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Cartels grip a border city

Nuevo Laredo
Miami Herald

In Bolivia and Ready to Head for the Chapare

After an arduous two-day trek by bus from Cusco, Peru, across the Altiplano and over Lake Titicaca by ferry, I'm now sitting in La Paz, Bolivia, which is truly a spectacular city. It's located in a valley at 13,000 feet, and looming above is the majestic peak of Mount Illimani. The city is more than a million people, and the houses crawl up the slopes of the valley. The streets in the city center are teeming with people, many of them in full-blown indigenous attire. You know, the stuff of National Geographic specials. I'll be posting some pics from here after I wander around a bit. view of Lake Titicaca, Peru Today, I'll be going to the Coca Museum to talk to Jorge Hurtado, its curator and a leading defender of the coca leaf. Should be interesting. While I'm in the neighborhood, I'll also visit the witch's market, where you can buy all kinds of strange things, including—I kid you not—dried llama fetuses, which people put in their houses to ward off evil spirits. Guys, how about one of those for the office? [Editor's note: NO - DB] I've been working the phone and email all day today trying to arrange interviews and visits with cocaleros, Bolivian officials, activists, analysts, and the US Embassy. It is a frustrating process; Bolivian government officials seem to rarely be in their offices, and the US Embassy, as usual, is not being especially helpful. Since I'm not an "official" journalist, merely a member of the "new media," the press office doesn't really want to talk to me, but I continue to hope I can wrangle at least an off-the-record sit down with the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS). I have firmed up a visit to the Chapare, the main non-traditional coca growing region, where Evo Morales has managed to bring peace through his cooperative eradication program, which allows each family to grow small plots of coca without regard to the official limit of 30,000 acres, all of which is assigned to the Yungas, the traditional coca growing region. I will fly into Cochabamba Monday morning (a half-hour flight versus an all-day bus ride), and meet with the good people of the Andean Information Network before heading out with them by jeep and then motorcycle to the coca zones. I will fly back to La Paz Tuesday morning. Tuesday and Wednesday, I hope to spend one day going down into Las Yungas (down "the world's most dangerous highway," although I suspect it can't be much worse than that road I took from Ayacucho to the VRAE) and the other day in meetings. I have to start heading back to Gringolandia on Thursday, arriving in Houston at 6am, and back home in snowy South Dakota by mid-afternoon. Coca is prevalent in La Paz. In addition to numerous street vendors sitting with their bags full of leaves, mate de coca is offered almost everywhere. A couple of nights ago, I went to a downtown bar and had a Mojito Boliviano, a mojito made with coca leaves instead of spearmint. Que rico! Traveler's Tip #1: Don't drink much alcohol at high altitudes. One mojito will do. Traveler's Tip #2: Get small bills. Making change is a real problem. A 100 Boliviano bill (worth about $15 US) is difficult to change in the city and almost impossible to change anywhere outside the city. Wow, talk about under-capitalized. This is a real problem, since ATMs and money exchanges always give you big bills. Some more pictures: ferry ride across Lake Titicaca buses riding the ferry (including Phil's) accident near the lake view of lake from ferry, overlooking lake City of Puno, Peru Peruvian Altiplano
La Paz

Chronicle on the Scene Feature: Bolivia's "Coca, Yes, Cocaine No" Policy is Beginning to Work

On the long, arduous highway connecting Puno, the last major city in the Peruvian south, with the Bolivian capital of La Paz, travelers approaching Bolivia cross the border on the shores of Lake Titicaca near the small Bolivian town of Copacabana. There, the entrance to Bolivia is marked with a large billboard proclaiming Bolivia's intention to fight the traffic in cocaine and the precursor chemicals needed to transform coca into the popular stimulant drug. The billboard is a stark visual reminder that while Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, has embarked on a policy of defending coca, his government has every intention of cracking down on the cocaine business.
Bolivian government border billboard about anti-cocaine enforcement
Since his election in December 2005, Morales has broken with two decades of US "zero coca" policy in the country and appears to be having some success in establishing limits on coca production without, for the most part, setting off violent social conflict. He has also, as the billboard suggests, moved aggressively against the cocaine traffic. The question now, with the US State Department's annual certification of drug-producing countries' compliance with US drug policy objectives looming next month, is whether the Bush administration is willing to let Morales and the country's coca growers take the time necessary to arrive at reductions in overall coca production without engendering further social conflict.

