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As Promised, More Pictures from Phil

Phil took a day off from his reporting to visit the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, but coca seems to be everywhere... stunted coca plant in garden, Machu Picchu (click this post's title link or the "read full post" link for more pictures -- not coca or drug policy, but breathtaking) Machu Picchu, Rio Urubamba below Temple of the Sun Inca sundial, pointing to true magnetic north intrepid editor Phil Smith view of Machu Picchu
Location: 
United States

Coca at Machu Picchu--Who Knew?

Yesterday, I visited the world class Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. Despite it being a cloudy, foggy, rainy day (it is that season, after all), it was a very impressive experience, one I cannot recommend too highly. Located atop a mountain peak several thousand feet above the raging Rio Urubamba (to enter its waters at this time of year is certain death), Machu Picchu was the primary center for scientific and philosophical research for the Inca empire and a place of retreat for the Inca nobility. Its stonework is amazingly well-hewn, and the complex is huge. About a thousand people lived there full-time, with others coming for special occasions along the Inca trail from Cusco, the capital of the empire. If you ever get to Peru, seeing Machu Picchu is an absolute must. I’m sure I haven’t done it justice with these brief comments. I benefited from traveling with a small group that had a very well-informed tour guide, and it was from him that I learned that coca was part of the Inca diet. In addition to using it for its hunger-suppressing and energy-providing qualities, the Incas used it to keep their teeth strong! The coca leaf is heavy in calcium, and because the Inca lacked cows and llamas provided only enough milk for their young, the coca leaf was their primary source of calcium. Our guide was quite proud of the fact that Inca skeletons always showed strong, healthy teeth, a fact he attributed to chewing the coca leaf. Among the ruins at Machu Picchu, there is a garden packed with plants used by the Inca. Among them is coca, even though it is ill-suited to grow well at such elevations. In fact, the coca plant in the garden there was stunted and scraggly, growing only about 18 inches high, or about one-half to one-fourth of the size obtained by coca plants at elevations to which it is more suited. Still, they grew it at Machu Picchu, for the reasons mentioned above. Today, I’m trying to catch up on emails and news and all that good stuff before heading for Bolivia tomorrow. One thing I will do today, though, is visit the Buen Pastor shop, that place I mentioned a blog post or two ago, where they sell coca products here in Cusco. Look for something about that later today or Wednesday, since tomorrow will be a long day of bus travel across the 12,000-foot altiplano past Lake Titicaca and up to La Paz. I think I will be heading on to Cochabamba the next day, where my friends from the Andean Information Network await me. The coca leaf is ubiquitous around here. My hotel provides some with breakfast every day. All the restaurants offer mate de coca (coca tea). Little indigenous women near Machu Picchu offer it to travelers getting ready to trek around the heights. And the US government wants to eradicate it all. Now, I'm off to visit the coca shops of Cusco. Stay tuned. Note: Dave Borden will be posting some Machu Picchu photos I sent him later today. Come back and check 'em out!
Location: 
CU
Peru

Calderon to send troops to border states

Location: 
Mexico City
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
The Houston Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/4563563.html

Algeria became drugs producer

Location: 
Algeria
Publication/Source: 
El Khabar (Algeria)
URL: 
http://www.elkhabar.com/FrEn/lire.php?ida=60218&idc=52

More Pictures from Coca Country -- Ayacucho and Cusco

Pictures from Phil, Ayacucho province and Cusco -- more of them (and good writing) can be found in Phil's Drug War Chronicle scene article here. Many more to come... cocalero Percy Ore in his fields, near the town of San Francisco, Ayacucho province coca waiting by the side of the road to go to market (Click the "read full post" link if you're not seeing the rest of the pictures.) Ayacucho highlands, seen from highway A washout (landslide) on the road back to Ayacucho kept Phil and other travelers waiting for three hours -- delaying publication of Drug War Chronicle in the process. at the market in Ayacucho overview of Ayacucho Cusco's main cathedral view of cathedral from Plaza de Armas
Location: 
Peru

