Friday, December 06, 2013

Old/Good Piece on Plan Colombia Coca Spraying

There was a time while I worked and lived in Peru, where I had a pretty good pulse on some political things. I just stumbled on this old piece about Colombian cocaine and Plan Colombia--from about 2003--and with the continued spraying of poisons on Colombia's coca crop, I thought I'd post this. It's old but still telling.
    There is a follow up to it below this--and in real life I probably wrote 15-20 follow up pieces for High Times,, and so forth.

WHERE’S THE COCAINE COMING FROM? OR The Coca Bush Cutting Conga Line

By Peter Gorman

Because the coca plant is very slow growing, the questions that come to mind when thinking about all the plants the US has paid to have eradicated in Colombia are: where do the new plants come from and when do they have time to mature? 
     According to US State Department documents, the Bolivian coca plant, the world standard for making cocaine until the mid-1990s, takes three years from seed to first harvest. Colombian coca, which replaced Bolivian coca as the world’s standard in the late-1990s, grows considerably faster because it is planted from cuttings, not seed. A 2002 CIA bulletin titled “Coca Fact Sheet: A Primer” suggests it can be harvested in as little as 6-8 months. 
     The same CIA Fact Sheet suggests there are between 14,000 and 45,000 plants per hectare (about 2.5 acres) of coca. If we average that out to 20,000 plants per hectare, there would be 8,000 plants per acre.
     Last year, under the aegis of Plan Colombia, more than 250,000 acres of coca were destroyed in Colombia. This year that number will increase to nearly 400,000, or almost every acre of coca under cultivation in Colombia. At 8,000 plants per, that comes to 3,200,000,000 plants. That’s three billion, two hundred million plants. 
     Where are the cuttings for next year’s crop going to come from if we’ve wiped out their entire crop this year? Where did this year’s three billion cuttings come from if we wiped out most of the crop last year?
Cuttings come from mother plants. If we assumed that a mother plant was capable of producing a startlingly high 1,000 cuttings per annum, there would still need to be 3,200,000 mother plants somewhere. Where are that many mother plants being kept? Has anyone bothered to look for such a large greenhouse? 
     Of course, even if there were such a greenhouse in Colombia, there would still be the question of distribution: How on earth would anyone distribute three billion cuttings without being noticed? 
Those questions were posed to the State Department, which had no real answer. “I’ve never thought of that before,” said Rebecca Brown-Thompson, spokesperson for Rand Beers, the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. “Why don’t you ask the Drug Enforcement Administration?”
     A DEA spokesman responded with: “I get what you’re getting at, the numbers don’t add up. But Plan Colombia has nothing to do with the DEA. That’s State Department all the way.”
The reason there is no answer is that there are no cuttings. There might be some, of course, but not three billion, not three million. Colombian coca growing, on the scale it’s grown to during the last decade, is now done like it is done in Bolivia and Peru, from seed. Which means it takes three years to grow. And since we’ve been wiping out more and more of the crop annually, there are fewer and fewer mature plants to harvest. Next year, if we’re being told the truth, there won’t be any. Which means there won’t be a harvest in Colombia. 
     That should wipe out the world’s coca supply for at least three years, at a minimum, by which time any stored cocaine will have hit the streets and been used up. The world ought to be coca dry.
It won’t be. The prices probably won’t even fluctuate. And if they don’t it will mean only one thing: that the elimination of coca from southern Colombia has no effect on world supply. Which will suggest that it never did, that the coca that produces the world supply is grown elsewhere, maybe in unsprayed, protected valleys, or that Peru and Bolivia are still producing sufficient supplies, despite a reduction in their crops. 
     Of course, that would suggest that Plan Colombia is a sham. That the spraying of southern Colombia and the collateral damage it’s causing—displacement of thousands of people, loss of legal crops and animals and rainforest defoliation—are being done for other ends. 
    What are those ends? Oil is an obvious answer. There may be others. We won’t find out for a while, but keep your eyes on it. It’ll become apparent soon enough.—Peter Gorman

Someone read this and asked about the oil suggestion I made. I wrote back--and might be off a little as I didn't refer to notes but only memory. Still, the point is well made, I hope.
DEAR X: The Colombia-coca-bush-cutting-conga-line piece--which I always thought, by itself, exposed the entire Plan Colombia in its simplicity, never garnered attention. Either people didn't really care about Colombia or didn't see the implications that I thought I was making very very clearly.

    In truth, yes, its oil and other natural resources: If you live in the jungle and move out of your village/area, you lose the property you were living on. Very little is titled by more than "possession title" and once you stop possessing, you have no claim.
    If you follow the line from the eastern side of the rockies from way up in Canada, you have tar sands, then good oil then better oil and by the time you're in texas you have sweet crude and that runs down into the Gulf of Mexico hinches east into Venezuela--which has both heavy and sweet crude. That mountainous crown of South America produces oil all the way West to the Andes and then all along the eastern shoulder of those Andes down to Chile. It has been explored and exploited everywhere on that 12,000 mile chain except for Colombia (it's been explored and exploited there but not to the same extent as Peru or Venezuela, for instance). 
    That partly has to do with the physical jungle in Colombia: Very hilly in a lot of places, very difficult to work.
    But in the early 1990s with the price of oil high, the oilmen wanted a better look see. And you cannot "see"--tell the difference--with sonar through dense canopy which wet areas are underground water chambers and which are oil. So you've got to get rid of enough of that canopy to be able to get a closer look. Hence Plan Colombia and the invented storyline that Colombia was no longer just finishing Peruvian and Bolivian coca base, it was now (then) the major grower as well. That story allowed the glyphosate spraying, which both displaced the people and killed the jungle canopy, providing the proper sonar visuals for the oil men. 
    They now know what is there: All that's left is to finish off the civil war and the serious exploitation will begin: instability is not a good thing in a place where you're going to have all those men/expensive equipment/pipelines.
    Interestingly, the U.S. does not allow any satellite photos of the coca sprayed areas to be released--or hadn't the last time I checked, probably seven or eight years ago. If they released them all I think environmentalists would go nuts over how much jungle, particularly along the eastern line of the mountains, has disappeared.
    Back in the day at High Times  wrote maybe 20 stories about this stuff. I had contacts at Langley, the State Department, the DEA, the companies that do the sonar exploration and so forth. When I opened my bar in Peru in 1998 I suddenly also had contact with the pilots of those spray planes and the oil men who were waiting to start the drilling. They told me unbelievable stories about displacing whole villages by spraying and respraying them day in an day out until the people just fled and other horror stories. A lot of that got published on, which was a fledgling web presence at the time but the best source of news about the drug war from Central to South America. Al Giordano, who came up with it after years at the Boston Phoenix, had cojones of steel to print what he printed--and man, did he--and I--get lambasted as conspiracy nuts. 
    We weren't. We just had sources that people couldn't imagine we had. Best source in the world is a guy far from home, sitting in your bar, getting drunk and feeling lonesome. They spill everything, even if they know you're a reporter.

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