coca leaf

Bolivia's African king speaks for coca growers

Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.

Colombia: security forces 'massacre' cocaleros

Some 15 civilians were killed and more than 50 were injured when Colombian security forces opened fire during coca eradication operations in a hotly contested incident Oct. 5. Local cocaleros say a mixed force of army and National Police troops fired "indiscriminately" into a crowd of peaceful protesters, in what they are calling a "massacre." Police and military officials claim they fired in response to an attack by remnant FARC guerillas under a renegade commander who goes by the alias "Guacho."

Colombia: peace process model for world

In his final address to the UN General Assembly as president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos delivered a message of peace, highlighting the agreement reached between his government and the FARC guerillas, and describing it as a model for the rest of the world. "If we were able to put an end to an armed conflict in Colombia that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of victims and displaced persons, there is hope for other ongoing conflicts in the world," Santos stated. (UN News Centre, Sept. 19)

Colombia: cocaleros resist forced eradication

Colombia's government—under pressure from Washington—is pushing ahead with plans to forcibly eradicate 50,000 hectares of coca leaf this year, despite mounting resistance from the peasant growers. In several incidents over the past weeks, forced eradication sparked violent confrontations between cocaleros and security forces. Even so-called "voluntary eradication" is now meeting with protest, as campesinos say their communities are being flooded with National Police troops, in violation of their pacts with the government.

Colombia: FARC becomes legal political party

Pope Francis urged Colombians Sept. 7 to move beyond what he called the "corrupting darkness" of the country's 50 years of internal conflict, saying they live in a land of "unimaginable fertility" that can meet the needs of all. His homily and Mass drew an estimated million people to Bogotá's Simon Bolívar Park. (NCR, Sept. 7) Exactly six days earlier, a rally of some 10,000 was held in the city's central Plaza Bolívar to hear leaders of the FARC formally announce their transformation from a guerilla army to a political party. Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC secretariat, pledged: "We have entered legal political life because we want to be the government, or take part in it." (Prensa Rural, Sept. 3)

Colombian coca production in record jump

In unsettling news for the country's peace process with the FARC guerillas, Colombia registered a record-shattering 50% increase in coca-leaf cultivation last year, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The figures, released by UNODC's Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System (SIMCI) and reported by Bogotá daily El Tiempo July 14, show 146.000 hectares under coca cultivation in 2016, compared to 96.000 in 2015—actually a 52% jump.

Colombia: push to resume glyphosate spraying

A new ruling by Colombia's top court may open the way for a resumption of glyphosate spraying to wipe out coca crops, which was suspended in 2015 due to health concerns—in defiance of much pressure from Washington. In the May 25 decision, a two-judge panel of the Constitutional Court did order that the suspension of the fumigation program be continued. But it also ordered the government to conduct a "prior consultation" with campesino communities to establish acceptable terms for spraying.

Peru: coca eradication met with guerilla attack

Announcement of an aggressive new coca-eradication campaign in Peru was met with a deadly attack on security forces in the targeted production zone. Authorities said "narco-terrorists" attacked a National Police patrol in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), leaving two troops dead. The VRAEM, a pocket of jungle on the eastern slopes of the Andes, is said to produce 75% of Peru's coca leaf, but the government has until now resisted US pressure to launch an eradication program there, for fear of enflaming the tense situation in the valley. A surviving remnant of the Shining Path insurgency remains active in the VRAEM, offering cocaleros protection from security forces in exchange for their loyalty.

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