On the Gringo Trail, Getting Whispered Solicitations, and Sipping Mate de Coca

I'm not sitting in Cusco, the old Inca capital, where the Spanish invaders built their churches and houses on the ruins of the Inca city. There is still that fine Inca rock work all over the place; in fact, the place I'm staying in, the Posada de Loreto, has exterior walls that are made of Inca stone, and the whole Callejon de Loreto is one of the streets most noted for its Inca stone work. In Ayachucho, mine was a rare white face; in the rural countryside of the high Andes and the Amazonian selva, mine was the only white face; one that men and women stared at and little child hid from. That's not the case here in Cusco, the gringo capital of Latin America. This city of about 400,000, with its incredible Inca cachet and closeness to the ruins of Machu Picchu, attracts droves of tourists, from tour groups of old people to the international youth backpacker set to the Andean hippies (you know the type, long haired, wearing indigenous ponchos and caps and playing flutes and beating on drums and getting quite messed up on local substances, could be American or German or Australian or even Peruvian). And where there are lots of gringo tourists, there are people wanting to sell them things, including drugs. I don't know what it is about me—is there a neon sign above my head?—but once again it didn’t take more than a few minutes from the time I ventured into the main square this afternoon to be offered cocaine, marijuana, and women. My worry-wart boss will be happen to know I passed on all them, although I feel remiss in not having inquired about prices. Maybe tomorrow. Cusco is high, some 11,000 feet, so I figured this was the time for me to try mate de coca (coca tea) for the first time. I've chewed the leaves before, several times in the last week, as a matter of fact, but I had never had the tea. It was basically a glass of hot water with coca leaves steeping in it. According to my waiter, I was supposed to chew the leaves as I sipped the tea. I did, and I got a nice coca jolt within seconds. Did it help me cope with the altitude? Well, it seems likely; I certainly felt more energetic. I also discovered that there is a store here in Cusco that sells various coca products, along with other hip, "socially conscious" stuff. It's name is the Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd), but they were closed by the time I tracked them down this evening. Since I'll spend the day at Machu Picchu tomorrow, I'll track them down on Monday and see what the deal is. And since I'll be gone all day—up at 5am to catch the train up the Sacred Valley, getting to Machu Picchu about 10am, spending the day at the site, and returning to Cusco about 8pm—you won't be hearing anything more from me for awhile. But there should be some pictures posted. I'm going back to my hotel right now to get the camera, so I can upload them and Borden can download them. On Tuesday, it's on to Bolivia…
Location: 
Peru

What a trip it's been, and it's only the end of week one!

