The Road to Lima
Peru's Coca Growers and their First Grand Congress
By Luis Gómez
Part II of a series on the drug war in Perú
March 15, 2004
Before we arrive in Lima at the first Grand Coca Growers’ Congress of Peru, let’s make a few stops, because the route is long. The first is at the offices of a corporation, of a large United States company named Chemonics that works under the auspices of a non-governmental organization. In our prior report we saw how Marisela Guillén, one of the coca growers’ leaders, accused that company of fraudulent operations...
Guillén, in an interview with the Peruvian daily Ojo last December 7th, accused Chemonics of other things, too: of defrauding the peasant farmers who accepted compensation to eradícate coca. She said that the National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA, in its Spanish initials) and Chemonics, the current operator of Peru’s “alternative development” program, “offer farmers $180 dollars to eradicate, but once they have eliminated their crops, they only give them 126 soles (a little less than $49 dollars), nothing more, and they don’t comply with the public works that they promised.”
Who the hell is Chemonics? By the size of its operations and its global network, we can say that it is a big business… according to resumes of its directors, it’s a source of employment for various ex-bureaucrats of high level from USAID, the famous U.S. aid organization… And could it be that with such good relations that the people of Chemonics have with U.S. administrations that it has made a little more than $414 million dollars between 1990 and 2002? Will business be even better now since the government of George W. Bush gave them contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, between 2002 and December 18, 2003, for more than $167 million dollars?
As examples of its work, Chemonics restructured the national debt of Ecuador, helped to subcontract the potable water service in a Colombian city to the multinational corporation Vivendi, works in reforestation programs in Bolivia, and, in the same country, has worked in economic development programs with coffee producers in Yungas, producing various internal conflicts between peasant farmer organizations (especially with the coca growers of Yungas)... The Peruvian coca growers are right to feel bothered, not only because of their accusations of fraud, but also because they have inside their territory, in addition to police and military forces, a corporation led by people who aver very interested in bringing U.S. “assistance” forward (that is to say, silent intervention)…
But let’s not stop too long, for now, anyway, at Chemonics, because other issues are weighing upon us… We’ll come back some other time to this corporation because it is surely causing complaints in Peru, in Bolivia, and in other corners of our América…
The New Base for the Military, er, Gringo “Aid”
In those days that Marisela Guillén denounced Chemonics, a news story occurred that was very big in Peru: The announcement of the installation of a U.S. military base in the jungle region of the country. The base, christened with the euphemistic title of “Anti-Drug Coordination Center,” will be “the axis of land, air, sea, and river operations in the fight against drug trafficking,” according to a report by the Andina news agency. At the same time, the renewal of interdiction flights, suspended in 2001, after the tragic “accident” that culminated with the fall of a small airplane that a missionary and her daughter. The plane fell into the front yard of Narco News reporter Peter Gorman.
They had already tried to install this base in April 2002, as we reported at the time. But this time, supported by the administration of President Alejandro Toledo, the North Americans were at the point of obtaining it in the same place, the town of Uchiza. In fact, it was reported that civilians were discovered in this region building “a complex, including an airfield.” All of this had the title of a bilateral cooperation program titled “New Horizons.”
On December 4th, 2002, the U.S. Embassy in Peru issued a press release do deny it, that it wasn’t happening. That the famous Anti-Drug Coordination Center would be the axis of joint operations between Peruvians and Gringos, but it would not be a military base. (Why, then, were there, in addition to military troops, civilians, mercenaries, DEA agents, and others of that style?) Ah, and the Embassy also denied that there had been a date set to renew interdiction flights, saying it was all being talked about between the governments, but that it hoped to renew them that same months… The flights have not yet begun anew, but the construction of the base continues…
The “Fight” Continues
In the final months of 2003, anti-drug combat in Peru was in its glory: large quantities of chemical precursors were discovered, various clandestine laboratories were destroyed, marijuana plants were eradicated, hundreds of kilos of cocaine were seized, and, really, they did it all. But the most famous capture came in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Interpol trapped the Colombian Omar Penagos, who, it turned out, was one of the narco-operators in Peru and closely related to Vladimiro Montesinos, the former Rasputin of Alberto Fujimori, and an old friend of U.S. intelligence and anti-drug agencies.
On December 12th, last year, according to the daily La República of Lima, Peru’s Interior Minister, a celebrity named Fernando Rospigliosi, gave a clear indication that he “knows” how things work. After an operation with machine-gun-armed helicopters in Monzón Valley destroyed seven cocaine laboratories in a shootout, Rospigliosi swore that these interdictions had caused the price of coca leaf to fall… That is to say, that the farmers, seeing that it was already not profitable, would have to switch crops. “We believe that the price will continue to fall, and this is a major hit against drug trafficking,” were Secretary Rospiglioso’s final words. In other words, against all the laws of the market ( and the general logic that governs prohibited drug prices around the world), the minister was convinced that his work was very effective… How does that sound to you?
