Eradication

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Peru Suspends Coca Eradication in Key Area

Location: 
Tocache, SM
Peru
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N16281848.htm

Questions about focus in Colombia

Location: 
Bogota
Colombia
Publication/Source: 
Newsday (NY)
URL: 
http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ny-wocolo135128516mar13,0,5909855.story?coll=ny-worldnews-print

Cocaine confounds eradication efforts

Location: 
Socacha
Colombia
Publication/Source: 
The Dallas Morning News
URL: 
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/world/stories/031107dnintwarondrugs.37008a2.html

Chronicle on the Scene Feature: In Peru, the Coca Growers' Movement Gathers Strength, But Faces Hurdles

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/stunted-coca-plant-in-garden.jpg
stunted coca plant in garden at Machu Picchu
Peru is, according to both United States and United Nations figures, the world's second largest producer of coca and cocaine, behind Colombia and ahead of Bolivia. In Colombia, the current bread basket of Andean coca production, coca growers face a hostile government and festering civil war. The odor of chemical herbicides fills the air in the country's coca growing zones, and Washington salutes President Alvaro Uribe for doing its bidding.

In Bolivia, where coca has been part of life for thousands of years, the coca growers' movement has blossomed to the point where one of its leaders, Evo Morales, has now ascended to the presidency and is taking an active role in defending the "sacred leaf." Morales is also pushing the industrialization of the coca leaf and is working with the Venezuelan and Cuban governments to push the process along. And he has responded to the clamor from coca growers in his native region of the Chapare by de facto expanding the size of the permitted coca crop.

In Peru, where coca also has a long history of traditional use, the coca growers (cocaleros) movement is neither as beleaguered as in Colombia nor as advanced as in Bolivia. While the government of President Alan Garcia continues its US-endorsed policies of forced eradication of excess coca and embracing alternative development as an option for coca growers, it also at least pays lip service to the notion of coca as a legitimate crop with numerous medicinal, alimentary and industrial uses.

Unlike Colombia, Peru recognizes the traditional market in coca and has created a national monopoly, ENACO, to buy up the legitimate crop. But the legitimate crop is only a fraction of the coca leaf produced in the country, so farmers there continue to face eradication campaigns and legal repression. More than 30,000 acres of coca fields were forcibly eradicated in 2005, and while final 2006 numbers are not yet in, that figure seems sure to be higher yet.

So Peruvian coca growers are in a feisty mood. They have clashed repeatedly with Peruvian police, soldiers, and civilian crop eradicators, they have held local strikes and national protests against forced eradication and what they see as crooked alternative development efforts, and now, some of their members are reaching positions of political power within the Peruvian government and regional political organizations.

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Nancy Obregon, speaking at DRCNet's 2003 conference in Mexico, holding up coca leaves
"Nothing has changed with the new government," said Nancy Obregon, a former leader of the country's largest coca grower union, the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the Coca Fields (CONCPACCP), who was elected to the Peruvian congress in 2005. "It is a bad policy, very repressive, and now they are doing forced eradication again in Tocache and San Martin," the region she represents. "The government has a double discourse. It talks about valuing coca, but then eradicates it. Garcia is supporting the North American policy, but we are trying to achieve a more sensible and humane one, not one that represses the poorest while the rich businessmen in the drug trade go free."

While Obregon said she and allies in the congress are working to advance pro-coca legislation, the going is tough. As a member of the Nationalist Party of defeated presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, she and her allies are in the opposition.

"We cocaleros are people who live in extreme poverty and we have to grow the sacred leaf to survive," said current CONCPACCP head Nelson Palomino. "We are honest, hard-working Peruvians, and we are not guilty of anything for growing the coca plant to subsist," he said, chewing coca leaves as he spoke. "What are we to do? Alternative development has failed. The foreign money that is supposed to come to the valleys goes into the pockets of functionaries in Lima," Palomino complained. "We hope the world will understand that our intentions are good."

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Nelson Palomino, with coca leaves
While CONCPACCP is the country's largest coca growers' union, it is not the only one, and some think that is a problem for the movement. The cocalero movement does have its problems, Palomino conceded. "We have a leadership that is isolated and radical, but shouting simple slogans like 'Gringos, No!' isn't going to solve our problems, nor is putting rocks in the highway," he explained. "Every struggle has its phases. First, the hard line, then the democratic part."

In Palomino's home area, the Ene River Valley, cocaleros have taken power precisely by democratic means. "In my valley, all of the 70 municipalities are ruled by cocaleros, and the government is worried. We have a democratic presence in Ayacucho and the Ene Valley. Now we have to put a stop to the stupid policy of eradication."

But that will require increasing the unity of the national cocalero movement. While Palomino claimed that CONCPACCP represents 90% of all Peruvian cocaleros, there are divisions and rivalries both within the confederation and between it and other coca grower leaders. Analysts familiar with but outside the cocalero movement accuse not only Palomino, but other leaders, such as Obregon and Andean Parliament representative Elsa Malpartida, both former CONCPACCP leaders, of falling prey to personalism and other political sins.

Meanwhile, in Monzon in the Upper Huallaga Valley, cocalero leader Iburcio Morales follows his own, radical path. "The situation is very complex," said Palomino. "We are very respectful of democracy and we can't dictate to other regions, but Iburcio walks alone because he doesn't listen to anything, and he talks to anybody -- the government, the Shining Path, you name it."

"The cocalero movement is isolated, subordinated to the general policies of the Peruvian government, uncoordinated, selfish, and unable to build a collective agenda to tackle the real problems of poverty, the environment, cultural issues, and the international political situation, particularly with the US," said lawyer, human rights activist, and drug and defense specialist Ricardo Soberon in a withering critique. Soberon also saw the electoral victories of Obregon and Malpartida as coming at a cost to the organizing process that had previously relied on their hands-on leadership.