Since last I blogged, I've gone by overnight bus from Lima to the Andean highlands city of Ayacucho, thence over the top of the Andes and down into the Amazonian selva (actually, the "ceja de selva," the eyebrow of the jungle) to the small towns of San Francisco, Ayacucho, and Kirimbiri, Cusco, on the other side of the rain-swollen Rio Apurimac deep in the heart of the coca growing region known as the VRAE (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers), and then back to Ayacucho. It has been brutal—hours of travel on crappy, crappy dirt roads over mountains and across flooded out stretches of road through some of the poorest land in the country. Tomorrow (Saturday) morning, I get up a 5AM to catch a flight back to Lima and then on to Cusco, for a little rest and tourism at Machu Picchu. (Ayacucho is halfway between Lima and Cusco, but as they say, "you can’t get there from here." There are no city to city flights in Peru except to and from Lima. Go figure. An Aero Condor rep told me it's because they're a Fourth World country.) The travel to coca country was mind-bending: Huge mountains, endless switchbacks on dirt roads with no shoulder and a thousand-foot drop-off, indigenous people herding sheep and goats and burros and horses, the women wearing those funny Andean hats. (I hope Dave Borden will be good enough to post some more pictures here.) It is rainy season, so water is pouring down the mountains in spectacular cascades, but also ripping the road open and causing landslides that block the road. Local people come out to fix it, but put rocks in the road to collect a toll for their labors. From the crest of the Andes, somewhere at about 12,000 feet near Tambo, it was downhill all the way to the Apurimac River, a tributary of the Amazon. You go from jacket weather to dripping with sweat in the heat and humidity of the Amazon, pine trees turn to palm trees and tropical fronds. It was in some towns along the Apurimac that I hooked up with some local cocalero leaders and went out into the poverty-stricken countryside to view the fields myself. I've seen a lot of poverty in my day, but the conditions in which the coca farmers live are truly grim. They have to walk miles just to get to the nearest town, they have no running water or electricity, and even with four coca crops a year, they barely make enough money to feed and clothe their children. One of the highlights was one of the cocalero leaders pointing out the houses (more like shanties) of the cocaleros and demanding to know "Where are the narco mansions?" Well, certainly not around here. Every cocalero I've talked to has had the same refrain: This is our sacred plant, we have nothing to do with the drug trade, either leave us alone or provide real agricultural development assistance. And that refrain resonates: Of 70 municipalities in the VRAE, cocaleros hold power in all 70. This is also the home of the country's premier cocalero leader, Nelson Palomino of CONCPACCP, with whom I talked in Lima earlier this week. Will it be pretty much the same in Bolivia? I don't know. Check back later. Editor's Note: I certainly will post Phil's pictures, but it will be a little later this weekend. In the meanwhile, be sure to read Phil's Drug War Chronicle article from Peru, published earlier today -- three pictures, interviews with key people and lots of good info. -- Dave
Location: 
AY
Peru

Chronicle on the Scene Feature: In Peru, Coca Growers Struggle to Survive

On the eastern side of the Andes, where from their heights, the mountains drop down thousands of feet into the jungles (selva) of the Amazon basin, several hundred thousand Peruvian peasants are making a living -- but not much of one -- by growing coca. While the farmers and the coca leaf chewers they supply consider the plant sacred and an integral part of the culture of the Andes, it is also the stuff from which cocaine is made.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/phil-with-abdon-huaman.jpg
Chronicle editor Phil Smith with VRAE leader Abdon Flores Huaman
This makes Peru's coca farmers, or cocaleros, targets of the US government, which seeks to eradicate as much of the coca crop as possible. It also makes them targets of the Peruvian government, which, when it comes to drug policy, has shown itself all too willing to follow the lead of the gringos. While both governments and a host of non-governmental organizations are also seeking to provide alternative development opportunities to the cocaleros, those programs have failed to work and are rife with corruption, say cocalero leaders.

"We cocaleros are people who live in extreme poverty and we have to grow the sacred leaf to survive," said Nelson Palomino, head of the country's largest coca grower union, the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the Coca Valleys (CONCPACCP). "We are honest, hard-working Peruvians, and we are not guilty of anything for growing the coca plant to subsist," he told Drug War Chronicle during a meeting in Lima, 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."

"The NGOs and the government are vampires," said Abdon Flores Huaman, secretary of the cocalero defense organization the Federation of Agriculture Producers of the Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers (VRAE), as he was interviewed in the CONCPACCP office in nearby Kimbiri on the banks of the rain-swollen Apurimac River. "They use our names to gain support for their so-called alternative development projects, but only 10% to 15% of those resources actually reach us," he claimed. "What we want is to get rid of these intermediaries that prey on us and get direct support for our local and regional authorities and directly to the campesinos, too. Our unions can play a role in this."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/60US.jpg
drying coca leaves for market -- about $60US
A Drug War Chronicle visit to the coca fields of the VRAE this week seemed to back up Palomino's contention that cocaleros are not getting rich, but merely surviving by harvesting the leaf. There, 125 miles down a dirt road over the crest of the Andes from Ayacucho, the nearest large city linked to the national highway system, tiny peasant villages where residents live in what are essentially shanties without electricity or running water depend on the coca leaf for what little income they can generate.

"Where are our narco-palaces?" asked Huaman scornfully. "Do you see any narco-palaces here? We are lucky to make $2,000 a year with four coca crops. That is barely enough to feed and clothe our children."

