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First Pictures from Coca Land

Mana coca foods (and other foods) store owner of Mana, with coca energy powder changing of the guard, Municipal Palace, Plaza de Armas, Lima cocalero leader Nelson Palomino, with coca leaves Drug War Chronicle editor Phil Smith with Nelson Palomino National Cathedral, Plaza de Armas Phil Smith with Peruvian academic and coca expert Baldomero Caceres upscale Lima suburb Miraflores pedestrian shopping street Jiron de la Union, Lima Municipal Palace National Cathedral
Location: 
Lima
Peru

Off to Ayacucho and the Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers

Oh, my situation is fluid. I was supposed to travel to Ayacucho today to visit cocalero leader Nelson Palomino and check out what is going on in the coca fields of the Valles de los rios Apurimac y Ene (VRAE), one of the most conflictive coca zones in the country. But last night, I got word that Palomino and his crew had come to Lima for meetings. I managed to hook up with them this morning, as well as visiting Mana Integral, a small company devoted to the nutrional uses of coca. It makes coca wheat, coca yoghurt, coca energy packets (they would look great at your local convenience store). And now, although Palomino is headed up to San Martin in the northeast for more meetings, one of his men is going to accompany me on an overnight bus ride, getting into Ayacucho at dawn, then another ride of four or five hours into the heart of the VRAE. It´ll be up and over the Andes and down into the selva at the edge of the Amazon basin. Should be very, very interesting in the VRAE. It takes so long to get there that we will stay there tomorrow night and return to Ayacucho Thursday afternoon. This has some implications for near-term blogging and for getting the Chronicle out in a timely manner this week. I don´t think I´m going to find high speed internet access in the VRAE, so you may not hear from me for a day or two. I also had very interesting and disturbing conversations with coca experts Baldomero Caceres and Ricardo Soberon yesterday. Look for some of that in one of the articles I do for the Chronicle this week. This working from the road in the Third World is really kind of a hassle. I have to rely on internet cafes, and often the people working them don´t have a clue about why my connection won´t work. Then, if I have to use their machines, I have problems with the strange keyboards. But I do my best.
Location: 
Lima
Peru

With Baldomero Caceres in Miraflores

I´ve spent the last few hours with Baldomeo Caceres, the Peruvian psychologist and coca expert, walking around central Lima and talking about the politics of coca. Now, we´ve traveled to Baldo´s house in the upscale Lima suburb of Miraflores, where we´re going to have a nice Peruvian lunch, then I´ll pull out my laptop and do a formal interview with him. One of the points that Baldo hammered away on while we walked and talked was his frustration with the slow pace of efforts to get coca removed from the list of banned plants in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotics. Evo Morales is supposedly ready to formally request coca´s removal from the list, but according to Baldo, he isn´t getting support from some of the quarters he should be in the world of the non-governmental organizations. We´ll see what Baldo is willing to say about that on the record. He was also pessimistic about the prospects for change at the UN General Assembly special session on drugs in Vienna next year. Again, we´ll see what he says about that on the record. I have just been called to lunch, so I will keep this short. After this, I go to interview Peruvian defense and drug policy analyst Ricardo Soberon, formerly an advisor to Congresswoman Nancy Obregon. I will have photos soon. I had to buy a cable for the camera so I can transfer the photos. I´ll try to post some this evening.
Location: 
Lima
Peru

In Lima, the Cocaine is Cheap, High Quality, and Easily Available

Well, that didn't take long. I arrived in Lima late last night and didn't clear customs and make my way to my very cheap ($10) hotel in the center of the city a few blocks off the Plaza de Armas, the main square at the heart of the city. But I went to the Plaza today, where I met some Canadians and Russians. As we sat drinking Inka -Cola, we were soon engaged in conversation by one of the numerout touts trying to make a living off the tourists. The young man wanted to sell bronzed llamas and stuff like that, but the Russians had more decadent pleasures in mind, and the young man disappeared and returned in a matter of minutes. An under the table transaction occurred, and our group adjourned to the Russian´s hotel, where they proceeded to put their contribution to the Peruvian economy right up their noses. They paid $40 for what was supposed to be a gram, but looked like maybe twice that. I ran into the tout again a few minutes ago. He wanted to know if I wanted some. When I said no, he dropped the price to $20. How low would he have gone? I don´t know because I wasn't haggling. From what I can tell, though, it was so pure that if I had snorted any it would have probably blown out my sinuses. A couple of points here: I don't really recommend buying cocaine off strangers in the main plaza of a strange city. There are plenty of stories here about people like that turning out to be cops. (Ah, the old reverse sting. It's particularly profitable for Third World cops working on gringo tourists. How much would you pay to make that sort of trouble go away?) In this case, however, my concerns were lessened somewhat because it wasn't the tout but the Russians who mentioned the stuff. In those stings, it´s usually the other way around. The second point has to do with coca. All the coca growers say they are only growing for the traditional markets, but that's clearly not the case. I don't think it serves their leaders well to pretend otherwise. I guess I'll see what they have to say about it when I talk to some of them next week.
Location: 
Lima
Peru

