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BOLIVIA
Coca is not cocaine
Mateo Ferrano
3/16/2006
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President Evo Morales replaces the “zero coca” policy with a “zero cocaine” policy.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has overhauled his country’s stance on coca, abandoning the "zero coca" policy of past administrations, and "depenalizing" the cultivation of the coca leaf — the raw material used to make cocaine.

"We want to contribute to the fight against drug-trafficking, rationalizing the production of the coca leaf. We do want to fight against drug-trafficking, but so that the fight is against drug-trafficking and not [against] the coca farmer as it has been until now," Morales said.

Since Morales, the country’s first indigenous president and coca growers’ union leader, was elected on Dec. 18, the US Ambassador to Bolivia David Greenlee has met with him four times regarding the elimination of coca plants.

The most recent meeting, held on Feb. 18, was two hours long, and took place two days after Morales was reelected to lead the Coordination of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, in central Bolivia, a group of 40,000 coca growers and 820 coca growers’ unions.

After accepting the nomination, Morales consented to observing the decisions of the group to maintain a cultivation of one cato, an area equivalent to roughly 1,600 square meters (17,000 square feet), of coca per member.

Morales asked the coca farmers to respect the agreement and said that the limit will be strictly enforced.

Far from what the US hoped for

But Morales’ counter-drug policy is far from coinciding with the forced coca eradication policy in which the United States had invested US$1 billion by 2000.

The US State Department said in the "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report," released March 2 that there were 26,500 hectares (65,000 acres) of coca in Bolivia, 8 percent more than in 2004.

The Coca and Controlled Substance law, approved in 1988, established that there may be no more than 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of coca cultivations at any given time, limiting the crop only to the region known as Yungas, a tropical area north of the capital. Since then, the cultivation of coca in any other region, especially in Chapare, an area known for heavy drug-trafficking, will be considered "illegal."

According to the 2005 report of the International Narcotics Control Board, coca cultivation rose by 17 percent in 2004 compared to the previous year, an increase that was registered mainly in Chapare, and "it is estimated that this area yields twice as much coca compared to any other region in the country."

In his presidential palace visit, Greenlee reiterated to Morales the US interest in an effective reduction in illicit coca, to which Morales responded that the decision to allow one cato per member will prevent coca farmers from growing the plant for cocaine production.

Morales assured Greenlee that "social control" of the coca farmers will impede the production of coca for cocaine.

A study is necessary to analyze the traditional consumption of the coca leaf, Morales says, rather than demonizing the alkaloid." This study, which was announced last year but has not yet been launched, will reveal the number of coca leaves necessary to satisfy a market that uses the leaf for chewing, medicinal purposes, ritual and other legal uses.

A multi-faceted plan

Morales’ counter-drug proposal, however, also entails a plan to slow drug addiction levels in Bolivia. The consumption of cocaine in the country in the last five years has increased 122 percent, and the consumption of coca paste, 89 percent, according to government data.

The president launched a national and international strategy for the promotion of the use of coca leaves in scientific studies as well as the fabrication of such products as stimulating beverages, medicines, tooth paste, soaps, flour, and paper pulp, among others.

Morales has also launched an international campaign in an effort for to remove the coca from List 1 of the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. For now, the Andean Community of Nations has said that it will support the decriminalization of the coca leaf as a sub-regional issue.

The new anti-drug policies forming in the Andean country are worrying for Washington. The US Congress must approve President George W. Bush’s proposal to reduce counter-drug aid to Bolivia by 20 percent in 2006 and 2007. Bolivia received $91 million in 2005.

"I want to ask the US government to revise their position and work together for zero drug trafficking," Morales said upon the announcement of the budget cut.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Morales said that for Bolivians "coca is a way of life."

"The fight for coca symbolizes our fight for freedom. Coca growers will continue to grow coca. There will never be zero coca," he said.


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