COLUMN RIGHT : Kill the Coca at Its Roots : Eradication of the growing fields would save American lives and aid the environment.


In the last few months, the American people have heard a great deal about the war on drugs. But are we really in a war? And if so, will we heed the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who said, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it”? Do we have the will to win it?

If the answers to these questions are yes, then the United States must do more than just declare war. We must adopt a hard-hitting anti-drug strategy that takes the war to the enemy.

We must educate our children about the dangers of drugs and impose tough new penalties on dealers, including the death penalty for major drug dealers. We must stop more drugs at our borders, providing more money for interdiction to the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Customs Service and the military. But most important, we must eradicate drugs at their source. For cocaine, the source is the coca plant.


Unfortunately, President Bush and the Colombian, Bolivian and Peruvian presidents, at their February drug summit, did not agree on any plan for eradication, the keystone of a successful strategy.

In February, just prior to the drug summit, I traveled to Peru’s Upper Huallaga Valley for two days to learn about the effectiveness of the herbicide tebuthiuron for coca eradication. Almost 65% of the world’s coca comes from this river valley. As I walked through test sites, I observed plenty of dead coca. Yet numerous other plant species were flourishing.

Tebuthiuron, better-known under the trade name Spike, is contained in clay pellets that are applied by airplane and readily absorbed through the roots of the coca plant. It kills 95% of a coca crop with virtually no effect on the surrounding vegetation, wildlife or human population.

Only three pounds per acre, or 1.5 million pounds, of tebuthiuron could destroy all of the coca in Peru and Bolivia. Currently, Peruvian growers are using more than twice that amount of chemicals, in the form of pesticides and fertilizers, on their crops. Worse yet, they are clearing hundreds of thousands of acres of trees, destroying the tropical rain forest and eroding the soil. And tons of chemicals used in cocaine processing, such as sulfuric acid, kerosene and acetone, are poured into Huallaga rivers and streams. A recent Peruvian study estimated that in 1986 processors dumped more than 26 million gallons of harmful chemicals into area rivers, killing fish and polluting the waters that feed the Amazon River. Alarge-scale eradication campaign, accompanied by a strong economic development plan to replace the coca growers’ lost income, could stop the destruction and also save the United States millions of dollars now spent to fight drugs both domestically and abroad.

However, the United States must be willing to eradicate South America’s coca crops with or without the cooperation of its leaders.

Peru’s coca growers cultivate approximately 200,000 acres in the Upper Huallaga Valley. Another 125,000 acres are under cultivation in Bolivia. Together, these fields are the source of 90% of the cocaine entering the United States. Tebuthiuron, once applied to these fields, would remain in the soil for about six months. During this time no new coca could be planted. Because it takes 18 to 24 months to plant and harvest new coca, tebuthiuron would prevent coca from being harvested in these fields for almost 2 1/2 years.

Unilateral U.S. eradication of South America’s coca would no doubt be greeted with hostility by the international community. But if it comes to a choice between offending foreign leaders by violating their borders to kill coca plants and seeing hundreds of thousands of young Americans die or be ruined for life because cocaine is so readily available on our streets, there is no choice to be made.

The commitment of Peru and Bolivia to eradicating their coca crops is questionable at best. The Peruvian military has gone so far as to block drug raids by anti-narcotics police, because the government fears coca growers will turn to Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla movement for protection.

To win the war on drugs, the United States must take the war to the coca fields. They must be eradicated now, with or without the cooperation of South American leaders and regardless of world opinion.

As Gen. MacArthur also said, “In war there is no substitute for victory.”