Breaking News:URGENT: Call Congress TODAY to Save DC Marijuana Legalization!

Source and Transit Countries

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle on the Scene Feature: In the Bolivian Chapare, Evo Morales' "Coca, Si; Cocaine No" Policy Brings Peace, If Not Prosperity

For more than two decades beginning in the early 1980s, various Bolivian governments working at the behest of the United States government embarked on a policy of forced eradication of coca crops in Bolivia's Chapare, a lowland region in the state of Cochabamba. It was a time of strife and conflict, human rights violations and peasant mobilizations as tens of thousands of families dependent on the coca crop fought with police and soldiers, blocked highways, and, eventually, coalesced into a powerful political force that helped topple governments. Now, with a Chapare coca growers' union leader, Evo Morales, sitting in the presidential residence in La Paz, times have changed and the days of a US-imposed "zero coca" policy are history.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-leaves-drying-by-highway.jpg
coca leaves drying by side of highway
Under US-imposed legislation adopted in 1988, Law 1008, only peasants in the traditional coca growing region of the Yungas were allowed to grow coca, and total coca production was limited to 30,000 acres. But that did not stop peasants from growing coca in the Chapare, where, in the early 1980s, production had boomed during the "cocaine coup" years of Gen. Luis Garcia Mesa. The development of coca production in this non-traditional, non-allowed area was the most significant target of US-backed forced eradication efforts throughout the 1990s and the beginning of this decade.

As a result, human rights violations by US-trained and -financed anti-drug forces were rampant. "During this period, I would receive an average of 10 complaints a day from coca growers," said former Chapare human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo") Godofredo Reinecke. "Murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, all of that, committed by soldiers and police against the growers," he told Drug War Chronicle this week.

Now, things are different. While soldiers remain in the area, a special police force assigned to the area to prevent road blockades and other upheaval has been removed at the behest of the US -- because there was nothing for it to do. The peasant uprisings have ended, the blocking of highways is history, and human rights violations by the security forces have dropped precipitously. There is peace in the Chapare, and that is because of the abandonment of the "zero coca" policy.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/asterio-romero.jpg
Bolivian congressman Asterio Romero spoke with Drug War Chronicle this week.
The change actually began in 2004, before Morales was elected president, when then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada signed an accord with coca growers (or cocaleros) aligned with the Six Federations of the Coca Growers of the Tropics of Cochabamba allowing each family to grow one cato (1,600 square meters -- about the size of one third of a football field) of coca.

But as part of a broader policy of "coca, si; cocaine, no" adopted by Morales since he took office just over a year ago, the Bolivian government has in effect turned its back on the 30,000-acre legal production limit, now formally allowing an additional 20,000 acres in the Chapare to be cultivated with coca. But while such measures have brought peace to the region, it remains mired in poverty and desperation, as Drug War Chronicle saw during a visit there this week.

On a small plot of land near Villa Tunari in the Chapare, peasant farmer Vitalia Merida grows coca, along with oranges and bananas, in an effort to feed and clothe her seven children. Times are tough, she said. "My kids don't want to go to school for economic reasons," she told the Chronicle. "They want to go and make money." Her oranges and bananas bring only a pittance, she said, while her cato of coca allows her to pocket about $75 month, gaining her about $900 a year -- close to the average income in Bolivia, one of South America's poorest countries.

Despite the constant struggle to earn an income, said Merida, a former Six Federations leader (and still a member), life is better than in the days of forced eradication. "We are still poor, but we are free now," she said. "It is peaceful now. Before, we waited for the soldiers to come like bandits. They killed us, they took us prisoners."

As Merida spoke, the silence of the remote selva was broken by the roar of a helicopter. "No, they are not looking for coca fields," said Reinecke in response to a question. "They are bringing food and supplies to the soldiers and anti-drug police in the region." According to Reinecke, the US-financed resupply effort costs $12,000 a day, a veritable fortune in an area where fruit sells for next to nothing and coca for not much more.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/cocaine-and-precursor-search.jpg
US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and Chapare, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors
While funding for sustainable development is lacking, the US continues to fund the military presence in the region. At a military base in nearby Chimbote, built with US funds, where once a thousand troops were stationed, the base is nearly deserted, but the interim commander, Col. Edwin de la Fuente Jeria, sits in air-conditioned comfort in his office.

