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Canada: Afghan Opium Should Be Bought Up and Marketed Worldwide, Defense Think Tank Says

A stolidly mainstream Canadian think tank, the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute, is calling for an international marketing board for Afghan opium in an effort to defang the Taliban insurgency and deflate the booming drug trade in Afghanistan. The recommendation came in an Institute report on Canada's involvement in Afghanistan that warned that the war against the Taliban could be lost.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/symposium.jpg
2005 Senlis Council symposium on opium licensing, Kabul (photo by Drug War Chronicle editor Phil Smith)
The Institute and the report support Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, but say current NATO policies in the country need adjusting. The possibility of negotiating with the Taliban must be considered, the report concluded, as must innovative approaches to the Afghan opium dilemma.

Last year, Afghanistan accounted for more than 90% of the global supply of illicit opium, creating more than $3 billion in revenues. While much of that money goes to national and international traffickers, the crop is worth at least $750 million to Afghan farmers.

Attempting to eradicate Afghan opium crops, which is official US and NATO policy, only drives farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban, said the report authored by Gordon Smith, Canada's ambassador to NATO between 1985 and 1990. A better approach would be to create an international clearinghouse to purchase opium crops and resell them in the legal medicinal market.

According to the report, Canada in Afghanistan: Is It Working?:

"Innovative alternatives are urgently required to replace current counterproductive policies of poppy eradication by force that only alienate farmers and drive them into the arms of the Taliban. Poppy production in Afghanistan has been a problem for over half a century and has consistently defied international control efforts. Meanwhile, the world's hospitals face a major shortage of opiate-based medicines like morphine. Canada should advocate for the creation of an international marketing board for Afghan poppy producers, whereby farmers are paid fair prices, and overseen by the auspices of a governmental body that would ensure central regulation, legality, and security. Production marketed through this body would be used solely for medicinal purposes on the international market."

As the West finds itself hung on the horns of the Afghan opium dilemma -- eradicate it and increase support for the Taliban; ignore it and watch the Taliban grow rich off the trade while the world's junkies drown in cheap smack -- calls for an innovative response like the one outlined by the Institute are coming with greater frequency. But there is little indication that they're listening in Washington.

Southwest Asia: Opium -- Not Just for Afghanistan Anymore?

With a keen eye peeled on his country's southern neighbor, Afghanistan, a Kyrgyz politician Wednesday came up with a unique solution to solving his own country's foreign debt problem. Kyrgyzstan Member of Parliament Azimbek Beknazarov, a former national prosecutor general, told parliament Kyrgyzstan should allow the planting of opium to pay its foreign debts.

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incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
"To solve this problem [of foreign debt] we need unordinary steps. I know that my suggestion will stir a heated debate," Beknazarov said. "This year Afghanistan announced almost officially that it will increase opium crops. We have to do the same and permit our people to plant opium for a year or two. After that all international organizations will raise havoc and offer themselves to write off out country's debts," the deputy said.

Beknazarov's remarks came after the parliament refused to enroll in an international program that would write off part of the debt for the world's poorest countries because deputies did not want to admit that Kyrgyzstan is among those countries. The country's foreign debt is about $2 billion.

That figure is about two-thirds the estimated annual revenues from the Afghan opium trade. Afghanistan is also set to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-drug aid from the United States and NATO countries this year. While Beknazarov was undoubtedly speaking tongue in cheek, there is a certain element of truth to his remarks.

Scientists Explore Medical Benefits of Cocaine Plant

Location: 
La Paz
Bolivia
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.myfoxcolorado.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=2591695&version=2&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.2.1

Afghan opium crop set to grow in 2007: UN

Location: 
KAB
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Gulf Times Newspaper (Qatar)
URL: 
http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=136458&version=1&template_id=41&parent_id=23

Drug war is overwhelming Guatemala: Murder of politicians by police just latest indication of challenge associated press file

Location: 
Guatemala City
Guatemala
Publication/Source: 
Wilmington Morning Star (NC)
URL: 
http://www.wilmingtonstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070306/NEWS/703060329/1050&template=currents

CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen on Afghan Opium Conundrum

Last week I promised to post comments by Peter Bergen (CNN terrorism analyst) responding to a question I asked of him last week about the Afghan opium conundrum. Following is a transcript, prepared with great labor by DRCNet's Tom Klun. (Tom was working from online video of the forum, which took place at the New America Foundation. The forum was devoted to the presenters' findings in a new report on the relationship of the Iraq War to jihadist terrorism -- an issue on which DRCNet as a drug policy organization has no position.)