The third largest producer of coca, from which cocaine is derived, Bolivia has for decades hewed to a policy of coca eradication directed from Washington, but it has paid a high price. In this decade, five presidents were driven from office in five years, at least in part because of simmering resentment over Bolivian obeisance to the US's "zero coca" policy. Prior to the election of Morales, eradication campaigns were accompanied by violent clashes, peasant rebellions, military and police violations of human rights, and numerous fatalities as successive governments sought to impose the will of the US on the country's impoverished coca growers.

"This has been a long-term negative approach," said Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, (AIN) whose analyses of Bolivian coca politics inform much of this article. "The US needs to move away from just measuring the size of the coca crop or how much is eradicated and look at how this will play out in the next few years," she told Drug War Chronicle.

As a former coca grower union leader in the Chapare, Morales has the credibility with coca growers to enforce what is known as "cooperative eradication," as opposed to the forced eradication in pursuit of US policy aims that has engendered conflict and political instability in one of Latin America's poorest countries (average annual income under $1,000). While cooperative eradication began in the Chapare before Morales' election, it has gathered steam during his presidency, and in the last two years, Bolivia has seen the smallest increase in coca production of any of the Andean region's three big producers.

The other two major producers are Colombia and Peru. According to US estimates, coca production in Peru increased from 68,000 acres in 2004 to 95,000 acres in 2005, a 38% increase, while Colombian production increased from 285,000 acres to 360,000 acres, a 26% increase, despite widespread aerial fumigation of coca crops there. In Bolivia, on the other hand, the US estimated that production increased from 61,000 acres to 65,000 acres, an increase of only 8%. (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, on the other hand, estimated an 8% decrease in Bolivian coca production during the same period, but both estimates are very close in terms of the actual size of the 2005 Bolivian crop.)

Overall, when looking at the regional coca production figures for the last five years, despite a US policy of aggressively seeking to eradicate coca, total coca production has increased in a step-wise fashion, rising from 125,000 acres overall in 2000 to nearly 500,000 thousand acres in 2005. This steady climb in overall coca production raises the question of whether any prohibition-based policy aimed at reducing production will achieve success as long as the global demand for cocaine continues to be high. Still, the Morales government is making what appears to be a good faith effort to both slow the rate of increase and appease the Americans.
Christo Deneumostier, owner of The Coca Shop, Cusco, Peru
In Bolivia, there are two major coca production areas, the Yungas of La Paz province and the Chapare in the eastern Amazon lowlands. Prior to the October 2004 agreement with Chapare growers, only growers in the Yungas, the traditional home of Bolivian coca production, could legally grow coca, and they were limited to 30,000 acres. But the 2004 agreement, which has been accelerated by the Morales government, ignored the 30,000-acre rule, instead allowing all growers in the program to harvest one cato (about 1,600 square meters, or about one-third the size of a football field) of coca, in return for which farmers agreed to accept eradication in two national parks and to cooperatively eradicate any coca beyond the one-cato limit. By growing a cato of coca, farmers are able to generate an annual income of between $900 and $1,300 a year.

That plan was to stay in place until the completion of a study to see how much coca is needed for legal markets, but that study has yet to be completed, and the agreement remains in effect. The majority of the reduction in coca production reported by the UN is now in the Chapare, and the violent conflict that plagued previous forced eradication efforts is now a thing of the past.

Despite the successful effort in the Chapare, US officials have continued to criticize the Morales government's coca policies. Last summer, US drug czar John Walters told reporters that Bolivia's "current level of [anti-drug] cooperation is not what it has been in the past, nor what it needs to be to continue reducing the problem." And just days earlier, a high-level USAID official, Adolfo Franco, testified before Congress that: "In Bolivia, Evo Morales and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party have continued to waver on economic policy, democracy and counternarcotics…"

The US has also been critical of an agreement between Morales and coca growers to de facto raise the legal limit from 30,000 acres to 50,000. US officials have criticized the agreement as allowing an increase in coca production. But as AIN's Ledebur told the Chronicle, "The idea that the increase in allowed production will lead to a real increase in production is mistaken. The increase merely accounts for coca that is actually being produced."