The colonel was as cool as his surroundings. "We have nothing to do with the coca anymore," he allowed, before going on to say that he could say nothing without prior approval from his superiors. According to Reinecke, that was right -- the base now serves primarily as a training ground for local recruits doing their mandatory service.

While campesinos like Vitalia Merida are struggling, the Morales government is attempting to ease their plight. Part of that effort revolves around helping them get their crop to market. In a coca warehouse just outside nearby Shinahota, cocaleros are drying and weighing the crop in preparation for transport to legal markets in Bolivian cities.

"This is our local crop," said Six Federations member Felix Cuba at the warehouse. "Under this new program, we are able to sell direct to the cities without middlemen. This means a little more money for us," he told the Chronicle. "And it keeps the coca out of the hands of the narcos."

While there is constant pressure to earn more money to feed their families, growers are abiding by the growing limit, he said. "We are maintaining the one-cato rule," he said. "It is out of respect for the policy. Evo said we can grow one cato, so to defend the policy, it is only one cato we grow. The federation runs this and we do it through social control."

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/sign-announcing-venezuela-plant.jpg
sign announcing construction of coca leaf industrialization plant financed by Venezuela
"Bananas, oranges, papaya, potatoes -- they all rot, and they don't bring much money," said Six Federations leader Juana Cosio as she watched the work at the warehouse. "This year, with all the rains, it is really bad. We grow coca as a back-up," she told the Chronicle. "But we need more markets. That is why we are trying to produce coca flour and other products. We are not narcos, we are just farmers. The government of Evo recognizes that, so now we are at peace here," she said.

Cosio pointed to the assistance provided by the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez, which is providing financing for coca industrialization plants in both the Chapare and the Yungas. "Venezuela is helping us to process and sell our crop," she said.

Under an agreement finalized earlier this month, Venezuela is not only financing the construction of processing plants, but has pledged to buy up to 4,000 tons of coca products, a major breakthrough for a crop whose export is banned under the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Under that treaty, the coca plant is considered an illegal drug allowable only as a flavoring agent (with the cocaine alkaloid extracted) or for pharmaceutical use, with chewing of coca leaves to be phased out by 1986.

That isn't stopping Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba, which is providing technical assistance, from moving ahead with a People's Trade Treaty signed a few months ago. That treaty allocates about $1 million in investment on coca production research. While the US and international narcotics control bodies have raised objections, Venezuela and Bolivia are standing firm. As Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro noted as he stood with his Bolivian counterpart, David Choquehuanca, earlier this month, the two nations will move ahead will projects to "value and dignify the coca leaf."

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/vitalia-merida-in-backyard.jpg
Six Federations coca growers' union member (and former leader) Vitalia Merida in her backyard -- no narco palaces here, as the cocaleros like to point out.
Industrialization of coca processing and expanding legal markets are the correct course of action, said Bolivian Deputy (congressman) Asterio Romero Wednesday. A member of Morales' Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, Romero strongly supports the "coca, si; cocaine, no" policy. "First, I want to say that I am from the Chapare, I was a coca grower leader. It was always "coca zero," but there will never be zero coca," he told the Chronicle. "We fought for many years, we suffered many dead and imprisoned because coca is a source of economic subsistence for us. We will never allow other governments to impose "coca zero" on us. We are a sovereign nation; it is a matter of Bolivian dignity," he said.

"While, yes, we fight against the drug traffic -- and we are doing quite well; seizures of cocaine and precursor chemicals are up -- we also have to decriminalize coca growing, and industrialization is the way," Romero argued. "We have to revalorize the coca, we have to find more markets for coca. There are friendly countries that help us, like Venezuela, and we thank them for that."

Coca production has now been "rationalized" in the Chapare, as the Bolivians like to say, and the repression and state-sponsored violence are a thing of the past, but great strides remain to be taken before the lives of cocaleros there will see real economic improvement. The Morales government, in conjunction with its Latin American allies, is doing what it can to help on that score. But, as the accompanying feature article in this week's Chronicle indicates, it is going to have a battle with the United States and the international drug control bureaucracy on its hands.

U.S. worried by scandal rocking Colombia

Location: 
Bogota
Colombia
Publication/Source: 
International Herald Tribune (France)
URL: 
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/28/news/colombia.php

many pictures from the Chapare...

