But what most people don’t know is that the coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, has been and is still used medicinally in most of the jungle region. Coca leaves are in many Andean kitchen cupboards.
Have a stomach ache? Chew one a coca leaf for awhile, or boil the leaves in a cup of hot water to make mate de coca. You’ll feel better pretty quickly.
Here in Peru, many people use coca leaves to help with the high altitudes they climb into each day.
Puno, which is at 12, 500 feet above sea level, was my first occasion to try mate de coca. I had nausea on the bus ride from the rapid change in altitude and booted my breakfast in the bus bathroom. But when we arrived, Sergio’s cousin quickly brewed me some mate de coca and I felt much better.
Because of situations like mine, it’s really difficult for governments to monitor narcotrafficking in countries like Peru. There are many legitimate coca farmers, who grow the leaves and then bring them to the cities to the sell. The narcos, however, who grow the leaves and then sell them to drug lords, or process then with kerosene, are the ones to catch. Many times, it is difficult to differentiate between the two.
Now in Peru, the domestic terrorist group of the 1990s, The Shining Path or Sendero Luminoso, is having a comeback, mainly because the drug crackdown in Colombia has pushed some of the cocaine business to the Peruvian jungle—one of the few places the senderistas still operate. Now they have their violent agenda and drug money to fund it. While there have been few terrorists incidents in the past five years, the situation still concerns many Peruvians.
But it's impossible to put laws over something as wild as the Amazon. Especially from a South American perspective, it seems so futile to attack the drug trade from the supply side.