Coca farmers throw down gauntlet in Peru

Ollanta Humala, Peru’s president, is facing the first serious challenge to his authority as coca farmers block roads in the Amazon to oppose the destruction of their crops.

Two people had been injured and seven arrested by the time President Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the Ucayali region on Tuesday night.

Peru’s high rate of violent social protests – often linked to extractive industries in a country that is among the world’s top five gold, silver, copper and zinc producers – will provide a key test for the president, who took office at the end of July.

The coca farmers are blocking a major highway to pressure Mr Humala to fulfil an election promise to end eradication of their crop, the base ingredient of cocaine.

“Eighty per cent of the population here are farmers who want the government to redirect its eradication efforts,” Jaime García, deputy mayor of the town of Padre Abad in Ucayali, told local radio.

The farmers say police are unable to reach traffickers’ big plantations and instead destroy small plots meant for traditional Andean medicine, food or tea.

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