US-funded FELCN (Special Force for the Struggle Against Narcotics) checkpoint between Cochabamba and Chapare, search being conducted for cocaine and precursors Site of major landslide produced by massive rainstorms. Buses and trucks by the dozens were backed up here. We had to leave the jeep on the near side, walk across the landslide, hire motorcyclists to carry us about a mile to where taxis were waiting, then hire a taxi for the afternoon in the Chapare. Click the "read full post" link or here for 20 more pictures chronicling Phil's visit to the Chapare coca-growing region. People carrying their stuff along a mile-long trail above the landslide to get to buses on the other side. We cheated. My guide, Godofredo Reinecke, the former human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo") in the Chapare, convinced soldiers I was a photojournalist, so we were able to walk along the washed out roadway; much shorter than the hike on the path, but very muddy. Godofredo in the lead more Godofredo Motorcyclists for hire for hikers trying to get to cabs and buses further down the road coca leaves drying by side of highway FELCN checkpoint, outside Villa Tunari US-funded army base outside Villa Tunari army base, inside looking out Six Federations coca growers' union member (and former leader) Vitalia Merida in her backyard. She says there is peace now in the Chapare, but no prosperity. Her kids don't want to go to school because they have no money; instead, they want to leave and work in the city. Vitalia's house -- no narco-palace, as the cocaleros like to point out Walking to the coca patch. It was several miles from Vitalia's house, down a half-mile trail off a dirt road. The patch was hidden in the jungle to avoid detection during eradication times. Forced eradication is over, but the cocal doesn't move. Vitalia in her cocal. She will earn about $75 a month off coca leaves. Vitalia's daughter Vitalia and her daughter in the cocal The town of Shinahota, the Wild West of the Bolivian cocaine business during the "Cocaine Coup" years of the 1980s. Then, you bought cocaine, guns, and luxury goods downstairs, while prostitutes waited above. It's much quieter (and poorer) now. The coca leaf warehouse outside Shinahota. Here, local farmers bring their crops to be carefully weighed and sent on to legal markets within Bolivia. The entire process is controlled by the local growers' union. Drying the leaves in the warehouse. The sign reads "Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08" sign announcing construction of coca leaf industrialization plant financed by Venezuela Plant under construction -- some of the coca product will go to Venezuela. View of La Paz from El Alto, a lower-class suburb which is itself one of the world's highest cities.
Location: 
United States

Back from the Chapare

I'm now back from the coca producing region of the Chapare. Yesterday was a real grind: Get up very early, fly from La Paz to Cochabamba, take a taxi to the Andean Information Network office where I met up with AIN's Kathryn Ledebur and her husband, former Chapare human rights ombudsman ("defensor del pueblo) Gotofredo Reinecke, hopped in his jeep with him, stopped for gas and coca leaves (it's a tiring journey), then drove about two hours over an 11,000-foot mountain pass and down into the jungly Chapare.

The coca leaf warehouse outside Shinahota. Here, local farmers bring their crops to be carefully weighed and sent on to legal markets within Bolivia. The entire process is controlled by the local growers' union. But first, we had to traverse a major landslide on the highway caused by incessant rains. (We were extremely fortunate to have a mostly sunny day, a rarity this rainy season). At the landslide, buses and cargo trucks were backed up by the dozens, as they had been for days. The smell of rotting fruit in the trucks was pervasive. Bus passengers had to gather their bags and make a mile-long trek over a muddy path to get to buses waiting on the other side, but we left the jeep on the near side and walked right down the roadway itself—a shortcut—after Godofredo explained to the soldiers that I was a photojournalist shooting the "derrumbe." My sandals, socks, and jeans were covered with mud (which made quite an impression at the Cochabamba airport this morning). Once across the washed out area, it was onto the backs of small motorcycles for hire for another half-mile to where the buses and taxis were waiting for travelers trying to continue their journey, and then we hired a taxi for the tour of the Chapare. In the miserably hot and humid lowlands, we stopped for lunch, where Godofredo spotted veteran newspaper vendor and scene-observer Don Jaime Balderrama, with whom we had an interesting chat. Then it was on to the local military base for a talk with the comandante, which proved absolutely fruitless. He refused to say a word of substance, saying it all had to be cleared with the military high command. Sadly, this seems to be the attitude throughout the Morales government when it comes to coca matters, and as a result, I am not making much progress in getting interviews with government officials (although I still have some feelers out and some hopes, fading as they may be). The army fort, bought and paid for by US tax dollars was nicely constructed, and the colonel's office featured the only air conditioning I ran across on the whole trip. Sweet for him. Sweet for us, too. I didn’t want to leave, even though we were getting nothing from him.

