A Colombia Without Coca –A Historical Proposal

Colombian politicians have been promising a Colombia without coca for over 50 years. The world has been trying unsuccessfully to ban those plants which it classifies as narcotics, even though they’re not, for the past 100 years.

Apparently, Juan Manuel Santos has no problem with his incongruity. He purports to innovatively propose “A Colombia without coca” as a shift in the paradigm to “solve the problem of illicit drugs”. He does, nonetheless, favor the needed changes to be brought about by the Therapeutic Cannabis Bill being debated in the Colombian Congress.

Something quite similar happened in the mid twentieth century when President Mariano Ospina Pérez had the government distribute 1,400,000 packages of hemp seeds to alleviate the Colombian textile industry crisis[1] while pushing through Decree 896 of 1947[2] which banned coca planting and the use of the coca leaf as a means of payment currently used at the time. Ten thousand peasant coca growers (cocaleros) from the Cauca Department and others protested, demanded and attained the repeal of this decree.

In 1939, President Eduardo Santos, our current president’s great-uncle, founded Colombia’s first National Narcotics Fund, and, through Law 36 of 1939[3], instituted a State monopoly for “those drugs that create pernicious habit”. During his Administration, Juan Manuel Santos [2010-2018] has restructured Colombia’s antinarcotics agencies and proposed that the global antidrug strategy be revised.[4]

This discourse is totally discordant with his insistence on the attempt to completely extinguish Colombia’s coca. This promise/slogan, which is an affront to Colombian Indigenous People and peasants, has in fact done wonders for Colombia’s image abroad throughout the decades of Drug War. But the cost to Colombia, socially, environmentally as well as to its sovereignty, has been unimaginable. The zero coca goal has conditioned what Colombia can and cannot do both domestically and internationally.

In 1962, ten years after the first frontal attacks on coca chewing, Colombia had less than 1,000 hectares of coca planted.[5] Thanks to the profits to be made from Prohibition and from living off of prohibiting, from its propaganda and the unfulfilled/unfulfillable promises to coca growers, fifty years later Colombia grows 50,000 hectares of coca[6] and its policies and politicians are totally drugged.

“ A Colombia Without Coca” entails 1- flagrantly  violating  indigenous peoples’ rights; 2- disregarding the balloon effect on our neighbors; 3- ignoring that it is institutionalized narcotics-trafficking corruption which promotes coca crops for cocaine; 4- fantasizing that it is feasible to completely eliminate the use of cocaine salts and crystals; and 5-promising achievements without resources and that the hundreds of thousands of Colombians whose sole livelihood is directly or indirectly derived from coca should simply eradicate without the required prior economic incentives.  

“A Colombia Without Coca” implies crass ignorance of the past; denying the country’s history and right to sovereignty; automatizing coca into cocaine and refusing to take notice of what many before us have also said,  namely that this coca is “for America a great source of richness and hope” [José María Samper 1882]. It implies first and foremost repeating our mistakes, failures and continuing to inflict the damages caused by the attempts of the past 100 years.

In order to attain his Colombia without coca, Santos, much like President Julio César Turbay [1978-1982] and the other six presidents that succeeded him, has continued spraying potent chemical mixtures on the victims of the war in the Colombian countryside, against Nature, against market forces and with the empty promise of substitution programs without the means, after the facts, and in some cases proven to be extremely counterproductive.    

In 1972, the United States sponsored it first crop-substitution program in Turkey, and poppy growing spread throughout the region. In 1978, the U.S. imposed its first aerial spraying operations in Colombia to eradicate marijuana.[7] In the following decades, coca crops were sprayed with the same false promises of substitution post-eradication. Coca went bigtime and spread all over the country.

Recently and basically thanks to the peace talks in Havana, since to all effects social appeals and questioning by the United Nations Special Rapporteur[8] have gone unanswered[9], President Santos has promised to apply chemical aerial spraying only as an extreme measure.

Obviously, how this promise is fulfilled depends on his judgment of what an extreme case is. He, thus, continues to atrociously fumigate those territories which are still victimized by the guerilla groups. Among others, the Putumayo Department bordering with Ecuador where the aerial spraying buffer zone is to be reduced from 10 to 5 and then 2 kilometers.[10] Meanwhile, we can rightly wonder if, after the Havana Peace Talks/Agreement, the territories that “deserve” to be sprayed will be those being victimized by the criminal bands (BACRIM) left over from paramilitary demobilization,

We can also ask ourselves if the technical and activities component of the National Development Plan 2015-2018; the National Drug Commission Report, the FARC’s Havana documents, and the new version of the National Drug Statute will also put forward this empty promise with all that it implies as regards “collateral” damages and policies with no factual nor scientific  substance, far removed from reality and from current society; policies which are solely possible on paper but unfulfillable in our true everyday world.

There has never been a Colombia without coca and there never will be; it’s not even an ecologically-desirable consideration. Colombia would serve itself and the International Community well by having the courage to truly shift its paradigm on coca and put an end to three decades of unsucessful and hazardous aerial spraying once and for all. [11]

Maria Mercedes Moreno

January 15, 2015

[1] Professor Pount’s Program under US sponsorship was implemented in 1946 by Colombian President Mariano Ospina Pérez. The government distributed 1,400,000  packs of seeds to contribute to self-grown marijuana gardens as a way out to the textile industry’s economic recession. The plants turned out to poor in hemp but great for smoking.. [Rivera 1985]

[2] http://www.mamacoca.org/docs_de_base/Legislacion_tematica/Decreto_896_1947.htm

[3] http://www.fne.gov.co/index.aspx?Id=12922

[4] http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/internacionales/santos-si-se-aprueba-referendo-en-california-hay-que-replantear-estrategia-global-antidrogas/20101023/nota/1375550.aspx

[5] http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1961-01-01_1_page002.html

[6] http://www.unodc.org/documents/crop-monitoring/Colombia/Colombia_Monitoreo_de_Cultivos_de_Coca_2013_web.pdf


[8] https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/27th/public_-_AL_Colombia_31.03.14_(4.2014).pdf

[9] https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/27th/Colombia_30.06.14_(4.2014).pdf

[10] http://lasillavacia.com/content/las-fronteras-del-glifosato-46981

[11] http://www.mamacoca.org/docs_de_base/Documentacion_cronologica_de_las_fumigaciones_en_Colombia_1978-2012.html