DRCNet Interview: Baldomero Cáceres, Advisor to the Confederation of Peruvian Coca Growers 7/25/03

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Baldomero Cáceres Santa María, a retired professor of social psychology at the La Molina National Agrarian University in Lima, has for more than a quarter-century fought for policies that recognize the traditional uses of coca in the Andes. A Stanford University graduate, Cáceres first published on the topic in 1977, and three years later he helped organize the first conference of Peruvian coca cultivators in Cuzco. He has been working with Peruvian coca growers ever since, most recently as advisor for the Confederation of Peruvian Coca Growers (CONCPACCP).

Cáceres also maintains the Cocachasqui web site (http://www.lamolina.edu.pe/investigacion/cocachasqui/), whose call for repeal of Law 22095 -- the country's coca law -- was endorsed by the National Agrarian University as part of its centennial ceremonies. Cáceres is a proud and inveterate user of both coca and marijuana. He was pointedly uninvited to a recent contentious meeting between CONCPACCP and Peruvian government ministers led by Premier Luis Solari. DRCNet conducted this interview with Cáceres via e-mail this week.

Week Online: Last week, we reported briefly on the new set of penalties for drug offenses in Peru (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/296.shtml#perudrugpenalties). But we reported that the changes were under consideration, not yet law. Did we get it wrong?

Baldomero Cáceres: You are talking about Law 28002, which revises the penal code. It was recently promulgated by the government after being approved by the congress a few months back. It reduces penalties for some drug trafficking crimes, but it also brings nearer the criminalization of the simple growing of marijuana or poppies. In this fashion, the government is attempting to comply with the recommendations of the US Embassy to become more extreme in its treatment of this subject.

WOL: What is going on with the Toledo government? There has been a state of emergency, his popularity is rapidly dropping, and he has had to change his cabinet. Meanwhile, the Peruvian press is full of stories about the reappearance of the Shining Path. Is change coming?

Cáceres: While Dr. Solari has left his post as premier -- it is now held by a woman, Dr. Beatriz Merino -- nothing indicates a real change in the general policies of the government. The main ministries -- foreign relations, economy, defense, and interior -- continue with the same ministers, and President Toledo appears resigned to defending himself to remain in power until the end of his term without really assuming any real leadership. Meanwhile, what is certain is that the "drug traffic" will grow and the violence will reappear in the coca production zones most at risk, particularly the Ene-Apurimac river valley, because of which the area will be militarized. That brings with it the risk that the armed forces will get involved in the conflict, and their eventual corruption, as has been the case in past decades.

The mass media seem ready once again to throw up a smokescreen with a slew of stories emphasizing violence in order to hide the real business, as they did in the 1980s. The bombastic announcements of the resurrection of the Shining Path, in any case, cover up more burning questions, such as what to do about popular discontent.

We have a problem with the political class. The politicians prefer to walk blindly past the skinny cows on their way to their own state-sponsored comforts. While the politicians get personal and family security and private guards, benefits for retirees and the unemployed, like the buying power of the great majority of state workers, have been shrinking for the past 20 years. This has created a vast discontent directed at the political class, which continues pirouetting across the stage while we continue paying the price for their irresponsibly taking the country into debt and their submission to the US Embassy. It is no longer enough to "reengineer" the budget, it is not enough to create another front of political leaders to "work together." Unless there is radical change, they will not be able to confront the growing wave of discontent.

WOL: When we spoke with cocalero leader Nancy Obregon (http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/292/nancyobregon.shtml), she told us despite the setbacks in recent negotiations with the Toledo government, she thought the government was keeping "a door open" for further talks. What is the state of the cocalero movement, and, in your judgment, is there an open door?

Cáceres: After that last round of meetings with the ministers, where they deceived the cocaleros there in Lima through a Supreme Decree already denounced by the peasant leadership, the movement has entered into a period of retreat. I hope the movement recomposes and reconsolidates itself, and toward that end, there is a meeting of representatives of all the coca-growing valleys set for Cuzco in October. As for the good faith of the government, I would say that the door is open just enough to prevent it being said that it is completely closed, because they are prepared to resist any effort to clarify the problem of coca. This could be why they asked Nancy Obregon to ask me not to attend the meeting which had been brought to head by Solari's effort to take care of business.

WOL: There have been two international conferences where drug reformers have gathered this year, at Mérida in February and at Cartagena in June. You were at both. What kind of impact do you see coming from them?

Cáceres: Given that we who object to the drug war are a minority, each one of these meetings reinforces us by making us aware of the universal character of our protest. The personal relationships that are being built will hugely facilitate the consolidation of our movement. As for the proposal by Mama Coca (http://www.mamacoca.org) for an international commission, that would be a means of institutionalizing the task of questioning the "world order." I will collaborate in that, but I am proposing that more than a study commission, it would be a protest commission! Personally, I was very interested in Cartagena because you do not hear any defense of the coca leaf there since they lack our tradition of use. Because of my defense of the coca leaf, I have been invited to talk about my vision of coca at the 2nd International Symposium on Biodiversity in Cali in October.

WOL: You are a social psychologist and you have written about the role of psychiatry in creating and maintaining drug prohibition. What are you getting at?

Cáceres: I believe that ever since its separation from medicine at the end of the 19th Century, psychiatry has been accepted by society as a sort of priesthood because it attributes to itself a scientific character that it has not had for some time. It has created the pathological entity "addiction" or "dependence," which demonstrates a lack of respect for the medical experience acquired throughout the 19th Century regarding plants that have medicinal uses for the nervous system. Opium and opiates, cannabis, coca leaf and cocaine -- all were gratuitously discredited by psychiatry. Today, thanks to the advances in neuroscience coming from new technologies, it is time to reconsider the received wisdom of that bookish psychiatric tradition, which is kept alive by the World Health Organization's famous Expert Committee on Pharmacodependency, which in 1992 decided not to bring to light new information about coca.

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Issue #297, 7/25/03 Editorial: Follow the Undercurrents | Bad Neighbor Policy: Learn All About the Drug War in Latin America through DRCNet's New Book Offer | Historic Medical Marijuana Vote in House -- Support Rises, But Not Yet Enough | House Defeats Effort to Divert Colombia Military Aid, Barely | DRCNet in Action: Grassroots Action on Medical Marijuana and Colombia Votes | DRCNet Interview: Baldomero Cáceres, Advisor to the Confederation of Peruvian Coca Growers | Unapproved Vancouver Safe Injection Site Gets Unwanted Police Attention | Newsbrief: The Opium Files -- Afghanistan at a Record Pace This Year | Newsbrief: The Opium Files -- In Welsh Fields, the Poppies Grew | Newsbrief: The Opium Files -- Feds Find Plantation in Midst of California Forest | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Wisconsin Weedstock Wins Appeals Court Victory | Newsbrief: Australian Safe Injection Room a Success, Say Evaluators | Newsbrief: Spanish Government Okays Heroin Maintenance in Catalonia | Newsbrief: Dr. Strangelove, Please Call Home -- Connecticut Scientists Compile Marijuana DNA Database to Track Trafficking | Newsbrief: Michigan Lawmakers Introduce Anti-Methamphetamine Package, Includes Life in Prison for 1,000 Grams | The Reformer's Calendar
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