- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Peru’s first lady said yesterday that coca, which contains cocaine, cannot be stamped out because it has been used for thousands of years.

Besides, she said, it is good for you.

“Coca has many, many virtues in addition to health and ritualistic” uses, anthropologist Elaine Karp, wife of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, said in a speech at George Washington University.

According to the State Department, Peru is the world’s second-largest producer of coca leaf, from which cocaine is extracted. The United States has spent millions of dollars trying to eradicate coca crops in Peru, 90 percent of which goes to illegal trafficking.

However, for centuries, the Indian populations in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru have chewed the leaf. The customary chew produces a slight euphoria and stimulation, a weak form of the effect magnified many times when cocaine, a highly processed product, is ingested. Refined cocaine is extremely addictive and can cause permanent nervous system damage.

Mrs. Karp said that in Peru, farming leaf for illegal cocaine is dictated by the high prices paid by drug users and drug traffickers.

“It’s completely market-driven. The demand exists,” she said. “Coca cannot be completely eradicated.”

Peru’s Indians use coca to combat fatigue and altitude sickness, and, she said, as “part of their way of life and their rituals.”

Mr. Toledo said last week that Peru would spend $61 million of international aid to destroy drug crops this year. He said that more than 25,000 acres were eradicated in 2004, although cultivation grew by 42,000 acres.

Coca crops have increased in Peru as the U.S.-financed Plan Colombia has eliminated illicit crops in the neighboring Andean country. Bolivia is the world’s largest producer of coca leaf.

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