Sunday, August 10, 2008

Coca and Farm Policy

Update from Bolivia: The referendum is going pretty smoothly, it appears, apart from one mishap. A small pro-Morales town in Beni appears to have 'lost' all their ballots. Never underestimate the lack of scruples and morals of a decadent oligarchy. After talking so long about freedom and democracy, now they're trying to undermine the election itself. It reminds me of those Venezuelan opposition intellectuals just prior to the 2004 referendum on Chavez, who candidly admitted that as soon as they succeeded in recalling Chavez, they would remove the right of recall from the constitution, on the ground that it destabilized society. No kidding, it destabilizes society! But who in recent years has been doing more to maliciously destabilize their societies than the Venezuelan and Bolivian oligarchic classes?

In other news, I just came across an interesting press release in the AP about Morales' new food policy. Morales was elected to power in defiance of the US drug war; he used to be a coca grower and proudly said that he would defend the right of Bolivians to cultivate coca. (Coca, by itself, is no more of a drug than coffee is; it's something entirely separate from processed cocaine. No doubt you could kill yourself or get addicted by shooting up purified caffeine as well). This always troubled me, since my social views are moderately conservative, at least in domestic policy, and I'm violently opposed to the legalization of hard drugs like cocaine. Morales is clearly not, personally, in favor of the drug trade, but his policies (however admirable in many other respects I find them) would have a side effect of making the war on drugs more difficult within United States borders. That wasn't a strong enough reason for me to oppose Morales, but it did trouble me.

No more. Evo Morales is now propounding a new policy regarding coca cultivation. In response to rising prices of grain and other food crops, he is trying to limit coca cultivation to 1 acre per farmer, and encourage cultivation of other crops- so far he has particularly mentioned rice. Farmers who restrict coca production to no more than one acre will get a $500 loan to plant rice, corn and other food crops and up to $2000 to build a house. (It should be remembered that coca has many legal uses inside Bolivia- as a mild stimulant as well as various medicinal and traditional purposes.)

How is this different from and immeasurably superior to the crop-substitution plan that the US was pushing?

First of all, the Morales government is encouraging food crops, not fruits like bananas and pineapple for the export market as the US tends to encourage. Local production and food self-sufficiency is a critical goal not just for developing nations but for individual farmers and farming communities. There is much to be said for the ideal of the self-sufficient mountain village producing its own food rather than producing juicy pineapples to grace the tables of U.S. consumers while their own wives and children are stuck with eating corn porridge and nothing else.

Secondly, the Morales government is allowing for a gradual transition from coca to food crops, one that will allow farmers time to see if they can make enough income from food crops, and enough time to reorganize labor and inputs so as to allow them to cultivate food crops.

Thirdly, Morales' government, it is to be hoped, will support these farmers by providing them with needed inputs like fertilizer and technical knowledge. He will have the advantage of a political alliance with Cuba; Cuba is famous for the progress they have made towards a low-input, ecologically sustainable agriculture, much more so than any other nation. The Cubans in the last ten years or so have virtually written the book on appropriate technology and low input agriculture, and will have a lot of technical knowledge as well as socialist ideals to share with their Bolivian brothers and sisters.

Fourthly, this is part of a broad program of land redistribution, encouragement of farmers' cooperatives, and promotion of values like socialist solidarity and the dignity of labor. Morales' government will be providing these small farmers with land to cultivate, recently seized from their feckless and exploitative oligarchic proprietors. He will be getting rid of the landlord class so that these farmers are free to cultivate their own communal lands as part of a village cooperative- the same way the Incas did. He will also be inspiring the farmers by promoting values throughout society that uphold the importance of farmers, of working together, of sharing, of cooperation, of the ancient Incan communal ethos. This moral inspiration is too important to be overlooked. Under the US aid plan no doubt, the result would have been the cocnentration of land, the building up of an exploitative landlord class, and the immiseration of the peasantry such that they could no longer choose, in the midst of their alienation, whether to grow rice or coca.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the reason this plan will succeed is because it grows organically out of the Bolivian nation, and is not something imposed from outside. A social reform or revolution can usually only succeed if it comes about from within. Morales is an Indian and a farmer, therefore other Indian farmers will be inclined to listen to his words in a way they might not be to the bureaucrats at a foreign aid agency.

We see again how critical it is for Morales and his government to survive. They absolutely must survive, by whatever it takes. Not only is Andean, communitarian socialism the only way for Bolivia to achieve social equality, not only is it the only way for a society of love and virtue to be established, not only is it the only alternative by which a country like Bolivia can develop and take their rightful place in the family of nations as a self-sufficient and dignified nation, but it is the only way that the scourge of the drug trade, the hydra which poisons the lives of so many North American youth, to be beheaded once and for all. For this and for so many other reasons it is imperative that the Bolivian oligarchy be defeated and the Morales government triumph.

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