Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Monday, April 26, 2004

Cocaine & Asparagus.

No, this is not a recipe post.

And I’ll understand perfectly if it had not occurred to you that the two might, in some perverse way, be related. But leave it to our government to find a link, all in the name of the War on Drugs.

Apparently, according to this piece in the New York Times, the U.S. has been subsidizing asparagus production in Peru since the early nineties, spending about $60 million a year in an effort to lure coca producers into growing a more socially acceptable product. The only problem, of course, is that there is no evidence that this strategy has ever worked. Even our own auditors, at the U.S. Foreign Agricultural service, “do not believe that Peruvian asparagus production provides an alternative economic opportunity for coca producers and workers.”

Coca, for one thing, is grown in the highlands, while asparagus is cultivated near sea level. You’d think that someone, somewhere along the way, might have pointed this out. Well, it’s too late now: as one former asparagus farmer notes, “It seems like we still got plenty of cocaine coming into this country, but now we got cheap asparagus as well.” Peachy.

What the program has done, quite successfully, is wreak havoc on the lives of our own asparagus farmers & packers. In Washington state alone, the acreage devoted the stuff has declined 55% -- while Del Monte has closed a plant (moving it to Peru), costing 365 jobs. Michigan’s asparagus industry has fallen in value by 35%. Meanwhile, the program has been a boon to Peru – whose annual asparagus exports have increased more than twenty-seven fold since the subsidies began.

It’s breathtaking, really, to witness the miracle of Your Tax Dollars at Work.

I’m just waiting for the moment when the circle of life finally completes itself, and those former Del Monte workers in Washington State start peddling cocaine to pay the bills.

(and thanks to JJ, at Cookies in Heaven, for the tip that led to this post)


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