Who's Hands Are Holding the
Sacred Coca Leaf in this Photo?
Argentina's Encouraging Panorama in Drug Policy
Reform and Democracy from Above and Below
By Luis Gómez
Part I in a Series: Argentina at the Gates of Reform
August 5, 2003
Let’s go to Argentina, hurry. The drug policy scenario in this country is changing… and the winds, this time, don’t blow from Washington. From above and from below, kind readers, lights appear that indicate new paths to counter-arrest prohibition and distance the country from the “war on drugs” that the government of the United States has imposed. And Narco News offers you this trip, gratis, through your computer screens…
Our first stop is named Yungas de La Paz, the millenarian Bolivian region of coca leaf cultivation. Here, the coca growers led by Congressman Dionicio Nuñez has almost always seen a good part of its harvest head by land to the north of Argentina. In an interview Narco News conducted with Nuñez in July 2002, the 37-year-old Congressman said that approximately “30 to 35 percent of the coca that we produce here would go, clandestinely, to Argentina… I say ‘would’ because with the current crisis it’s not the same quantity.”
That’s to say that various tons of coca leaf cross clandestinely each year over the border between Bolivia and its neighbor country… Clearly, clandestinely, because Argentina, signator to the Vienna Convention (that in an errant gesture prohibited the sacred leaf) doesn’t permit that the country officially accept the arrival of the leaf in its territory.
In spite of this, the consumption of coca is common among the Guaraní ethnic group, that inhabits a common territory in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. The language and costumes (including common physical features) in the province of Jujuy are historically similar to those of the people on the high Bolivian and Peruvian plains… And traveling farther, there are around two million Bolivians who live and work in Argentina. That’s why the consumption of coca for traditional and medicinal uses in this country is an undeniable fact.
Although, according to the official posture of the United States government, Argentina is only a country for money laundering, trafficking and transport of drugs, and nothing more, and this is what the the drug czar John Walters said in his 2002 annual report… these are lies. In fact, kind readers, already in 1999 a joint CIA and Defense Department report affirmed: “In the Argentine North, the chewing of coca is also popular among the non-indigenous population.”
The aforementioned report, titled, “Cocaine: A Global Audit for 1999” (obtainted through a Freedom of Information Act filing by authentic journalist Jeremy Bigwood), holds the evidence that the gringos accept already that in Argentina, yes, coca is consumed and used, and not just among indigenous peoples… this fact we can see very clearly in the photograph below:
As you can see, the man squatting is part of a ceremony. In his hands there are some coca leaves, that previously had been taken from the saucer at his side. Around him, a group of traditional dignitaries witness the scene. This event took place in the Argentine province of Jujuy last Friday – August 1st – to celebrate the Declaration of a place called Quebrada de Humahuaca as “Cultural and Natural Patrimony of Humanity” by UNESCO. The man in the suit is named Néstor Kirchner… and he is, today, the elected President of the Republic of Argentina. (Photo: Courtesy of the President’s Press Office in Argentina.)
Néstor Kirchner is the first character on this tour. We introduce the man with some facts: After assuming the role of Commander in Chief of this nation last May 25th, Kirchner sat down to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a dignified solution to the crisis that has rocked Argentine for three-and-a-half years, and he met with Brazilian President Lula da Silva in the first steps toward the real economic and political merger of the two Latin American countries… But, in this time, he has also met with the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (promising to help resolve the cases of the disappeared ones during the last military dictatorship) and he holds constant meetings with social leaders, activists, and popular politicians.
What the press in Argentina has denominated as “the K-style of governing” means breaking protocol all the time, giving brief speeches, and traveling Argentine territory to get to know the reality of his country. In the month of July, Kirchner shook the political game board twice with his cautious and firm style. Two weeks ago, with the publication of Decree # 420, that permits the extradition of military officials involved in the cases of genocide and abuse of human rights, Kirchner opened a strong debate in the legislative branch that could end up toppling the laws of “Mandatory Obedience and Final Judgment,” two decrees that impede placing military officials who participated in the military dictatorship that governed Argentina from 1976 to 1982 on criminal trial.