But the US Embassy in Bolivia has taken a slightly friendlier approach, one that recognizes the success in the Chapare. Last May, the month before Walters and Franco criticized Bolivia's coca policies, the embassy asked Bolivia to withdraw a US-funded police force from the Chapare, where it had been responsible for protecting eradicators and preventing the road blockades that had plagued the region in the past. The embassy has also publicly praised Morales' appointment of former Chapare coca grower Felipe Caceres as Bolivia's "drug czar" as an "excellent choice."

While the Morales government has adopted cooperative eradication in the Chapare and pro-coca policies that seek to increase legal markets for coca and recognize its positive attributes as part of Bolivian culture and as a food and medicine, it has also continued to work with US authorities in cocaine interdiction efforts and reported record levels of cocaine seizures last year.

Ironically, with the Chapare now essentially pacified, it is the Yungas region, home of the permitted legal cultivation, where problems are now arising. Coca production has expanded above the 30,000 acres allowed, and Bolivian government efforts to restrain the size of the crop have led to clashes between growers and the armed forces. Last May, the Morales government signed an agreement allowing growers in a part of the Yungas where production has been illegal to grow one cato per family, and negotiations are underway with growers in other parts of the Yungas.

But that agreement also called for a government task force to continue eradication efforts, and the first violent conflict with coca growers in two years occurred there in September, when two cocaleros were shot dead by members of a joint military-police eradication team during a conflict over eradication. The conflict had been simmering ever since last February when the task force entered the Vandiola Yungas after an agreement to eliminate coca in a national park there. But further negotiations about coca growing outside the park faltered, and in September the task force set up camps in the region. While local farmers allowed eradication to go inside the park, on September 29, they tried to block eradicators from entering what they considered a legitimate coca growing area, with the result that two farmers were killed.

Things have since cooled down somewhat in the Vandiola Yungas after an agreement allowing 650 families to grow 400 catos of coca, but tensions remain. Meanwhile, in the primary Yungas growing regions, there is increasing tension over efforts to curb cultivation there, which well exceeds the legal limit.
much more to life in Bolivia than coca -- fiesta in the Altiplano
As Bolivian coca growers await the study that will determine the size of the legitimate market in coca, they are looking not only to their own government, which is seeking to expand markets and has contracted with the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez both to build a processing plant in the Yungas and to ship coca to Venezuela, but also to entrepreneurs like Peruvian Christo Deneumostier, owner of the Coca Shop, in Cusco, Peru, who sells everything from coca cookies and pastries to coca ice cream. He told the Chronicle this week he wanted to become the Starbucks of coca by opening a series of Coca Shop franchises across Peru -- and beyond. "We transform coca into legal products," he said. "We need to start marketing coca to expand the legal market. The problem is not the plant, but the demand for cocaine. If we can expand legal markets with our products, we won't have to see those plants turned into cocaine."

But the marketing of coca for legitimate medicinal and alimentary uses is still in its infancy, and Starbucks-like coca shops are still a glimmer in the eye of excited entrepreneurs. Still, the Morales government has substantially managed to put a lid on civil conflict around coca, has worked with the US government in interdiction efforts, and is undertaking real eradication campaigns. In that sense, Bolivian coca policy is working in a way it never has before. Will the US government recognize this, or will it continue to criticize Morales for allowing increases in production in some regions? Look for an answer to that question next month, when the annual certification report comes out.

In the meantime, Drug War Chronicle will be visiting the Chapare and, probably, the Yungas next week, as well as seeking a deeper understanding of the issues from analysts, growers, and Bolivian and US government officials. Stay tuned.

(Phil will be publishing several more from-the-scene reports over the coming weeks, during and after his stay. Read last week's report from Peru here and Phil's ongoing blog reports from the region here.)

Southwest Asia: Afghan Opium Eradication Effort Sparks New Violence

Afghan police briefly fled from a town in Bakwa district in Farah province after four of them were killed in a roadside bomb attack as their 10-vehicle convoy returned from a day of eradicating opium plants. Taliban militants moved into the town and seized three vehicles before abandoning the area, local officials said.
Meanwhile, in Ghor province, one poppy farmer was killed and two wounded when police opened fire on a crowd of 500 people protesting government eradication efforts. The protest came after police began eradicating plants in the area.

