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.
by Peter Gorman
Just to make y’all jealous, my house guests this month included Michael Hooks, perhaps the biggest pot smuggler/grower of all time. Initially a mid-sized smuggler moving a few tons a week across the US/Mexico border in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, by 1983 Hooks was running the grow op for the Quintero clan in Sonora and moving hundreds of tons monthly in his fleet of small planes. Too, Hooks, now a retired, out-of-prison, middle-aged guy whom I couldn’t identify if you put meat hooks to my privates—but please fuggin don’t—taught the guys how to grow sinsemilla. The Quinteros ate it up and expanded their fields to the point that the largest field they worked at the place they called El Bufalo—which actually had 13 fields all told—was over 1,000 acres. When it was busted in 1984, the US claimed to have found 8,000 tons of pot—16 million pounds—cured, bailed and ready for shipping. Hooks says that of that number was exaggerated but not insanely so. He also said the Mexican Federal Police, who were on the payroll, returned most of it shortly after the US DEA left the scene. The story had a bad ending when the DEA man who led the bust was later tortured and killed—that’s a wretched thing in my book, period—and Hooks later wound up doing a total of 10 years for smuggling—also a wretched thing in my book. But oh, how it must have felt during the heyday and before the blood was spilled! Imagine field after field of hundreds of thousands of plants, all protected by the Mexican government, and Hooks out there running a small fleet of planes across the border, beating the radar, the Border Patrol and everyone else at the game ten, twenty, thirty times a week. That must have been something…and I swear I almost saw his eyes go glassy when he was talking about it.
Now on to Bolivia, land of snow-capped mountains and Bolivian flake and home to Evo Morales, the US’s worst conceivable nightmare, and the man the Bolivian people just elected as their new president. According to reports Morales took 51% of the popular vote, a phenomenal number in a country that routinely runs several people for president. If that number holds up, Morales will win outright; if tallys in the days to come lower it by a bit—and you can bet our CIA boys are down there right now trying to figure out how to lose some of those chits that had Morales’ name on them—to below 50%, then the Bolivian Congress will decide between the two top vote getters. In this case Jorge Quiroga, a former Bolivian president who tallied about 35% of the popular vote, would still have a shot, though the country would probably go up in flames if it was handed to him by Congress.
Assuming the vote stands, the next couple of years in Bolivia should be interesting ones. Morales, an Ayamara Indian and the son of a dirt farmer, has promised to make the coca leaf legal for industrial uses. It’s already legal for locals who have used the sacred plant for as long as Bolivia—like Peru and Ecuador—has been inhabited, but for nearly 20-years now it’s been subject to eradication programs pushed on Bolivia by the US, which holds vital purse strings that Bolivia has long depended on. The programs have left many of Bolivia’s 9.2 million inhabitants destitute, created bloody civil strife, and have finally created enough unity among the poor to elect a president..
A little history is in order. In 1971, strongman Hugo Banzer, trained at the US School of the Americas (aka School of the Assassins, where most of Central and South America’s monsters have been trained for the past several decades), took dictatorial control of Bolivia after leading a successful US-backed-coup against the legit pres. During his tenure he banned socialist movements, closed universities, and ran a little death-squad operation that saw the disappearance of more than 3,000 political enemies—read, Communists, the US bogeyman of the era. He was also generally known as the lead cocaine man in the country, which was the world’s leading producer at the time. He resigned in 1978, a very wealthy man.
Nearly 20-years later, in 1997, Banzer returned to power as the democratically-elected president of Bolivia. Backed again by the US, he promised to eliminate all coca growing in the country by the time his term was up in 2002. His escalation of the forced eradication of coca, however, brought escalated civil unrest, and drew the ire of a young coca grower named Evo Morales, head of a fledgling coca-growers’ federation. Under Morales’ leadership, the country’s various coca-growers’ federations were brought together as a single union, and their resistance escalated in proportion to the increased eradication. Hundreds of cocaleros died in bloody grower-military confrontations during the Banzer years, but their deaths, rather than breaking the coca union’s back, created a stronger movement. Morales was elected to Congress in 1998, and became the national voice for the indigenous in Bolivia, repeatedly calling for an end to the war on coca and coca growers, and reminding people at every opportunity that coca is a sacred plant, not a drug—except in the hands of westerners who abused the plant by making cocaine. When Banzer left, things got even worse: two presidents in the last 3 years have had to resign, in large part because of the continued escalation of civil strife largely related to coca, but extending to what the Bolivian poor see as exploitation of their natural resources by private, and non-Bolivian, corporations. All of which set the stage for Morales’ election. At campaign stops he frequently noted that his party “represents not only hope for the Bolivian people, but also a nightmare for the government of the United States….I have no fear in saying—and saying loudly—that we’re not just anti-neo-liberal, we’re anti-imperialist in our blood.”
He’s promised to legalize coca—and the Bolivian people expect full legalization—which has the US reeling. He’s also promised to call on the United Nations to take the coca leaf off the Single Convention Treaty’s list of prohibited plants.
He’s also promised to nationalize the country’s oil and gas reserves, located mostly in the Santa Cruz region. While technically owned by the state—with production under joint control of the state and private foreign companies—it’s provided untold wealth for the already-rich in that region, who see themselves as subsidizing the poor elsewhere in the country. If Morales moves to completely nationalize, or even demand that the state gets a larger piece of the energy pie, Santa Cruz may try to secede. Additionally, with US companies like Exxon Mobil having a stake to lose in the match, if Morales follows through with his oil and gas promises, the US will be pressured to respond.
Making matters even worse for the US, Morales is a close friends with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Castro—the two leaders in Latin America that the US loathes.
The Morales’ victory certainly has its roots in US-imposed programs in Bolivia. This is blowback for all the suffering those programs have caused. Now the questions are whether Morales will have the cojones to follow through on campaign promises or will he prove a coward and cave in to US demands in exchange for debt-forgiveness, and promises of military humanitarian aid? Then there’s the question of whether the US, if Morales does follow the will of the people and follow through, will permit it. For all his talk of the value of democracy, George W. Bush has shown little regard for it when it doesn’t fit his idea of good democracy—as seen in the US-backed failed coup against Chavez a couple of years ago. Minimally he’ll declare Bolivia a ‘terrorist’ state and consider sending troops. Or Morales might find himself killed in an unusual accident. But you can bet it ain’t gonna be pretty.
And then there’s the next question: If coca is legalized throughout Bolivia, and growing surges, how low will the price of flake fall in the US and Canada and how deep will the snow get?
Bet your ass the DEA is pulling its nuts over that one. And bet your ass that somewhere in the USA there’s someone on a phone with a politician right now saying “Well, let’s look at the bright side: If there’s even more cocaine than there is now, we can always put more money into fighting it…and then of course, we’re gonna need more prison space…”
It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.