Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Humala Backs Coca Growers

The motto of any humanitarian campaign aimed at curbing drug abuse in Latin America should be the same as Ollanta Humala's: "Zero Cocaine -- Not Zero Coca". In a statement today, Peruvian Presidential frontrunner Humala came out in support of native coca growers who rely on the coca harvest for their basic income. Humala's proclamation comes in response to years of American coca-crop destruction in South America as part of the war on drugs. This past week the United States eradicated 1,600 acres of coca crops from the San Martin district.

Coca is the plant that the deadly and addictive drug cocaine is derived from. Cocaine, on the other hand, is not the only product of coca. In fact, the most common uses of the coca plant are for food and medicine. In much of South America, where virtually nobody can afford expensive painkillers, many indigenous peoples uses a coca paste to treat burns and wounds. Many pain drugs used in American hospitals would not be possible without it. Coca is also a vital source of nutrition to many Peruvians, as it contains vitamins and minerals along with a chemical that alleviates hunger pains. Coca is also used in many herbal teas and other drinks in Latin America. This tea can even be used to help cocaine users end their addictions. These uses do not get the user high or have mind altering effects.

Without the coca plant, Peruvians would see not only a source of medicine and food eradicated, but also a major part of their economy. Humala has joined the ranks of Bolivia's Evo Morales in defending legitimate growers of coca from what is essentially American eco-terrorism. The Drug Czars in America justify the destruction of coca fields in Peru, Bolivia, and Columbia by claiming that they solely produce cocaine and are destroying American society. If we are to have any sense of respect for international law and basic moral standards, this policy is flawed. Americans have no more of a right to eradicate Peruvian coca fields than Peruvians have to come and light American tobacco farms ablaze (tobacco kills far more each year than cocaine).

Coca cultivation is the responsibility of a sovereign nation, the United States has no right to meddle with Peru or Bolivia's domestic crop production. Instead, we should promote a policy of helping coca growers find other crops to produce and/or help them ensure that their product isn't used for illicit drugs. Our drug war at the moment is only exacerbating the problem, and a dramatic policy shift is needed. Eradicating one Peru's only sources of income and supplies is not the solution.

Oh, and I almost forgot, didn't our own President used to be a fan of the yeyo himself? He made Crawford, Texas, look like the final scene of Scarface.