In Bakwa, the roadside bomb targeted the province's police chief. He was uninjured, but four officers riding in his vehicle were killed. "Three policemen were killed on the spot, and another died of his injuries in the hospital today," district Police Chief Afgha Saqib told Deutsch Presse-Agentur Monday.

Saqib blamed the Taliban for the attack. The resurgent guerrilla group is widely seen as benefiting from the drug trade in Afghanistan, which now produces more than 90% of the world's opium.

Taliban militants also seized the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province on February 1 and remain in control there. Helmand is now the largest opium producing province in the country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected US offers to spray poppy plants with herbicides and vowed to undertake an extensive eradication campaign this year. Last year, the Afghan opium crop grew by a whopping 49% over the previous year, producing an estimated 6,700 tons of opium, enough to make 670 tons of heroin.

ENCOD Statement to Commission on Narcotic Drugs

ONE YEAR LEFT Dear delegates, On behalf of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, a platform of more than 150 citizens’ association from around Europe, we wish to ask your attention for the following. Next year, a crucial deadline expires. During the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in June 1998, in New York, a political declaration was adopted mentioning two important objectives and a target date. In this declaration, the UN General Assembly committed itself to “achieving significant and measurable results in the field of demand reduction” as well as to “eliminating or reducing significantly the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy” by the year 2008. The failure of policies based on this assumption is proved every day by citizens, by the farmers living in coca and opium producing areas in South America and Asia, by people in jails, on dancefloors, in coffeeshops, in user rooms, but also in institutional corridors. According to figures published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the annual prevalence of drug use (as percentage of population aged 15 and above) is showing a slight increase with regards to ecstasy, opiates and cocaine (for instance, in the USA, the annual prevalence of cocaine use raised from 2.6% in 2000 to 2.8 % in 2004), and a larger increase in the use of cannabis (USA: from 8,3% in 2000 to 12,6 % in 2004) and amphetamine (USA: from 0,9% in 2000 to 1,5% in 2004). Considering the cultivation of illicit plants, the amount of produced opium has increased from 4.346 tons in 1998 to 4.620 tons in 2005, cocaine has increased from 825 tons in 1998 to 910 tons in 2005 and cannabis from an estimated 30.000 tons in 1998 to 42.000 tons in 2005 (a third of which is produced in from North America). It is obvious that the global efforts to “eliminate or significantly reduce drugs demand and supply” before the 2008 deadline have not been successful. These efforts have caused considerable damage to human rights, public health, environment, sound economy, sustainable development, the state of law and the relation between citizens and authorities across the world, yet they have not been effective. In a year from now, you will have to take an important decision. When you meet here in this room in March 2008, you need to have a story. Your government or organisation needs to present its conclusions of the past 10 years, as well as its recommendations for the future. Essentially you have two possibilities. You can either choose to ignore the evidence, and continue on this costly, ineffective and counterproductive affair called the War on Drugs. Future generations will hold you responsible for the failure of drug policies in the years to come. You will have missed an excellent opportunity to repair a historical mistake. Or you can decide to make a genuine and sincere review of the impact of current drug policies and start to consider a change in international drug legislation in order to allow countries to start with policies that may be more effective in reducing harms and increasing benefits. Hundreds of millions of people are challenging current drug policies. They feel they have no other choice than to break the law on drugs in order to survive, exercise their human rights or reduce harm related to drugs consumption . Today, harm reduction is embraced by many local and regional authorities in Europe as an effective approach to the most urgent health problems related to drug use. Still many options to apply harm reduction measures are being jeopardized by national legislation and blocked by the international legislatory framework (i.e., the UN conventions on drugs and their narrow interpretation and inappropriate application). As a consequence of the pragmatic attitude of most European citizens towards the use of cannabis, the possession of small quantities of cannabis is no longer considered an offence in most countries. In countries where the cultivation of cannabis for personal use is depenalised, consumers are taking initiatives to organise a transparant, controllable, and closed circuit of cannabis cultivation, distribution and consumption by adults. These initiatives should be embraced by governments as a way to reduce the size of the illegal market . The international depenalisation of the coca leaf could allow the export of tea and other benefitial coca derivates and thus contribute to the worldwide recognition of the great nutritional, medicinal and cultural value of coca. This could help to reduce the dependence of coca farmers of the illegal economy and establish a sustainable economy based on renewable agricultural resources. And finally, depenalising the cultivation of opium and allowing the use of this substance for benefitial purposes, among others as a pain killer, could become an important option to increase the life standards of opium farmers in Afghanistan, Burma and other countries. Vienna 2008 should mark the start of a different era in drug policy. A minimum standard of tolerance could be established within the international legislatory framework , which can facilitate the legal and political space for local, regional and national authorities to apply policies that are not based on prohibition. We are convinced that very soon, drug prohibition will be considered as an ill-conceived strategy that has only produced harm to producers and consumers and benefits to organised crime. We hope to see you next year in Vienna. Best wishes, On behalf of ENCOD Steering Committee FOR A BETTER SYSTEM: EUROPEAN COALITION FOR JUST AND EFFECTIVE DRUG POLICIES (ENCOD) Lange Lozanastraat 14 2018 Antwerpen Belgium Tel. 00 32 (0)3 237 7436 Mob. 00 32 (0)495 122 644 Fax. 00 32 (0)3 237 0225 Website:

