Coca Growers Shake the Andes Once Again
Struggles Heat Up in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia
By José Arenas
Former Colombian Congressman
April 26, 2007
During the last few days, coca growers, especially in Peru and Colombia, have been in the news again, as their actions have given the media something to talk about.
On the one hand, we have the Peruvian cocaleros of the Tocache region and the cities of Tingo Maria and Huanuco regions who are opposed to the government’s plans to eradicate their crops. President Alan García has even promised to bomb the clandestine airstrips and the wells where the coca leaves are soaked before being processed into the pasta base(“base paste”) for cocaine. Faced with the government’s plans for eradication, the coca growers’ federation forced the government into signing a declaration several days ago, which suspends the eradication until farmers are able to register themselves as coca growers and alternative development programs are begun. On the other hand, in another part of the Peruvian Amazon, a more radical coca producers’ federation has said that it will not allow any form of eradication or registration. Thousands of farm workers have mobilized and are now blocking the highways in and out of the city of Huanuco, under the banner of “coca or death.”
Meanwhile, in Colombia, nearly 4,000 coca growers are in a “permanent mobilization” in the town of La Dorada, in the San Miguel region of Putumayo department. They are proudly proclaiming that they grow coca and make their living from it, and that the fumigations, which the Uribe government is applying, are starving them to death as even the basic subsistence crops that their families eat are being destroyed. Nearby, in Nariño, the residents of the El Charco and La Tola municipalities located on the Pacific coast and predominantly Afro-Colombian, have been forced into displacement due to the violent clashes between the Colombian Navy and the guerrilla fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC in its Spanish initials). The farms allege that the battles are an expression of a chemical war: the fumigations that left them starving on their small plots of land. To make the situation worse, two rightwing paramilitary groups – led by old militia lieutenants now demobilized under Colombia’s “Justice and Peace” law and serving time in the far-away Itaguí prison – have also entered the area, seeking to take control of the coca business and secure routes to the Pacific.
In other parts of the country, more and more organizations are appearing that represent coca-cultivating peasants and are not afraid to state their trade openly – for instance, the ACARIGUA association in the Macarena National Park, and the cultivators in the Catatumbo region. In all these cases, the farmers are not just complaining about the fumigations, but also reject so-called “manual eradication,” as they feel this leads to even more human rights abuses. Such ground operations occurred in Macarena in 2006 and included raids and arrests without warrants, food blockades, torture, and even theft from the local farmers, according to complaints lodged in early 2007 by the population of the savannahs of Puerto Concordia after police operations there.
Finally, the Bolivian cocaleros are working in the coca commission of that country’s Constitutional Assembly, and are close to getting the coca leaf recognized by the new constitution as part of the national symbols and culture, thus pushing for a reevaluation of the ancient plant’s significance. It remains a paradox that our Bolivian brothers are achieving such recognition – thanks to the presence of cocalero leaders, beginning with Evo, in the political sphere – while elsewhere in the neighborhood, the governments of Peru and Colombia are hardening the measures taken against coca growers. A recent example is the ridiculous prohibition that one Colombian government institute has passed against coca-derived products.
Coca has been in the Andes since time immemorial and we can be sure that those who design and apply coercive policies against it will not be able to remove it. The peasant farmers are human beings of flesh and bone, who in most cases are in the coca business because it is the only way they can earn any kind of income that allows them make ends meet. Ignoring these realities is like ignoring the fact that, under the protection of anti-drug laws, the U.S. has increased its presence in the region, exacerbated the passions and concerns of the local people and further militarized the nation’s rural armed conflicts.
Pedro José Arenas Garcia is the president of Colombia’s Communal Movement. From 2002 to 2006 he represented his district, Guaviare (one of the country’s most fumigated) in the Colombian Congress. Read the first and second part of his 2003 interview with Narco News.
Originally published in Spanish April 23
Lea Ud. el Artículo en Español
Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site
and making a contribution today.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
For more Narco News, click here.