Taxpayer-Funded Interference in Colombia Simply Shifts Coca Production Elsewhere
The Coca-Go-Round: Peruvian Production Starts to Increase as Spraying Destroys Colombian Fields
Ready for a quiz? Here we go -- Country A and Country B can each supply a product. Each one has plenty of capacity to satisfy worldwide demand. Now take Country A and make production much more difficult and risky. Will production in Country B go up, down, or stay the same?
Too easy, you say? Of course production in Country B will rise. But the entire U.S. federal government failed this same quiz!
Read this article and you will see. It's a news report by our friends at drcnet.org
The effects of Plan Colombia are beginning to be felt across the Andean region, although not exactly in the way US officials hoped. While US and Colombian officials tout the early success of their expensive herbicide-based coca eradication program in southern Colombia, the United Nations Drug Control Project (UNDCP), in a report soon to be released, says that raw coca prices are now rising in Peru and that farmers there are returning to once abandoned coca fields.
UN investigator Humberto Chirinos told the BBC that Peru's coca industry is taking off again. The price of coca leaf has doubled from $2 to $4 per kilogram in the last six months, he said, while the price per kilogram of refined cocaine has risen to over $1,100, also up substantially in recent months. Hundreds of thousands of acres could be returned to production within three to six months, said Chirinos. New production has already been reported in the southeast, he added.
The UNDCP's Peru representative, Patricio Vendenberghe, told the BBC such a rebound in Peruvian coca production would be a "logical move." Peru, once the world's largest coca producer, saw its production peak at 319,000 acres in 1992, according to CIA estimates, before declining to 85,000 acres last year. But as coca crops decreased in Peru and neighboring Bolivia, cultivation migrated to Colombia. Now, that process is beginning to reverse itself.
"These first impacts are the result of Plan Colombia; the first sign is this price hike," Roger Rumrill, a Peruvian specialist on drug trade told Knight Ridder News Service.
It is a chronicle of a boom foretold. In an interview with Knight Ridder last fall, Lima drug-trade economist Hugo Cabieses prophesied: "If Plan Colombia suppresses southern Colombia, where about 70 percent of Colombia's coca crop is grown, then there will be a dispersion of the crops, to Peru or Ecuador."
An increase in Peruvian coca production will mark a sorry end to what US officials have touted as an "Andean success story." Throughout the 1990s, the US allied itself with now disgraced former Peruvian strong-man Alberto Fujimori and his gun-running, money-laundering, dissident-killing drug warrior and CIA asset Vladimiro Montesinos, who is now a fugitive last reported to be undergoing plastic surgery in Venezuela. (The Venezuelan government denies this last claim.)
US officials praised Fujimori's hardline approach, which included shooting down airplanes that might contain smugglers, but the decline in Peruvian coca cultivation had as much to do with market adjustments as it did with anti-aircraft missiles or DEA agents prowling the Upper Huallaga River valley. The Peruvian market collapsed with the 1995 fall of the Colombian Cali cartel, which had been its largest customer.
Ricardo Vargas is an analyst for Accion Andina, a group searching for peaceful alternatives to drug trafficking and its repression. He told LeMonde Diplomatique (Paris), "Cali bought up 60% of Peruvian production. Prices collapsed in Peru. Then and only then did production tail off."
As Colombian cocaine trafficking splintered after the demise of the cartels, new, more amorphous groups of traffickers brought coca production to Colombia to shorten their supply lines. As LeMonde put it: "In other words, under Alberto Fujimori, it was not repression of the peasants or alternative production programmes that led to a decrease in the land area cultivated, but the break-up of a large mafia-style organisation at the highest level, and the change in strategy of its successors."
Now, with market conditions changing as a direct consequence of Plan Colombia, it looks like it is Peru's turn again. As prices began to rise last fall in anticipation of Plan Colombia, Peruvian coca growers brought the government's eradication program to its knees. Last November, some 35,000 coca growers in the Upper Huallaga blocked highways in the biggest protests in the coca fields in a decade. The government agreed to end the eradication program.
The incipient boom in Peruvian coca production underlines the futility of US supply-side drug policy. As the Lindesmith Center's Ethan Nadelmann told Knight Ridder: "Why won't production pop back up in Peru and Bolivia? There is a fundamental failure to look at the cocaine market as a global commodities market."
United States taxpayer money spent on destroying coca plants in Colombia was an idiotic waste. But you can be sure that the government will try to spend even more taxpayer money on similar programs. What's your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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