"We barely survive," said cocalero Percy Ore, as he stood in a small field tending his coca plants in the municipality of Pichari on the east bank of the Apurimac in Cusco province. "Look at this land," he said, pointing to the rugged, hilly terrain where he and his family toiled. "What else can we grow here? Coffee doesn't do well here, and if we try to grow fruits like the aid workers tell us, we have no way to get them to market."

Indeed. Even to get from his village to the nearest town requires a trek of several miles down a dirt road that only the toughest of four-drive vehicles can navigate during the rainy season. But cocaleros like Ore don't have four-wheel drive vehicles; they are more likely to carry their coca leaves to the local market on burros or on their own shoulders. Numerous peasants could be seen walking down the road in Pichari carrying their bags of coca leaves to local markets.

In the VRAE alone, Huaman said, there are some 40,000 coca growers. While about 9,000 of them are registered with ENACO, the Peruvian government coca monopoly that handles all legal buying and selling, the remaining 30,000 are not. Cocalero leaders consistently insist their crops are not ending up as cocaine, but cocaleros acknowledge off the record that the leaves not bought by ENACO are destined for the black market.

The situation does not sit well with the cocaleros. "We want to be legal," said Pastor Romero Castillo, subsecretary of the VRAE federation. "We reject the narco-traffic."

For the leadership, what is crucial is to separate coca, "the sacred leaf," from cocaine, the drug that afflicts the gringos as well as some of their urban countrymen. "Coca is our culture; coca is Peru," Palomino said fiercely. "To talk about coca is to talk about health. The coca needs to go for medicine, food, and other uses. Why can't the rest of the world accept this? The coca plant contains many alkaloids. While some are bad, others are good, and we worry that your country does not know about the good side of coca. We need for the American press, the American Congress to know this information."

What coca growers need is true alternative development, an agricultural policy that addresses their needs, and an increase in legal markets for their product, say the cocaleros. Some Peruvian entrepreneurs are working hard to do just that.

"Although there is abuse, the coca leaf is natural," said Manuel Seminario Bisso, the entrepreneur behind Mana Integral, a Lima-based company producing coca products as well as products based on other native Peruvian plants, including maca, tarwi, kiwicha, quinua [Editor's Note: "quinoa" on US store shelves], and kaniwa. "We want to revalorize the coca leaf, and we are investigating various products. Already, we make products like coca flour, tea, and other coca products for food. We use it in tamales, we have lemonade with coca [Editor's Note: Very tasty and refreshing]; it is one of the best foods we could use."

"There have been 45 years of aggression against the coca plant since the UN Single Convention in 1961," said Seminario. "We have seen the results of this stupid, stupid policy of eradication. We don't need eradication; we need to develop alternative uses, alternative markets. Holding up a display pack of coca flour energy packets ("Energize Yourself! Eat Coca! [coca flour] Without caffeine or taurine: Pure Coca…our sacred plant) that wouldn't look out of place at the check-out counter of your local convenience store, Seminario argued that if the market for coca as a food item could expand, there would be no need to eradicate crops. "It's very simple to solve this problem," he said. "If everyone in Peru ate 12 grams of this leaf every day, we would use up the entire crop. We like to say 'a coca leaf eaten is one coca leaf less for the drug trade.'"

But Seminario bemoaned a variety of problems facing an expanded coca food industry. "It is difficult to sell coca products and there is a lot of prejudice against them because they demonize it. They say that coca is a drug, and it's my job to convince people that it has benefits. We must revalorize the plant."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-statues.jpg
statues of coca leaves, Municipal Park, Pichari
Coca product producers also face higher prices from ENACO, the Peruvian state coca monopoly through which all legal coca must be bought and sold. "ENACO has raised prices dramatically for no good reason. It is a bid to end production increases. ENACO sets the prices, and that's the problem with having a monopoly like that. We need a free market. The government talks about the free market and globalization, but they want to control the market," Seminario complained.

