|Week Online: What
is Mama Coca? Who is involved?
María Mercedes Moreno:
Mama Coca began as a loose network mainly of academics concerned with coca
production in Colombia. People working in the field found that we
needed to network to exchange information, and so much material was coming
through that we started a journal. It really started with Plan Colombia,
the US drug war policy in that country, but now it has grown to encompass
Peru, Bolivians working with Evo Morales, and we are even forming relationships
with Brazilian President Lula da Silva and his Workers Party.
Our first mission is to stop
the chemical warfare in Colombia. The fumigation of crops there is
only becoming more intense. President Uribe wants more and more spraying;
he's said so himself. And it's not only the spraying with glyphosate.
They're doing biological warfare experiments on the Ecuadorian border,
testing the fungus oxysporum.
WOL: The US has become
increasingly involved in Colombia. How is it going?
Moreno: Things are
getting worse. President Uribe is working to create new paramilitary
forces, the so-called self-defense forces. He is legitimizing the
paramilitaries because the dialogue now is with them, not with the guerrillas.
These self-defense forces basically protect the oligarchy from social protests,
land reforms and guerrilla extortion. Uribe is in effect creating
a counter-agrarian reform. And Uribe is legitimizing the paramilitaries
with the acknowledgement of the US. The US says, "Carlos Castano
[paramilitary leader], we can't talk to you because you're a drug trafficker,"
so Castano says okay, he's not a trafficker anymore. It's like a
The paramilitaries are using
the money from the drug trade to buy land -- that is a key element of the
counter-agrarian reform. When the government wants to fumigate, first
they send in the paramilitaries, who "cleanse" the land, they assault the
people and push them out, because otherwise the guerrillas could shoot
down the spray planes. But the paramilitaries also want the land
for cattle-raising. They either buy it or take it. Part of
the problem is that the Colombian army is so corrupt that it is hard to
win a war with them. That's why they need the paramilitaries.
The army doesn't want to fight the guerrillas, but the paramilitaries are
in it for the land and they're willing to go in and do what has to be done.
That is why the US accepts the paramilitaries.
We are seeing increased human
rights violations, increased violence. By using the paramilitaries,
the government is privatizing the violence, and of course, the US government
is in on it. This is not left-wing conspiracy talk; this is what
the researchers and academics are reporting. It sends the helicopters,
it pays for the spraying, it has troops now in Colombia protecting an oil
pipeline. And Uribe has this pending referendum that includes an
article against drug trafficking and addiction, but it is hallucinatory.
It is all directed at small producers and consumers and really says nothing
about large-scale trafficking. There is no mention of seizing traffickers'
assets. Instead he is talking about recriminalizing drug possession.
In Colombia, smoking a joint is like having a glass of wine. They
think they can turn this back.
There is also a very dangerous
concentration of power in the Uribe administration. Uribe's people
tell me he is determined to be a strong leader, although he is certainly
not autonomous when it comes to the US. Likewise, his right-hand
man, Fernando Londono, is now both Minister of Justice and Minister of
Government. Londono has said that the people who oppose fumigation
are with the guerrillas, they are subversives. This is a very repressive
sort of mini-dictatorship.
WOL: Does Mama Coca
take a position on legalization and regulation of the trade?
Moreno: Funny you should
ask. We attempted to get some funding from the Tides Foundation,
but they said we needed to form a legal association, but when we did we
got a call from French intelligence saying, "What is this all about?"
French law doesn't allow you to make propaganda in favor of drugs.
So Mama Coca as an organization has as its main objective defending human
rights and exposing how this war on illicit drugs attacks the human rights
of many people.
Personally, most of us favor
legalization, but Mama Coca is a pluralist organization. We publish
people from the left, the right, but what we publish is people who specialize
in the subject. And the politics can get strange. For example,
the Colombian Minister of Agriculture holds the same position as most of
us, but he is a member of repressive rightist regime. What is most
important is that a debate on the topic of legalization take place.
WOL: Do you see any
possibility of a unified Latin American or Andean approach to the political
economy of coca and cocaine?
Moreno: It's funny,
when we try to talk with our Peruvian and Bolivian friends about coca cultivation
in Colombia, even they are thinking in terms of the narcotraffic.
"Who profits from this?" they want to know. But they know the profits
from this trade go to the States and Europe, and what stays in Colombia
goes to buy land and to consolidate the counter-agrarian reform.
People think the indigenous people in Colombia have no right to grow coca;
even Colombian researchers say it is not traditionally a coca-growing country.
Mama Coca is the first group to defend coca-growing as a traditional right
But there is much we don't
know, and the Peruvians and Bolivians have helped us greatly. We
are hoping to work with people there, as well as with countries that are
not big producers, like Ecuador and Brazil. All of these Latin American
countries share common concerns, we're all interested in food safety and
the environment. But in Colombia the peasants are dying. You
can't make a living off the land when it has been fumigated for coca.
All the crops get killed. The food crops get killed. But our
concerns are broader than Colombia alone, and I'm certain that we can get
together to change things. We are growing fast and have so many connections
now. We will overcome misperceptions and stereotypes. We will
find a common voice.
WOL: What do you hope
to see at the Mérida conference? [Ed: This interview was conducted
before the conference.]
Moreno: It sounds great.
Everyone is saying, "See you there." In Mérida, I would hope
that we could at least reach a common stand regarding plants. How
can you make a plant illegal? I hope we can all agree that poppy
and coca and marijuana are nature's plants and we refuse to accept that
they are illegal. We want them off the UN Conventions. The
Europeans are behind this. This is not really anyone's domestic issue
anymore; this belongs to all of us. My expectation is that we can
stand firm on the plants, that we can all agree on that. I'm not
sure what else we can agree on, but at least we should respect nature.
I also want to meet these
people from all over, and I want to learn about what is going on elsewhere,
especially in the States.