David Borden, Drug War Chronicle: A number of scholars and NGOs have pointed out that both the opium economy and campaigns against opium growing in Afghanistan are helping the Taliban -- the former through funding, the latter by alienating people from the government and driving farmers to them. Our editor met some of these farmers about a year and a half ago. My question is, how do you see both the opium economy and opium eradication playing into the situation with Al Qaeda; and short of outright legalization (which might not happen in 2007 [editor's note: understatement]), how do you feel the opium issue ought to be handled?
 
Peter Bergen: Well, eradication doesn't work, I mean, there's a vast amount of academic literature showing that it just pushes the growers into the arms of the insurgents, and it is very unpopular in Afghanistan. In fact, Karzai has basically rejected US efforts to get ground spraying, he's pushed that back to 2008. He's saying we're going to just do eradication by hand or by tractor. One of the reasons the US military didn't really get involved in the whole drug issue is that they had bigger fish to fry, which is going after Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I mean, clearly the Taliban is benefitting from this, as are people in the south.
 
Afghanistan is by the way the 5th poorest country in the world. It would be like saying we're basically going to take away the only way you can make a living, by eradicating your fields. So we have to come up with something a little more creative than just saying we're going to eradicate. That would be bad for counterinsurgency policy, and I don't think it will work. So what are the two options? One is, if you're going to do crop substitution you have to subsidize the crops that are being substituted. You can't get people to grow cotton unless they can make roughly what they would be making growing poppy. Now we do this all the time with our farmers, the EU does it all the time with its farmers, paying people to grow things or not to grow things. We're spending $750 million dollars a year on drug eradications in Afghanistan, the farmers are making $750 million dollars, so we've got a fair amount of money to play with, roughly the same amount of money they are benefiting. We can use that for, you know, to prop up the price, give them money to grow crops like cotton, nuts and fruits.
 
And also we should consider that the legalized opiate trade is dominated by Turkey and India, which basically have a lock. Eight percent of the world has almost no morphine, so there's this huge pain crisis in the developing world. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, where we have a huge national security interest. Why not amend the law that is now in place, where Turkey and India are basically mandated to get 80% of the legal opiate trade from US manufacturers? Why not have a pilot project in a province in Afghanistan where there is reasonable security and just see if this idea -- you don't have to do the legalized opiate trade for the whole country, just see in one province if this would work and subsidize farmers so that they can grow poppy for the legalized opiate trade. That's an idea, but either way we're going to have to do crop substitution with subsidies. Nothing else is going to work, we can't just eradicate.
 

Bergen was presumably referring to a proposal floated by the Senlis Council, a European drug policy and development think tank. (It was the 2005 Senlis conference in Kabul that took Phil to the troubled fourth world country.) It's good to see such a high-profile US-based expert raising the possibility.

I actually encountered skepticism about the idea from some of my European colleagues (as well as support for it) when I traveled to Brussels last fall for a conference at the European Parliament. One of them, while expressing admiration for the beautiful execution of the campaign by the Senlis people, pointed out that as long as opiates are illegal for non-medical use, someone is going to supply them, which potentially means that Afghanistan could just have more opium growing in total, the licensed market and the black market -- Ahmed might switch to growing for the licit supply, but that doesn't mean his brother or uncle will. I largely agree with that point.

The other argument is one to which I am instinctively less sympathetic, but which came from someone I respect and for which I don't have sufficient information to evaluate. This other colleague said that the poor countries where the new supply of opiate pain relievers would go to, countries in Africa and so forth, don't have the infrastructure to control them -- they would be a target for organized crime, the drugs might not even get to the patients, and there would be a new organized crime problem of a type that those countries don't have now.

