María Mercedes Moreno Brings the Words of the Colombian People to the World Wide Web
By Ana Cernov
Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar
February 17, 2003
Colombian academic and activist María Mercedes Moreno came to Mérida to exchange ideas about Colombia and bring home strategic alliances with people from all the Americas and Europe to fight against the War on Drugs. As she says: “We are trying to get it together. We already work with the Peruvians and the Bolivians, and we worked our way into Brazil, which was amazing because of the language and because there’s no coca there.”
María Mercedes Moreno
Photo D.R. Jeremy Bigwood 2003
Moreno is part of the Mama Coca Collective, a research project that brought together a group of academics, researchers, and activists. Their mission is to create an environment for the debate on Colombian issues, especially growing militarization and environmental destruction of the Andean region. To broaden that environment, the web site http://www.mamacoca.org was created in 2001.
I talked to this energetic professor at a café in Mérida just before the conferences this Thursday.
Ana Cernov: How did the Mama Coca project start?
María Mercedes Moreno: Basically, it started as a reaction to Plan Colombia. We started what was called Illicit Crops Network to pass information around, and after a short time what called our attention is that so much information, good information, was circulating. The web site was a good way to show that, and to get the public debate started. And that is extremely important in Colombia. Because of the war, it’s very difficult to create room for discussions. People don’t have the time.
And what was started in Colombia has spread out. Now we have participants from Europe and all the Americas debating related issues with us.
Ana Cernov: How does the Mama Coca collective feel about Drug Legalization?
María Mercedes Moreno: That’s hard. Mama Coca is an academic space with lots of activists and local community leaders tied to it, but it’s a site for debate. For that reason, the site itself and the people involved in the project do not necessarily have a common position. We are a lot of people and there’s not an agreement on that. The one thing that we agree on is that we have to stop the Drug War any way we can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean legalization.
The only thing that we’re asking, for the time being, is a decriminalization of crop growers and consumers. Our major interest is the peasant that doesn’t even own the land they’re growing coca and poppy on, makes too little money in the entire process, but has no option besides that. Not only their subsistence is criminalized, they still are being attacked by all sides: military forces (Army and paramilitaries), guerillas and also by air with fumigation.
Personally, I don’t agree with talking about legalization for everything. What I want is for coca, poppy and marijuana to be off the illegal drugs list, because they are part of nature.
Ana Cernov: Does Colombia have a coca leaf culture?
María Mercedes Moreno: In some parts of the country, like Calderas, and the northern part, there are traditional coca cultures. Otherwise it’s a small percentage of people. But it’s a minority that exists.
I want to insist on that because most of the traditional studies say that Colombia does not have a traditional coca culture. Well, it does, not as much as the other Andean countries, but it does. And that’s a problem for Colombia, people say that it’s a narcotics problem to defend the coca leaf, forgetting that there’s a tradition in coca growing.
People say that this is just a narcotics issue and we can’t do anything about it, of course we can! It’s interesting… the coca culture is becoming more popular now. It’s a symbol of identity. A lot of young people that don’t have any traditional heritage chew coca leaf, and they do it because it’s repressed.
Ana Cernov: Do you agree that there are drug producer and drug consumer countries?
María Mercedes Moreno: What we have to find is a common core. We have to fight it together and the way to do it is not talk about producer and consumer countries. The United States produces so many drugs, they’re their own supplier and one of the largest producers of chemical drugs.
And in the Andean countries this theory is accepted, because it’s very convenient for politicians. Their advantage is that they get military aid and the military projects enables them to take some of the money for personal purposes. That’s what (former president) Andrés Pastrana did in Colombia, the Plan Colombia means a lot of money for politicians, for police force, for the Army.
Ana Cernov: But most of Plan Colombia’s aid package was for military purposes, right?
María Mercedes Moreno: Well, we need to clear up one thing about Plan Colombia. Plan Colombia is not an aid package, we are being charged for that. Colombia is buying helicopters – the Blackhawks and the Hueys. We are paying for the main part of it. This is not a gift from the United States. Besides all the military equipment, the United States has also a lot of requirements for Colombia. Americans are training the Colombian Army and there are also the American mercenaries from DynCorp, that they call contractors.