"The movement lost good leaders when Nancy Obregon and Elsa Malpartida [both former CONCPACCP leaders] were elected to the Peruvian congress and the Andean Parliament, respectively. The Peruvian government is smart enough to know about the movement's inability to work together, and it plays them against one another. The government invites one leader, but not the other; it gives money to some, but not the others, and the cocalero leaders are so busy sniping at each other that they can't see the forest for the trees. I blame all four of the national leaders for this situation," said Soberon, who had been an advisor to Obregon but quit in frustration.

While Palomino scoffed at such criticisms, he qualified the democratic cocalero movement as "gestating." A "premature birth" would be a disaster, he said. "If this doesn't work in a democratic manner, we will see a lot of blood," he warned. "We are trying to prepare the ground; we want to do this right, we want to save the life of the coca plant and we want to save ourselves. We are not going to die of hunger," he vowed.

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coca waiting by the side of the road to go to market, Ayacucho province, last month
Obregon also downplayed the criticism. "I am not a traditional politician; I am a peasant and a cocalero leader," she said Wednesday. "I don't have enemies within the movement, but there are comrades who have their own work and their own leadership. We have had failed leadership in the past, but we have to continue to strengthen ourselves and overcome those failures of leadership. It is difficult work, but we are making progress," she added, pointing to the election to office of herself and Elsa Malpartida.

While Obregon acknowledged back-biting and intramural sniping within the movement, she attributed it largely to human frailty. "There is envy and egocentrism, like there is everywhere," Obregon said. "We are also under attack by the yellow press, which misrepresents our actions. And, as women leaders, I think Elsa and I face a certain machismo. Yes, there are different national leaders, and some are more favored by the peasants than others, but there is no controversy within the movement," she maintained.

Although the Peruvian and US governments are quick to draw connections between coca growers and the lingering guerrillas of the Shining Path, Palomino was careful to deny any link between coca growers and the guerrillas, who gestated in Ayacucho in the 1960s and 1970s, then launched an attempted revolution that killed nearly 80,000 Peruvians in the 1980s before running out of steam. On the highway between Ayacucho and the VRAE, the ruins of villages burnt by the Shining Path are visible reminders of their brief and bloody reign. But the Shining Path still has a presence in the VRAE, where in recent months it has attacked and killed police and drug eradication workers.

[Editor's Note: At least, that's the official version. Cocalero leaders in the town where five policemen and two civilian eradication workers were killed earlier this year denied it was a Shining Path action. Instead, they said, the police had been accosting and robbing coca growers, and local residents took matters into their own hands.]

"CONCPACCP is against subversion, either on the part of the government or the clandestine forces," Palomino said. "We are a peaceful and democratic movement, and we would like to see an efficient policy toward the narco-traffic and toward subversion, but your drug war is not working. Your intelligence agencies are working without intelligence, and the police are likely to detain us as terrorists, but we cocaleros are not responsible for that."

For Palomino, a correct coca policy is one that does not attack coca, but one which concentrates on the drug traffic and on going after consumers in the First World. "A sincere policy would attack the chemicals used to make cocaine, and there is no drastic policy against the consumers," he maintained. [Editor's Note: At this point, your reporter had to interrupt to point out that in the US alone, more than 500,000 people are imprisoned in the drug war.] "The US doesn't go after the big chemical factories," Palomino continued. "The corruption and the drug trade is managed by the United States, the men in suits and ties, while they go after us, the humble peasants."

Eradication is definitely the wrong policy, Palomino said. "The Peruvian government is following the lead of the North Americans, but this policy is killing us. This is why we become a pole of resistance. We aren't a colony of the US, we aren't crazy, we chew coca all the time, and we are neither terrorists nor narco-traffickers, we are just trying to survive. We cannot permit forced eradication of our crops."

"The current policy is a disaster," agreed psychologist and coca expert Baldomero Caceres from his apartment in the upscale Lima suburb of Miraflores. "Nothing has changed under Garcia. Public opinion has begun to shift in the sense that the coca leaf is now beginning to be seen as a valuable natural resource, but the government hasn't acted on its own conclusions because it doesn't want to irritate the North American government. We are going to need a miracle, because the political establishment doesn't want to talk about this."

Soberon was largely in agreement on what needs to be done on coca policy in Peru. "First, we have to put a stop to the current things being done by the Peruvian state -- eradication, interdiction, militarization," he said. "The government goes along seizing ten or a dozen metric tons of cocaine a year and arresting 10,000 or 12,000 people, but most of them are just consumers who have to be released, and this is very inefficient. We need to have an assessment of what the current policies have achieved," he argued.

"Second, we need to leave the cocaleros alone. I would use the resources on the coast to get the cocaine leaving the country," he suggested. "We also need more transparency in alternative development. The peasants have been completely mistrustful of Lima for decades, and we have to show we trust the peasants. Finally, we have to fundamentally revise our relations with the US. What are our Peruvian priorities?"

Palomino and CONCPACCP look with hope toward the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in Vienna next year. "We are fortifying our cause for Vienna in 2008. We will work together against the drugs, but when they talk of coca, we demand that they legalize it and decriminalize it as an indigenous plant -- not a drug -- and promote it for industrial and nutritional use."

As for removing coca from the UN treaties' list of proscribed substances, Caceres was not hopeful. "I continue to be pessimistic about the prospects for change at that level," he said. "The Peruvian government isn't doing what needs to be done to present a case for change to the UN, and I don't think Bolivia can go it alone. That is the only useful route to affecting change, but I don't think it is time yet."

