US Drug War: Trouble Down South America Way 7/12/02

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While the Bush administration has been busy fighting multiple enemies in its ever-expanding "war on terrorism," the US drug war's southern front has been quietly eroding. Suddenly, distracted US officials find themselves faced with trouble throughout the Andean coca-producing region. From Venezuela to Bolivia, the area threatens to spin out of US control. Between Colombian coca eradication cutbacks, the halt to Peru's coca eradication program, the unstable tenure of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and suspicions of US involvement in his attempted ouster, and the rise of a Bolivian indigenous socialist former coca farmer who rails against "Yankee imperialism," the Bush administration's Andean policy is in a shambles.

Country by country:

VENEZUELA: While not involved in the Andean cocaine trade, the government of President Hugo Chavez drew the enmity of the US government because of Chavez's military populism and Latin American nationalism, as well as his friendly ties with US bogeymen such as Fidel Castro, Moammar Ghaddafi, and Saddam Hussein. (The latter two are heads of OPEC states; Chavez was OPEC head last year.) In the tense and polarized weeks since the attempted coup and countercoup against Chavez last April, the US government has been widely accused of involvement with the coup plotters.

COLOMBIA: Now the region's largest coca producer, Colombian production has been unaffected by two years of intensive aerial spraying of coca plants, and spraying has been suspended in the face of environmental concerns and popular discontent. In the last two weeks, both the incoming government of Alvaro Uribe and outgoing President Andres Pastrana announced plans to begin spraying again, but only on "industrial plantations" of five acres or more. The Colombian government will resort to manual eradication of peasant plots, which threatens to put it in direct conflict with peasants in areas such as Putumayo province.

Meanwhile, the country's FARC guerrillas have largely taken control of broad swaths of the country, particularly in the southern plains, as they wage with renewed vigor a war of position against the government, the government's de facto paramilitary allies and the faceless men from Washington. Ten days ago a Los Angeles Times reporter found the region "abandoned and chaotic," with little sign of municipal governments or police forces.

"We're in the beginning of a new phase," FARC organizer Juan Pablo told the Times a few miles from San Vicente del Caguan, in the heart of the former rebel zone. "We're going to demonstrate that we're in the position to control certain areas and that we can push that control to an extreme."

And the Bush administration is chomping at the bit to throw another $700 million down the rat hole this year.

PERU: The Peruvian government of Alejandro Toledo, the US favorite in last year's presidential elections, has "temporarily" halted coca eradication in one of that country's resurgent traditional coca hot spots, the Upper Huallaga Valley; and the charity organization CARE, which administers alternative development programs for the US government, has suspended operations in two other coca-producing areas, the Ene and Apurimac River valleys. The move came in the face of repeated violent protests by thousands of angry coca farmers, the Associated Press reported last week.

While Nils Ericsson, the country's leading anti-drug official, told AP the halt was only a suspension, the cut-off of the CARE-run alternative development program threatens to seriously disrupt US efforts to wean Peruvian farmers from the coca trade. The area of the suspended programs accounts for two-thirds of Peruvian coca production, according to UN figures.

Ericsson told the AP the government will meet with coca growers to attempt to re-launch coca eradication efforts with "less social resistance and more effectiveness."

Peru has eradicated approximately 5,000 acres of coca out of a low-ball estimate of 84,000 acres planted this year, a significant increase from the decade of the 1990s, when authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori brutally suppressed what had been the world's largest coca crop.

BOLIVIA: DRCNet reported last week on the surprising performance of cocalero leader Evo Morales in the July 1 presidential elections (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/244.html#moraleselection). Morales, an indigenous Aymara, self-described "communal socialist" and fire-breathing anti-Yankee orator, who surprised all observers by finishing an extremely close third with 20.9% of the vote in an 11-man field, threatened to throw the DEA out of Bolivia in his final campaign speech and has vowed to embark on a program of nationalization of key industries.

Because of Morales' performance in the elections, his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party will become the largest opposition party in both houses of the Bolivian congress and is well-positioned to demand an end or significant modification of the US-backed "zero coca" option that has led to massive social unrest in the Andean nation. Morales and the MAS may even play a major role in selecting the next president, although he has denied any interest in "perverse negotiations" with the existing parties.

"I am happy," Morales said after the election. "There is enormous satisfaction, above all for the people, the people who are discriminated against. The people have voted against any further eradication of coca, not only in Cochabamba, but in all Bolivia."

The prospect of a radical indigenista ex-coca-farmer holding the strings of power in La Paz unnerved New York Times correspondent Juan Forero so badly that he scribbled that Morales could now "disrupt Bolivia's free-market policies and years of gains Washington has made in coca eradication." If the New York Times is spooked, what are they thinking in Foggy Bottom and at the Pentagon?

Morales, for his part, generously wished the US well on the 4th of July and offered a conciliatory coca leaf to US Ambassador Manuel Rocha, who is widely credited with giving Morales a boost with last-minutes threats against voting for him.

Faced with a Bolivarian populist in Venezuela, a roaring guerrilla war in Colombia, an insurgent coca farmer population in Peru, and an anti-imperialist Indian agitator in Bolivia, the Bush administration's drug war in South America is in for hard times.

Some recommended sources for further information:

http://www.narconews.com
http://www.scbbs-bo.com/ain/

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Issue #245, 7/12/02 Editorial: What People Are Thinking | British Cannabis Decrim: One Step Forward, One Step Sideways, One Step Back | US Drug War: Trouble Down South America Way | Motorist Flexing Rights Doesn't Sit Well With NC Cops -- Man Arrested, Lawsuit Pending | DC Medical Marijuana Initiative Will Be on November Ballot -- Unless Congress Quashes It Again | Newsbrief: Nevada Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot | Newsbrief: Federal Jury Convicts in California Medical Marijuana Case | Newsbrief: New Jersey Weedman Strikes Again | Newsbrief: Kid Turned in Dad's Pot Grow, Did "Right Thing" -- or Did He? | Newsbrief: Canada Just Says No to Workplace Drug Testing | The Reformer's Calendar
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