Rice: Karzai's opium fight insufficient

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
UPI
URL: 
http://www.upi.com/InternationalIntelligence/view.php?StoryID=20070209-064953-8951r

Drug-fuelled violence takes toll on Mexico

Location: 
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Toronto Star (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.thestar.com/News/article/179501

The Drug War Chronicle Andean Coca Tour 2007 is about to get underway

Friday night, I will be bedding down in Peru, after a day-long flight from Sioux Falls to Denver to Houston to Lima. That will be the first of 21 nights in Peru and Bolivia as the Drug War Chronicle explores the coca industry and its unsavory relative, the cocaine industry, in the Andes. While the process of making connections is ongoing and always a little shaky in developing countries, things are falling into place. While I will spend most of that first weekend resting and getting oriented, it looks like I'll have lunch Monday with Peruvian psychologist and coca expert Baldomero Caceres and Anthony Henman. Henman is a legendary name when it comes to coca. The British anthropologist (since gone native) is the man who, under a pseudonym, wrote "Mama Coca" back in the 1970s. That was the first serious ethnographic study of coca's history and use in the Andes for lay readers in English. I look forward to seeing what Henman has to say about the current state of affairs. Later that day, I will go to the upscale suburb of Miraflores for dinner with Ricardo Soberon, a leading Peruvian drugs and security expert. He was an advisor to coca grower leader turned congresswoman Nancy Obregon, but has since departed over unspecified political differences. I'll be sure to query him (and Nancy) about the nature of those differences. Speaking of Nancy, she is currently back home in northern Peru, so I won't be able to talk to her during that first week. But she will be back in Lima at the end of the month, and I will do an interview with her then. (I have to be out of Bolivia by February 28 because their visa requirements kick in on March 1.) I think I will fly from Lima to Ayacucho next Wednesday. That ancient city high in the Andes is the historic heartland of Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist guerrillas who led an uprising in the 1980s where tens of thousands were killed. The Senderistas are still around, though much weakened, and they try to gain the support of coca growers by killing policemen and anti-government drug workers. But Ayacucho is also the home of national coca growers' union leader Nelson Palomino, whom I will interview. Palomino and his crew have also promised to show me the coca fields and let me talk to farmers, so that should be enlightening. After that, I'll take a couple of days for the mandatory tourist visit to Machu Picchu outside Cusco, then I'll bus it from Cusco across the altiplano to Bolivia. At least that's the plan right now; there are reports of severe flooding right where I'll be crossing the border. I'm still trying to set things up with the American embassy in Lima and with the big Peruvian drug bureaucracies, ENACO (the coca monopoly) and DEVIDA (the drug enforcement bureaucracy). I've been talking with the US press officer in Lima about getting a meeting, but because I don't represent established media, I can't get official press status with the embassy, which means the press officer won't officially deal with me, but may manage to hook me up with some of the drug people in the embassy. Similar plans are in the works for Bolivia. Stay tuned.
Location: 
United States

7 slain in Mexico police stations. The two Acapulco attacks are carried out by gunmen dressed as soldiers. Authorities see a link to drug cartels.

Location: 
Acapulco, GRO
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-mexshooting7feb07,1,241860.story?coll=la-headlines-world

Venezuela Shirks Money From U.S. 'Devil' to Fight Drugs

Location: 
Caracas
Venezuela
Publication/Source: 
Fox News
URL: 
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,250682,00.html

GOP lawmakers press Bush on Afghanistan

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-drugwar7feb07,1,6836767.story?coll=la-headlines-world

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