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ANDEAN COUNTRIES
3/11/2002
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As long as demand drives the d

In early January, Peruvian police stopped a truck in the southern highland city of Arequipa and seized six tons of cocaine bound for the Golden Fish, a Bolivian-registered ship anchored off the seaport of Ilo. Police said the traffickers, who had set up a front company with Mexican capital, included Peruvians, Mexicans and at least one Colombian.

A year and a half earlier, in a raid on a warehouse outside landlocked Bogotá, 2,250 meters above sea level, police discovered a partially assembled submarine hull, apparently being built with Russian technology. The navigation system, presumably under construction elsewhere, was never found.

While anecdotal, the two incidents illustrate the high stakes of the drug business and the near impossibility of eliminating supply through police action, interdiction and eradication of drug crops, which have been the cornerstones of anti-drug strategy in the Andes — largely at the behest of the United States — for more than a decade.

The steady demand, mainly in the United States and Europe, makes campesinos only too willing to ensure a steady supply of raw materials. For many, coca, from which cocaine is derived, and poppies, from which opium latex is obtained for heroin, are virtually the only profitable crops.

The US-funded portion of Plan Colombia and US President George W. Bush’s subsequent Andean Regional Initiative provide money to boost police and military efforts to eradicate drugs and increase crop substitution in Colombia and neighboring countries (LP, Oct. 16, 2000). But experts in the Andean area say the policy is essentially flawed.

Eradication efforts have only displaced crops from one country to another or to different regions within a country, while crop substitution makes little sense unless there is a consistent policy for rural development, especially in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, the three principal drug-producing countries.

According to a 1999 report by the US General Accounting Office, despite two years of efforts to eradicate drug crops in Colombia by spraying herbicide on fields, net coca cultivation there increased by 50 percent.

Regional solution needed

While each country plays a different role in the illicit-drug chess game and governments have addressed the problem in distinct ways, only a region-wide strategy will begin to make a dent in the problem, according to Hugo Cabieses, a top adviser to Ricardo Vega Llona, Peru’s "drug czar."

"In the international division of labor, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are producers of coca," Cabieses said. "Colombia also produces marijuana and poppies. Ecuador and Venezuela are transit points and money-laundering centers, especially Venezuela. Ecuador is also a platform for exporting chemical inputs for cocaine paste production to Colombia and Peru ."

Throughout the Andes, indigenous people have chewed coca leaves and used them in religious rituals for thousands of years. This "traditional use" is protected by law in Bolivia and Peru, and a certain number of hectares — about 10,000 in Bolivia and 25,000 in Peru — are set aside for growing coca for the "traditional" market. While pre-Hispanic Colombians also used coca traditionally, all coca cultivation is illegal in that country now.

In Peru, the National Coca Company (ENACO) is the only official channel for sale and purchase of coca. Only campesinos registered with ENACO can legally cultivate the crop, although legal sanctions are virtually never applied to other growers, Cabieses said. Instead, government policy has been to crack down on the manufacturing, transporting and commercialization of drugs.

In Bolivia, about 12,000 hectares are legally set aside for cultivation of coca for traditional use. Eradication efforts have mainly targeted coca grown in the Chapare region of the central department of Cochabamba, but there are now pockets of coca cultivation in the Santa Cruz area and the northern Beni department, Cabieses said.

Bolivia’s Law 1008, passed in 1988, established that the only legal areas for growing coca for "traditional" use were in the Yungas, a tropical area north of La Paz, and one small part of the Chapare region. The rest of Chapare was designated a "transition" zone, in which campesinos were shifting from illegal coca cultivation to legal crops.

Until early 2002, coca leaves could be sold legally at about 15 markets in the Cochabamba department. In January 2002, however, President Jorge Quiroga outlawed the drying, transportation and sale of coca in the Chapare region (LP, Feb. 11, 2002). Under the decree, the markets were shut down, sparking violent protests in which at least five campesinos and four police officers and soldiers were killed and dozens were injured.

On Feb. 9, the government agreed to suspend the decree for 90 days while a commission hammered out a new version of the law.

In both Bolivia and Peru, most coca producers are campesinos with small plots of land — an average of five to eight hectares in Bolivia and 0.5 to 1.5 hectares in Peru. The picture is different in Colombia, where "you can’t make a living if you have less than 10 to 15 hectares planted in coca," Cabieses said. While small farmers also grow coca, much of the production in Colombia is in the hands of larger landholders, many of them absentee landlords.

Estimates of the amount of land planted in illicit drug crops vary from source to source. The Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission estimated that there were 212,000 hectares of coca in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru in 2000. Cabieses, however, puts the figure at about 300,000 hectares of coca destined for the drug market.

The UN Drug Control Program estimates that there are also 7,500 hectares of opium poppy crops and 5,000 hectares of cannabis in Colombia. Peruvian officials have expressed concern about an increase in opium poppy crops in that country, where police destroyed more than 130 hectares of poppies in the first 11 months of 2001 (LP, Dec. 3, 2001).

Different strategies

When authorities focus eradication efforts on one area, producers tend to move to another area, clearing tropical forest and replanting the drug crops. According to the Trade and Environmental Database Project of American University in Washington, DC, about 2.5 hectares of forest are cleared for every hectare of coca or poppies planted. Other sources put the figure as high as four hectares.

