Spotlight on Bolivian Coca is Out of Focus
1.“At last month’s meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Bolivian President Evo Morales made headlines by dramatically brandishing a coca leaf he had apparently smuggled into the Austrian city between the pages of a book.”
- This event occurred at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in 2009, not last month.
- As a head of state, Morales has no need to “smuggle” coca leaves because he has diplomatic privileges
- Morales gained a higher percentage of the popular vote than any other president, at that time and still, in spite of recent setbacks, his support extends far beyond coca growers unions. He has long been head of one sector of coca growers’ from the Chapare region, but other groups in the La Paz Yungas at times oppose his initiatives
Bolivia’s indigenous population is no longer “largely” agrarian, with large population center like El Alto.
4. While the article, like many others, note that Bolivia is the third largest coca producer, that also puts Bolivia in last place with much less the amount of coca produced in both Colombia and Peru.
5. “Bolivia represents an enormously important area of interest for the United States. The Andean nation’s drug policy is of vital concern to Washington”
- Certainly, the expulsion of Ambassador Goldberg and the DEA in 2008 provoked a great deal of resentment against the Morales administration in Washington, leading to the withdrawal of trade preferences and repeated “decertification” of the country’s drug war performance. However, Bolivia has never been a priority in U.S. foreign policy of the cocaine produced in Bolivia goes to the United States, with the great bulk of it traveling to or through Brazil and Argentina to Europe and West Africa.
- Although 1988 Drug Law 1008 stipulates 12,000 hectares of legal coca production, Morales administration policy sets the limit at 20,000 hectares, based on model of controlled, rationed coca production initially agreed upon in October 2004 before Morales was president.
- This comparison depends on which coca production statistics and legal limit ceiling used. At 20,000 hectares, the state limit since 2006, current coca cultivation surpasses this figure by only 50%. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Bolivia had 31,000 hectares of coca in 2010, the U.S. sets that number at 34,500.
- The coca leaf, in its natural form is, in fact, innocuous and has significant medicinal and nutritional benefits.
- USAID began alternative development efforts in Bolivia almost 25 years ago.
- Yet, as the COHA piece points out, the success of these programs, which subsidize farmers who choose to suspend their cultivation of coca in favor of other crops, has been limited, as coca is far more cost-effective than alternatives like coffee and rice, which are more labor-intensive and require more land to grow.
- In 2008 farmers in the Chapare, one main coca-growing region, decided to reject USAID alternative development projects. As a result, the organization no long works in the region.
11.“ USAID pushes for alternative development models have made life without coca more feasible for the average farmer, the polarizing plant remains an attractive option for many Bolivians.”
- The areas in which USAID carries out alternative development efforts have limited and reduced coca production per family, but not eliminated it entirely in a Bolivian government initiative known as “Integrated Development with Coca.”
Yet, US figures published in the same report register a net reduction of 500 hectares from 2009 to 2011.
13.“The sheer size of Bolivia’s domestic cocaine industry, to say nothing of the vast amounts of the drug produced elsewhere and shipped through Bolivia en route to markets in the U.S. or Brazil, is of grave concern to the United States”
- Yet it is the smallest of the three Andean countries, only 1 percent reaches the US. In contrast, the US government calculates that 95.5% of the cocaine in the US comes from Colombia according to the 2012 INSCR. Furthermore, funding priorities do not demonstrate “grave concern” about Bolivia. The US has cut antidrug funding dramatically, slating only $7.5 million without overhead for 2012. Peru will receive over five times and Colombia more than 30 time more U.S. funding for the same period.
- Although friction persists over these and other issues, bilateral relations have improved. On the ground, daily cooperation between the Narcotic Affairs Section of the US embassy and Bolivian drug control officials and agencies continues. In November 2011, both countries signed a new bilateral framework agreement, formally reinstating relations and announced the intention to reinstate ambassadors. The agreement includes recurring dialogue on drug policy issues. In January 2012, Bolivia, the U.S. and Brazil signed a trilateral coca monitoring agreement. At the Summit of the Americas, President Obama observed,“The recent agreement between the US, Brazil and Bolivia to go after (excess) coca cultivation in Bolivia, is the kind of collaboration we need.”
The 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, also notes: “The government took significant steps to control coca production in the Chapare.” As well as “The FELCN [Bolivian antidrug police] achieved numerous high-profile successes during 2011”and “ Bolivia intensified coca eradication efforts, reporting the eradication of more than 10,000 hectares for the first time since 2002, even as eradication forces continued to meet resistance from coca growers.”