And Plan Colombia is never going to be profitable for the country. It started out as a copy initiative of the Bolivian Development Plan, and it was supposed to be for economic and social development. People in my country realized that it was necessary, because less than ten percent of Colombians have everything and then the rest of the population doesn’t have a piece of land to call their own, to say “this is my country”. So, the Plan was developed and Pastrana went to the United States with it, but the United States said “okay, let’s make it better” and they transformed it into an anti-narcotics plan by saying that they were strengthening the state. Stronger state institutions means credibility and they’re very corrupted in Colombia. So, the Plan Colombia initiative became a counter-insurgent movement. It was perfect to deal with guerillas.
Ana Cernov: And what about the paramilitaries?
María Mercedes Moreno: In Colombia now we have a paramilitary president. Uribe has bonds to this group. And even if the paramilitaries were put on the terrorist groups list, the Unites States is willing to dialogue with them. And that’s because Carlos Castaño gave himself to the United States and made a commitment to stop narcotic trafficking. This is about controlling narcotics trafficking, it’s said that it’s about democracy and other values, but it’s about controlling this industry. It’s not about fighting narcotics trafficking, this is just about controlling the territory.
Ana Cernov: Do you believe that Colombia is a threat to regional security in the Americas (as the United States says)?
María Mercedes Moreno: There are several theories on that. For example, Ricardo Soberón García has a theory that the idea of spreading the conflict to the other Andean countries has helped the United States to impose its military solution, just like they did with Iraq. It’s a strategy to strengthen the United States control. To find a solution for protecting the continent is the new national security strategy for the United States. And it’s a national security strategy that works outside its borders. If we think about it, the United States is the biggest threat: they have nuclear weapons, they have a maniac, an ignorant maniac in power, that was appointed by a set of politicians, [he was] not elected. They’re probably the biggest threat to world peace.
Peasants have the right to make a living, and if it’s coca, or it’s coca for narcotics trafficking, I think (personally, not Mama Coca), that they’re in their right. Come on, Coca Cola is not a healthy product. And because someone decided that coca (not cocaine) was a bad thing, Colombia is being chemically bombed with fumigation.
And Colombia is considered a stable democracy, but it’s a false one because it’s an oligarchic democracy. Pastrana’s father was also president. When is it going to change? Anyone that doesn’t get co-opted has to leave the country or stay and get killed. So, this is not a democracy, it’s an inherited political system, from the same people to the same people. Colombia is not a democracy. And as for the United States, it needed a crusade for its American warriors.
Full Disclosure: The author wishes to acknowledge the material assistance, encouragement, and guidance, of The Narco News Bulletin, The Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, publisher Al Giordano and the rest of the faculty, and of the Tides Foundation. Narco News is a co-sponsor and funder of the international drug legalization summit, “OUT FROM THE SHADOWS: Ending Prohibition in the 21st Century,” in Mérida, Yucatán, and is wholly responsible for the School of Authentic Journalism whose philosophy and methodology were employed in the creation of this report. The writing, the opinions expressed, and the conclusions reached, if any, are solely those of the author.
Apertura total: El autor desea reconocer la asistencia material, el ánimo y la guía de The Narco News Bulletin, La Escuela de Narco News de Periodismo Auténtico, su Director General Al Giordano y el resto del profesorado, y de la Fundación Tides. Narco News es copatrocinador y financiador del encuentro internacional sobre legalización de las drogas “Saliendo de las sombras: terminando con la prohibición a las drogas en el siglo XXI” en Mérida, Yucatán, y es completamente responsable por la Escuela de Periodismo Auténtico, cuya filosofía y metodología fueron empleadas en la elaboración de esta nota. La escritura, las opiniones expresadas y las conclusiones alcanzadas, si las hay, son de exclusiva responsabilidad del autor
Abertura Total: O autor deseja reconhecer o material de apoio, o propósito e o guia do Boletim Narco News. a Escola de Jornalismo Autêntico, o editor Al Giordano, o restante de professores e a Fundaçáo Tides. Narco News é co-patrocinador e financiador do encontro sobre a legalizaçao das drogas Saindo das Sombras: terminando com a proibiçao das drogas no século XXI em Mérida, Yucatan, e é completamente responsável pela Escola de Jornalismo Autêntico, cuja filosofia e metodologia foram implantadas na elaboraçao desta reportagem. O texto, as opinioes expressadas e as conclusoes alcançadas, se houver, sao de responsabilidade do autor.
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