Coca eradication

From Academic Kids

Coca eradication is a strategy strongly promoted by the U.S. government as part of its "War on Drugs" to eliminate the cultivation of coca, a plant whose leaves are used in the manufacture of cocaine. This strategy is being pursued in the coca-growing regions of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, where it is highly controversial because of its environmental and its socioeconomic impact.

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Coca eradication in Bolivia

Environmental impact

Plots denuded of coca plants by mechanical means (burning or cutting) or chemical herbicides, such as Monsanto's Roundup, are abandoned and cause serious problems with erosion in seasonal rains.

In addition, the U.S. has also been involved in the application of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum to wipe out coca; that fungus poses serious hazards both to humans and to other plant species. In 2000, the Congress of the United States approved use of Fusarium as a biological control agent to kill coca crops in Colombia (and another fungus to kill opium poppies in Afghanistan), but these plans were canceled by then-President Clinton, who was concerned that the unilateral use of a biological agent would be perceived by the rest of the world as biological warfare. The Andean nations have since banned its use throughout the region. (The use of biological agents to kill crops may be illegal under the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975.)

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Source: DEA Intelligence Division, December 2001

On June 25, 2003, the Superior Administrative Court of Cundinamarca, Colombia, ordered a stop to the spraying of glyphosate herbicides until the government complies with the environmental management plan for the eradication program. It also mandated a series of studies to protect public health and the environment.[1] ( The Colombian State Council, the country's maximum administrative authority, later overruled the court's decision to stop fumigations. [2] (

Socioeconomic impact

In the sierra of Peru, Bolivia, and northern Argentina, coca has been consumed (by chewing and brewing in infusion) for thousands of years as a stimulant and cure for altitude sickness; it also has symbolic value. The sale and consumption of coca (but not pure cocaine) is legal in these countries; there is a legal and legitimate market for it. As such, the total eradication of coca (the stated goal of past and present U.S. administrations) is neither desirable nor feasible; it would be comparable to demanding France eradicate its grapevines or America its tobacco fields.

With the growth of the Colombian drug cartels in the 1980s, coca leaf became a valuable agricultural commodity, particularly in Peru and Bolivia, where the quality of coca is higher than in Colombia. To supply the foreign markets, the cartels expanded the cultivation to areas where coca was not a traditional crop. Many poor campesinos, driven from the central highlands by lack of land or loss of jobs, migrated to the lowlands and valleys of the eastern Andes, where they turned to the cultivation of coca.

To counter this development, the U.S. government, through its foreign aid agency USAID, has promoted a policy of crop substitution, whereby coca cultivation is replaced by coffee, banana, pineapple, palm heart, and other crops suitable for a tropical climate. Prices for these products are extremely low, however; moreover, many remote coca-growing areas lack the infrastructure to get such perishable products to market on time. The price of coca, on the other hand, has remained high; and, when dried, coca stores well and is easily transportable. To date, virtually all the crop substition programs implemented in Peru and Bolivia have failed, primarily because the campesinos are not guaranteed an adequate price for alternative products.

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The Chapare and Yungas coca-growing zones in Bolivia. Source: US General Accountability Office

Geopolitical issues

Given the above-mentioned considerations, many critics of coca eradication believe the fundamental goal of the U.S. government is to constrict the flow of income to the Colombian Marxist rebel movement, FARC, which is heavily funded by the illegal drug trade, rather than combating drugs per se. Few if any such critics have anything favorable to say about the illicit drug trade, but they point out that under the current coca eradication policies, poor campesinos bear the brunt of efforts to combat it, while North American and European chemical companies (which supply chemicals needed in the manufacture of cocaine) and banks (which annually whitewash hundreds of billions of dollars in illegal revenues) continue to profit from the trade.


In November 2003, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) claimed the area planted with coca in Peru and Bolivia combined fell by 35 km² in the year up to June, which would suggest that a crop eradication program in neighboring Colombia was not driving production over the borders. According to its estimates, the area cultivated with coca in Bolivia rose from 244 km² in 2002 to 284.5 km² in June 2003, but this increase was more than offset in Peru, where the area fell from 366 km² to 311.5 km².

However, the U.S. figures were very different from preliminary estimates in September 2003 by the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Colombia, which indicated that output in Peru and Bolivia may have risen by as much 21 percent, or 150 km², so far this year. The White House office said its estimate was based on sampling from high resolution satellite imagery. The United Nations used a different technique and had not yet put out any formal estimate for 2003.

At the start of 2003, there were 1,740 km² of coca in worldwide cultivation, and Colombia represented more than 60 percent of that total. Critics of the Colombian eradication program had predicted that it would lead to higher coca production in Peru and Bolivia. [3] (,2106,2730872a12,00.html)

However, a March 2005 report by the ONDCP indicated that despite record aerial spraying of over 130,000 hectares of coca in Colombia in 2004, the total area under coca cultivation remained “statistically unchanged” at 114,000 hectares. In reponse to the report, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), an NGO that monitors the impact of US foreign policy in Latin America, observed that the aerial spraying strategy appeared to have hit its limits. According to WOLA, the new ONDCP data suggested a continued “balloon effect” as aggressive spraying in some areas has not deterred new cultivation elsewhere. Official estimates coca cultivation in Peru for 2005 have yet to be released, but the State Department’s own reporting suggests that cultivation in Peru has increased. “The stable cultivation in 2004 throws into doubt US officials’ predictions of a major impact on US drug prices and purity,” commented John Walsh, WOLA Senior Associate for Drug Policy. President Alvaro Uribe has however vowed to press ahead with U.S.-financed fumigation of coca crops. [4] (,1280,-4907643,00.html


The U.S. has supplied tens of thousands of gallons of Roundup to the Colombian government for use in aerial fumigation of coca crops. We have been using a fleet of crop dusters to dump unprecedented amounts of high-potency glyphosate over hundreds of thousands of acres in one of the most delicate and bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. This futile effort has done little to reduce the availability of cocaine on our streets, but now we are learning that a possible side-effect of this campaign could be the unleashing of a Fusarium epidemic in the Amazon basin. The drug war has tried in vain to keep cocaine out of people's noses, but could result instead in scorching the lungs of the earth. —Sanho Tree, the director of the Institute for Policy Studies Drug Policy Project
In La Hormiga, a small city in the Putumayo region, we viewed the effects of glyphosate on food crops. The fumigations had killed subsistence crops such as yucca, corn, and banana, while adjacent coca fields not only survived, but flourished. Even the rubber trees of a state-sponsored alternative crop program were not spared. After five years of nurturing, the trees, along with multiple food crops, were destroyed by the fumigations. Unlike most vegetation in this region, the coca plant is quite resilient. Like a weed, it is able to grow under even the most extreme conditions. [5] (

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