And it isn't just the Peruvian government that is the problem, according to Seminario. "The United States government needs to quit bothering us. We want to sell these products, and it is allowed in Peru," he said. "We don't need to sell it to the rest of the world. It is not the coca that kills or produces corruption, so please just leave us alone and respect our nutritional sovereignty. The US needs to stop defaming our product and trying to undermine us."

[Editor's Note: This first article based on the Drug War Chronicle's visit to the Andean coca heartland provides only a first glimpse of a number of complex issues related to coca, cocaine, and the drug trade. Look for more in-depth articles on the politics of the cocalero movement in Peru, as well as reporting from Bolivia in coming weeks.]

Latin America: Mexico Moves to Decriminalize Drug Possession -- So It Can Concentrate on Drug Traffickers

Legislators from Mexican President Felipe's Calderon's National Action Party (PAN -- Partido de Accion Nacional) have introduced a bill in the Mexican Senate that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs for "addicts." An even stronger drug reform bill that included higher personal drug possession limits and would have applied to all drug consumers passed both the Mexican Senate and Congress, only to be vetoed by then President Vicente Fox after strong objections from Washington.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dea-mexico-poster.jpg
DEA Spanish-language poster targeting Mexican trafficking organization
Under this year's version of the bill, which was introduced in the Senate Wednesday, people caught for the first time with less than two grams of marijuana and similarly small single-dose amounts of other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, would not be prosecuted. But persons caught more than once in possession of illegal drugs would be prosecuted unless they qualified as "addicts" by proving they were in drug treatment or under medical care. The bill retains a provision that would protect indigenous people engaging in religious drug use from prosecution.

But the proposed legislation may not mark a liberalization of Mexico's drug policy, but may instead broaden Mexico's ability to arrest and prosecute drug offenders by allowing state police and judicial systems to take action against drug offenders under them. Under current law, that ability is reserved to the federal government. The bill would allow authorities to concentrate on drug traffickers by freeing up resources to go after dealers, and it increases prison sentences for drug trafficking offenses.

"This isn't legalization," said PAN Sen. Alejandro Gonzalez, who heads the Senate's justice commission. "We're going to go much harder against drug dealers," he told a Mexico City press conference Monday.

Since taking office in December, President Calderon has declared war on Mexico's violent drug trafficking organizations with a vengeance. He has sent thousands of troops into hotbeds of drug trafficking, such as the state of Michoacan, as well as major cities plagued by prohibition-related violence and corruption, such as Tijuana and Acapulco.

Last year's version of the bill set higher personal use quantities, causing it to ultimately be vetoed, said Gonzalez. "An error was made, unfortunately, in the lower house, adding the (exemption for) consumers. That really betrayed the spirit of the reforms, by increasing (personal use) quantities, and that's why we're paying attention to the criticisms and making changes," he noted.

Is "the spirit of the reforms" then to facilitate Mexico's drug war rather than end it?

Phil is Back in Ayacucho -- Report and Pictures Coming Tomorrow AM...

Phil called me this afternoon from a small town called San Francisco, off in the wilds of the Peruvian state Ayacucho -- the heart of coca country. He promised a bunch of pictures, including some of coca fields, when he got back tonight to the city of Ayacucho itself -- all three Internet cafes in San Francisco were offline, so he couldn't send them or post to the blog from there. Among other things, Phil told me that the roads are really bad there, and together with it being a real mountain region he can see why it is difficult to transport most crops out of there to larger markets. Phil was expecting to get back to Ayacucho around 7:00pm, but debris left by a landslide had to be cleared off of the road, and they were delayed for three hours. The hotel doesn't have Internet or even phone lines in the rooms to try a dial-up, and he was left with a little over an hour with which to post some Chronicle articles for me to proof, and with much of the Chronicle writing job in front of him. So no blogging from Phil tonight, unfortunately. But check back tomorrow morning, when Phil will recount the tale of his trip over the top of the Andes and down into the edge of the Amazonian jungle to visit with coca growers...
Location: 
Ayacucho, AY
Peru

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