For Caceres, legalizing the coca plant would be only an interim step toward doing away with the global drug prohibition regime. "I believe that ultimately we need to work toward the legalization of both the plants and the pharmaceuticals derived from them," he said. "As with coca, so with marijuana and the opium poppy. But there is no reason to have hope that will happen in the foreseeable future," he lamented.

Soberon also had a sobering view of the prospects for change at the UN. "I think 2008 will only bring more of the same," he said. "Now that I have some idea how that bureaucracy works, I don't think things will move on that level. They may throw us a few bones, but at the end of the day, the drug issue is a political tool for the US to intervene in foreign countries. And while Morales in Bolivia may push things, Bogota will always do what the US wants, and so will Lima."

Peru's cocalero movement is strong and vibrant, but also divided and isolated. Beset by internecine rivalries and a difficult international conjuncture, it has so far been unable to fend off the worst of the repressive policies directed from Washington and Lima. While leaders like Nelson Palomino would like to achieve the stature of Bolivia's Evo Morales, none has yet managed to do so. Yet, the cocalero movement is by no means going away. The stakes are too high; for cocaleros it is not just a plant or a crop that is at stake, but their very culture and way of life.

When asked what he would say to the American government and people, Palomino extended a hand of friendship. "I would send a fraternal and democratic salute from the cocaleros. We are not your enemies, but your friends and brothers. But you need to change your international policies. We need alternatives that reduce poverty, not increase it, and we want to live in peace. We also transmit to your land the hope that our culture does not disappear. The very thought makes our blood run cold."

Afghan opium crop set to grow in 2007: UN

Location: 
KAB
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Gulf Times Newspaper (Qatar)
URL: 
http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=136458&version=1&template_id=41&parent_id=23

CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen on Afghan Opium Conundrum

Last week I promised to post comments by Peter Bergen (CNN terrorism analyst) responding to a question I asked of him last week about the Afghan opium conundrum. Following is a transcript, prepared with great labor by DRCNet's Tom Klun. (Tom was working from online video of the forum, which took place at the New America Foundation. The forum was devoted to the presenters' findings in a new report on the relationship of the Iraq War to jihadist terrorism -- an issue on which DRCNet as a drug policy organization has no position.)

David Borden, Drug War Chronicle: A number of scholars and NGOs have pointed out that both the opium economy and campaigns against opium growing in Afghanistan are helping the Taliban -- the former through funding, the latter by alienating people from the government and driving farmers to them. Our editor met some of these farmers about a year and a half ago. My question is, how do you see both the opium economy and opium eradication playing into the situation with Al Qaeda; and short of outright legalization (which might not happen in 2007 [editor's note: understatement]), how do you feel the opium issue ought to be handled?
 
Peter Bergen: Well, eradication doesn't work, I mean, there's a vast amount of academic literature showing that it just pushes the growers into the arms of the insurgents, and it is very unpopular in Afghanistan. In fact, Karzai has basically rejected US efforts to get ground spraying, he's pushed that back to 2008. He's saying we're going to just do eradication by hand or by tractor. One of the reasons the US military didn't really get involved in the whole drug issue is that they had bigger fish to fry, which is going after Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I mean, clearly the Taliban is benefitting from this, as are people in the south.
 
Afghanistan is by the way the 5th poorest country in the world. It would be like saying we're basically going to take away the only way you can make a living, by eradicating your fields. So we have to come up with something a little more creative than just saying we're going to eradicate. That would be bad for counterinsurgency policy, and I don't think it will work. So what are the two options? One is, if you're going to do crop substitution you have to subsidize the crops that are being substituted. You can't get people to grow cotton unless they can make roughly what they would be making growing poppy. Now we do this all the time with our farmers, the EU does it all the time with its farmers, paying people to grow things or not to grow things. We're spending $750 million dollars a year on drug eradications in Afghanistan, the farmers are making $750 million dollars, so we've got a fair amount of money to play with, roughly the same amount of money they are benefiting. We can use that for, you know, to prop up the price, give them money to grow crops like cotton, nuts and fruits.
 
And also we should consider that the legalized opiate trade is dominated by Turkey and India, which basically have a lock. Eight percent of the world has almost no morphine, so there's this huge pain crisis in the developing world. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, where we have a huge national security interest. Why not amend the law that is now in place, where Turkey and India are basically mandated to get 80% of the legal opiate trade from US manufacturers? Why not have a pilot project in a province in Afghanistan where there is reasonable security and just see if this idea -- you don't have to do the legalized opiate trade for the whole country, just see in one province if this would work and subsidize farmers so that they can grow poppy for the legalized opiate trade. That's an idea, but either way we're going to have to do crop substitution with subsidies. Nothing else is going to work, we can't just eradicate.
 

Bergen was presumably referring to a proposal floated by the Senlis Council, a European drug policy and development think tank. (It was the 2005 Senlis conference in Kabul that took Phil to the troubled fourth world country.) It's good to see such a high-profile US-based expert raising the possibility.

I actually encountered skepticism about the idea from some of my European colleagues (as well as support for it) when I traveled to Brussels last fall for a conference at the European Parliament. One of them, while expressing admiration for the beautiful execution of the campaign by the Senlis people, pointed out that as long as opiates are illegal for non-medical use, someone is going to supply them, which potentially means that Afghanistan could just have more opium growing in total, the licensed market and the black market -- Ahmed might switch to growing for the licit supply, but that doesn't mean his brother or uncle will. I largely agree with that point.

