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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

Feature: Trouble Hits in Peru This Week Over Coca Eradication

The Peruvian government's campaign to eradicate coca crops in the Upper Huallaga River Valley hit a serious bump this week as coca grower leaders and other, supportive social movements in the city of Tocache first protested eradication, then clashed with police, then called a general strike that was still ongoing, according to the latest reports. The area is represented in the Peruvian congress by Nancy Obregon, one of the coca grower movement's most well-known national leaders.

[According to Obregon's office in Lima, she was on a five-day trip to Venezuela before returning to the country early this week and heading directly for Tocache and the nearby coca fields. Drug War Chronicle attempts to reach Obregon in Tocache have so far been unsuccessful. (Read our recent interview with Obregon and other movement leaders published in last week's Chronicle here.)]

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Coca leaves drying in warehouse, Ayacucho province -- sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08''
Protests against the US-backed eradication effort began late last week, as hundreds of protesting coca farmers blocked highways in the area to demand an end to the project, talks between the government and coca grower (or cocalero) unions, and meaningful alternative development proposals. On Sunday, the protests erupted in a violent confrontation between growers and police that, according to local radio stations, left at least 10 people injured, including local growers' spokesman Wilder Satalaya.

Monday, Satalaya told reporters on the scene growers would raise the protests to another level. "According to what I have seen on Channel 7, the government will continue with the eradication. The coca growers will also be radical. The political leaders don't know yet what we are capable of. We will take roads and highways, we will take offices. When we start burning cars, perhaps the government will finally begin listening to us," he stressed.

National coca grower leader Elsa Malpartida, who sits in the Andean Parliament, told reporters Monday that cocaleros were seeking a moratorium on eradication until growers and the government could reach an agreement. "We have proposed a temporary suspension of this eradication during this conflict and we are willing to seek a political solution on this matter," she said after meeting with Interior Minister Luis Alva Castro and representatives of the national anti-drug agency DEVIDA. "The debate is still ongoing, but I believe that there is good will on both sides for reaching a quick decision. We trust in that and we wait for an answer later tonight or tomorrow," Malpartida said.

Malpartida called for a program of nationwide registration of coca farmers, who would "like to have some form of legalization." Coca growers are not the enemy, she said. "The real enemies are the producers of chemical cocaine. We speak of a war against drugs. But in order to engage in a war, one has to visualize the enemy first. In this case they decided that the enemy is the coca grower. They have attacked him for 30 years and there have been no results. And the drug traffickers are very happy about that," she said.

But that same day, Peruvian President Alan Garcia fired back at protesting cocaleros, saying that violence and extremism would not be tolerated. "The government will be firm and proceed with its efforts in forcefully eradicating coca plants since coca farmers are not voluntarily eradicating their crops," Garcia said. "The law is what needs to prevail in this situation and the government will not take one step back. These are people who do not abide by rules and thereby put themselves under the suspicion of supplying the drug trade. They justify their actions in the name of poverty."

Even as Garcia threatened, however, other social movements and even the mayor of Tocache joined with cocaleros in what was supposed to be a 48-hour general strike, but which has now been extended. "We support our farming brothers and sisters. They have always protested by themselves, but now we pledge our support in their cause to have the federal government stop forceful coca plant eradication efforts," declared Tocache Mayor David Bazan.

According to Peruvian news media, the strike has been successful. Shops were shuttered in Tocache and transportation has ground to a halt in the city and surrounding areas. Police have repeatedly removed stones cocaleros placed on highways to block traffic, but the cocaleros keep returning with more. Some 150 additional police were being sent this week to Tocache from Ayacucho to try to restore order.

Although government ministers traveled to Tocache Tuesday in a bid to cool matters, it doesn't seemed to have worked. On Wednesday, local cocalero leaders Julio Santolaya and Maria Paredes told reporters no government officials had talked to them and they were set to increase road blocks until the government agrees to end eradication. The Tocache Defense Front, made up of the social movements who are striking in solidarity with the cocaleros, also confirmed that protests will continue and deepen.

The country's largest coca grower union, the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the Coca Valleys of Peru (CONCPACCP) has also joined the fray. In a manifesto made available to Drug War Chronicle, the organization headed by Nelson Palomino defended growers' protests and warned of more to come if the Peruvian government does not alter its policies.

"We strongly condemn the acts of eradication in Tocache, just as we oppose the forced eradication of coca in general. We have had and will continue to have a dialogue with the government," said the CONPACCP manifesto. "Nobody can accuse us of not being eager to talk. But the government of the day instead mounts smokescreens and designs strategies to surprise us and stab us in the back. What does the government say to our proposals? Nothing. Why? Because the repressive structure is given from the United States and the government, to avoid losing its profitable games, must obey them," the group said.

"We seek to prevent new clashes like those that took place in years past because of peasant opposition to the forced eradication of coca fields," the CONCPACCP manifesto continued. "But there will be confrontations because the eradication continues and the growers aren't going to sit still for it because the peasants are going to defend their sole sustenance as agricultural producers."

Bolivia tells Coca-Cola to get rid of the word ‘coca’

Location: 
Peru
Publication/Source: 
Journal Peru
URL: 
http://journalperu.com/?p=589

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

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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."

Scientists Explore Medical Benefits of Cocaine Plant

Location: 
La Paz
Bolivia
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.myfoxcolorado.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=2591695&version=2&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.2.1

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.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/leaves-drying-in-warehouse.jpg
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."

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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.

many pictures from the Chapare...

US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and Chapare, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors Site of major landslide produced by massive rainstorms. Buses and trucks by the dozens were backed up here. We had to leave the jeep on the near side, walk across the landslide, hire motorcyclists to carry us about a mile to where taxis were waiting, then hire a taxi for the afternoon in the Chapare. Click the "read full post" link or here for 20 more pictures chronicling Phil's visit to the Chapare coca-growing region. People carrying their stuff along a mile-long trail above the landslide to get to buses on the other side. We cheated. My guide, Godofredo Reinecke, the former human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo") in the Chapare, convinced soldiers I was a photojournalist, so we were able to walk along the washed out roadway; much shorter than the hike on the path, but very muddy. Godofredo in the lead more Godofredo Motorcyclists for hire for hikers trying to get to cabs and buses further down the road coca leaves drying by side of highway FELCN checkpoint, outside Villa Tunari US-funded army base outside Villa Tunari army base, inside looking out Six Federations coca growers' union member (and former leader) Vitalia Merida in her backyard. She says there is peace now in the Chapare, but no prosperity. Her kids don't want to go to school because they have no money; instead, they want to leave and work in the city. Vitalia's house -- no narco-palace, as the cocaleros like to point out Walking to the coca patch. It was several miles from Vitalia's house, down a half-mile trail off a dirt road. The patch was hidden in the jungle to avoid detection during eradication times. Forced eradication is over, but the cocal doesn't move. Vitalia in her cocal. She will earn about $75 a month off coca leaves. Vitalia's daughter Vitalia and her daughter in the cocal The town of Shinahota, the Wild West of the Bolivian cocaine business during the "Cocaine Coup" years of the 1980s. Then, you bought cocaine, guns, and luxury goods downstairs, while prostitutes waited above. It's much quieter (and poorer) now. The coca leaf warehouse outside Shinahota. Here, local farmers bring their crops to be carefully weighed and sent on to legal markets within Bolivia. The entire process is controlled by the local growers' union. Drying the leaves in the warehouse. The sign reads "Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08" sign announcing construction of coca leaf industrialization plant financed by Venezuela Plant under construction -- some of the coca product will go to Venezuela. View of La Paz from El Alto, a lower-class suburb which is itself one of the world's highest cities.
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