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Latin America: Coca Production Up Last Year, UN Reports

In an annual report released Wednesday, Coca Cultivation in the Andean Region, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found itself "surprised and shocked" to announce that the amount of land devoted to coca growing in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru had risen to more than 181,000 hectares, or more than 700 square miles. That is a 16% increase over 2006 figures and the highest level of cultivation since 2001.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/leaves-drying-in-warehouse.jpg
Bolivian coca leaves drying in warehouse -- the sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08''
Colombia, which remains the region's largest coca and cocaine producer despite a seven-year, $5 billion dollar US effort to wipe out the crop, had the most dramatic increase, jumping up 27%. Cultivation increased 5% in Bolivia, where a coca-friendly government is de facto allowing small increases, and 4% in Peru, where a non-coca-friendly government is in constant low-level conflict with coca growers.

"The increase in coca cultivation in Colombia is a surprise and shock: a surprise because it comes at a time when the Colombian government is trying so hard to eradicate coca; a shock because of the magnitude of cultivation," said UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa. "But this bad news must be put in perspective," he added in desperate search of a silver lining. "Just like in Afghanistan, where most opium is grown in provinces with a heavy Taliban presence, in Colombia most coca is grown in areas controlled by insurgents", Costa said, noting that half of all cocaine production and a third of all cultivation occurs in just 10 of the country's 195 municipalities.

But despite the increase in coca cultivation, cocaine production remained stable. Last year, global potential production of cocaine was 994 metric tons, according to the UNODC, while in 2006, it was 984 metric tons. The UNODC pointed to lower yields as a result of pressure from massive aerial eradication, which caused farmers to seek out peripheral lands and resort to smaller, more dispersed coca patches.

"In the past few years, the Colombian government destroyed large-scale coca farming by means of massive aerial eradication, which unsettled armed groups and drug traffickers alike. In the future, with the FARC in disarray, it may become easier to control coca cultivation," Costa predicted rosily.

Last year, Colombia's drug police, working with US funds and US contractors, sprayed herbicide on 160,000 hectares of coca and manually eradicated another 50,000 hectares. But as in the past, Colombia's coca growing peasants, faced with few alternatives, have adapted rapidly, negating the gains of the eradicators.

While Congress has gone along with the $5 billion experiment to eradicate coca in Colombia in the last year of the Clinton administration and throughout the Bush presidency, the clamor is rising on Capitol Hill for a shift in emphasis in US aid. Currently, the aid goes 80% to security forces and 20% for development assistance. Solons can rightly ask just what they've been getting for all that money.

They're Producing Cocaine in Brazil Now, Too

Just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, the cartels controlling the cocaine trade will continue to expand their operations and defy US-funded eradication efforts in South America.

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 17 (UPI) -- A large-scale coca plant and cocaine production operations have been discovered in Brazil, the first of their kind, authorities said

At least four separate farms were found in the Amazon rain forest by way of satellite imagery analyzed by Brazilian officials, Agencia Estado news agency reported Monday.

The discovery shocked authorities, as coca plants do not normally thrive in the dense, humid Amazon rain forest. [UPI]

I suppose these precious rainforests become less humid when you burn them down to plant coca. Now that they know it works, we can expect much, much more of this. I wrote recently about the inevitable destruction of rainforests throughout South America if we continue mindlessly chasing coca production in circles. This latest move into Brazil is another step towards that outcome.

The thriving cocaine industry cannot be stopped, but it can be regulated and controlled to prevent violence, corruption, and environmental destruction. Some might call this "giving up," but when you're doing something so phenomenally expensive and ineffective, giving up eventually becomes your only option. Besides, I'd rather give up on the drug war than the rainforest anyway.

Location: 
United States

Latin America: First Coca Plantations, Cocaine Lab Found in Brazil

In an ominous sign for US coca eradication efforts in South America, the Brazilian military said Sunday it had for the first time discovered coca plantations and a cocaine laboratory on its national territory. Coca has been grown by indigenous people in the Andes for thousands of years, and in recent years, three countries -- Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- have accounted for all the world's coca leaf.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
The Brazilian army used helicopters and small boats to reach the coca fields and lab in a remote area near the northwestern city of Tabatinga, close to the borders with Peru and Colombia. The fields were discovered when satellite photos showed large clearings hacked out of the jungle.

