EL DORADO GONE AWRY

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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