Monday, April 26, 2010

Drug Acreage Down! But what's it mean?

The government reports that Colombia's coca acreage is down 16 percent from last year. Colombia's total coca leaf acreage is down from 400,000 hectares a couple years ago to only 68,000 now. That's good news by just about any measure. It potentially means less addictive chemicals poisoning kids in Colombia, United States and Europe. It also hopefully means more food grown in a nation with plenty of hunger. And, less drug exportation also means less income for the bad guys - the guerrillas, paramilitaries and plain old narcos.

But... does this mean that the U.S.-financed, multi-billion-dollar erradication campaign is a good thing?

The erradication campaign has its own, huge environmental and social impacts, producing deforestation, displacing peasants and killing food crops. Also, because drug crops are persecuted, farmers plant them near rivers and in jungles, compounding the environmental impacts such as deforestation and chemical pollution.

And, I've also heard that coca acreage has increased in Peru and Bolivia. And, U.S. prices apparently haven't risen much - and what they have might be attributable to changes in tastes, as users turn to ecstasy, crystal meth and other delights, or the narcos' infighting that has convulsed Mexico.

Finally, when source-country control tactics DO work they have the counter-productive effect of raising prices for consumers and thus increasing traffickers' profits, defeating the original goal.

So, is this drug war really worth it?

This blog written by Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours and Rentals

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Mockus Phenomenon

So, I'm blogging again, for anybody who cares...

It's the presidential campaign which moved me back to the keyboard. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a routine, predictable campaign, in which popular Pres. Alvaro Uribe, after failing in his effort to run again himself, handed power over to his man, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, has gone bonkers. An eccentric ex-mayor of Bogotá, a man of Lithuanian parentage who once interrupted a class he was teaching to drop his pants, who recently announced that he has Parkinson's and that he's an atheist, is in a dead heat with Santos, in some polls.

Antanas Mockus' campaign is like a breath of fresh air in a nation which has spent decades obsessed with the grimness of an armed conflict, narcotrafficking and bombings. For once, will Colombians choose their president based on issues like poverty and education, rather than violence? Or, should they?

Mockus is widely agreed to be honest, intelligent and innovative. His public acknowledgement of his Parkinson's was also courageous in a nation which usually seeks strong leaders.

But Mockus is the Green Party candidate. Green is great. I'm an environmentalist. But, sadly, environmentalism may not be Colombia's first priority as a weakened by still vicious guerrilla still claws at its society. And, for that matter, what about Mockus' platform is really green? He didn't even show up for the one debate held on environmental issues and then issued a vacous statement.

I dunno. Mockus is a good guy...but his agenda's still a big mystery. And, while Colombia's come a long way in terms of security and quality of life, perhaps it still needs to make concentrating on the guerrillas and other outlaw groups its top priority. And, clearly, Santos, the man who bombed Raul Reyes' camp in Ecuador, would do that.

There's also a green factor which is missing here. The drug erradication campaign may be futile or worthwhile, but it clearly is disastrous for the environment. Because drugs are illegal, jungle is cleared to plant drug crops, herbicides are sprayed on that jungle and people's homes, and untold quantities of used chemicals are poured into streams. If drugs were legalized, they'd be cultivated and produced like wine grapes and tobacco - with some modicum of environmental controls.
For greens, at least, drug legalization/depenalization is a no-brainer. But I haven't heard of Mockus, or any other candidate, taking a stand on this issue which is so fundamental to Colombia. I'll keep waiting.
This blog blogged by Mike Ceaser, owner of Bogotá Bike Tours and Rentals