Coca mama means life to indigenous Andeans (En Español)

NarcoNews correspondents Al Giordano and Luis Gomez interviewed in early-2002 an indigenous Andean man with dark, shiny eyes and a thin smile; he's not just the secretary general of the United Farm Workers union of Bolivia (CSUTCB, the main farmer's organization of the country). Felipe Quispe is also called the Mallku (the Prince), the man to whom all the Indian nations that inhabit Bolivian territory have given the staff of traditional leadership, making him their one leader, their true spokesman. Following is a partial reproduction of a lengthy interview conducted recently about coca leaf and the US-led Drug War:

Narco News: Let's speak a little about the coca leaf and the current situation of narco-trafficking in this country.

Felipe Quispe: Okay. Coca has been, ancestrally, a sacred leaf. We, the indigenous, have had a profound respect toward it, a respect that includes that we don't "pisar" it (the verb "pisar" means to treat the leaves with a chemical substance, one of the first steps in the production of cocaine). In general, we only use it to "acullicar." We chew it during times of war, during ritual ceremonies to salute Mother Earth (the Pachamama) or Father Sun or other Aymara divinities, like the hills. Thus, as an indigenous nation, we have never prostituted Mama Coca or done anything artificial to it because it is a mother. It is the occidentals who have prostituted it. It is they who made it into a drug.

This doesn't mean that we don't understand the issue. We know that this plague threatens all of humanity, and from that perspective we believe that those who have prostituted the coca have to be punished. But now, who pays in this life? We who labor and cultivate the coca. We have even been criticized for chewing it. This happens above all to the farmers in the zones of Las Yungas and the Chapare. In these regions, we are in danger because the United States has the saña to destroy, to annihilate our sacred coca leaf, even after we have traditionally cultivated the leaf for many centuries.
Sooner or later the drug will be legalized, and surely we will be turned into consumers who depend on they who manufacture it in the North, and in place of chewing our own leaves we are going to have to buy the ones that they cultivate. This is the mentality that the gringos seem to have, or at least how we see it from our communities. For us, it will continue to be a sacred leaf because, also, thanks to her we can work constructing buildings, on farms and in the mines. The leaf combats hunger and misery. Coca has a lot of properties. It's not just any plant.

Narco News: The first prohibition of coca in history was during the Spanish colonial period, but it failed.

Felipe Quispe: Yes. At the beginning, the Spaniards said it was a diabolic leaf. But in the end, motivated by their ambition, they pushed a rise in production. They were the ones who saw the economic advantages because in the mines (like on Potash Hill), a lot of coca leaf was consumed. Thus, to satisfy the demand, for example, the Spaniards were the first to cultivate coca in the Yungas regions. They prepared grand extensions of land for its cultivation. During the Inca Empire, massive cultivation did not exist. It was a light production only for coca's sacred purposes. The Spaniards extended it (and, later, the governments of Bolivia did the same), and now the United States wants to take away from us even that part that corresponds to the indigenous, this essential part of our culture.

Narco News: Speaking of the present situation, the Bolivian Armed Forces seem to have been subordinated to a foreign power while, on the other hand, each day more evidence appears that the State itself has become narcotized. What is the role played by foreign governments in this country?

Felipe Quispe: Look, in this country called Bolivia, from 1825 (the year of Bolivia's independence) to the present, military officials have governed more often than anyone. In the case of the production of cocaine, they are not far from what happened. The ex-dictator Luis García Meza and the one and only Hugo Banzer were the first big pushers of narco-trafficking in Bolivia. I spent five years in prison, and there I met all the famous Bolivian narco-traffickers, who had been members of the political class and the traditional political parties: the MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) and the other political parties.

The parties have used drug trafficking to finance their campaigns. Definitively, Bolivian politics has been narcotized. Many of the narcos are on the outside; they don't even know the inside of a jail cell. They are, for example, in Congress. The great majority of those imprisoned for drug trafficking are indigenous who have chemically treated coca to make cocaine or who have trafficked on a small scale. I already said that these are the people who pay - the Indians.

In recent months, they have hunted Indians every single day in the Chapare. And because it is others who control the economic, political and social power, they are going to continue controlling the drug traffic. We lack an impartial government. The law needs to measure everyone with the same yardstick. More than anyone, they, the ones who are in charge, are the truly guilty parties responsible for thousands of deaths throughout the world. This is the type of politics that we have here.

Narco News: That type of politics is, with different variations, the same problem that we find throughout Latin America, especially in the Andean countries: Ecuador, Colombia, Perú and Bolivia. Plan Colombia, invented by Washington, has failed and, according to my analysis, there are three decisive factors in this failure. The first is that its rejection has been internationalized, for example, through the disagreement expressed by the European Community with this military plan. The second is that many sectors of Colombian society have declared themselves in favor of drug legalization in the United States as a solution to the problem. The third factor is that a confluence can be observed between the legalization movement and the indigenous movements in Colombia. Do you think that this dynamic could have applications in Bolivia?

Felipe Quispe: Okay. You said that this type of problem with the narco exist in places where we, the indigenous, also exist, whether it be in Perú, in Mexico or another country. And for us, the policy is our enemy; it is what discriminates against us and kills us. In other words, I would say that Plan Colombia was created with the intention of annihilating the indigenous peoples. Not only that, but also to take away our jobs and our lands, our homes. But we are organized and we are not going to permit them to take our homes away. We are going to defend ourselves, if necessary, with teeth and nails. We cannot lose our sacred leaf.

With this, I am not defending narco-trafficking. We are speaking of coca in its healthy and living form, an inheritance that our ancestors gave us. We leave the drug problem to the United States because we Indians don't consume drugs. We simply "pijchar" (an Ayamara verb that refers to the act of chewing coca, in small amounts, between the gums and the inside of the cheeks). It's a political, religious and even an economic question, since many farmers in Bolivia live through the cultivation of coca, working lands that can produce only coca, that cannot produce any other agricultural product. There are thousands of projects like Plan Colombia and other plans that gringo imperialism can produce. But they are not going to work here.


The Razor Wire is a publication of The November Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates drug law reform. Contact information:
282 West Astor - Colville, Washington 99114 - (509) 684-1550