<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Perú in Permanent Battle for the Coca Leaf

Narco News Interviews Nancy Obregón

By Andrea Arenas Alípaz
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

May 6, 2003

Nancy Obregón: “We are not narcos or terrorists… the coca leaf must stay.”
Photo D.R. Jeremy Bigwood 2003
May 4, 2003: For Peruvian coca growers, there are no more perfect reasons to keep on fighting than the vindication of the coca leaf and also the injustices they must confront every day. Ever since the recent imprisonment of their maximum leader Nelson Palomino, the reins of the movement have been taken by Nancy Obregón. She now leads the battle in which peasant farmers have united in the march to Lima in recent days, their determination greater than ever to defend the coca leaf and prevent that it by taken from their lives and livelihood.

The accusations recently made against the Peruvian coca growers – that they are “terrorists” and “narco-traffickers” – have been no more than manners to distract their movement and the cause of their struggle. Narco News is in direct contact with Nancy Obregón to bring to your screens the news of this conflict in our América, directly from the voice of one of the makers of this immediate history.

Narco News: What is the first step that you are going to take to make sure the government complies with your Redress of Grievances?

Nancy Obregón: We are fighting for a direct dialogue, for a political space. We want permanent talks. Our organization has brought great influence on the situation; the government already has sent us a message seeking a clearer negotiating process. I think that now it is our turn to be more responsible in order to defend and revalorize our production of coca leaf. We have to struggle so that they don’t eradicate the coca unfairly. We have to work together toward this goal and not betray our selves because the eradication of coca affects our economy.

When I came back from Mexico, I spoke with compañero Nelson Palomino before he went to prison. He told me that they were eradicating coca crops in Agauytía, and we had to go defend our compañeros. That is why we made a national call to action and paralyzed the jungle region for eleven days. Unfortunately, no agreement was reached with the government. Now that they want to restore a dialogue, that doesn’t mean that we are going to wait passively. We know who we are negotiating with.

Narco News: How do you feel about the imprisonment of Nelson Palomino under the charge of “apology for terrorism?”

Nancy Obregón: We feel very indignant about Nelson Palomino’s situation. Nelson was part of the Farmer’s Roundtable, and it was this indignation over the charge of “apology for terrorism” that caused us, when we arrived in Lima, to tell them that we count with many men and women who have walked, who have suffered, in order to make them respect us. He counts with majority support.

Today we are investigating these people who were supposedly kidnapped by Nelson Palomino. These people are financed by CARE Peru; that means that this is not just a manipulation by the government, but also a meddling in domestic matters by the non-governmental organizations who want to weaken the National Coca Leaf Producers Federation.

We are not opposed to alternative development. But we are against its bad management and the use that they make of international money. There are those who do support and give money for this, but it never arrives, it stays inside of these illicit movements, and this is what Nelson Palomino protested. The United States government makes them view coca leaf as something evil…

Narco News: Do you think that the government’s accusation you are narco-traffickers and terrorists harms the Peruvian coca growers, your movement, and your right to plant coca?

Nancy Obregón: The whip is not coca; it is terrorism. We cannot allow that they see us as narcos or as terrorists. We cannot let them harm our leaf over those motives, nor any other agricultural product that comes from these soils. We don’t sell our products in the capital. The Alternative Development campaigns have to allow that agricultural production develops and they have to be against the eradication of coca leaf. We don’t want to over-produce coca. But we do want at least a half-hectare in our back yard. The United States doesn’t understand that the coca must stay, and that is how “alternative development” works.

Narco News: What measures and plans are you thinking about, as a leader, to make policies that favor the coca farmers, and to change or amend Supreme Decree # 044-2003 PCM that supposedly is going to become the Coca Leaf Law in Peru?

Nancy Obregón: This decree has not been examined. It was designed from the National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA in its Spanish acronym), and by the president’s chief of staff. We know very well that the same President of the Republic has said that we if we are not in agreement with what the decree says, we have every right to meet and to change it. The means will be, first, that we are going to seek the best coca experts to be able to amend the Supreme Decree, defending our plant and our permanent fight to maintain it.

Narco News: How are relations between Nelson Palomino and the coca growers?

Nancy Obregón: Relations are good. I am the under-secretary, and this will remain that way until Nelson’s innocence is proved. That is to say, he continues to be our leader, the General Secretary, unless and until they prove that he kidnapped Nelson Contreras. For this to happen, they would have to prove the contrary. But he is innocent. And his people know it: He counts with our support.

Narco News: Nancy, you have planted and harvested coca leaf since you were eight years old. How do you feel about the possibility that future generations will be deprived of their millenarian leaf?

Nancy Obregón: They have wanted to pull up our mentality by the roots and change it. They want to make us believe that the coca leaf is evil. That is why people who love coca are needed in order to defend it, working with us and with the courage to defend it and continue marching forward. We have already realized that even “pitucas” (the elite “beautiful people”) have supported us, saying that they feel they are part of this struggle.

At the same time, the students of the country have brought us support. We have not been rejected. The legal products that coca leaf makes have been very successful. But this is the moment to conquer the national market, so that this way of producing coca continues to be possible.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America