Maximo Augustin Mantilla, Garcia's portly, gun-loving former personal secretary, has become Peru's cocaine dragon-slayer as deputy minister of the interior.
"We have the moral and ideological conviction to wipe out the drug trade," Mantilla said. "It is an international crime. More, it erodes values at all levels among all kinds of people."
Raids and Purge
In its early months, the Garcia government has mounted major raids and purged a police force riddled by cocaine scandal.
The Peruvian police officers who survived the purge recently destroyed six major conversion laboratories on the Peruvian side of the Peru-Colombia frontier that were among the largest and most modern ever seen by American agents who accompanied the raiders. Operation Condor, as the assault was called, also netted more than a ton of export-ready cocaine and three helicopters.
Profiting from the tribulations of their Andean neighbors, other South American governments are also taking a stiffer stance against cocaine.
Venezuela recently made a 600-kilogram seizure, and so did Ecuador.
"We are bombarded with cocaine from all sides," said Lt. Col. Gustavo Gallegos, chief of Ecuador's international police.
Brazil, a major producer not of cocaine but of the chemicals needed to refine it, is an inviting target for the traffickers. Brazilian authorities are alert to the lure that Brazil's vast, thinly populated west represents for traffickers seeking safe haven for conversion labs and fields for cultivation of a down-scale, lowland variety of coca called \o7 epadu\f7 .
Smashing a cocaine ring in Sao Paulo with about 40 arrests earlier this year, police said the smugglers had decided that Brazil was a safer base than Colombia.
"If we had waited another year before reacting, Brazil could have quickly become another Colombia or Bolivia," said Paulo Gustavo de Magalhes Pinto, chief of federal drug police in Sao Paulo.
Increased South American vigilance, combined with increasing American expertise, has paid off in Miami, long the major U.S. port of entry. Cocaine seizures there totaled more than 25 tons in the 1985 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to DEA special agent William H. Yout. That is nearly twice the amount seized in the entire United States in fiscal 1984.
"Five or six years ago, it was only the United States that was interested in combating the drug problem. Recently, there has been a dramatic change of attitude among the producing countries," the State Department's Thomas said. "That is progress. Once you have a political commitment, anything is possible."
\o7 Coca leaf is a marvel. It has no peer.
\f7 --Peruvian psychologist Baldomero Caceres, who chews a black variety called coca pizarra, cheaper and more pungent than the green varieties favored by Andean Indians.
Man's knowledge of coca, a tough and hardy bush, goes back thousands of years. Pre-Inca artifacts document its use 2,000 years before Christ, according to Raul Jeri, a Peruvian researcher. In 1499, a puzzled Amerigo Vespucci could make no sense of "Indians chewing their cud like cows."
Today, in Peru alone, 4 million highland Indians routinely, and legally, chew coca leaves as a poor man's defense against altitude, cold, fatigue and hunger. It is as much a part of Andean culture as the mountains themselves.
Modern processing of the leaf, though, has aggravated social problems in producer countries. There are, to be sure, thousands of rich young Latin Americans who cannot get by without cocaine, although the percentage of such users is much smaller than in the United States. More pertinent to Latin American governments is the fact that there are now hundreds of thousands of poor who regularly consume cocaine in its most inimical form.
In the first stage of processing, coca leaves are soaked in kerosene and acid to extract the alkaloid. The resulting paste--\o7 pasta basica, \f7 as it is called--is converted through a much more sophisticated chemical process into cocaine.
The paste, though, can be a killer, and it has flooded major Andean cities, where it is wrapped in tobacco or marijuana and smoked. Either way, it's a lethal combination, called \o7 basuco \f7 in Colombia, \o7 kete \f7 in Peru and \o7 pitillo \f7 in Bolivia, where each cigarette costs around 125,000 pesos--10 U.S. cents.
"The residue of toxic chemicals in the paste is much more dangerous than the cocaine it contains," said Jeri, the Peruvian psychiatrist, who studies the effects of drugs. "In 1978, we saw the first 158 cases of abuse from smoking of the paste. Now, it is common in Peru among all ages and all economic levels.'
By Jeri's reckoning, there are 180,000 paste smokers in Peru alone and many thousands more in Colombia.
U.S. officials, stressing growing domestic abuse as a key reason for Latin American authorities to rally against cocaine, have been heard to say that paste smoking "fries the brain."