The other argument is one to which I am instinctively less sympathetic, but which came from someone I respect and for which I don't have sufficient information to evaluate. This other colleague said that the poor countries where the new supply of opiate pain relievers would go to, countries in Africa and so forth, don't have the infrastructure to control them -- they would be a target for organized crime, the drugs might not even get to the patients, and there would be a new organized crime problem of a type that those countries don't have now.

After thinking about this for awhile, I came to the tentative conclusion that we should at least be calling for a pilot project. (It was gratifying to see Peter Bergen say the same thing.) This is why: It's true that new growers of black market opium for the non-medical market should be expected to take the place of any growers who switch to the licensed medical market, or the same growers will just grow more -- supply fills demand, and neither eradication nor substitution nor licensing for a market that's already legal will reduce it. But that doesn't mean all the new growing will be in Afghanistan. Some of it might crop up elsewhere, and there are less destructive places for it to happen than in that unstable country that harbors people who want to kill us. And why shouldn't Afghan farmers have the right to participate in the legal economy? They certainly need the work as much as anyone does. Lastly, patients in severe, chronic pain deserve medication, even if there is a risk of diversion of the supply causing crime, even if in fact it's an inevitability. Let the pilot growing project in Afghanistan be accompanied by pilot opiate pain management projects in the destination countries, with the security issues on both ends getting thought through at the same time.

Time for a drug policy reform/global security campaign?

Location: 
Afghanistan

Collision Course: Bolivia's "Coca, Si; Cocaine, No" Policy Runs Afoul of the International Drug Control Board and, Probably, the United States

A confrontation is brewing over Bolivian President Evo Morales' effort to rationalize coca production in his country and expand markets for coca-based products. After decades of fruitless efforts to wipe out the coca crop in Bolivia -- the "zero coca" policy embraced by the United States and shoved down the throat of successive Bolivian governments -- Morales, a former coca growers' union leader, has crafted policies that allow for the increased cultivation of coca from the 30,000 acres allowed under current Bolivian law to 50,000 acres. Now, the Morales government is also pushing for expanded legal markets for coca products and, in a joint venture with the Venezuelan government, is preparing to begin coca product exports to that country.

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Drying the leaves in the warehouse. The sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08''
That does not sit well with either the United States or the international anti-drug bureaucracy based in the United Nations. This week, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) took direct aim at Bolivia in its 2006 annual report (go to Special Topics, beginning with paragraph 171). In the report, INCB accuses Bolivia of violating the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics, which defines the coca plant as an illicit drug.

"The situation in Bolivia, which for many years has not been in conformity with that State's obligations under the international drug control treaties, continues to be a matter of particular concern to the Board," the report reads. "Bolivia is a major producer of coca leaf, and national legislation allows the cultivation of coca bush and the consumption of coca leaf for non-medical purposes, which are not in line with the provisions of the 1961 Convention."

The INCB was particularly concerned that Bolivia "has indicated its intention to review existing national drug control legislation, with a view to using coca leaf for a wide range of products, some of which might be exported." That, too, would not be in line with the INCB's interpretation of the Convention.

The language of the INCB report is a clear shot over the bow aimed at the Morales government's expressed policy of "coca, si; cocaine, no" and its efforts to expand the use of the coca leaf for medicinal and nutritional products. Worse yet, in INCB's view, Bolivia could set a bad example for other coca producing countries: "The Board is also concerned that policy developments in Bolivia could have repercussions in other countries in South America," the report fretted.

The United States has also expressed concern about Bolivian coca policy under Morales, as well as concerns about Morales' ties with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, whose government earlier this month finalized an agreement with Bolivia to finance the construction of coca processing plants in Bolivia and to import Bolivian coca products to Venezuela. So far this year, the US government has limited its expressions of concern to worries about the "anti-democratic" natures of the two left-leaning South American leaders, but the State Department's annual review of other countries' compliance with US anti-drug policies is due later this month. A key question is whether Morales' policies will lead the US to "decertify" Bolivia as being in compliance with those objectives.

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coca grower union member and former leader Vitalia Merida with her daughter in their coca field -- hidden several miles from the road via arduous hike, a legacy of eradication days
The Bolivian government didn't help matters last week when its foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, told a gathering of the Organization of American States that Bolivia would never eradicate coca and that it was more interested in "consensus" than "democracy." "The struggle of the indigenous peoples goes beyond democracy," said Choquehuanca. "In the word democracy, there exists the word submission, and to submit to one's neighbor is not to live well. For this reason, we wish to resolve our problems through consensus."

Clearly, there is no international consensus right now on coca, and if the Bolivian officials and analysts Drug War Chronicle spoke with this week are right, neither is there any indication the Bolivian government is about to bow to drug warriors in Washington and Vienna.

Industrialization of coca processing and expanding legal markets are the correct course of action, said Bolivian Deputy (congressman) Asterio Romero Wednesday. A member of Morales' Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, Romero strongly supports the "coca, si; cocaine, no" policy. "First, I want to say that I am from the Chapare, I was a coca grower leader. It was always 'coca zero,' but there will never be zero coca," he told the Chronicle. "We fought for many years, we suffered many dead and imprisoned because coca is a source of economic subsistence for us. We will never allow other governments to impose 'coca zero' on us. We are a sovereign nation; it is a matter of Bolivian dignity," he said.

"While, yes, we fight against the drug traffic -- and we are doing quite well; seizures of cocaine and precursor chemicals are up -- we also have to decriminalize coca growing, and industrialization is the way," Romero argued. "We have to revalorize the coca, we have to find more markets for coca. There are friendly countries that help us, like Venezuela, and we thank them for that."