former cocalero leader Vitalia Merida with her daughter, in their coca field

Then it was on to visit Vitalia Merida, a former coca grower union leader (and current member), who has a coca field way out in the middle of nowhere. After her family suffered during the repression of the forced eradication years, she now reports that there is peace, if not prosperity. I'll be writing about what she had to say in a feature article this week. I have to say that is was an absolutely brutal hike in the mid-day sun to her coca patch. When I complained, Vitalia said, "You see how we suffer," although she sweated not a drop. Next was Shinahota, a small town that was the center of the Chapare cocaine economy during the Wild West days of the "cocaine coup" back in the early 1980s. Main street there features a bunch of two-story buildings erected at that time. Downstairs you bought cocaine, guns, and luxury items; upstairs you rented prostitutes. It's much quieter these days, and much less profitable. Just outside Shinahota, we stopped at a coca leaf warehouse operated by the local growers' union and had a nice chat with some Six Federation leaders who, sadly, were camera shy, and just a little bit suspicious of this wild-looking gringo. (I was indeed wild-looking by then: mud-splattered, sweat-drenched, my hair blown into knots as I hung my head out the window of the taxi seeking relief). We had an interesting conversation, though, and I will report on that in the Chronicle, too. Between Shinahota and Villa Tunari, we stopped briefly at a new coca leaf processing plant, which is being financed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He has promised to import coca products to Venezuela, which would violate the UN Single Convention, but as AIN's Kathy Ledebur noted, "Who's going to stop him?" No one there but construction workers, though. Shortly past the new coca plant, in Villa Tunari, is a municipal hospital staffed primarily by dozens of Cuban doctors and nurses. I couldn’t help but compare and contrast: The US builds forts and supplies the military, Venezuela helps Bolivia industrialize coca, and the Cubans heal the sick. So it goes. That's my report for today. I now have in essence a day and half left in Bolivia. I'm attempting to line up some last interviews, but I'm a little depressed by my lack of success with government functionaries, and just bad luck with some other people I hoped to talk to. But I still have 36 hours... More pictures will be posted here later today.
Location: 
COC
Bolivia

Phil is on the way to the Chapare...

Phil wrote me this morning that he was heading out to the Bolivian city of Cochabamba and the Chapare region of which it is part. The Chapare is one of the major coca-growing regions in the country. It is unclear whether he will be able to post to the blog today -- Phil will be out in the fields -- or if that will have to wait until he returns to La Paz. The Andean Information Network is an organization that monitors and reports on developments in Bolivia in general and the Chapare in particular, and they are helping Phil with this leg of his trip. I have met current and past AIN staff during their not-infrequent visits to Washington. The AIN web site is a great resource for people wanting to learn more about the relevant issues as well as keep up with the latest developments. Among other things, I just noticed that they have published a curriculum to help schoolteachers deal with US and Andean drug control issues in their courses. Of course the site discusses the state of the coca issue in the administration of Bolivian cocalero leader turned president Evo Morales.
Location: 
United States

This way to the Coca Museum...

pictures from La Paz, Bolivia: Calle Linares pedestrian mall, with Coca Museum sign (Click the "read full post" link or the title link for more pictures if you don't already seen them.) Coca Museum, exterior, Calle Linares 906 Church of San Francisco, at the Plaza of San Francisco, seen from Calle Sagarnaga miners on hunger strike, Plaza San Francisco: "five months without working, and our children without food" families of miners (As these miner photos illustrate, cocaleros are one of a number of intersecting social movements in Bolivia.) shoeshine boys, Plaza San Francisco -- one on left says he's a sharpshooter and wants to go to Iraq "Anarcho Punks Seeking Equality" graffito, Calle Linares pedestrian mall near Plaza Murillo dried llama fetuses, said to ward off evil, at Witches' Market, Calle Linares more Witches' Market view of miners' demonstration view of main drag El Prado, seen from Plaza San Francisco "Combi" passenger vans, with man directing traffic Hostal Republica, on Calle de Comercio -- $16 bucks a night, with bathroom, hot water and wireless internet, but no TV
Location: 
United States