After thinking about this for awhile, I came to the tentative conclusion that we should at least be calling for a pilot project. (It was gratifying to see Peter Bergen say the same thing.) This is why: It's true that new growers of black market opium for the non-medical market should be expected to take the place of any growers who switch to the licensed medical market, or the same growers will just grow more -- supply fills demand, and neither eradication nor substitution nor licensing for a market that's already legal will reduce it. But that doesn't mean all the new growing will be in Afghanistan. Some of it might crop up elsewhere, and there are less destructive places for it to happen than in that unstable country that harbors people who want to kill us. And why shouldn't Afghan farmers have the right to participate in the legal economy? They certainly need the work as much as anyone does. Lastly, patients in severe, chronic pain deserve medication, even if there is a risk of diversion of the supply causing crime, even if in fact it's an inevitability. Let the pilot growing project in Afghanistan be accompanied by pilot opiate pain management projects in the destination countries, with the security issues on both ends getting thought through at the same time.

Time for a drug policy reform/global security campaign?

Location: 
Afghanistan

U.S. says anti-terror allies slip on drugs

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Washington Times
URL: 
http://www.washtimes.com/national/20070301-033912-4095r.htm

Afghanistan: UN Monitor Cites 'Rapid Deterioration' As Drugs Spread

Location: 
Kabul
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Radio Free Afghanistan
URL: 
http://www.azadiradio.org/en/news/2007/03/67434DD7-4B7B-4C7D-9F2F-919107E1525D.ASP

Collision Course: Bolivia's "Coca, Si; Cocaine, No" Policy Runs Afoul of the International Drug Control Board and, Probably, the United States

A confrontation is brewing over Bolivian President Evo Morales' effort to rationalize coca production in his country and expand markets for coca-based products. After decades of fruitless efforts to wipe out the coca crop in Bolivia -- the "zero coca" policy embraced by the United States and shoved down the throat of successive Bolivian governments -- Morales, a former coca growers' union leader, has crafted policies that allow for the increased cultivation of coca from the 30,000 acres allowed under current Bolivian law to 50,000 acres. Now, the Morales government is also pushing for expanded legal markets for coca products and, in a joint venture with the Venezuelan government, is preparing to begin coca product exports to that country.

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Drying the leaves in the warehouse. The sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08''
That does not sit well with either the United States or the international anti-drug bureaucracy based in the United Nations. This week, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) took direct aim at Bolivia in its 2006 annual report (go to Special Topics, beginning with paragraph 171). In the report, INCB accuses Bolivia of violating the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics, which defines the coca plant as an illicit drug.

"The situation in Bolivia, which for many years has not been in conformity with that State's obligations under the international drug control treaties, continues to be a matter of particular concern to the Board," the report reads. "Bolivia is a major producer of coca leaf, and national legislation allows the cultivation of coca bush and the consumption of coca leaf for non-medical purposes, which are not in line with the provisions of the 1961 Convention."

The INCB was particularly concerned that Bolivia "has indicated its intention to review existing national drug control legislation, with a view to using coca leaf for a wide range of products, some of which might be exported." That, too, would not be in line with the INCB's interpretation of the Convention.

The language of the INCB report is a clear shot over the bow aimed at the Morales government's expressed policy of "coca, si; cocaine, no" and its efforts to expand the use of the coca leaf for medicinal and nutritional products. Worse yet, in INCB's view, Bolivia could set a bad example for other coca producing countries: "The Board is also concerned that policy developments in Bolivia could have repercussions in other countries in South America," the report fretted.

The United States has also expressed concern about Bolivian coca policy under Morales, as well as concerns about Morales' ties with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, whose government earlier this month finalized an agreement with Bolivia to finance the construction of coca processing plants in Bolivia and to import Bolivian coca products to Venezuela. So far this year, the US government has limited its expressions of concern to worries about the "anti-democratic" natures of the two left-leaning South American leaders, but the State Department's annual review of other countries' compliance with US anti-drug policies is due later this month. A key question is whether Morales' policies will lead the US to "decertify" Bolivia as being in compliance with those objectives.

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coca grower union member and former leader Vitalia Merida with her daughter in their coca field -- hidden several miles from the road via arduous hike, a legacy of eradication days
The Bolivian government didn't help matters last week when its foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, told a gathering of the Organization of American States that Bolivia would never eradicate coca and that it was more interested in "consensus" than "democracy." "The struggle of the indigenous peoples goes beyond democracy," said Choquehuanca. "In the word democracy, there exists the word submission, and to submit to one's neighbor is not to live well. For this reason, we wish to resolve our problems through consensus."

Clearly, there is no international consensus right now on coca, and if the Bolivian officials and analysts Drug War Chronicle spoke with this week are right, neither is there any indication the Bolivian government is about to bow to drug warriors in Washington and Vienna.