"With its opposition to the coca leaf, the INCB merely foments the drug traffic," said Silvia Rivera, founder of the Bolivian group Coca y Soberania (Coca and Sovereignty), professor emeritus of sociology at the University of La Paz, and advisor to Romero. "Every leaf that goes to good, healthy uses is a leaf that doesn't go to the traffickers," she told the Chronicle. "That's the best way to fight against the drug traffickers. Those bureaucrats at the UN simply do not understand; they think coca is a drug."

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The Coca Museum, downtown La Paz
"It is the same thing with the government of the United States," said Rivera. "The Americans cannot recognize the rationality of other ways of life, and its approach is truly schizophrenic. It fears the drug trade, yet creates the conditions for it to flourish by trying to block other uses for the coca plant. The US tries to argue that Evo is in favor of the cocaine dealers, but it is the US policy that aids them. Also, the US has backed the narco-dictators in the past because they were radical fascists. That's who the US supports and gives arms to so they can kill the people."

In fact, rather than retreating in the face of criticism from the INCB and the US, the Morales government appears determined to push the envelope with its agreement to supply coca products to Venezuela. Bolivia is also making noises about going to the root of the problem by mounting an effort to amend the Single Convention to remove coca from its list of illicit drugs.

"This is a way for Chavez to push the limits and see what the boundaries are," said Kathryn Ledebur of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network, which has monitored the Bolivian coca economy and efforts to repress it for years. "Who is going to stop him? There are already substantial coca leaf exports to northern Argentina, and nobody says anything about that. Still, if this helps sharpen the focus on changing the Single Convention, that's a good thing -- it needs to be amended."

Ledebur doubted that the Morales government would make a concerted effort to amend the Single Convention in Vienna next year. "Let's just say that his domestic coca policy is more advanced than his international one," she said. "I see little chance of anything getting done unless there is some sort of concerted lobbying effort with Peru, and I don't see Peruvian President Garcia as someone who is willing to actively buck the US."

Such a move would require a concerted effort by coca producing countries, said Romero, and he didn't see that happening just yet. "It is the job of the Bolivian government to change the Vienna Convention," he said, "but it is also the job of Colombia and Peru to join us at the UN. While we here in Bolivia have with Evo a government with popular support to push this, in Peru and Colombia, the governments are neo-liberal and pro-imperialist and they will not join us. But we are anti-neoliberal and we are going to maintain this position. Still, we are willing to talk government to government and man to man about this."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/santos5.jpg
La Paz street vendor Santos, enjoying an afternoon coca chew
But for Romero and the Bolivian government, standing up for coca is a matter of national pride. "We are a sovereign government, and we will move forward with our policies," he said. "Coca is not dangerous, coca is not poison. We will work bilaterally with countries that support our position. And countries that now try to impede us, like the US, well, perhaps we can send them some coca, too."

With Bolivia already facing off against the INCB, the next measure of the Morales government's coca policies will be the US certification decision, which should come by the middle of March. But given the current conjuncture in hemispheric affairs, with a rising tide of left-leaning governments and the US, obsessed as it is with affairs in the Middle East, losing influence in the region, the US may well step back from attempting to isolate and punish Bolivia via the certification process.

"The US still cannot step out of its anti-drug framework of using the military and forced eradication," said Ledebur, "but there is no agreement within the Bush administration about what to about certification. If it decertifies Bolivia, it loses what little leverage it has left. Bolivia now has other sources of assistance, and not just Chavez; it no longer has to blindly obey US dictates. If the US chooses to decertify now, what does it do next year?" she asked.

This is getting very interesting. The Morales government's "coca, si; cocaine no" policy is anathema to both the US and the INCB, but there appears to be little either can do to stop it, and chances are the Bolivian challenge will eventually aim directly at the 1961 Single Convention, perhaps knocking the first hole in what is the legal backbone of the global drug prohibition regime. Stay tuned.

Chronicle on the Scene Feature: In the Bolivian Chapare, Evo Morales' "Coca, Si; Cocaine No" Policy Brings Peace, If Not Prosperity

For more than two decades beginning in the early 1980s, various Bolivian governments working at the behest of the United States government embarked on a policy of forced eradication of coca crops in Bolivia's Chapare, a lowland region in the state of Cochabamba. It was a time of strife and conflict, human rights violations and peasant mobilizations as tens of thousands of families dependent on the coca crop fought with police and soldiers, blocked highways, and, eventually, coalesced into a powerful political force that helped topple governments. Now, with a Chapare coca growers' union leader, Evo Morales, sitting in the presidential residence in La Paz, times have changed and the days of a US-imposed "zero coca" policy are history.

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coca leaves drying by side of highway
Under US-imposed legislation adopted in 1988, Law 1008, only peasants in the traditional coca growing region of the Yungas were allowed to grow coca, and total coca production was limited to 30,000 acres. But that did not stop peasants from growing coca in the Chapare, where, in the early 1980s, production had boomed during the "cocaine coup" years of Gen. Luis Garcia Mesa. The development of coca production in this non-traditional, non-allowed area was the most significant target of US-backed forced eradication efforts throughout the 1990s and the beginning of this decade.

As a result, human rights violations by US-trained and -financed anti-drug forces were rampant. "During this period, I would receive an average of 10 complaints a day from coca growers," said former Chapare human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo") Godofredo Reinecke. "Murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, all of that, committed by soldiers and police against the growers," he told Drug War Chronicle this week.

Now, things are different. While soldiers remain in the area, a special police force assigned to the area to prevent road blockades and other upheaval has been removed at the behest of the US -- because there was nothing for it to do. The peasant uprisings have ended, the blocking of highways is history, and human rights violations by the security forces have dropped precipitously. There is peace in the Chapare, and that is because of the abandonment of the "zero coca" policy.