Lt. Col. Antônio Elcio Franco Filho told reporters Sunday finding coca plants was a surprise. "It is the first time these plantations have been found in Brazil," he said, adding that the find had prompted authorities to look for more fields in the region.

"This is new in Brazil and it's a concern," Walter Maierovitch, an organized crime expert who once headed Brazil's anti-drug efforts, told the government's Agência Brasil news service. "It could mean a change in the geo-strategy of some Colombian cartels."

While coca grows well in the Andean-Amazon highlands, the climate in the Amazon basin is not believed to be favorable to coca cultivation. But according to Franco Filho, the leaf growing in Brazil could be adapted to that climate.

"We believe they are using a transgenic or an adaptation of the leaf used in the Andean region," Franco Filho said. "They are probably trying to find new locations to grow this, so we need to stay alert. Authorities need to crack down on them immediately. If we don't do anything it might even become a source of deforestation."

By Monday, US anti-drug officials were raising alarms. "Brazilian law enforcement is going to have to be vigilant on this front, so it doesn't become a major producer," DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney told the Associated Press. If coca can be successful grown there, said Courtney, "the Amazon would be a perfect area, with all the brush and uninhabited areas. It almost creates a perfect opportunity. Drug traffickers and organizations are always moving to new areas."

No one was arrested in the raid. Brazil, whose status as the world's number two cocaine consumer nation may be threatened by the rising popularity of the drug in Europe, may now be about to join the elite ranks of the coca producing nations.

Latin America: Bolivia Defies UN Drug Watchdog, Will Fund Push for Expanded Coca Markets

Last week, the UN-affiliated International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) called on Bolivia and Peru to ban the growing and chewing of the coca plant, but both governments have rejected that call. The government of Bolivian President Evo Morales is going a step further: Instead of banning the plant, it announced that it plans to spend $300,000 this year in an effort to develop legal markets for coca products.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/bolivia-display-cnd08.jpg
Bolivian display at UN drug summit featuring coca-3000 years posters
Although used traditionally and non-problematically for thousands of years in South America, the coca leaf is also the source of cocaine. All the world's coca comes from three countries -- Colombia (50%), Peru (33%), and Bolivia (17%).

While Morales, a former coca grower union leader, first announced the funding last month, his government decided to publicize it in the wake of the INCB call last week. Vice Ministry of Social Defense spokesman Ilder Cejas told the Associated Press Tuesday the money would go to promote the "industrialization" of the coca leaf. The Bolivian government hopes that by broadening legal markets for coca products, such as tea, toothpaste, flour, and herbal medicines, it can rescue the leaf from the drug trade.

Although use of coca preparations is common in the Andes, the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Drugs, which, along with its successor treaties, forms the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime, lists the coca plant as a banned drug, like cocaine, heroin, and opium. Under the 1961 treaty, coca chewing was to be "abolished" by 1987. That hasn't happened.

Latin America: INCB Calls on Peru, Bolivia to Ban Coca Chewing

In its 2007 Annual Report, released Wednesday, the International Narcotics Control Board called on the governments of Bolivia and Peru to ban coca chewing, as well as its sale or export. The indigenous people of the Andes have chewed coca for thousands of years, and the call is likely to fall on deaf ears in the Andes.

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coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare region of Bolivia
The INCB is a 23-member independent commission that works with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), its Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and other international organizations to monitor implementation of the series of international treaties that form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime. While its remit includes ensuring adequate supplies of drugs are available for medical and scientific uses (see related story here), it spends much of its resources trying to prevent any deviations from the global prohibitionist drug policy status quo. For instance, this year, the INCB once again criticized Canada for allowing harm reduction measures such as the Vancouver safe injection site and the distribution of "safe crack use kits."

In its review of coca and cocaine production in South America, the board noted that despite multi-billion dollar eradication efforts in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- responsible for 50%, 33%, and 17% of coca production, respectively -- cocaine production had remained stable at between 800 and 1,000 tons a year for the past decade. The way to get at cocaine production is to eliminate coca production, the board suggested.