Colombia political scandal imperiling US ties

Location: 
Bogota
Colombia
Publication/Source: 
The Boston Globe
URL: 
http://www.boston.com/news/world/latinamerica/articles/2007/02/25/colombia_political_scandal_imperiling_us_ties/

Cartels grip a border city

Location: 
Nuevo Laredo
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Miami Herald
URL: 
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/16772540.htm

In Bolivia and Ready to Head for the Chapare

After an arduous two-day trek by bus from Cusco, Peru, across the Altiplano and over Lake Titicaca by ferry, I'm now sitting in La Paz, Bolivia, which is truly a spectacular city. It's located in a valley at 13,000 feet, and looming above is the majestic peak of Mount Illimani. The city is more than a million people, and the houses crawl up the slopes of the valley. The streets in the city center are teeming with people, many of them in full-blown indigenous attire. You know, the stuff of National Geographic specials. I'll be posting some pics from here after I wander around a bit. view of Lake Titicaca, Peru Today, I'll be going to the Coca Museum to talk to Jorge Hurtado, its curator and a leading defender of the coca leaf. Should be interesting. While I'm in the neighborhood, I'll also visit the witch's market, where you can buy all kinds of strange things, including—I kid you not—dried llama fetuses, which people put in their houses to ward off evil spirits. Guys, how about one of those for the office? [Editor's note: NO - DB] I've been working the phone and email all day today trying to arrange interviews and visits with cocaleros, Bolivian officials, activists, analysts, and the US Embassy. It is a frustrating process; Bolivian government officials seem to rarely be in their offices, and the US Embassy, as usual, is not being especially helpful. Since I'm not an "official" journalist, merely a member of the "new media," the press office doesn't really want to talk to me, but I continue to hope I can wrangle at least an off-the-record sit down with the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS). I have firmed up a visit to the Chapare, the main non-traditional coca growing region, where Evo Morales has managed to bring peace through his cooperative eradication program, which allows each family to grow small plots of coca without regard to the official limit of 30,000 acres, all of which is assigned to the Yungas, the traditional coca growing region. I will fly into Cochabamba Monday morning (a half-hour flight versus an all-day bus ride), and meet with the good people of the Andean Information Network before heading out with them by jeep and then motorcycle to the coca zones. I will fly back to La Paz Tuesday morning. Tuesday and Wednesday, I hope to spend one day going down into Las Yungas (down "the world's most dangerous highway," although I suspect it can't be much worse than that road I took from Ayacucho to the VRAE) and the other day in meetings. I have to start heading back to Gringolandia on Thursday, arriving in Houston at 6am, and back home in snowy South Dakota by mid-afternoon. Coca is prevalent in La Paz. In addition to numerous street vendors sitting with their bags full of leaves, mate de coca is offered almost everywhere. A couple of nights ago, I went to a downtown bar and had a Mojito Boliviano, a mojito made with coca leaves instead of spearmint. Que rico! Traveler's Tip #1: Don't drink much alcohol at high altitudes. One mojito will do. Traveler's Tip #2: Get small bills. Making change is a real problem. A 100 Boliviano bill (worth about $15 US) is difficult to change in the city and almost impossible to change anywhere outside the city. Wow, talk about under-capitalized. This is a real problem, since ATMs and money exchanges always give you big bills. Some more pictures: ferry ride across Lake Titicaca buses riding the ferry (including Phil's) accident near the lake view of lake from ferry, overlooking lake City of Puno, Peru Peruvian Altiplano
Location: 
La Paz
Bolivia

Chronicle on the Scene Feature: Bolivia's "Coca, Yes, Cocaine No" Policy is Beginning to Work

On the long, arduous highway connecting Puno, the last major city in the Peruvian south, with the Bolivian capital of La Paz, travelers approaching Bolivia cross the border on the shores of Lake Titicaca near the small Bolivian town of Copacabana. There, the entrance to Bolivia is marked with a large billboard proclaiming Bolivia's intention to fight the traffic in cocaine and the precursor chemicals needed to transform coca into the popular stimulant drug. The billboard is a stark visual reminder that while Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, has embarked on a policy of defending coca, his government has every intention of cracking down on the cocaine business.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/peru-bolivia-border-billboard.jpg
Bolivian government border billboard about anti-cocaine enforcement
Since his election in December 2005, Morales has broken with two decades of US "zero coca" policy in the country and appears to be having some success in establishing limits on coca production without, for the most part, setting off violent social conflict. He has also, as the billboard suggests, moved aggressively against the cocaine traffic. The question now, with the US State Department's annual certification of drug-producing countries' compliance with US drug policy objectives looming next month, is whether the Bush administration is willing to let Morales and the country's coca growers take the time necessary to arrive at reductions in overall coca production without engendering further social conflict.