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Bolivian congressman Asterio Romero spoke with Drug War Chronicle this week.
The change actually began in 2004, before Morales was elected president, when then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada signed an accord with coca growers (or cocaleros) aligned with the Six Federations of the Coca Growers of the Tropics of Cochabamba allowing each family to grow one cato (1,600 square meters -- about the size of one third of a football field) of coca.

But as part of a broader policy of "coca, si; cocaine, no" adopted by Morales since he took office just over a year ago, the Bolivian government has in effect turned its back on the 30,000-acre legal production limit, now formally allowing an additional 20,000 acres in the Chapare to be cultivated with coca. But while such measures have brought peace to the region, it remains mired in poverty and desperation, as Drug War Chronicle saw during a visit there this week.

On a small plot of land near Villa Tunari in the Chapare, peasant farmer Vitalia Merida grows coca, along with oranges and bananas, in an effort to feed and clothe her seven children. Times are tough, she said. "My kids don't want to go to school for economic reasons," she told the Chronicle. "They want to go and make money." Her oranges and bananas bring only a pittance, she said, while her cato of coca allows her to pocket about $75 month, gaining her about $900 a year -- close to the average income in Bolivia, one of South America's poorest countries.

Despite the constant struggle to earn an income, said Merida, a former Six Federations leader (and still a member), life is better than in the days of forced eradication. "We are still poor, but we are free now," she said. "It is peaceful now. Before, we waited for the soldiers to come like bandits. They killed us, they took us prisoners."

As Merida spoke, the silence of the remote selva was broken by the roar of a helicopter. "No, they are not looking for coca fields," said Reinecke in response to a question. "They are bringing food and supplies to the soldiers and anti-drug police in the region." According to Reinecke, the US-financed resupply effort costs $12,000 a day, a veritable fortune in an area where fruit sells for next to nothing and coca for not much more.

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US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and Chapare, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors
While funding for sustainable development is lacking, the US continues to fund the military presence in the region. At a military base in nearby Chimbote, built with US funds, where once a thousand troops were stationed, the base is nearly deserted, but the interim commander, Col. Edwin de la Fuente Jeria, sits in air-conditioned comfort in his office.

The colonel was as cool as his surroundings. "We have nothing to do with the coca anymore," he allowed, before going on to say that he could say nothing without prior approval from his superiors. According to Reinecke, that was right -- the base now serves primarily as a training ground for local recruits doing their mandatory service.

While campesinos like Vitalia Merida are struggling, the Morales government is attempting to ease their plight. Part of that effort revolves around helping them get their crop to market. In a coca warehouse just outside nearby Shinahota, cocaleros are drying and weighing the crop in preparation for transport to legal markets in Bolivian cities.

"This is our local crop," said Six Federations member Felix Cuba at the warehouse. "Under this new program, we are able to sell direct to the cities without middlemen. This means a little more money for us," he told the Chronicle. "And it keeps the coca out of the hands of the narcos."

While there is constant pressure to earn more money to feed their families, growers are abiding by the growing limit, he said. "We are maintaining the one-cato rule," he said. "It is out of respect for the policy. Evo said we can grow one cato, so to defend the policy, it is only one cato we grow. The federation runs this and we do it through social control."

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sign announcing construction of coca leaf industrialization plant financed by Venezuela
"Bananas, oranges, papaya, potatoes -- they all rot, and they don't bring much money," said Six Federations leader Juana Cosio as she watched the work at the warehouse. "This year, with all the rains, it is really bad. We grow coca as a back-up," she told the Chronicle. "But we need more markets. That is why we are trying to produce coca flour and other products. We are not narcos, we are just farmers. The government of Evo recognizes that, so now we are at peace here," she said.

Cosio pointed to the assistance provided by the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez, which is providing financing for coca industrialization plants in both the Chapare and the Yungas. "Venezuela is helping us to process and sell our crop," she said.

Under an agreement finalized earlier this month, Venezuela is not only financing the construction of processing plants, but has pledged to buy up to 4,000 tons of coca products, a major breakthrough for a crop whose export is banned under the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Under that treaty, the coca plant is considered an illegal drug allowable only as a flavoring agent (with the cocaine alkaloid extracted) or for pharmaceutical use, with chewing of coca leaves to be phased out by 1986.

That isn't stopping Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba, which is providing technical assistance, from moving ahead with a People's Trade Treaty signed a few months ago. That treaty allocates about $1 million in investment on coca production research. While the US and international narcotics control bodies have raised objections, Venezuela and Bolivia are standing firm. As Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro noted as he stood with his Bolivian counterpart, David Choquehuanca, earlier this month, the two nations will move ahead will projects to "value and dignify the coca leaf."

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Six Federations coca growers' union member (and former leader) Vitalia Merida in her backyard -- no narco palaces here, as the cocaleros like to point out.
Industrialization of coca processing and expanding legal markets are the correct course of action, said Bolivian Deputy (congressman) Asterio Romero Wednesday. A member of Morales' Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, Romero strongly supports the "coca, si; cocaine, no" policy. "First, I want to say that I am from the Chapare, I was a coca grower leader. It was always "coca zero," but there will never be zero coca," he told the Chronicle. "We fought for many years, we suffered many dead and imprisoned because coca is a source of economic subsistence for us. We will never allow other governments to impose "coca zero" on us. We are a sovereign nation; it is a matter of Bolivian dignity," he said.

"While, yes, we fight against the drug traffic -- and we are doing quite well; seizures of cocaine and precursor chemicals are up -- we also have to decriminalize coca growing, and industrialization is the way," Romero argued. "We have to revalorize the coca, we have to find more markets for coca. There are friendly countries that help us, like Venezuela, and we thank them for that."