This migration of crops also crosses national boundaries. When Peru launched a major interdiction effort in the early 1990s to stop Colombian traffickers from flying coca leaves and paste out of the country in small planes, the traffickers simply moved production to Colombia. While coca production declined dramatically in Peru, it increased in Colombia, from an estimated 50,900 hectares in 1995 to 163,300 in 2000, according to the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission.

With the stepped-up air interdiction efforts in Peru, traffickers switched from air transport to shipping overland and along rivers to the Brazilian border or the coast.

"The decrease in Bolivia or Peru was offset by an increase in Colombia. And now that they’re tightening the screws in Colombia, they’re likely to move back to Peru or Bolivia," Cabieses said.

The UN Drug Control Program estimates that the coca-cocaine business in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia is worth about $3 billion a year — $190 million in Bolivia, $325 million in Peru and $2.5 billion in Colombia. Some estimates indicate that nearly half a million people are directly or indirectly employed in some facet of the trade.

Other estimates are even higher. While Colombia’s national statistics office estimated annual income from drug plantations at about $516 million in 1999, private analysts have calculated that the entire drug trade in the country could be worth as much as $7 billion a year.

Coffee production has been a mainstay of alternative development projects, especially in Peru, but officials fear that a slump in international coffee prices will drive campesinos back to growing coca. Ironically, the drop in coffee prices is largely due to increased production in Vietnam, which was encouraged by some of the same international aid agencies that fund crop-substitution programs in the Andes.

Officials responsible for developing alternatives for drug-crop farmers face a harsh economic reality: coca yields four harvests a year and poppies are ready for harvest within six months. And while the prices are not always stable (over the past decade, the price of a kilogram of coca leaves has ranged from US$0.89 to $2.46 in Peru and $0.98 to $6.16 in Bolivia), the crops have a sure market. No other crop is nearly as profitable, and most are far more perishable, making transportation to distant markets a problem.

Toward a true Andean initiative

"Campesinos don’t have much choice but to keep growing coca, because it’s the only crop that produces the results that supposedly should be generated by alternative development programs," Cabieses said.

Major problems, he said, are failure to involve local people in planning alternatives to drug-crop production and an insistence on orienting production toward export markets instead of considering local, regional and national markets — which could require certain trade protections.

Planners must also take into account transportation and processing of crops. Aid agencies have promoted palm production in the Ene Valley in Peru’s central jungle, Cabieses said. "But the pilot processing plant is six hours away by boat, and palm is perishable," he added. After about three hours, it starts to develop dark spots and is no longer suitable for processing.

Cabieses insists that only common policies will help the Andean countries make a dent in drug production.

Like Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, Cabieses supports an Andean strategy, "not in the sense of the Andean Regional Initiative proposed by the United States, but in terms of a regional perspective on the situation so we can avoid these problems of dispersion and movement of drug crops."

The same goes for development strategies. Both Colombia and Peru are encouraging drug-crop producers to switch to palm oil production, "and we’re going to end up competing in the international market," he said. "The idea of an Andean regional initiative isn’t bad. The problem is that if the Andean Regional Initiative is only designed to tackle illicit drugs and subversion linked to drug trafficking, it won’t put out the fire."

Experts say that an effective anti-drug strategy must operate on a variety of levels, only one of which involves eradication of crops. Among the elements:

• Prevention, which "not only has to do with consumption, but also production and trafficking," Cabieses said. "Educational campaigns about crop production are needed, along with campaigns to prevent people from going into trafficking."

• Rehabilitation of drug users, sellers and drug-crop producers, who must be "rehabilitated so they return to traditional crops, which they know," Cabieses said. Campesinos need technical agricultural assistance, while dealers also need rehabilitation.

• Reducing trafficking by reducing drug crops, undertaking intelligence work to detect traffickers and their links with those in power, controlling chemical inputs for drug production, and controlling firearms and money laundering.

Above all, experts say, any proposal for moving away from drug crops to other crops in the Andes must address the problems that initially cause campesinos to grow coca, poppies and marijuana.

"We’re not talking about the substitution of one crop for another," Cabieses said, "but the substitution of one economy and culture of crop-production for illicit ends with another economy and another culture, with the participation of the communities involved."

HECTARES PLANTED IN COCA

Year

Bolivia

Colombia

Peru

Total

1991

47,900

37,500

120,800

206,200

1992

45,500

37,100

129,100

211,700

1993

47,200

39,700

108,800

195,700

1994

48,100

45,000

108,600

201,700

1995

48,600

50,900

115,300

214,800

1996

48,100

67,200

94,400

209,700

1997

45,800

79,500

69,000

194,300

1998

38,000

78,200*

51,000

190,500

1999

21,800

160,100**

38,700

220,600

2000

14,600

163,200**

34,200

212,000

* 1998 figure based on First Inter-Institutional Census of Illicit Crops. Does not include demilitarized zone.

** 1999 and 2000 figures for Colombia were estimated using a new methodology; therefore they cannot be compared to preceding years.

Source: OAS

 

POTENTIAL COCAINE PRODUCTION 1991-2000 (metric tons)

 

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

Peru

525

550

410

435

460

435

325

240

175

145

Colombia

60

60

65

70

80

300

350

435

612

947

Bolivia

220

225

240

255

240

215

200

150

70

43


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A coca plantation in Peru
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