"The Board requests the Government of Bolivia and Peru to take measures to prohibit the sale, use and attempts to export coca leaf for purposes which are not in line with the international drug control treaties," the group said. "The Board is concerned by the negative impact of increased coca leaf production and cocaine manufacture in the region."

It urged governments "to establish as a criminal offense" using coca leaf to make tea, flour, or other products. That would undercut efforts in all three countries to develop and expand markets for coca products.

Reaction from Bolivia, where former coca leader President Evo Morales has called for the removal of the coca plant from the list of substances banned by the international drug treaties, was swift and negative. "In Bolivia, there will never be a policy of zero coca,'' said Hilder Sejas, spokesman for the vice ministry of social defense. "To do so would walk over the rights of millions of Bolivians for whom coca is a symbol of our cultural identity," he told Bloomberg News Service Wednesday.

Treating coca as if it were a dangerous drug was "absurd," said Wade Davis, an author and botanist who studied coca in Colombia. "Coca is as vital to the Andes as the Eucharist is to Catholics," he told the news service. "There is no evidence of toxicity or addiction in 4,000 years of use."

The INCB call to ban coca use was also met by a sharp attack from the Transnational Institute, whose Drugs and Democracy Project seeks to develop and implement pragmatic, harm reduction approaches to global drug issues. "The Board is displaying both arrogance and blindness by demanding that countries impose criminal sanctions on distribution and possession for traditional uses of the coca leaf, which is a key feature of Andean-Amazon indigenous cultures," said Pien Metaal, a TNI researcher specializing in coca issues. "Isn't it time for this UN treaty body to get in touch with reality and show some more cultural sensitivity?"

Not only does the INCB proposal violate the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, it "would mean the prosecution of several million people in the Andean-Amazon region," TNI said. "It targets not just consumers, but also peasants who grow coca."

"The Board's position makes no sense," said Metaal. "It would criminalize entire peoples for a popular tradition and custom that has no harm and is even beneficial."

Latin America: Colombian Peasants Battle Police Over Coca Crops

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's plan to manually eradicate 250,000 acres of coca plants this year ran into violent opposition last week as some 2,000 peasants blocked a highway outside Medellin, smashed a toll booth, and fought with police in protest of Uribe's campaign. The peasant farmers are demanding two years to shift to legal crops.

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coca seedlings
A few days later, the violence over coca cultivation spread to the Venezuelan border, where two soldiers and three leftist rebels were killed in clashes over coca fields. The soldiers and rebels died in a Monday clash in Santander province.

The US and Colombian governments have spent billions of dollars in recent years in efforts to eradicate coca crops there, but the country remains the world's leading coca and cocaine producer. The protests by peasants and shoot-outs between soldiers and rebels illustrate the obstacles faced by Uribe and his allies in Washington.

For the peasant farmers outside Medellin, protecting their coca crops is a matter of survival, said local officials. "They are asking for solutions to their food security and sustenance," the mayor of the town of Tarazá, Miguel Ángel Gómez, told Reuters.

"We're protesting because if they finish off the illegal crops, which we all know are illegal and damaging, then they finish off our way of sustaining our families," one farmer told local television.

The Colombian government has blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest guerrilla group, with fomenting the protests. Like many other actors in the Colombian conflict, the FARC profits from the coca and cocaine trade.

