Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Bit About Jungle Cocaine Production

A friend of mine is currently in the Peruvian Amazon. He's heard from someone that a particularly fantastic hike, from Genero Herrera, to the Rio Galvez, has now become innundated with coca farmers who's crops are being guarded by automatic weapons bearing men who shoot first and ask questions later. I have not been on that hike in some years, but on the face of it don't go along with the proposition because that hike cuts across a section of Amazon that has as many streams as a comb has teeth. There are between 30-50+ hills to climb daily. Just 60-80 feet high each, the hike involves walking up and down, crossing a stream, walking up, then down, crossing another stream, etc. Not ideal for any sort of crop raising. But there are other reasons why coca growing for commercial cocaine producion is not conducive to a jungle setting. So here was my response to his suggestion that coca production was getting out of hand down there.
Dear B: Bo: Well, there is some coca growing in the Amazon, but as it's legal to grow the plant, I don't know why armed guards would be necessary. Also, Juan and Ruber have been on that walk pretty recently and others who live in Herrera have not mentioned the danger to me.
But as in Colombia, here's the thing: You can't grow Coca V Coca, the strain that's used for commercial cocaine production in the jungle. That strain grows in higher altitude with cooler weather. You can grow another strain (I think it's Coca v Ipuda that's colloquially called Ibu-coca that's traditionally utilized by a number of tribes, not in leaf form, and not to snort or smoke. It's collected and dried in large pans over a fire until it can be ground down finely--sort of like nu-nu, the Matses' snuff--and then put between the cheek and gums, like a tobacco chaw. To that is added the essence of Mapacho tobacco, near pure nicotine, by the drop or two, to activate the coca alkaloids. I've used it among the Aucaino (Au-KaI-neo) on the Rio Ampayacu and know it's used by others as well.
But here is the thing. The Bolivian coca leaf, the Coca V Coca, contains 5 times the alkaloids as does the C v Ipuda, so making cocaine from it is a very painstaking project. Remember that coca leaves have to be picked carefully, one by one, or the bush won't produce more. As it is, it takes one man 12 months of 10 hour days to pick one hectare of coca v coca leaves; it would take 5 men to produce the same alkaloid quantity with C v I, making it pretty much worthless on the world market. Which doesn't mean I haven't had friends try it. But then if you know jungle farmers, they don't have the patience for real farming. They like to slash and burn, put a pineapple top on the ground and walk away until they've got a bush full of pineapples. They're not watering anything and certainly not going to pick leaf by leaf to make certain they don't hurt the leaf nodule.
So, as in Colombia, I believe most of the info on coca in the jungle is pure misdirection. In Colombia, the spraying has everything to do with destroying regular crops and forest in order to displace people and then give access to oil men to the oil all along the eastern shelf of the Andes. In Peru, I believe it's more something for people I know to try, rather than an actual cash crop. Remember, it will take an entire hectare to make a couple of kilos of paste from C v I and while that can sell maybe $500 a kilo--tops--by the time the work is done to make it successful it's not a lot. So I'm thinking that yes, some people do it in the jungle; no, they're not very successful for the most part and abandon their crop not long after they put it in.
IF someone went to the trouble to really clear 10 hectares and paid people to grow and pick the crop, then I believe it's mode of transport would be the same as that coming out of the Huallaga Valley: it gets put on a riverboat, delivered to Iquitos or shipped down to Colombia at Leticia for sale to people who will get it to the refineries. The refineries will get it to the right-wing paramilitaries who control the routes to Mexico, where the Mexicans, who now control the cocaine trade even in South America, will move it to the US/Europe/former Soviet Union countries/wealthy Middle East players.

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