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For South America’s leftist leaders as well as edgy entrepreneurs, coke is a signifier of defiance. Peruvians have a long history of chewing coca leaves and using the plant for other traditional purposes, but now their government promotes coca products partly as a way to resist U.S. pressure to eradicate coca. And in pledging $1 million to fund two coca food-processing factories in Bolivia, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez must be delighted to have found yet another way to poke a stick in the eye of “el Diablo.”

The Fake Real Thing
“It was always the plan to let negative publicity move us forward,” says Jamey Kirby, the man behind Cocaine, an energy drink recently launched in the United States

.

The Real Real Thing
Coca toffees from Peru contain coca alkaloids, a mild form of the active ingredient in cocaine. Peruvian companies also produce coca cookies, energy bars, honey, and soda.

“I insist that [coca leaf] can be consumed directly and elegantly in salad.”
-Peruvian president Alan Garcia, December 2006.
Peru is the world’s No. 2 cocaine producer

.

How to Kill a Rainforest, for $4,975 Tax Dollars an Acre
—Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

After six years and billions of dollars, Plan Colombia—the United States’ ambitious program of aerial spraying aimed at wiping out Colombia’s illegal coca harvest—has succeeded mostly in pushing coca growing into new areas.

Worse, data from the U.N. show that Plan Colombia has failed to significantly reduce the country’s cocaine output, and on the streets of the United States, blow is cheaper than before the spraying began.

Coca sprayed since 2000

1.8 million acres (nearly the size of Yellowstone Park)

Retail price of Roundup herbicide needed to cover that area

$91 million

Amount paid to Dyncorp to oversee eradication in 2005

$174 million

Coca cultivation in 2000

337,000 to 404,000 acres

Coca cultivation in 2005

212,500 to 356,000 acres

Area of primary forest replaced by coca fields since 2000

241,000 acres

Percentage of coca detected in 2005 that was found in areas where coca had not grown previously

44%

Percentage of area sprayed in the coca-rich district of Putumayo that actually contained legal crops or forest

40%

Change in U.S. street price of cocaine from 2000 to 2005

-29%

“The fight for coca symbolizes our fight for freedom. Coca growers will continue to grow coca. There will never be zero coca.” –Bolivian president and former cocalero Evo Morales, February 2006. Bolivia is the world’s
No. 3 cocaine producer

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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