Saturday, April 15, 2006

Better living through agriculture

Americans who have been taken in by government propaganda tend to believe that the trend towards the left in the Latin Americas is somehow being caused by their leaders, who in cahoots with Castro are determined to bring socialism to the area. But the truth is, the leaders are being elected because they reflect the sentiments of their populations who have already figured out that the US and its corporate cronies don't really have their best interests at heart. Nowhere is this more apparent than the US sponsored anti-coca campaign.

While cocaine is indisputably a dangerous drug when it's abused, the coca leaf is a plant rich in nutrients that lends itself to a vast variety of practical uses. Beyond its millennia old importance in their religious life, it provides important sustenance to the chronically impoverished indigineous peasants who chew it to combat hunger, altitude sickness and to provide nourishment. It's used for everything from tea to toothpaste to flour. The obvious benefits to allowing it's cultivation strike at the heart of the US' ill-conceived eradication campaigns, Plan Colombia being the poster child for the failed programs of the drug war.

Following the lead of the others in the Andean countries who are being allowed agricultural uses for the plant, a small group of Colombians have been quietly developing their own alternate economy around the beneficial uses of the plant -- the latest being coca-sek, a soft drink that harks back to the days when the coca in Coca-Cola was truly the real thing. Looking at the numbers, there is no reason to believe that commercial use couldn't supplant the cocaine producers hold over the farmers.
In Colombia, the drive to make legitimate products from the coca leaf is being led by the Calderas reservation, one of half a dozen Nasa communities clustered around Inza. The community pays $15 for each 30-pound bag of coca leaves. Each bag makes enough syrup to produce 300 bottles of Coca-Sek.

That price tops the $12 a bag paid by local drug traffickers, who are always willing to buy leaves, said David Curtidor, who helps manage the soft drink business and touts the beverage as a weapon in the war on drugs. "Each leaf that goes to making the drink is one leaf less for the narcos," Curtidor said.
Critics cite the lack of testing and the danger of abuse. For instance if someone used 80 teabags in a pot of tea, it would be toxic. Rather a weak argument considering if someone took 80 aspirin, that would be toxic too. Heck, one would think 80 cups of coffee in one day could do some damage to your health.

Ignoring the beneficial uses of the plant will not stop processed cocaine from being manufactured and smuggled into the US. Embracing those uses just might do what billions of tax dollars and thousands of gallons of dangerous herbicides couldn't -- that is to eliminate the farmers' need to deal with drug makers. Even if the drug lords then upped the price to the farmer to compete with the legitimate market, that would cause a price increase that could ease the demand here in the US.

Looks a win/win situation to me, but again, that would presuppose that our drug war warriors are actually interesting in winning the war, rather than profiting from the prohibition.

[hat tip Preston Peet]


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