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Coca, Cocaine, and Narcotrafficking in the Andes, 2010

Submitted by on July 22, 2010 – 9:30 pmNo Comment

The Peruvian Center for the Investigation of Drugs and Human Rights has launched a new map-based info-graphic titled “Coca, Cocaine, and Narcotrafficking in the Andes, 2010” to provide readers with information about drug cultivation and its impact at the local level in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru.

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The Flash-based visualization begins with a map of South America and clickable outlines of the three countries. An introductory text on the sidebar reads:

Analysts and international organizations collectively recognize the size, adaptability and flexibility of the illicit business of international cocaine trafficking, which is cultivated on the eastern slope of the Andes in South America. In these territories, a social “blanket” of thousands of migrants, farmers, indigenous, youth, and temporary workers are recruited by trafficking organizations to plant, harvest, process and transport raw coca and cocaine hydrochloride to international markets.

Western society, mostly in North America, Europe and some pockets of “urban development” in the Third World, have developed forms of life that include the use and abuse of natural and synthetic stimulants to cope with heavy workloads, as well as family and social disintegration.

The CIDDH has developed this computer graphic, in which we intend to take a virtual tour (analytic, graphic and cartographic), of the various settings and pathways of international cocaine trafficking: in particular, where illicit crops are produced in areas that are environmentally and socially vulnerable. We also look at the changing routes of international trafficking and the main trends of cocaine use in major cities worldwide.

You can click over the Andean countries, to reach the main valleys of coca leaf production and their local problems. Then, you can access the “web” of local, regional, hemispheric, and global routes for drug trafficking. We will continue incorporating other elements of the problem, including the consumption of cocaine and its derivatives and money laundering.

If you click on any of the three countries you are presented with a general overview of cocaine production and distribution, and a map of provinces with hyperlinked, dark green overlays that mark the valleys where cocaine is known to be produced. There are a total of 19 valleys in the Andes that are documented on the map; two in Bolivia, eight in Colombia, and nine in Peru.

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If we click on the region of Apurímac in Peru in south-central Peru, for example, we are given a general introduction to the history, geography, and demographics of the region, along with more specific information related to the cultivation of coca. The informative sidebar tells us that studies of satellite imagery in 2008 estimate that 16,719 hectares are being used to cultivate coca, which represents an estimated 29.8% of coca cultivation at the national level.

The valley makes up part of what Peruvians refer to as “el VRAE“, which stands for “Apurímac and Ene River Valley,” and has long been a center of conflict between self-organized community defense groups (Comités de Autodefensa) and Sendero Luminoso.

In 2009 Peruvian President Alan Garcia proposed “Plan VRAE” to introduce more state presence in the region to mediate the conflict between the Comités de Autodefensa, Sendero Luminoso, and narcotrafficking groups. The proposal was rejected by local authorities and social organizations in the region, and was widely seen as a domestic policy failure for Garcia. The federal government has since increased the amount of infrastructural investment in the region, bringing roads, telephone, and electricity to rural villages, along with some health clinics and schools. However, the explanatory text concludes that there is still no sustainable economic alternative to the production of coca.

Each departmental map has a layer of lime green which shows where coca is cultivated in the region. There are two other optional layers which can be displayed on top of the map: statistics charting the change in cultivation of coca per year from 2004 – 2008, and a collection of 16 photos from the region. The photos reveal the region’s beauty, social strife, and new infrastructural projects.

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This infographic is a useful way to learn more about nineteen of the Andean communities that have been affected by coca cultivation and distribution. It provides a useful overview with some basic statistics and helpful photographs so that readers feel more acquainted with the regions. However, there are several disadvantages to using Flash as a platform for infographics. First of all, Flash is increasingly not supported on mobile devices like the iPad and the majority of internet-capable mobile phones. Second, it is difficult for Google and other search engines to search for text that is embedded in Flash. This infographic contains a wealth of informative content, but because the text is written in Flash rather than HTML most users searching for information related to coca cultivation in Apurímac, for example, will never find the website. Finally, it is difficult to update Flash-based websites and the researchers and editors at CIDDH will likely need to depend on the availability of their web programmer to make any changes to the infographic. This could easily lead the visualization to become out of date, especially when a number of new, related developments need to be added promptly.

While the project promises to provide details about drug trade routes, that information is still mostly missing. A mapping project by the West Africa Trade Hub shows one possible example of how to illustrate drug routes in the region, and worldwide.

Recommendations:

  • Add all numerical and geographic data related to coca cultivation to a public Google Fusion Table so that it can be downloaded, analyzed, re-used, and visualized by others.
  • Use the Managing News platform to create a constantly updated visualization of drug- and human rights-related news in the Andes. Managing News can use either Google Maps or OpenStreetMap as the base map on which to visualize information. Neither are particularly well developed in the rural Andes. It is recommended that CIDDH collaborate with the Peruvian OpenStreetMap team to produce better, open maps of the region.
  • Enable permalinks to each country and departmental page.
    Add captions and date information to all photographs.
  • Add hyperlinked footnotes to all cited studies and claims in the explanatory text.
  • Publish all information under a Creative Commons Attibution license so that others can embed maps on their websites and blogs, and also translate the content into other languages.
  • Automatically aggregate some information – for example, geo-coded Wikipedia articles, recent Flickr photographs from the region, and relevant articles from media and civil society organizations in the region. All of this information can be summarized in a weekly digest that is distributed via blog post, Twitter, and Facebook.

Other examples of map-based visualizations of information for social change can be found at Christian Kreutz’s blog, crisscrossed:

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