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Award-winning investigative journalist (and dad) Peter Gorman has spent more than 20 years tracking down stories from the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Bombay. Specializing in Drug War issues, he is credited as a primary journalist in the medical marijuana and hemp movements, as well as in property forfeiture reform. His work has appeared in over 100 national and international magazines and newspapers.

Peter Gorman's love affair with the Amazon jungle is well-known to people in the field. Since 1984 Mr. Gorman has spent a minimum of three months annually there generally using Iquitos
Peru as his base. During that time he has studied ayahuasca the visionary healing vine of the jungle with his friend the curandero Julio Jerena. He has collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and herpetological specimens for the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome. His description of the indiginous Matses Indians’ use of the secretions of the phyllomedusa bicolor frog has opened an entire field devoted to the use of amphibian peptides as potential medicines in Western medicine.

The Myth of Colombian Coca

by Peter Gorman

Despite the release of US figures which purport to show a reduction in Colombian coca production, and the claims of the Colombian government of Cocaine Baron Uribe, there is one simple truth about cocaine that nearly all the world’s media have missed: Colombian Coca doesn't really affect the quantity of cocaine in the world. Colombian coca (E. novogranatense v novogranatense) is simply such a weak sister compared to Bolivian Coca (E.Coca v coca) and is planted so much wider apart than Bolivian coca (grown in Bolivia and Peru) that it takes several hectares of Colombian Coca to replace one hectare of Bolivian coca in the making of cocaine. Too, since it takes a minimum of three years from seed to produce a leaf on the coca bush that will have any measurable coca alkaloid, planting it today means you couldn't have any cocaine until May 23, 2006, and that would be a very very little alkaloid.