Kirchner’s second action was reported, first, by Narco News: Last July 2nd, the president nominated Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni to the Supreme Court of the Nation. Opening, with this, a path to an outstanding reformer that on more than one occasion has spoken against repressive and prohibitionist drug policies.
In his prologue to the book, “Drugs Between Prohibition’s Harm and Failure: New Perspectives in the Decriminalization and Legalization Debate,” edited by the Argentina Harm Reduction Association (ARDA, in its Spanish initials), Dr. Zaffaroni wrote:
“We don’t know exactly if the poisons or the attempts ot repress them (that, in practice, is nothing more than a regulation of the market price) have produced more deaths. But anyone can verify that it has generated a global web of organized crime rarely seen and a volume of illicit money that, at its magnitude, has macro-economic functions. Before these facts it is impossble not to ask one self why a path that reproduces crime’s potency and aggravates the problem it pretends to resolve, all with high costs in human lives, is still pursued.”
So, kind readers, keep an attentive eye open at the actions by President Kirchner, who, with the nomination of Zaffaroni and his participation last week in a traditional coca leaf ceremony, raises some winds of hope…
Harm Reduction and Legalization
In this series we will also review the current state of the Harm Reduction movement – seeking to reduce the harms caused by drug use under prohibition – and reflect upon reform and legalization prospects in Argentina.
The best example is the Argentina Harm Reduction Association (ARDA), presided by Dr. Silivia Inchaurraga, an investigator with the National University of Rosario, where she also runs the Center for Studies in Drug Addiction and AIDS (CEADS, in its Spanish initials). Inchaurraga’s labor, that of Dr. Gustavo Hurtado in Buenos Aires – and of other professionals in medicine, law, philosophy, and psychology – deserves our attention.
Beyond pushing pioneering and vanguard programs in Harm Reduction in Argentine (some of which count with financing from the federal government), the members of ARDA have actively worked to publicize the problems associated with drug consumption, the rights of drug users, prevention, and, finally, the problems of prohibitionist drug policies.
Founded in 1999, ARDA “joins together professionals and organizations in the country that work on developing drug policies oriented toward reducing the harmful consequences of drug use and that aspire to create public health policies regarding drugs. Its first objective is to promote public drug policies based on the principles of reducing the damages associated with drug use, promoting action plans that favor closer adherence to health and social contexts of drug use, and the AIDS/HIV epidemic, stressing prevention and health promotion.”
The work of Silvia Inchaurraga and her compañeros includes dozens of publications (books, pamphlets, posters, and Harm Reduction manuals). It also participated in the Million Marijuana March that, in Argentina, was the second largest in the world this year. Its impact on society and Argentine media grows daily, as can be observed in the interview with Inchaurraga published this past Sunday in the daily Clarín, on August 3rd, in which some fundamental points regarding drug policy in Argentine, América, and the world, were eloquently made:
But there are two issues more that we will discuss with ARDA. The first is the legislation presented some weeks ago to allow therapeutic uses of marijuana in Argentina. Authored by Congresswoman Irma Parentella, this proposal is already a pioneer piece of legistlation in the América that speaks Spanish.
The other has to do with Law # 23,737, regarding drugs, trafficking, and money laundering. In Article 14 of this law drug possession is punished, including for personal use. Well, ARDA launched, in 2001, a manifesto asking for the repeal of the Article. The manifesto has been promoted since then in demonstrations, concerts and other public acts in which petition signatures were collected.
In fact, some members of ARDA have demonstrated in favor of legalization, in essays and interviews with the media… But, for now, we will leave it here, kind readers. Stay tuned, because this trip to Argentina has just begun, and Narco News promises to relay much of that movement’s good works and news in the coming days…
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