The third largest producer of coca, from which cocaine is derived, Bolivia has for decades hewed to a policy of coca eradication directed from Washington, but it has paid a high price. In this decade, five presidents were driven from office in five years, at least in part because of simmering resentment over Bolivian obeisance to the US's "zero coca" policy. Prior to the election of Morales, eradication campaigns were accompanied by violent clashes, peasant rebellions, military and police violations of human rights, and numerous fatalities as successive governments sought to impose the will of the US on the country's impoverished coca growers.

"This has been a long-term negative approach," said Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, (AIN) whose analyses of Bolivian coca politics inform much of this article. "The US needs to move away from just measuring the size of the coca crop or how much is eradicated and look at how this will play out in the next few years," she told Drug War Chronicle.

As a former coca grower union leader in the Chapare, Morales has the credibility with coca growers to enforce what is known as "cooperative eradication," as opposed to the forced eradication in pursuit of US policy aims that has engendered conflict and political instability in one of Latin America's poorest countries (average annual income under $1,000). While cooperative eradication began in the Chapare before Morales' election, it has gathered steam during his presidency, and in the last two years, Bolivia has seen the smallest increase in coca production of any of the Andean region's three big producers.

The other two major producers are Colombia and Peru. According to US estimates, coca production in Peru increased from 68,000 acres in 2004 to 95,000 acres in 2005, a 38% increase, while Colombian production increased from 285,000 acres to 360,000 acres, a 26% increase, despite widespread aerial fumigation of coca crops there. In Bolivia, on the other hand, the US estimated that production increased from 61,000 acres to 65,000 acres, an increase of only 8%. (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, on the other hand, estimated an 8% decrease in Bolivian coca production during the same period, but both estimates are very close in terms of the actual size of the 2005 Bolivian crop.)

Overall, when looking at the regional coca production figures for the last five years, despite a US policy of aggressively seeking to eradicate coca, total coca production has increased in a step-wise fashion, rising from 125,000 acres overall in 2000 to nearly 500,000 thousand acres in 2005. This steady climb in overall coca production raises the question of whether any prohibition-based policy aimed at reducing production will achieve success as long as the global demand for cocaine continues to be high. Still, the Morales government is making what appears to be a good faith effort to both slow the rate of increase and appease the Americans.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/christo-deneumostier-coca-shop-cusco.jpg
Christo Deneumostier, owner of The Coca Shop, Cusco, Peru
In Bolivia, there are two major coca production areas, the Yungas of La Paz province and the Chapare in the eastern Amazon lowlands. Prior to the October 2004 agreement with Chapare growers, only growers in the Yungas, the traditional home of Bolivian coca production, could legally grow coca, and they were limited to 30,000 acres. But the 2004 agreement, which has been accelerated by the Morales government, ignored the 30,000-acre rule, instead allowing all growers in the program to harvest one cato (about 1,600 square meters, or about one-third the size of a football field) of coca, in return for which farmers agreed to accept eradication in two national parks and to cooperatively eradicate any coca beyond the one-cato limit. By growing a cato of coca, farmers are able to generate an annual income of between $900 and $1,300 a year.

That plan was to stay in place until the completion of a study to see how much coca is needed for legal markets, but that study has yet to be completed, and the agreement remains in effect. The majority of the reduction in coca production reported by the UN is now in the Chapare, and the violent conflict that plagued previous forced eradication efforts is now a thing of the past.

