M A M A    C O C A

Coca Is Not Only Cocaine

This Mama Coca issue seeks to inform the debate regarding the Coca leaf whose virtues are still today, and despite numerous efforts, practically unknown by the public at large. The truth is that there has been no real debate regarding the Coca leaf itself and, as in the case of marihuana and poppy, repressive measures have obscured research and knowledge. Baldo Cáceres, in Coca: tradition and promise, refers to the difficulties encountered by any attempt at revalorizing this traditional crop while the distinction made in Coca is not cocaine seeks to portray the virtues of the Coca leaf and its potential. The growing awareness (as that of Paz Zamora in 1992) regarding the need to establish the distinction between Coca and cocaine is tied to the fact that the penal repression and military killing which is going on in the name of prohibition is plunging the Andean Region into an all-out war. The current cocalero marches in Bolivia clearly herald the urgent need to pay attention to what the Andean Region’s peasants are saying, and to study the pros and the cons of this crop. Alain Labrousse tells us how these natural plants, marihuana, poppy and Coca, have been historically used as “weapons of war” and to subject the peoples of the colonized world, and how prohibition has contributed to their widespread use as chemical substances. Coca and cocaine might not be one and the same but they are both subject to repression and what is highlighted in the studies here compiled is the consensus regarding the absolute failure of the War on Drugs as concerns limiting consumption and production of both natural plants and chemical “narcotics”. These academic studies evidence the fact that any debate professing to address the drug issue must take into consideration the distinction between Coca and cocaine while studying the correlation between penalization and expansion of “illicit” crops in producer countries and of world wide illicit trade of all sorts.

Guilhem Fabre, in his book Criminal Prosperity..., traces the ever-growing ties and convergence, under the shadow of illegality, of corruption, organized crime, and drug trafficking. Pierre Salama’s economic analysis, Cocaine, Counting and Miscounting, points to the fact that microeconomic income tied to Coca growing under illegality is more of the same: bondage. Bruce Bagley highlights that, as of expanding ties with Russian criminal organizations, Latin America’s domestic criminal and/or guerrilla groups’ access to the illicit international markets, money-laundering facilities and illegal arms sources could convert them into major impediments to economic growth and serious threats to democratic consolidation and long-run stability. Steiner and Corchuelo conclude that “Colombia is perhaps the main victim of the illegal drug trade” while other analysts signal the region’s descent into poverty and Human Rights abuses and how perpetrators of violence are designing the region’s future. The field studies here presented give precise figures regarding the expansion of “illicit” crops and testimonies of why this is so and propose alternatives geared for the region. Clearly, the debate on the drug issue must also take into consideration the role played by the War on Drugs on the Andean Region’s state of social, economic and political decomposition. It is yet too soon to say how the Plan Colombia and the Andean Regional Initiative will set off their “collateral damages” but what is obvious is that politicians will not fail to use this passe-partout “terrorism” to maintain the War on Drugs, this time within the frame work of the “Terrorist War”.

The Frente Social y Político document points to the growing narcotization of the US agenda with the Andean Region with all that this implies as concerns limited autonomy to implement direly required structural reforms adjusted to the region’s needs. This is the case of Development models in vogue. Currently, the favorite is Alternative Development which comes together with “voluntary” social eradication pacts; it’s either that or chemical war. Herbicides, as shown by the studies of the worldwide Pesticide Action Network, are destroying lands and peoples. In Colombia, the situation is even more dramatic since the country’s peasants and indigenous communities are being bombarded (dusted) from the air with chemical substances. The Colombian state, instigated by Washington, declared a chemical war on its citizens almost 30 years ago within, naturally, the framework of the War on Drugs. Pastrana himself -in 1992, prior to becoming the country’s president- talked in Congress regarding the destructive effects of fumigation. Analysts, such as Dario González Posso and Emilio Constantino, point to the threat which hangs over Colombia of the most inhumane war of all: biological war. The studies published here by Mama Coca are the testimony, fact-founded observations, recommendations and demands made by the Andean Region’s peoples, experts, and US and French academics. They refer to the repression-induced prosperity of the drug market and to how it is sustained through the misery and criminalization of small crop growers. The first step to furthering the knowledge needed to properly address drug abuse –in whose name users and growers are submitted to a War on Drugs- is to propose studies which debate the pros and cons on the basis of facts and not brainwashing which tells us that it’s better to plant the world with landmines than with poppy, Coca and marihuana; and that it’s either one or the other. Mama Coca invites academics and researchers to help us to develop this debate from a rational fact-founded perspective of all the contradictory aspects and views of the drug issue.

María Mercedes Moreno
February 2002

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