Industrialization of coca processing and expanding legal markets are the correct course of action, said Bolivian Deputy (congressman) Asterio Romero Wednesday. A member of Morales' Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, Romero strongly supports the "coca, si; cocaine, no" policy. "First, I want to say that I am from the Chapare, I was a coca grower leader. It was always 'coca zero,' but there will never be zero coca," he told the Chronicle. "We fought for many years, we suffered many dead and imprisoned because coca is a source of economic subsistence for us. We will never allow other governments to impose 'coca zero' on us. We are a sovereign nation; it is a matter of Bolivian dignity," he said.

"While, yes, we fight against the drug traffic -- and we are doing quite well; seizures of cocaine and precursor chemicals are up -- we also have to decriminalize coca growing, and industrialization is the way," Romero argued. "We have to revalorize the coca, we have to find more markets for coca. There are friendly countries that help us, like Venezuela, and we thank them for that."

"With its opposition to the coca leaf, the INCB merely foments the drug traffic," said Silvia Rivera, founder of the Bolivian group Coca y Soberania (Coca and Sovereignty), professor emeritus of sociology at the University of La Paz, and advisor to Romero. "Every leaf that goes to good, healthy uses is a leaf that doesn't go to the traffickers," she told the Chronicle. "That's the best way to fight against the drug traffickers. Those bureaucrats at the UN simply do not understand; they think coca is a drug."

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The Coca Museum, downtown La Paz
"It is the same thing with the government of the United States," said Rivera. "The Americans cannot recognize the rationality of other ways of life, and its approach is truly schizophrenic. It fears the drug trade, yet creates the conditions for it to flourish by trying to block other uses for the coca plant. The US tries to argue that Evo is in favor of the cocaine dealers, but it is the US policy that aids them. Also, the US has backed the narco-dictators in the past because they were radical fascists. That's who the US supports and gives arms to so they can kill the people."

In fact, rather than retreating in the face of criticism from the INCB and the US, the Morales government appears determined to push the envelope with its agreement to supply coca products to Venezuela. Bolivia is also making noises about going to the root of the problem by mounting an effort to amend the Single Convention to remove coca from its list of illicit drugs.

"This is a way for Chavez to push the limits and see what the boundaries are," said Kathryn Ledebur of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network, which has monitored the Bolivian coca economy and efforts to repress it for years. "Who is going to stop him? There are already substantial coca leaf exports to northern Argentina, and nobody says anything about that. Still, if this helps sharpen the focus on changing the Single Convention, that's a good thing -- it needs to be amended."

Ledebur doubted that the Morales government would make a concerted effort to amend the Single Convention in Vienna next year. "Let's just say that his domestic coca policy is more advanced than his international one," she said. "I see little chance of anything getting done unless there is some sort of concerted lobbying effort with Peru, and I don't see Peruvian President Garcia as someone who is willing to actively buck the US."

Such a move would require a concerted effort by coca producing countries, said Romero, and he didn't see that happening just yet. "It is the job of the Bolivian government to change the Vienna Convention," he said, "but it is also the job of Colombia and Peru to join us at the UN. While we here in Bolivia have with Evo a government with popular support to push this, in Peru and Colombia, the governments are neo-liberal and pro-imperialist and they will not join us. But we are anti-neoliberal and we are going to maintain this position. Still, we are willing to talk government to government and man to man about this."

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La Paz street vendor Santos, enjoying an afternoon coca chew
But for Romero and the Bolivian government, standing up for coca is a matter of national pride. "We are a sovereign government, and we will move forward with our policies," he said. "Coca is not dangerous, coca is not poison. We will work bilaterally with countries that support our position. And countries that now try to impede us, like the US, well, perhaps we can send them some coca, too."

With Bolivia already facing off against the INCB, the next measure of the Morales government's coca policies will be the US certification decision, which should come by the middle of March. But given the current conjuncture in hemispheric affairs, with a rising tide of left-leaning governments and the US, obsessed as it is with affairs in the Middle East, losing influence in the region, the US may well step back from attempting to isolate and punish Bolivia via the certification process.

"The US still cannot step out of its anti-drug framework of using the military and forced eradication," said Ledebur, "but there is no agreement within the Bush administration about what to about certification. If it decertifies Bolivia, it loses what little leverage it has left. Bolivia now has other sources of assistance, and not just Chavez; it no longer has to blindly obey US dictates. If the US chooses to decertify now, what does it do next year?" she asked.