Planting from cuttings is much faster--perhaps as fast as 8 months to get a little alkaloid--but then more like a year-and-a-half or two years to get a real harvest, according to Dr. James Duke, the elder statesman of botany and someone who worked for the US Department of Agriculture on Colombian coca and coca crop substitution in Colombia. So planting cuttings today wouldn't produce ANY coca alkaloid until Feb 23 of 2004, and no commercial value until May, 2005.
Too, coming up with the minimum of 20,000 cuttings per hectare is a pain in the butt, since the alleged volume of coca in Colombia--(actually Anne Patterson suggested in 2001 that it would hit over 400,000 acres in 2002, and we provided enough glyphosate ultra and cosmoflux and money to spray 420,000 Colombian acres in 2002, and we can only presume that much acreage was sprayed, whether or not it was sprayed on coca plants)--being what it is, not all of that can be done with cuttings, as there is no place where the millions of mother plants could be grown. We're talking roughly 3 million mother plants producing 3 billion cuttings annually for the past several years--just physically impossible. Colombian coca plants are perhaps six feet tall, gangly, with a handful of branches. Bolivian coca, only about 3-5 feet tall is much, much bushier, but still not nearly as large as a rosebush. The idea of a place where mother plants are grown that would produce the amount of cuttings necessary is absurd. All of Holland’s greenhouses combined would be hard pressed to produce the billions of cuttings allegedly used to replant the more than 100,000 hectares that we’ve been spraying annually.
The US does not release its satellite photos, ever. We have no idea how much coca is in Colombia or at what stage that coca is in its growing.
The UN, which does a ONE DAY, ALL COLOMBIA shoot of coca annually, is mostly extrapolation--what we see based on what people say would mean that....and so forth.
So no one has seen this crop. Certainly if there were conga lines of people, mainly FARC, according to the US, carrying billions of cuttings from greenhouses where millions of mother plants are grown, we'd have heard about it. And somebody would have taken a photo at some point.
You've got to imagine the math: to produce as quickly as the US claims Colombia can produce after spraying you would need to immediately plant cuttings. Take a 40,000 hectare spray zone that can be sprayed in a month or so. That zone is now essentially useless. There might be some leaves left, but it would hardly be worth the effort to pick them unless you were a real mom-and-pop grower.
You now have to find another 40,000 hectares to plant--damned near impossible to do so very quickly. If it was being burnt that fast we'd see the fires like we saw in Acre for so many years, so it's not being burnt that way. If it's being cut, that's simply too much work and jungle soil is useless for growing unless you have potash from the burning on it. So it's not being cut because that wouldn't produce arable soil.
So you more or less have to find 40,000 available and arable hectares.
Let's say you do. It's a wild stretch, but let's say it anyway.
Now you've got to find roughly 20,000 cuttings per hectare to plant and then you've got to move them from the mother plants from which they were cut to the fields where you are going to plant them. That would be 800,000,000 (eight hundred million) cuttings you need. And if you want even a very very meager harvest a year from the date your original fields were sprayed, you need to get those 40,000 hectares ready, those farmers taught how to plant and harvest coca, and those cuttings into the ground in 4 months or less. If a person could somehow move 1,000 cuttings at a time from those imaginary greenhouses with those imaginary mother plants that produce those miraculously large numbers of healthy cuttings so quickly, you would still need 800,000 trips to those green houses (each trip by a person resulting in 1,000 cuttings being moved) in a matter of weeks to get those cuttings to the imaginary new ground you've found that is already ready for planting.
That is quite a conga line of people carrying, mostly by foot I'm guessing since no one has ever seen a carload of coca cuttings. Now if all this were being done by the FARC, as the US would have us believe, we would need each and every one of the supposed 30,000 FARC to make 26 trips from the magic greenhouses to the magic new arable land with 1,000 cuttings on his or her back. We couldn’t use the farmers for that job because they’ve got to be planting those cuttings at the same time. And the farmer’s wives (or husbands, depending on the case) couldn’t do it because someone has to make the food to feed all these workers.
Now how long is each one of these trips from the magic greenhouses with the mother plants to the magically available and arable land? Must be a couple of days, at least, since those greenhouses have never been seen in FARC territory. So they must be outside of FARC territory.
If so, that means the 30,000 FARC are walking outside their territory, unmolested by the Colombian soldiers, US mercs or anyone else, without being noticed. And they are evidently walking for days to get where they’re going.
Which doesn’t leave them a lot of time for doing the FARC things they normally do.
And that’s just replaceing 40,000 hectares! Imagine that Colombia has had to replace over 100,000 hectares for 3 years now!!!! And tens of thousands of hectares each year for nearly 10 years before that!
None of that fantasy makes sense in real life. There are no billions of cuttings being planted in new ground annually in Colombia. There are no millions of hectares of jungle burning or we’d have noticed the smoke.
The reality is that the Colombia coca figures are a lie, and have always been a lie. Colombia does not produce the world’s supply of coca, at least not in the base stage. That continues to be produced in Bolivia and Peru, or perhaps in protected mountain valleys in Colombia where Bolivian coca can be grown. But it is not the leading producer from the jungle as that coca simply is not very rich in alkaloid, there are not enough farmers, and there is not enough time to replant after each spraying to keep an uninterrupted world supply available.
The US has several reasons to not release photos of spraying. One is that the US doesn’t want the world to see that the real intention of spraying is to destroy the forest and displace the people living in Colombian Amazonia so that the oil discovered there can be gotten out with less interference and with better pinpointing of ground reserves (canopy interferes with telling the difference between ground water deposits and petroleum deposits). The US also doesn’t want people to know the other collateral damage—to legitimate crops and wildlife—that the spraying is intended for and has inflicted.
But the US also doesn’t want to show its photographs of Colombian coca because then the world would know the numbers it spouts regarding Colombian coca and repeated by a media that doesn’t do it’s homework are phony. There is nowhere near as much coca in southern Colombia as the US says. There has never been. It is a myth to justify spraying of poison that is intended to displace people to make future oil and mineral work easier.
So the truth is that the spraying has no effect on world cocaine supply because southern Colombia’s meager coca production from those commercially useless coca plants has no real impact on world supply. Kill 100% of the plants in Colombia and you won’t stop cocaine. You probably won’t affect the price—as we’ve seen from having eliminated every coca plant in Colombia each of the last two years, according to US numbers. But kill just 20% of the plants in Peru and Bolivia and watch the price of cocaine shoot back up from $50 a gram to the 1970’s $100-$120 a gram in a week.
But Plan Colombia is not about cocaine. Never has been. That is the cover for eliminating the population that is inconveniently sitting on very rich underground deposits. And the spillover into Ecuador is being done for similar reasons.
Uribe the cocaine-meister can claim to be against cocaine. Only if he’s not getting a cut of the profits. The US can claim to be eliminating cocaine by spraying Colombia. But only if we are foolishly gullible enough to believe that big lie.