THE Peru-United States bilateral agreement on drugs, seemingly ready to be signed a month ago, seems certain to be delayed. An open letter to Peru's Congress signed by 24 leading Peruvian development and nongovernment organizations calls for rejection of the agreement and a national debate about its terms.
The letter was the outcome of heated debate at a recent anti-drug conference organized by the Andean Commission of Jurists, a human rights organization.
Legislators from neighboring Bolivia and Colombia as well as Peruvian coca growers attending the meeting condemned what they see as growing militarization and US involvement in the Andean anti-narcotics war.
The purpose of the conference was to evaluate progress achieved since the four-nation Cartagena drug summit of February 1990.
The US-Peruvian agreement, so far available in draft form only, which coincides with the Cartagena accord, accepts co-responsibility for the drug problem. It calls for a ``joint venture'' against drug-trafficking.
According to its text, the US consumes 80 percent of the world's coca derivatives, while Peru produces 60 percent of the world's coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine.
But it is easier, argues the agreement, to combat drugs on Peruvian territory where only an estimated $708 million of all drug money remains, than in the US where importers, distributors, and pushers earn about $79 billion each year from sales of cocaine alone.
Peruvian coca is produced by between 100,000 and 200,000 small growers. The ``Fujimori Doctrine'' announced unilaterally last October and enshrined in the bilateral agreement, is to persuade these illegal growers to commit themselves to crop substitution in return for legality, land titles, and access to credit and the other advantages of a free market.
There are growing indications, however, that the political cost of the agreement may outweigh President Bush's financial carrot - $39.9 million in direct aid to Peru's drug police and military, plus another $87.7 million in ``drug-related economic aid.''
ROGER RUMRRILL, an Amazonian ecologist and drug expert says the agreement is illegitimate.
``The agreement has never been debated or discussed since its publication in October 1990,'' he says in a recent newspaper article. ``Peasant organizations, research centers, and professional bodies have been systematically sidestepped.''
One of these peasant organizations is the People's Defense Front for San Martin (FDPSM). San Martin is the region including the Huallaga Valley where both coca-growing and subversive activity have expanded markedly in the past two or three years.
In the words of one analyst, ``If you haven't got the people of San Martin on your side, then you can kiss the drug agreement goodbye.''
FDPSM leader Lucas Cachay rejected the US-Peruvian agreement in a forceful conference address that included charges of torture, repression, and rape against Drug Enforcement Administration agents. In the absence of realistic properly-funded alternatives to coca, he vowed, ``We shall defend coca with our lives.''
Less strident opposition is also coming from Peru's military. Some elements in the Army object to a significant US presence on Peruvian soil, even as ``advisers.'' The Peruvian military, constitutionally charged with combatting subversion rather than fighting drugs, is concerned that closer ties with the US will increase support for Sendero Luminoso, according to a well-placed intelligence source.
``It will allow Sendero to wave the nationalist banner and win legitimacy,'' said one Army officer with extensive anti-subversive experience.
Left-wing daily La Republica, in a recent editorial, echoed widespread Peruvian qualms.
``Let's hope we are wrong, but experience has proved that relations between a small, peripheral nation and a great power are rarely conducted on equal terms ... this agreement threatens aspects of Peruvian sovereignty which cannot be ignored.''