This is getting very interesting. The Morales government's "coca, si; cocaine no" policy is anathema to both the US and the INCB, but there appears to be little either can do to stop it, and chances are the Bolivian challenge will eventually aim directly at the 1961 Single Convention, perhaps knocking the first hole in what is the legal backbone of the global drug prohibition regime. Stay tuned.

Chronicle on the Scene Feature: In the Bolivian Chapare, Evo Morales' "Coca, Si; Cocaine No" Policy Brings Peace, If Not Prosperity

For more than two decades beginning in the early 1980s, various Bolivian governments working at the behest of the United States government embarked on a policy of forced eradication of coca crops in Bolivia's Chapare, a lowland region in the state of Cochabamba. It was a time of strife and conflict, human rights violations and peasant mobilizations as tens of thousands of families dependent on the coca crop fought with police and soldiers, blocked highways, and, eventually, coalesced into a powerful political force that helped topple governments. Now, with a Chapare coca growers' union leader, Evo Morales, sitting in the presidential residence in La Paz, times have changed and the days of a US-imposed "zero coca" policy are history.

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coca leaves drying by side of highway
Under US-imposed legislation adopted in 1988, Law 1008, only peasants in the traditional coca growing region of the Yungas were allowed to grow coca, and total coca production was limited to 30,000 acres. But that did not stop peasants from growing coca in the Chapare, where, in the early 1980s, production had boomed during the "cocaine coup" years of Gen. Luis Garcia Mesa. The development of coca production in this non-traditional, non-allowed area was the most significant target of US-backed forced eradication efforts throughout the 1990s and the beginning of this decade.

As a result, human rights violations by US-trained and -financed anti-drug forces were rampant. "During this period, I would receive an average of 10 complaints a day from coca growers," said former Chapare human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo") Godofredo Reinecke. "Murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, all of that, committed by soldiers and police against the growers," he told Drug War Chronicle this week.

Now, things are different. While soldiers remain in the area, a special police force assigned to the area to prevent road blockades and other upheaval has been removed at the behest of the US -- because there was nothing for it to do. The peasant uprisings have ended, the blocking of highways is history, and human rights violations by the security forces have dropped precipitously. There is peace in the Chapare, and that is because of the abandonment of the "zero coca" policy.

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Bolivian congressman Asterio Romero spoke with Drug War Chronicle this week.
The change actually began in 2004, before Morales was elected president, when then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada signed an accord with coca growers (or cocaleros) aligned with the Six Federations of the Coca Growers of the Tropics of Cochabamba allowing each family to grow one cato (1,600 square meters -- about the size of one third of a football field) of coca.

But as part of a broader policy of "coca, si; cocaine, no" adopted by Morales since he took office just over a year ago, the Bolivian government has in effect turned its back on the 30,000-acre legal production limit, now formally allowing an additional 20,000 acres in the Chapare to be cultivated with coca. But while such measures have brought peace to the region, it remains mired in poverty and desperation, as Drug War Chronicle saw during a visit there this week.

On a small plot of land near Villa Tunari in the Chapare, peasant farmer Vitalia Merida grows coca, along with oranges and bananas, in an effort to feed and clothe her seven children. Times are tough, she said. "My kids don't want to go to school for economic reasons," she told the Chronicle. "They want to go and make money." Her oranges and bananas bring only a pittance, she said, while her cato of coca allows her to pocket about $75 month, gaining her about $900 a year -- close to the average income in Bolivia, one of South America's poorest countries.

Despite the constant struggle to earn an income, said Merida, a former Six Federations leader (and still a member), life is better than in the days of forced eradication. "We are still poor, but we are free now," she said. "It is peaceful now. Before, we waited for the soldiers to come like bandits. They killed us, they took us prisoners."

As Merida spoke, the silence of the remote selva was broken by the roar of a helicopter. "No, they are not looking for coca fields," said Reinecke in response to a question. "They are bringing food and supplies to the soldiers and anti-drug police in the region." According to Reinecke, the US-financed resupply effort costs $12,000 a day, a veritable fortune in an area where fruit sells for next to nothing and coca for not much more.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/cocaine-and-precursor-search.jpg
US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and Chapare, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors
While funding for sustainable development is lacking, the US continues to fund the military presence in the region. At a military base in nearby Chimbote, built with US funds, where once a thousand troops were stationed, the base is nearly deserted, but the interim commander, Col. Edwin de la Fuente Jeria, sits in air-conditioned comfort in his office.