In Peru, coca is sold in bags called arrobas, weighing 12 kilos. The state-owned business in charge of doing it and controlling it is the National Coca Business (ENACO, in its Spanish initials), that in its bylaws declares “the sale of coca leaf and its derivatives” as a commercial activity. Well, according to Enaco’s price charts, a kilo of coca costs seven dollars for exportation… That is to say that they sell the arroba bag for $84 dollars, or around 290 soles… And this provides a very large profit for Enaco… Let’s remember the words of Marisela Guillén last December to the daily Ojo.
“Enaco pays 50 soles per arroba bag while others pay 60 or 70 soles,” she said. That means that the coca growers receive about $14 dollars and 50 cents for an arroba of coca, that is then sold for $84 dollars abroad (plus extra fees and costs), and that gives the Peruvian State agency Enaco a profit of more than 200 percent… As Secretary Rospigliosi says that the price paid to farmers keeps dropping. Does this mean that the Peruvian government wants to increase its profits? That is possible. Or do they want to lower the price for the “competition” that pays 60 or 70 soles, as Guillén says, to supply the narco? Is it possible that the interdiction and eradication efforts are lowering supply? As you will see, kind readers, Rospigliosi and his people have some loose ends to clarify to the whole world…
For everyone else, if you would like to look at Enaco’s website for a while you’ll have some fun… These gentlemen also post the prices of chemical precursors (called infiltradores) and of processed cocaine on their menu of “Product Sales” for “foreign markets.” Is that an error? Or is it the case that the State-owned business sells cocaine? Could that be true?
Well, while these questions float around your head, let’s get to know another celebrity, that like Rospigliosi we will meet later on down the road…
Nils Ericsson: The Czar Who Didn’t Know How to Count
In this context, another of the “geniuses” of Alejandro Toledo’s administration is the president of Devida, Nils Ericsson, who made some recent announcements. On January 15th, Ericsson said that the so-called “self-eradication of coca,” or voluntary eradication, had grown to the level of 4,521 hectares in 2003, raising the total of eradicated hectares to 11,317 in Peru. With that, said Ericsson, there must still be another 31,150 hectares of coca in the country…
On the other hand, Ericsson revealed that cocaine consumption in Peru had shot up, and that about ten percent of the base paste produced in this country goes to make cocaine for domestic consumption and that the average age of the first-time consumer is now a person of 12 years old…
The problems with Ericsson’s statistics begin by doing simple math: At the end of 2002, this official had announced that there were still 36,000 hectares left to eradicate, leaving aside the 11,317 hectares that supposedly were eradicated in 2003… But this doesn’t add up with the resulting 31,150 hectares that remain to be eradicated in 2004. Ericsson defended himself, on this point, saying that the statistics offered by the office of U.S. drug czar John Walters are counted from June to June of each year… making it clear that his official calculations were an estimate, nothing more.
Beyond that, the expert on narco-trafficking and coca issues, Hugo Cabieses, after reading Ericsson’s report, offered a series of critiques to the daily La República, denying the effectiveness of the Peruvian government’s eradication campaign. “What they say has been eliminated are the fields that were abandoned, and, additionally, they are not the crops currently being produced,” he said. Cabieses, pointing out that the entire thrust of the Peruvian and U.S. governments has been to show positive statistics to keep Peru inside the program of “cooperative countries” with U.S. drug policies.
Cabieses confirmed that the accusations by Marisela Guillén are accurate, when he denounced that the DEVIDA agency was not paying the money it promised to farmers for “self-eradication” and that two supposed alternative development projects, in fact, were only one. Given that the statistics provided by Nils Ericsson are not trustworthy, Cabieses clarified the issue: “The reports need to be documented so that people can know what, exactly, is happening with coca crops, to be able to know which crops are for traditional use and possible creation of legal products, and which are going to drug trafficking.”
Now, having talked to Hugo Cabieses, we arrive on the hillside overlooking Lima… to a hostile environment, where the bureaucrats manipulate the statistics, with officials who don’t know how to count, and with the gringo armed forces constructing its base. And here we find, in the city, hidden below a cover of gray clouds, the Peruvian coca growers, the coca growers of Peru are about to give their version of this story… in the next part of this series, you will hear from them… Stay tuned, kind readers.
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