Despite the successful effort in the Chapare, US officials have continued to criticize the Morales government's coca policies. Last summer, US drug czar John Walters told reporters that Bolivia's "current level of [anti-drug] cooperation is not what it has been in the past, nor what it needs to be to continue reducing the problem." And just days earlier, a high-level USAID official, Adolfo Franco, testified before Congress that: "In Bolivia, Evo Morales and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party have continued to waver on economic policy, democracy and counternarcotics…"

The US has also been critical of an agreement between Morales and coca growers to de facto raise the legal limit from 30,000 acres to 50,000. US officials have criticized the agreement as allowing an increase in coca production. But as AIN's Ledebur told the Chronicle, "The idea that the increase in allowed production will lead to a real increase in production is mistaken. The increase merely accounts for coca that is actually being produced."

But the US Embassy in Bolivia has taken a slightly friendlier approach, one that recognizes the success in the Chapare. Last May, the month before Walters and Franco criticized Bolivia's coca policies, the embassy asked Bolivia to withdraw a US-funded police force from the Chapare, where it had been responsible for protecting eradicators and preventing the road blockades that had plagued the region in the past. The embassy has also publicly praised Morales' appointment of former Chapare coca grower Felipe Caceres as Bolivia's "drug czar" as an "excellent choice."

While the Morales government has adopted cooperative eradication in the Chapare and pro-coca policies that seek to increase legal markets for coca and recognize its positive attributes as part of Bolivian culture and as a food and medicine, it has also continued to work with US authorities in cocaine interdiction efforts and reported record levels of cocaine seizures last year.

Ironically, with the Chapare now essentially pacified, it is the Yungas region, home of the permitted legal cultivation, where problems are now arising. Coca production has expanded above the 30,000 acres allowed, and Bolivian government efforts to restrain the size of the crop have led to clashes between growers and the armed forces. Last May, the Morales government signed an agreement allowing growers in a part of the Yungas where production has been illegal to grow one cato per family, and negotiations are underway with growers in other parts of the Yungas.

But that agreement also called for a government task force to continue eradication efforts, and the first violent conflict with coca growers in two years occurred there in September, when two cocaleros were shot dead by members of a joint military-police eradication team during a conflict over eradication. The conflict had been simmering ever since last February when the task force entered the Vandiola Yungas after an agreement to eliminate coca in a national park there. But further negotiations about coca growing outside the park faltered, and in September the task force set up camps in the region. While local farmers allowed eradication to go inside the park, on September 29, they tried to block eradicators from entering what they considered a legitimate coca growing area, with the result that two farmers were killed.

Things have since cooled down somewhat in the Vandiola Yungas after an agreement allowing 650 families to grow 400 catos of coca, but tensions remain. Meanwhile, in the primary Yungas growing regions, there is increasing tension over efforts to curb cultivation there, which well exceeds the legal limit.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/altiplano-fiesta.jpg
much more to life in Bolivia than coca -- fiesta in the Altiplano
As Bolivian coca growers await the study that will determine the size of the legitimate market in coca, they are looking not only to their own government, which is seeking to expand markets and has contracted with the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez both to build a processing plant in the Yungas and to ship coca to Venezuela, but also to entrepreneurs like Peruvian Christo Deneumostier, owner of the Coca Shop, in Cusco, Peru, who sells everything from coca cookies and pastries to coca ice cream. He told the Chronicle this week he wanted to become the Starbucks of coca by opening a series of Coca Shop franchises across Peru -- and beyond. "We transform coca into legal products," he said. "We need to start marketing coca to expand the legal market. The problem is not the plant, but the demand for cocaine. If we can expand legal markets with our products, we won't have to see those plants turned into cocaine."

But the marketing of coca for legitimate medicinal and alimentary uses is still in its infancy, and Starbucks-like coca shops are still a glimmer in the eye of excited entrepreneurs. Still, the Morales government has substantially managed to put a lid on civil conflict around coca, has worked with the US government in interdiction efforts, and is undertaking real eradication campaigns. In that sense, Bolivian coca policy is working in a way it never has before. Will the US government recognize this, or will it continue to criticize Morales for allowing increases in production in some regions? Look for an answer to that question next month, when the annual certification report comes out.

In the meantime, Drug War Chronicle will be visiting the Chapare and, probably, the Yungas next week, as well as seeking a deeper understanding of the issues from analysts, growers, and Bolivian and US government officials. Stay tuned.

(Phil will be publishing several more from-the-scene reports over the coming weeks, during and after his stay. Read last week's report from Peru here and Phil's ongoing blog reports from the region here.)

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School