The colonel was as cool as his surroundings. "We have nothing to do with the coca anymore," he allowed, before going on to say that he could say nothing without prior approval from his superiors. According to Reinecke, that was right -- the base now serves primarily as a training ground for local recruits doing their mandatory service.

While campesinos like Vitalia Merida are struggling, the Morales government is attempting to ease their plight. Part of that effort revolves around helping them get their crop to market. In a coca warehouse just outside nearby Shinahota, cocaleros are drying and weighing the crop in preparation for transport to legal markets in Bolivian cities.

"This is our local crop," said Six Federations member Felix Cuba at the warehouse. "Under this new program, we are able to sell direct to the cities without middlemen. This means a little more money for us," he told the Chronicle. "And it keeps the coca out of the hands of the narcos."

While there is constant pressure to earn more money to feed their families, growers are abiding by the growing limit, he said. "We are maintaining the one-cato rule," he said. "It is out of respect for the policy. Evo said we can grow one cato, so to defend the policy, it is only one cato we grow. The federation runs this and we do it through social control."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sign-announcing-venezuela-plant.jpg
sign announcing construction of coca leaf industrialization plant financed by Venezuela
"Bananas, oranges, papaya, potatoes -- they all rot, and they don't bring much money," said Six Federations leader Juana Cosio as she watched the work at the warehouse. "This year, with all the rains, it is really bad. We grow coca as a back-up," she told the Chronicle. "But we need more markets. That is why we are trying to produce coca flour and other products. We are not narcos, we are just farmers. The government of Evo recognizes that, so now we are at peace here," she said.

Cosio pointed to the assistance provided by the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez, which is providing financing for coca industrialization plants in both the Chapare and the Yungas. "Venezuela is helping us to process and sell our crop," she said.

Under an agreement finalized earlier this month, Venezuela is not only financing the construction of processing plants, but has pledged to buy up to 4,000 tons of coca products, a major breakthrough for a crop whose export is banned under the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Under that treaty, the coca plant is considered an illegal drug allowable only as a flavoring agent (with the cocaine alkaloid extracted) or for pharmaceutical use, with chewing of coca leaves to be phased out by 1986.

That isn't stopping Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba, which is providing technical assistance, from moving ahead with a People's Trade Treaty signed a few months ago. That treaty allocates about $1 million in investment on coca production research. While the US and international narcotics control bodies have raised objections, Venezuela and Bolivia are standing firm. As Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro noted as he stood with his Bolivian counterpart, David Choquehuanca, earlier this month, the two nations will move ahead will projects to "value and dignify the coca leaf."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/vitalia-merida-in-backyard.jpg
Six Federations coca growers' union member (and former leader) Vitalia Merida in her backyard -- no narco palaces here, as the cocaleros like to point out.
Industrialization of coca processing and expanding legal markets are the correct course of action, said Bolivian Deputy (congressman) Asterio Romero Wednesday. A member of Morales' Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, Romero strongly supports the "coca, si; cocaine, no" policy. "First, I want to say that I am from the Chapare, I was a coca grower leader. It was always "coca zero," but there will never be zero coca," he told the Chronicle. "We fought for many years, we suffered many dead and imprisoned because coca is a source of economic subsistence for us. We will never allow other governments to impose "coca zero" on us. We are a sovereign nation; it is a matter of Bolivian dignity," he said.

"While, yes, we fight against the drug traffic -- and we are doing quite well; seizures of cocaine and precursor chemicals are up -- we also have to decriminalize coca growing, and industrialization is the way," Romero argued. "We have to revalorize the coca, we have to find more markets for coca. There are friendly countries that help us, like Venezuela, and we thank them for that."

Coca production has now been "rationalized" in the Chapare, as the Bolivians like to say, and the repression and state-sponsored violence are a thing of the past, but great strides remain to be taken before the lives of cocaleros there will see real economic improvement. The Morales government, in conjunction with its Latin American allies, is doing what it can to help on that score. But, as the accompanying feature article in this week's Chronicle indicates, it is going to have a battle with the United States and the international drug control bureaucracy on its hands.

Drug War Issues

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