The Key to Defeating the Cartel

A Peruvian military soldier stands guard at his post as his battalion destroys a coca paste production lab.

In 2017, Peru passed Colombia as the largest cocaine producer in the world. The jungle region that includes the borders of Colombia and Peru have premier coca fields (cocaine’s main ingredient). Recently, Colombia has emerged out of their troubles by making peace with the FARCS, leftist guerillas who live in the jungle, engaging in kidnapping and drug dealing. Meanwhile, Peru’s leaders have either ignored or struggled to stop their growing coca production. Peru’s cocaine problem is eerily similar to Colombia’s prior cocaine issues. Thus, Peru’s new president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, is deploying similar tricks used by prior Colombian presidents, including the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, to combat his country's cocaine problem. Kuczynski’s new centrist political organization is just what his country needs to combat the cartels. 

Until Kuczynski, Peru was governed by anti-US leaders for nearly a generation. From 1990-2000, Alberto Fujimori, a right-wing populist, refused requests to form an alliance with the United States to combat the growing coca production. Following Fujimori, a centrist, Alejandro Toledo, disregarded the growth in cocaine production, and focused on fixing Peru’s failing education, healthcare, and housing. Toledo failed to fix these issues. When in South America a president fails to fix major quality of life issues, the pink tide of Hugo Chavez like figures usually gain power. Such was the case in Peru, and for the last 10 years, until the 2016 presidential election, socialists controlled Peru. 

In 2016, it was widely assumed that Fujimori’s daughter would be elected president. However, it was revealed in the Panama Papers that her brother had received payments from suspected cartel dealers, in addition to having 100kg of cocaine confiscated from a warehouse that he owned. Kuczynski capitalized on her clear ties to the cartels, and ultimately won the election by half a percentage point. 

In Colombia, the Social Party of National Unity (Party of the U) was formed in 2006, advocating centrist to center left policies. Kuczynski created a similar party in 2014, Peruvians for Change (PPK), albeit it is more of a centrist to center right party. The Party of the U has formed alliances with potential opponents, such as the Liberal party and certain center-right politicians and political organizations. As a result, among the establishment political ideologies, there is less of a potent force that can dismantle the Party of U. Lastly, President Santos of Colombia has built extremely close military relationships with the United States. 

In the early days of President Kuczynski’s term, he has already made indications that he will seek similar political alliances with potential opponents. If Kuczynski wants to combat the drug cartels, he will have to do exactly that. By creating alliances, Kuczynski can root out corruption, ensuring a stable political process and a friendlier business climate. Further, the United States will be even more supportive of Kuczynski if he can institute these reforms (President Trump has already held a meeting with Kuczynski). From there, he can take the fight to the jungles and defeat the drug cartels, setting Peru on a path to success.  


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