September 25, 2007

COCA BLANKETS THE HILLS SURROUNDING Peru's Huallaga Valley and carpets much of Bolivia's Chapare. These two regions, now a drug enforcement offi- cial's nightmare, were thought not so long ago to be the scene of a shining future. In the 1960s, development planners and government officials were promoting schemes to colonize South Amer- ica's huge tropical zones. Colonization was seen as a good way to "develop" vast, scarcely populated national territory-and to satisfy a growing population's demand for land while avoiding large-scale land reform. The.Peruvian government budgeted $30 million for dis- tributing land and providing credit and technical assistance to settlers in the area between the towns of Tingo Marfaand Tocache in the Huallaga. About half of those funds came from the Inter-American Development Bank. Millions more were spent to extend Peru's Marginal Highway through the zone. In 1963 the Bolivian government began a similar project, also funded by the 1DB, aimed at drawing settlers to the Chapare. Neither region was exactly virgin wilderness: European missionaries founded Tingo Marfa around 1631 and in the nineteenth century the part of the Huallaga now known as San Martin was noted for cotton and tobacco production. just a driver. Like they say in the Westerns, he knows too much. "When the senderistas come they teach the eight commandments of the revolution...The first is alle- giance to the Comrade President...They don't let you live with the women, once two comandantes were exe- cuted for that..." "They all sing the Internationale, even the children. You have to learn it, and the Sendero hymn as well. Whoever doesn't learn it is punished....Once I asked one of the leaders in Tocache why so many of them are women. He told me that it's not just any woman who participates in the revolution. It's the young women, because before they get married and have children they are much more insensitive and cold than men, and are capable of anything." T THE BEGINNING OF THE 1980S INVOLVE- nent in drug trafficking brought a certain prestige to the residents of the Huallaga. Flowered shirts, white pants and shoes were the uniform, along with dark glasses and a motorcycle. Now everyone talks of revolu- tion, even though no one really knows just what that means. Having established its hegemony in the Huallaga, Sendero will likely accelerate the terror it has waged on the rest of the country. The guerrillas' "taxes" on the $600 to $800 million which circulates annually in the valley bring them $30 to $40 million, far more than any other of Peru's political organizations. Sooner than we think, we may discover the meaning of revolution. The first wave of settlement this century came in 1938, when a highway was built between Tingo and the town of Pucallpa. In Bolivia's Chapare, Spanish officials operated some large estates during the colonial period, and highlands farmers started arriving in significant numbers in the 1920s. But by the 1960s the Huallaga and the Chapare were still backwaters, where life went on in a kind of equilibrium de- veloped over years. The colonization programs that brought young settlers from the impoverished highlands changed all that. The governments promised credits for coffee, citrus and cattle production. They failed to keep those promises and, in the 1970s, abandoned the settlers to the one crop that was profitable without any government assistance. Coca, long a cash crop in both the Chapare and the Huallaga, became the regions' economic lifeblood once the world cocaine indus- try began its astounding growth in the 1970s. In the Hual- laga, now said to be the world's largest coca growing zone, coca production increased from less than 1,500 hectares in 1962 to 3,000 hectares in 1972. While individual farmers expanded their coca fields, the seemingly insatiable market for the leaves brought another wave of new migrants to the area. Today, at least 75,000 hectares of coca are under culti- vation in the valley.

Tags: Coca, Peru, colonization, IDB, alternative crops

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