M A M A    C O C A


Crops Used for Illicit Purposes and Alternative Initiatives,

Narcotics traffic and Counter-Drugs Policies

—Approach and Structure—



When dealing with the “illicit drugs” issue we need to discriminate the following levels: crops, commerce and consumption and to a) analyze what the policies at each one of these levels are about, b) asses policies’ effectiveness and their social, economic and environmental impacts, and c) hear how social movements’ address the issue.
A second level of analysis relates to synthetic substances and natural substances, that which leads us into the discussion regarding the distinction made between “producer” countries and “consumer” countries. This distinction seems misleading. Observation tells us that production and marketing of synthetic drugs is expanding and the traditional conscious-altering use of natural plants is still being repressed. Meanwhile, conscious-altering substances —both synthetic and natural— can be found, and are used worldwide, within their corresponding cultural considerations. In 1909 only opium was considered an illicit ‘drug”. Today, over 150 semi synthetic (morphine, heroin and cocaine), synthetic substances, and, among many others, three of nature’s plants —cannabis, coca and poppy— are considered illegal. Thanks to Prohibition, production and marketing has diversified and expanded. In 1961 the United Nations Assembly condemned coca, cannabis and poppy and every since, the commerce of chemical precursors, war and ‘drugs’ have become extremely profitable and booming business ventures. Meanwhile, people have not stopped using recreational substances, and there are more and more growers.


As regards crops used for illicit purposes, there is urgent need to find global, sustainable and participative solutions and we wish to point to some of the political and structural conditions which have led more and more peasants into growing these crops:
  • In the Adean-Amazonic Region, the areas where coca and poppy are grown are characterized by backward political, economic, and social conditions which are the reflection and result of agrarian-development models typified, on the one hand, by the concentration of large production units in the hands of the few and, on the other, by the permanent expulsion of large sectors of the peasantry towards cities and frontier zones
  • Those campesinos who are pushed to urban areas go to join the marginal social and economic instances of the cities. Meanwhile, those who are expulsed towards the colonization zones beyond the active agrarian frontier end up living in areas where fragile ecosystems are endangered because they cannot absorb these market dynamics.
  • Thus, the areas where crops are grown for illicit purposes are often those which have not been effectively incorporated into national agrarian markets and where severe structural social, economic and environmental obstacles make it difficult for peasants to establish stable economies.
  • Furthermore, national macroeconomic policies and international market prices are wreaking havoc on traditional peasant economies. These policies are at the root of the recent ruin of rural economies which had at one point been articulated into national and international markets. Increases in coca planting in zones dedicated until quite recently to growing coffee and staple food crops, also reflect the devastating effects of these policies and constitute one of the most severe consequences of the crisis faced by peasant economy.

  • The official response to the ‘narcotics’ issue is further militarization which, for the Andean Amazonic Region, is expressed by the Plan Dignidad, the Plan Colombia and the Andean Regional Initiative. These policies are centered on forcibly eradicating crops without any consideration whatsoever to the social, economic and political causes underlying the emergence and proliferation of crops used for illicit purposes. Consequently, coca and poppy growing, which has become the only viable means of subsistence for thousands of the region’s peasants, is simply displaced from one area to another.

  • Forced eradication measures have had devastating impacts on the region. This is reflected by coca marches and roadblocks in Bolivia and Perú and is the case of aerial fumigation with pesticides in Colombia, where chemicals sprayed from the air are causing numerous illnesses and genetic defects, contaminating water resources, destroying the region’s rich biodiversity and endangering food safety. Meanwhile, to compound the crisis of traditional agricultural, the same companies which sell the chemicals used against Colombian peasants and crops, peddle their genetically modified crops and devise the means of controlling water resources.

  • In their constant search for social, economic and political alternatives to the Drug War, local peasant and indigenous communities have designed and put forward proposals in accordance with their social and environmental conditions, needs, and expectations. These proposals concerted by the communities and exposed to state representatives have, after being negotiated and agreed to, been buried by policy designers and decision makers. The most significant of these demands is an urgently needed agrarian reform which would give the land back to the people who are dedicated to it as well as policies geared at generating jobs and protecting peasant economy. But, first and foremost, peasants demand the right to their lives, human rights and subsistence.

  • Undoubtedly, the regions where these crops are grown cannot on their own resolve their severe structural problems and the war waged in their territories under existing policies which focus exclusively on eradicating crops at all costs and by any means.

