are extremely dangerous to any visitor.  The picture below says a lot.

Peru’s interior minister said 12 years of eradication efforts had had little effect on coca production [EPA]

Peru’s new government has temporarily suspended the eradication of coca plants, the base ingredient of cocaine, as it works to re-design its anti-drug programmes, the country’s interior ministry said.

News of the suspension in eradication work prompted surprise and concern from US officials, whose country has tried for years to limit coca production in Peru as part of a broader “war on drugs” in the region.

The United Nations says Peru is now the world’s leading coca grower and could surpass Colombia as the top cocaine producer.

Coca has been commonly used in Peru and other Andean nations for centuries and plays an important role in traditional indigenous culture. Many chew coca leaves or consume the plant in other ways, such as coca tea.

It is considered effective as a treatment for altitude sickness and is often used in medicine and in traditional religious ceremonies.

But supporters of eradication say most of the coca crop is cultivated for the cocaine industry.

“We are working on how to re-direct efforts,” said Oscar Valdes, the Peruvian interior minister.

Valdes said eradication would resume “very soon” but added that the government wanted to focus more on catching major traffickers and cutting off access to supplies, such as kerosene used to refine coca into cocaine.

‘Frontal fight’ on trafficking

“The public must understand that the reduction of illicit crops will continue, as the president has said, and there will be a frontal fight against drug trafficking,” Valdes said.

Richard Soberon, head of the anti-drugs programme for Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s government, said there was an indefinite “pause” in the eradication programme in the Alto Huallaga region northeast of Lima to evaluate the effort.

“In every country, in Afghanistan, in Colombia, in Bolivia, in Mexico, it is normal to have these pauses to do the necessary evaluation of what has happened, to correct mistakes,” he said.

He added that 12 years of eradication efforts had had little impact on the production of coca in Peru.

Still, Rose Likins, the US ambassador to Peru, appeared surprised by the decision.

Drugs Central Spotlight

“I still haven’t received a complete explanation of what happened,” she said. “It would have been better to have received information about this beforehand.”

According to a United Nations report, Peru in 2010 became the world’s largest coca producer, overtaking Colombia, where production has seen a steady decline.

The 2011 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report says Peru had 61,200 hectares (150,000 acres) of coca under cultivation in 2010, two percent more than in the previous year.

Peruvian officials estimated that the amount of cocaine produced in the country in 2010 was 330 tons, close to the estimated 350 tons produced by Colombia.

The suspension of the eradication programme coincides with Humala’s re-shuffling of the country’s drug policy team following his election in June.

Criticism of new government

Humala, a former army officer elected on a leftist agenda, has said he would work closely with the US to fight cocaine production. He has also said he expected countries that buy illegal cocaine to contribute to the effort.

He drew criticism earlier this month for appointing Soberon to head Peru’s anti-drug agency.

Soberon, a lawyer, worked for a legislator from the president’s political party who has close links to coca growers.

Fernando Rospigliosi, the former minister of interior, said the indefinite suspension sent a bad signal.

“It says to the coca producers and guerrillas, ‘Go ahead, plant your coca, nothing will happen,'” he said.

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