Coca production has now been "rationalized" in the Chapare, as the Bolivians like to say, and the repression and state-sponsored violence are a thing of the past, but great strides remain to be taken before the lives of cocaleros there will see real economic improvement. The Morales government, in conjunction with its Latin American allies, is doing what it can to help on that score. But, as the accompanying feature article in this week's Chronicle indicates, it is going to have a battle with the United States and the international drug control bureaucracy on its hands.

Chronicle on the Scene Feature: Bolivia's "Coca, Yes, Cocaine No" Policy is Beginning to Work

On the long, arduous highway connecting Puno, the last major city in the Peruvian south, with the Bolivian capital of La Paz, travelers approaching Bolivia cross the border on the shores of Lake Titicaca near the small Bolivian town of Copacabana. There, the entrance to Bolivia is marked with a large billboard proclaiming Bolivia's intention to fight the traffic in cocaine and the precursor chemicals needed to transform coca into the popular stimulant drug. The billboard is a stark visual reminder that while Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, has embarked on a policy of defending coca, his government has every intention of cracking down on the cocaine business.

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Bolivian government border billboard about anti-cocaine enforcement
Since his election in December 2005, Morales has broken with two decades of US "zero coca" policy in the country and appears to be having some success in establishing limits on coca production without, for the most part, setting off violent social conflict. He has also, as the billboard suggests, moved aggressively against the cocaine traffic. The question now, with the US State Department's annual certification of drug-producing countries' compliance with US drug policy objectives looming next month, is whether the Bush administration is willing to let Morales and the country's coca growers take the time necessary to arrive at reductions in overall coca production without engendering further social conflict.

The third largest producer of coca, from which cocaine is derived, Bolivia has for decades hewed to a policy of coca eradication directed from Washington, but it has paid a high price. In this decade, five presidents were driven from office in five years, at least in part because of simmering resentment over Bolivian obeisance to the US's "zero coca" policy. Prior to the election of Morales, eradication campaigns were accompanied by violent clashes, peasant rebellions, military and police violations of human rights, and numerous fatalities as successive governments sought to impose the will of the US on the country's impoverished coca growers.

"This has been a long-term negative approach," said Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, (AIN) whose analyses of Bolivian coca politics inform much of this article. "The US needs to move away from just measuring the size of the coca crop or how much is eradicated and look at how this will play out in the next few years," she told Drug War Chronicle.

As a former coca grower union leader in the Chapare, Morales has the credibility with coca growers to enforce what is known as "cooperative eradication," as opposed to the forced eradication in pursuit of US policy aims that has engendered conflict and political instability in one of Latin America's poorest countries (average annual income under $1,000). While cooperative eradication began in the Chapare before Morales' election, it has gathered steam during his presidency, and in the last two years, Bolivia has seen the smallest increase in coca production of any of the Andean region's three big producers.

The other two major producers are Colombia and Peru. According to US estimates, coca production in Peru increased from 68,000 acres in 2004 to 95,000 acres in 2005, a 38% increase, while Colombian production increased from 285,000 acres to 360,000 acres, a 26% increase, despite widespread aerial fumigation of coca crops there. In Bolivia, on the other hand, the US estimated that production increased from 61,000 acres to 65,000 acres, an increase of only 8%. (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, on the other hand, estimated an 8% decrease in Bolivian coca production during the same period, but both estimates are very close in terms of the actual size of the 2005 Bolivian crop.)

Overall, when looking at the regional coca production figures for the last five years, despite a US policy of aggressively seeking to eradicate coca, total coca production has increased in a step-wise fashion, rising from 125,000 acres overall in 2000 to nearly 500,000 thousand acres in 2005. This steady climb in overall coca production raises the question of whether any prohibition-based policy aimed at reducing production will achieve success as long as the global demand for cocaine continues to be high. Still, the Morales government is making what appears to be a good faith effort to both slow the rate of increase and appease the Americans.

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Christo Deneumostier, owner of The Coca Shop, Cusco, Peru
In Bolivia, there are two major coca production areas, the Yungas of La Paz province and the Chapare in the eastern Amazon lowlands. Prior to the October 2004 agreement with Chapare growers, only growers in the Yungas, the traditional home of Bolivian coca production, could legally grow coca, and they were limited to 30,000 acres. But the 2004 agreement, which has been accelerated by the Morales government, ignored the 30,000-acre rule, instead allowing all growers in the program to harvest one cato (about 1,600 square meters, or about one-third the size of a football field) of coca, in return for which farmers agreed to accept eradication in two national parks and to cooperatively eradicate any coca beyond the one-cato limit. By growing a cato of coca, farmers are able to generate an annual income of between $900 and $1,300 a year.

That plan was to stay in place until the completion of a study to see how much coca is needed for legal markets, but that study has yet to be completed, and the agreement remains in effect. The majority of the reduction in coca production reported by the UN is now in the Chapare, and the violent conflict that plagued previous forced eradication efforts is now a thing of the past.

Despite the successful effort in the Chapare, US officials have continued to criticize the Morales government's coca policies. Last summer, US drug czar John Walters told reporters that Bolivia's "current level of [anti-drug] cooperation is not what it has been in the past, nor what it needs to be to continue reducing the problem." And just days earlier, a high-level USAID official, Adolfo Franco, testified before Congress that: "In Bolivia, Evo Morales and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party have continued to waver on economic policy, democracy and counternarcotics…"

The US has also been critical of an agreement between Morales and coca growers to de facto raise the legal limit from 30,000 acres to 50,000. US officials have criticized the agreement as allowing an increase in coca production. But as AIN's Ledebur told the Chronicle, "The idea that the increase in allowed production will lead to a real increase in production is mistaken. The increase merely accounts for coca that is actually being produced."