WOLA & IPS Brown Bag Discussion: Conceptions of Coca

Please join us for this important discussion! For Bolivia’s indigenous majority, the coca leaf has deep historical, religious and cultural value. Coca leaves are chewed or consumed as a tea – mate de coca – served widely throughout Bolivia and Peru. The Coca-Cola Company purchases Peruvian coca leaves, which are used as a flavoring agent in the world’s most popular soft drink. More recently developed coca-based products include baking flour, toothpaste, shampoo, wine and various medicinal products. Yet the coca leaf has often been vilified in international debates and treaties. Presently, there is an international campaign to remove the coca leaf from Schedule 1 of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where coca is listed as a dangerous drug along with cocaine and heroin. Bolivia and Peru have long protested the lack of differentiation between the coca leaf and cocaine in the 1961 Convention and Bolivia’s election of President Evo Morales has given new impetus to efforts to change the convention. An internationally known activist and academic, Silvia Rivera is one of Bolivia’s most effective advocates for promoting the coca leaf and its importance to indigenous cultures in the Andes. A sociologist by training, Ms. Rivera graduated from the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz, Bolivia, and is the author of many books, including Las Fronteras de la Coca. Presently, she is serving as an advisor to the Bolivian Government on coca and coca-related issues. Ms. Rivera will make her remarks in English. Please RSVP to Rachel Robb at rrobb@wola.org or call (202) 797-2171. For additional information, contact Ms. Robb at WOLA or Sanho Tree at IPS at stree@igc.org or (202) 787-5266.
Date: 
Fri, 02/15/2008 - 12:30pm - 2:00pm
Location: 
1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Latin America: Chávez Endorses Coca -- Again

For the second time in as many weeks, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has used a public forum to come out as a regular coca chewer. Last week, we reported on Chávez' declaration during a recent televised speech that he chewed coca. He was at it again last Saturday.

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Coca leaves drying in warehouse outside Shinahota, Bolivia. The sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08'' (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith, 2007)
During another televised speech, this time at a summit of Latin American leftist leaders in Caracas, Chávez popped a coca leaf into his mouth and chewed it while defending the plant. According to a Reuters account, Chávez thanked Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader and defender of the plant, for bringing him more.

"I knew you wouldn't let me down, my friend, I was running out," Chávez said as he received the leaves from Morales during the televised summit. Chávez then broke one leaf in half and chewed it to the applause of attendees. "Capitalism and international mafias have converted it into cocaine, but coca is not cocaine," he said.

John Walters, the US drug czar, last week accused the Chávez government of "colluding" in the cocaine traffic from neighboring Colombia. Venezuela denied that charge, accusing the US of a smear campaign and unwarranted interference in Venezuela's internal affairs.

Opposition politicians in Venezuela this week said Chávez should take a drug test. But given that Chávez has openly admitted -- twice--that he is a regular coca leaf chewer, one has to ask what the point would be. And once again, Washington's bête noire in Latin America pokes Washington -- and the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs -- in the eye.

Chavez subsidizes Bolivian coca production, will buy all legal coca products

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
VHeadline.com (IL)
URL: 
http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=74350

IPS's Drug Policy Video and Speaker Series -- Assessing Drug Control Policies in Bolivia

The Washington Office on Latin America and the Institute for Policy Studies are pleased to invite you to a brown bag discussion: Assessing Drug Control Policies in Bolivia with Kathryn Ledebur, Director, Andean Information Network, Cochabamba, Bolivia Statistics recently released by the U.S. government and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) present a confusing picture: the U.S. reported that coca production remained statistically unchanged in 2006, while the United Nations reported an 8 percent increase. Kathryn Ledebur, Executive Director of the Andean Information Network (AIN), will analyze this data and the impact of the Morales Administration’s drug control policies to date. She will also assess the overall political and economic situation -- with special attention to the progress of the Constituent Assembly -- and U.S. policy toward Bolivia. Director of AIN since 1999, Ms. Ledebur studied at FLACSO in Quito, Ecuador and has lived in Bolivia for more than a decade. Her work takes her regularly to the Chapare coca growing region. Ms. Ledebur is the author of “Bolivia: Clear Consequences,” in Coletta A. Youngers and Eileen Rosin, eds., Drugs and Democracy in Latin America: The Impact of U.S. Policy (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 2005). AIN is dedicated to investigation, analysis, education and dialogue on the impact of U.S.-funded counterdrug efforts in Bolivia. Please RSVP to Jessica Eby jeby@wola.org or call (202) 797-2171. For additional information, contact Ms. Eby or Sanho Tree at stree@igc.org or (202) 787-5266.
Date: 
Wed, 06/27/2007 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Location: 
1112 16th Street, Suite 600
Washington, DC
United States

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