Peruvian cocaleros (coca growers) and their sympathizers, who only last week hailed a meeting with President Alejandro Toledo and a resulting set of proposed agreements as a "partial victory," have seen their elation turn to ashes this week. Leaders of the Confederation of Peruvian Coca Growers (Confederacion Nacional de Productores Agropecuarios de las Cuencas Cocaleras del Perú, or CONCPACCP) had led thousands of cocaleros on a two-week march to Lima to protest forced eradication policies, corruption and debility in alternative development programs, and the arrest of imprisoned leader Nelson Palomino, thought they had won a victory after Toledo took an offering of coca leaf from them and pronounced it "sacred," but the accords they thought they had negotiated with the government did not appear in the Supreme Decree published by the government the following day. The discovery came only as the thousands of cocaleros were already on their way back to the coca fields of the Apurimac, the Ene and the Upper Huallaga river valleys.

Now the cocaleros are rejecting the agreement, and the government is calling them "deal breakers." But while the deal was supposed to address the demands of the cocaleros, the decree published Friday instead called for forced eradication of new coca crops.Peruvian cocaleros (coca growers) and their sympathizers, who only last week hailed a meeting with President Alejandro Toledo and a resulting set of proposed agreements as a "partial victory," have seen their elation turn to ashes this week. Leaders of the Confederation of Peruvian Coca Growers (Confederacion Nacional de Productores Agropecuarios de las Cuencas Cocaleras del Perú, or CONCPACCP) had led thousands of cocaleros on a two-week march to Lima to protest forced eradication policies, corruption and debility in alternative development programs, and the arrest of imprisoned leader Nelson Palomino, thought they had won a victory after Toledo took an offering of coca leaf from them and pronounced it "sacred," but the accords they thought they had negotiated with the government did not appear in the Supreme Decree published by the government the following day. The discovery came only as the thousands of cocaleros were already on their way back to the coca fields of the Apurimac, the Ene and the Upper Huallaga river valleys.

Now the cocaleros are rejecting the agreement, and the government is calling them "deal breakers." But while the deal was supposed to address the demands of the cocaleros, the decree published Friday instead called for forced eradication of new coca crops.

Baldomero Cáceres

Baldomero Cáceres

"It was a cruel and premeditated trick," said Peruvian academic and cocalero adviser Baldomero Cáceres (http://www.cocachasqui.org). "This decree represents the interests of the political elite before the Americans, not the national interest," he told DRCNet. "The Law of Coca, the origin of the problems for the cocaleros and of the corruption in the country, still stands. Its repeal is a key demand not only of the cocaleros, but the academic community."

"The cocaleros are furious and feel tricked and lied to once again by DEVIDA [Peruvian anti-drug agency] and Prime Minister Solari," said former DEVIDA adviser turned critic Hugo Cabieses. "The Supreme Decree published last week is not the product of an agreement, as Solari and [DEVIDA director Nils] Ericsson portrayed it, but a manipulative and authoritarian imposition," he told DRCNet. "We all thought the Supreme Decree would have the agreements reached with the cocalero leaders, but that is not the case."

But in an attitude akin to that of feudal peasants petitioning the king to overrule his cruel ministers, the cocaleros still retain faith in their "Cholo [Indian] Toledo," Cabieses said. "They believe that President Toledo will address their Platform of Struggle because 'he has been poor and he is in the presidency thanks to us.'" Still, that faith is tempered with a bit of political hardball, said Cabieses. "They are asking for a direct dialogue with Toledo, and they are giving him 30 days before they renew their protests."

Some aren't waiting that long. On Tuesday, confederation leader Marisella Guillen held a Lima press conference to criticize the Supreme Decree as "benefiting only the non-governmental organizations [who administer alternative development programs]" and to announce that supporters will introduce two bills in the Peruvian parliament to address cocalero demands. And according to Cabieses, coca growers in other regions are already rejecting the decree and preparing to mobilize again. In Monzon, Cabieses reported, cocaleros are preparing a new "march of sacrifice" to Lima, while in Quillabamba, angry cocaleros Wednesday rejected the confederation's leadership for having been taken in by the government.

For its part, DEVIDA rejected any questioning of the decree and issued a statement calling Guillen's press conference "an attempt to break the agreement that both parties had arrived at." The DEVIDA statement did not address the discrepancy between the agreements reached through negotiations and the text of the published decree.

"Solari and DEVIDA are regrettably trying to divide the masses by trying to negotiate separate regional agreements -- for 'technical reasons,' they say -- and are trying to de-legitimize their proposals by saying they are being manipulated by politicians, terrorists and narcos," said Cabieses.

Hugo Cabieses, cocalero leader Nancy Obregón, and US drug reformer Eric Sterling in Mérida

Hugo Cabieses, cocalero
leader Nancy Obregón,
and US drug reformer
Eric Sterling in Mérida

"If President Toledo does not open the doors and have a dialogue with the coca growers without deceptions, he will continue falling in the polls, the struggles of the cocaleros will continue, they will generate their own political leadership, and their movement will grow ever stronger," warned Cabieses. "The spirit of Bolivian cocalero leader Evo Morales and his Movement to Socialism will run through the coca valleys of Peru."

Morales has led Bolivian coca growers to substantial political power, and the conflict between the peasants of the Chapare and President Sanchez de Lozada over US-backed eradication policies, along with other simmering social issues, has shaken the government. Indeed, Andean governments are caught between two irreconcilable forces: substantial numbers of their own citizens who depend on coca, and an administration in Washington that demands its eradication. Perhaps President Toledo was listening this week as US drug czar John Walters issued dire warnings to Andean leaders thinking of heeding the demands of their own people.

"Naturally, we are concerned amount political events in the Andes," said Walters Wednesday at a press conference presenting a Spanish version of the US anti-drug strategy. "If the drug traffickers and growers take power some place, that country will be converted into an international pariah where there will be neither national nor foreign investment, nor the creation of legal jobs," Walters warned.

See http://www.narconews.com/Issue29/article747.html for a recent interview with Hugo Cabieses by Karine Muller.

-- END --
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Issue #285, 5/2/03 Editorial: Much to Emulate from Abroad | Senator Nolin Comes to Washington | Cannabis Canada: Decrim on the Way, Says Prime Minister -- The People are Ready, Says Poll | Vancouver: Unsanctioned Safe Injection Site Opens in Midst of Police Crackdown on Downtown Eastside Hard Drug Scene | Peruvian Coca Growers Move from Joy to Anger as Meeting with President Yields FALSE Accord | Sentencing Reform through Budget Crisis: Washington State Passes Early Release Bill | Drug Czar Escapes Prosecution for Election Law Violations in Nevada | Newsbrief: Scottish Police Call for Drug Law Reform | Newsbrief: Oregon House Passes Bill to Restrict Medical Marijuana, Action Pending in Senate | Newsbrief: Friend of Drug Reform Upsets Veteran in Detroit City Council Race | Newsbrief: Utah Marijuana Case against Dennis Peron Crumbles | Newsbrief: Missouri Court Challenges Meth Arrest for Cold Pills | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Web Scan: CSDP, Policy Review, High Point Enterprise | Job Opportunity: Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, DC | Fellowship Opportunity: Ira Glasser Racial Justice Fellowship Program, American Civil Liberties Union | The Reformer's Calendar
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