Op-Ed: Meth trade not gone, just evolving

United States
The News Tribune (WA)

In the Rain on the Shores of Lake Titicaca---This Is a Potential Problem

I´m in Puno, Peru, on the shores of Lake Titicaca in heavy downpour. There is already massive flooding in Bolivia (I saw it on CNN en espanol tonight and heard about it from Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network a couple of days ago), so the rain here is not a good sign. Kathryn said her husband was lucky to get back from the Chapare a couple of days ago, and it´s only gotten worse. What does this mean? It means it may be impossible to get to either of the major coca regions in the next few days. I don´t know that for sure, but that road to Las Yungas (the world´s deadliest highway) is dirt, and with heavy rains, it sounds very iffy. And the Chapare is where the deadly flooding is (36 dead so far), so that sounds pretty iffy, too. I had hoped to be in Bolivia tonight, but it was not to be. By the time my rain-delayed bus from Cusco got here to Puno, it was late afternoon, and the Bolivians close the border crossing at 6:30 local time, and given that it´s another two or three hours to the border, I stopped here rather than face the prospect of getting trapped overnight in the middle of nowhere. I will arrive in La Paz tomorrow afternoon, God willin´ and the creek don´t rise (as my old man used to say, and it seems appropriate in these circumstances) and will probably meet up with Annie Murphy from the Bolivian embassy in Washington. She is in La Paz. Since Kathryn and the AIN are in Cochabamba, on the way to the Chapare, with the roads doubtful, and since the Drug War Chronicle deadline looms, I think I will just stay in La Paz Thursday and write from there. Of course, the Coca Museum is there, too. My return flight is a week from Friday, but it´s next Friday at 12:30am, which means I´m effectively gone as of Thursday since I will have to travel back to Lima to catch that flight. Maybe it´s worth investigating what it would cost to switch tickets and postpone my return for another week. I think I can afford the extra days of food and cheap hotels...Something to ponder. Otherwise, I will effectively have only six days in Bolivia, and I may not be able to go where we need to go. In other news, I managed to interview the owner of the Coca Shop in Cusco last night. Very interesting fellow and a nice little place he has. I took some photos, too, so I´ll blog about that one of these days.
Puno, PU

Australian help sought for drug fight

Herald Sun (Australia)

Fight to control corridors on Arizona border turns violent

The Kansas City Star

As Promised, More Pictures from Phil

Phil took a day off from his reporting to visit the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, but coca seems to be everywhere... stunted coca plant in garden, Machu Picchu (click this post's title link or the "read full post" link for more pictures -- not coca or drug policy, but breathtaking) Machu Picchu, Rio Urubamba below Temple of the Sun Inca sundial, pointing to true magnetic north intrepid editor Phil Smith view of Machu Picchu
United States

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