But the US Embassy in Bolivia has taken a slightly friendlier approach, one that recognizes the success in the Chapare. Last May, the month before Walters and Franco criticized Bolivia's coca policies, the embassy asked Bolivia to withdraw a US-funded police force from the Chapare, where it had been responsible for protecting eradicators and preventing the road blockades that had plagued the region in the past. The embassy has also publicly praised Morales' appointment of former Chapare coca grower Felipe Caceres as Bolivia's "drug czar" as an "excellent choice."

While the Morales government has adopted cooperative eradication in the Chapare and pro-coca policies that seek to increase legal markets for coca and recognize its positive attributes as part of Bolivian culture and as a food and medicine, it has also continued to work with US authorities in cocaine interdiction efforts and reported record levels of cocaine seizures last year.

Ironically, with the Chapare now essentially pacified, it is the Yungas region, home of the permitted legal cultivation, where problems are now arising. Coca production has expanded above the 30,000 acres allowed, and Bolivian government efforts to restrain the size of the crop have led to clashes between growers and the armed forces. Last May, the Morales government signed an agreement allowing growers in a part of the Yungas where production has been illegal to grow one cato per family, and negotiations are underway with growers in other parts of the Yungas.

But that agreement also called for a government task force to continue eradication efforts, and the first violent conflict with coca growers in two years occurred there in September, when two cocaleros were shot dead by members of a joint military-police eradication team during a conflict over eradication. The conflict had been simmering ever since last February when the task force entered the Vandiola Yungas after an agreement to eliminate coca in a national park there. But further negotiations about coca growing outside the park faltered, and in September the task force set up camps in the region. While local farmers allowed eradication to go inside the park, on September 29, they tried to block eradicators from entering what they considered a legitimate coca growing area, with the result that two farmers were killed.

Things have since cooled down somewhat in the Vandiola Yungas after an agreement allowing 650 families to grow 400 catos of coca, but tensions remain. Meanwhile, in the primary Yungas growing regions, there is increasing tension over efforts to curb cultivation there, which well exceeds the legal limit.

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much more to life in Bolivia than coca -- fiesta in the Altiplano
As Bolivian coca growers await the study that will determine the size of the legitimate market in coca, they are looking not only to their own government, which is seeking to expand markets and has contracted with the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez both to build a processing plant in the Yungas and to ship coca to Venezuela, but also to entrepreneurs like Peruvian Christo Deneumostier, owner of the Coca Shop, in Cusco, Peru, who sells everything from coca cookies and pastries to coca ice cream. He told the Chronicle this week he wanted to become the Starbucks of coca by opening a series of Coca Shop franchises across Peru -- and beyond. "We transform coca into legal products," he said. "We need to start marketing coca to expand the legal market. The problem is not the plant, but the demand for cocaine. If we can expand legal markets with our products, we won't have to see those plants turned into cocaine."

But the marketing of coca for legitimate medicinal and alimentary uses is still in its infancy, and Starbucks-like coca shops are still a glimmer in the eye of excited entrepreneurs. Still, the Morales government has substantially managed to put a lid on civil conflict around coca, has worked with the US government in interdiction efforts, and is undertaking real eradication campaigns. In that sense, Bolivian coca policy is working in a way it never has before. Will the US government recognize this, or will it continue to criticize Morales for allowing increases in production in some regions? Look for an answer to that question next month, when the annual certification report comes out.

In the meantime, Drug War Chronicle will be visiting the Chapare and, probably, the Yungas next week, as well as seeking a deeper understanding of the issues from analysts, growers, and Bolivian and US government officials. Stay tuned.

(Phil will be publishing several more from-the-scene reports over the coming weeks, during and after his stay. Read last week's report from Peru here and Phil's ongoing blog reports from the region here.)

Bringing Home The Troops

As blowhards like Lou Dobbs call for escalation in the war on drugs, even the White House is singing a different tune. From The Washington Times:
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia -- President Bush's new budget calls for deep cuts in the leading U.S. program to fight drug trafficking in the Andean region, amid growing clashes over drug policy between Washington and leftist governments in Venezuela and Bolivia.


"It would be the largest across-the-board reduction in aid since the war on drugs began," said one U.S. diplomatic official, who asked not to be named.
It's refreshing to see ordinarily smug drug warriors decline to be named. That's to be expected when their opposition comes from the White House rather than the drug policy reform movement.

There's nothing to debate here. The Andean Counterdrug Initiative has failed utterly and everyone knows it. It has caused great devastation, but the one thing it has not done is reduce the availability of drugs in the U.S.

Meanwhile, The Miami Herald reports that Ecuador is evicting U.S. anti-drug forces from our only military stronghold in South America.
They are responsible for about 60 percent of drug interdiction in the eastern Pacific.

That matters little to newly inaugurated President Rafael Correa, whose rejection of a U.S. military presence in Ecuador reflects widespread resentment over Washington's foreign policy in a region where the Bush administration now has few reliable allies.

''We've said clearly that in 2009 the agreement will not be renewed because we believe that sovereignty consists of not having foreign soldiers on our home soil,'' Correa said.
This is the kind of humiliating defeat that makes drug war addicts like Joe Biden call for biological warfare in South America. It's a reminder that the drug war won’t end with a public apology, but rather a quiet-as-possible reallocation of funds.

When the war finally ends, it will be at the hands of Congress and the Executive branch. It won’t be at the hands of the "deep-pocketed pro-drug lobby," for there truly is no such thing. We're just a group of people who recognize, as even the White House sometimes does, that there are always better things to do with a billion dollars than trying to stop people from getting high.

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