  • It is therefore important to hear what the specific policies and issues are in other countries where these crops are grown and consumed, to share experiences and build on them. To extend our reach.

    • National and regional cultural, social and economic conditions are the determinants behind the growing of legal and illegal crops . Drug trafficking, which is an international phenomenon, thrives on these national and regional conditions by stimulating both ends of the chain —growers and consumers— and keeping most of the earnings, both in legal and illegal ventures. Almost all of these profits go to US and international financial centers where money is laundered by mafias specialized in the sale of narcotics, chemical precursors and weapons. Retail prices paid for ‘drugs’ on the US market are distributed approximately as follows: 5% go to crop-growing countries —1% for peasant growers and 4% to local processors—; 20% to international traffickers or cartels; and 75% to distribution networks.[1]

    • The close ties knit between narcotics trafficking, corruption and organized crime tend to blur the frontier between the legal and the illegal economy. Issues such as the policies which cover fiscal havens (money laundering), the sale of chemical precursors and weapons, advanced agricultural technologies, and ‘free’ trade zones are essential factors to be taken into consideration in order to understand how the weapons, chemical and narcotics business prospers.


    • Humanity has always coexisted with psychoactive substances and the issue —considering the devastating effects and failure of Prohibition— is the search for alternatives, beginning with harm and risk reduction policies oriented towards both consumers and peasant and indigenous growers.

    • European harm-reduction experiences and US activists’ struggle to defend the rights of consumers should help to highlight the fact that there are alternative social paths and rights to the ‘drugs’ issue.


    In the countries of the South, most small ‘illicit’-crop growers are impoverished socially and politically marginalized sectors of the peasantry that, under bondage, have become the labor force behind an illicit market. For crop-growers, risk reduction would first and foremost refer to demanding a halt to the militarization of the region and the war and criminalization waged against them under the guise of eliminating ‘drugs’ through forced eradication. It encompasses applying the precautionary principle as concerns fumigation with chemical products and the commerce and trafficking of genetically modified crops and when confronting the threat of Biological War. It also refers to the undeniable right to traditional, recreational and alternative uses of the coca leaf, marihuana and poppy. It furthermore comprises considerations of international co-responsibility and of social responsibility when designing policies to address what is a complex and universal phenomenon.


    The Thematic World Social Forum to be held in Cartagena —convened by a good number of Colombia’s social organizations— wishes to offer a space where we might freely exchange alternatives coming from knowledge and experience. We hope that the alternative practices related to us by our speakers might serve our memory to avoid past mistakes and to look to the experiences to be imitated and shared towards building a social and multicultural globalization. The group addressing the issue of crops and illicit purposes is made up of guest speakers who will address geopolitics and war, Colombians daily pain for uncounted years. And it will continue to be so unless national and international drug policies are changed. They will talk bout the Terrorist War and it hegemonic tendencies, and how to avoid letting it any more margin to use the “drugs” issue to further its expansionism. Narcotics trafficking is today, judge, party, and a further excuse for war and, as such, is an unavoidable issue.

    Others, like Evo Morales, will bring the coca culture to us and will address the vindication of the right to represent the large majorities. The true alternative which is respect and inclusion. The goal of those of us working the Crops Issue is to have the sacred coca leaf (and ‘drugs’ issue in general) included in the Porto Alegre Forum, which for 2004 is to be held in India. Our Indian and Pakistani colleagues will bring us closer to the problems faced by users and growers in countries, which like those of the Andean Amazonic Region, are highly vulnerable to excluding transnational market policies and to cultural impositions. We will also listen to Colleagues from Europe and from the US who seek to exercise their right to a social response to the use of conscience altering substances. Born in a world construing ‘drugs’ as something with which to hurt people, they, like us, advocate for their cultural and social rights.

    Our excellent list of guest speakers owes much to the generosity of people wanting to share their experiences and knowledge in a search for understanding so that we may build together. Welcome to Cartagena to advocate for the alternative of making other worlds and other dreams possible.


