CUSHILLOCOCHA, Peru – Near the triple border of Peru, Brazil and Colombia, many members of the Ticuna Indian tribe are working as laborers for cocaine drug traffickers, a business that has transformed their lives and supplanted the activities and customs that some of them are now trying to salvage by returning to legal pursuits.
Cacao and “fariña,” a fatty flour made from cassava, both of which are traditional products of local Amazon residents, are economically viable alternatives to the drug trade being pushed among Peru’s Ticuna by the National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (Devida), the aim of which is to get them to stop growing and harvesting coca, the raw material for cocaine.
However, only a minority of the Ticuna, so far, have opted for the alternative crops, since the relatively huge earnings continue to be made in coca, and the move back toward legality is only tentative for a group that has been mired in poverty in one of Peru’s most remote corners, as EFE was able to determine on a visit to the area.
The economic infusion from drug trafficking was so great in certain Ticuna communities that it completely changed the way the people operate and interact, as occurred in Cushillococha, a community of more than 600 families on the banks of a lake near the Amazon River, in Peru’s Mariscal Ramon Castilla province.
In the village, there is no longer any trace of the large, oval-shaped houses where the Ticuna lived before their territory was divided among the three countries, and now there are modern homes of bricks and cement with satellite dishes.
“The hunters stopped hunting, the fishermen stopped fishing and the farmers abandoned cassava and bananas to plant coca,” local Devida coordinator, Haroldo Linares, told EFE.
Everyone planted coca until, two years ago, officials from the Special Project for the Control and Reduction of Illegal Crops in the Alto Huallaga (Corah) came to eradicate the coca fields, finding an unexpected 15,600 hectares (about 39,000 acres) of coca crops in the province and destroying about 20 percent of it.
Devida found local residents experiencing economic shock, with “very dissatisfied and, in some cases, hopeless people because they didn’t have any income source,” Linares said.
In that situation, some Ticuna returned to growing cassava, and Devida promoted the production of fariña and to date has managed to convince 322 families to also plant a hectare of cacao.
Now, the fariña is sold in markets in Colombia and Brazil, but some cacao producers say that the state is not providing them with economic incentives while they wait the approximately two years that it takes for a cacao tree to begin producing its fruit.