The mono-crop cultivation of coca leaf for cocaine production is not usually defined as a megaproject. However, both the massive territorial, economic and political scale that this illegal business has attained, and the (often violent) imposition of a development model on the inhabitants of the regions concerned, mean that it is not only appropriate but necessary to include them in the group of megaprojects having a serious impact on indigenous territories in Colombia.
The production of coca leaf, its processing and the subsequent export of its derivatives for the drugs market, is one of Colombia’s most dynamic agroindustrial megaprojects.
Despite the difficulties in establishing the size and location of the areas under cultivation, and thus the regions affected, there is enough information to get an idea of the minimum scale of the impact of this megaproject on indigenous peoples.
This megaproject has some characteristics which distinguish it from the rest of those studied:
1. It is an economic activity which is illegal along all the links in its production chain – its cultivation, processing, marketing, sale and consumption are all deemed criminal offences, as is the integration of the profits into the legitimate economy.
2. To counteract this illegal megaproject, the Colombian state is implementing another, with Plan Colombia as its cornerstone, which aims to eradicate coca and opium poppy crops and attack the drugs trade. Both projects (the production of illicit crops on the one hand, and their eradication on the other) have a profound impact on Colombia’s indigenous lands and people.
3. Coca is a sacred plant, known and used by a range of indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia since antiquity, for whom it has great religious, medicinal and nutritional value. It is important not to confuse the coca crop used traditionally by different indigenous peoples with the agroindustrial product destined for the world cocaine market.