    Moderator: Alejandro Angulo SJ (CINEP)
    Evo Morales - MAS, Bolivia. “Cocalero movement, politics and globalization



    • Cultures, territories and autonomy
    • Counter-drug Policies, Plan Colombia and Andean Regional Initiative
    • Drugs”: Depenalization, Legalization, Co-responsibility or Prohibition
    1.  Cultures, territories and autonomy
    • Leonor Zalabata, Humas Rights Commissioner for the Tayrona Indigenoous Conferederation  and Representative for the National Commission of the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia. The Coca in Indigenous Culture and Territory.
    • Alain Labrousse, Founder of the Observatoire Géopolitique des Drogues (OGD), France The Poppy Issue in Afghanistan
    • Iban de Rementería, Reasearcher and international consultant on counter-narcotics policies, Chile, Counter-drug policies and foreseeable trends after the war on Irak.
    • Luis Suárez Salazar Historian, writer and researcher, Cuba. Latin America and the Caribbean in Drug Production and Use.
    • Moderator: María Clemencia Ramírez, Researcher, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia (Incah)
    2. Counter-drug Policies, Plan Colombia and Andean Regional Initiative
    • Ricardo Soberón Garrido, Peruvian Coordinator Programa de Fronteras de Consejería en Proyectos, Bogotá, Colombia. The International War on Terrorism, Plan Colombia and the Andean-Amazonic Region.
    • Guilhem Fabre, Scientific Coordinator for the Asian Network of UNESCO’s MOST Program, France. The Narcotics Traffic: Money Laundering and financial crises.
    • Iqbal Khattak, Journalist Reporter Sans Frontières and Far Eastern Economic Review, Pakistán, Reemergence of Poppy Growing in Pakistan and Its Ties to Afghanistan.
    • Molly Charles,  Psuchologist, specialized in the use of cannabis and other substances in Hindu rituals, India, Dynamics of Trade and the Impact of Enforcement Activities.
    • Moderator: Aura María Puyana, Instituto Amazónico de Investigaciones Científicas Sinchi.
    3. Drugs”: Depenalization, Legalization, Co-responsibility or Prohibition
    • Anthony Henman, Anthropologist, author of the book Mama Coca, Great Britain. War on Coca, or Peace with Coca?
    • Martin Jelsma, TNI .Global Policy, Trends, and Strategies.
    • Peter Cohen:  Director of the first Amsterdam Drug Research Program, and since 1996, Director of CEDRO, the Centre for Drug Research. Holanda, There is no HR cook book ; navigating local drug markets as inspiration for harm reduction policies and their development over time."
    • Ethan Nadelmann, Founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs, USA, The Drug War in the USA and Paths to Legalization.
    • Moderator: Rodrigo Uprimny, Researcher and professor.
  • Economic, Social and Environmentla Impacts of Counter-narcotics Policies
  • The Truth of Counter-Drug Policies
  • Descriminalizationdepenalization, co-responsibility y Legalization
  • 1- Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of Counter-narcotics Policies
    Nancy Obregón, Sub-Secretaria General de la Confederación Nacional de Productoras Agropecuarios de las Cuencas Cocaleras del Perú (CONPACCP);
    Eduardo Cifuentes, Ombudsman – Colombia
    Darío González, Co-coordinator Mama Coca, co-founder Indepaz, Cuedes:  Chemical and Biological Weapons in the Drug War
    Mario Argandoña, former consultant OMS and currently consultant cocalero dialogues in Bolivia
    Moderator: Gustavo Wilches-Chaux – Researcher
    2- The Truth of Counter-Drug Policies
    Pierre Salama, Professor, CEPN-Cnrs et Greitd, France
    Ricardo Vargas, TNI, Acción Andina
    Iara Ilgenfritz Silva: Narcotics Trafficking and Urban Delinquency in Brazil
    María Clemencia Ramírez, Instituto de Antropología e Historia
    Moderator Pedro Arenas – Representative to the Colombian House of Representatives

    3- Descriminalization, depenalization, co-responsibility y Legalization
    Rodrigo Uprimny, Lawyer
    Carlos Gaviria, ex- Magistrate Constitutional Court Colombia, Senator of the Republica of Colombia
    Baldo Cáceres, Social Psychologist, Perú;
    Henry Salgado: Agrarian Conflict, crops Used for Illicit Purposes and Peasant Criminalization, Cinep;
    Moderator Ricardo Soberón –Programa Fronteras


    Document  prepared by:

    Henry Salgado Ruíz (Cinep)
    Dario González Posso (Mama Coca, Indepaz, Ceudes)
    María Mercedes Moreno (Mama Coca)

    [1]Iban de Rementería, “Economía y Drogas” en Colombia Internacional, CEI, Uniandes, No. 20, Bogotá, 1992.
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