The Council on Hemispheric Affairs’
(COHA) April 25 “Spotlight on Bolivia: The “Coca Diplomacy” of Evo
Morales,” generalizes and speculates about Bolivian
drug policy and relations with the United States. While the general conclusion
that U.S. policymakers should do more to cooperate with Bolivia’s vision of
coca is valid, inaccuracies presented weaken its arguments.
The following clarifications on coca and cocaine data and policy would help improve COHA’s message:
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
swept into the presidency in 2006 with the backing of Bolivia’s cocaleros
movement, a syndicate of coca-growers unions Morales has helmed for decades.”
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
support base is firmly rooted in Bolivia’s largely agrarian indigenous
indigenous population is no longer "largely" agrarian, with large
population center like El Alto. Furthermore, indigenous support for
Morales should not be generalized. At this time, key indigenous umbrella
organizations, such as CIDOB and CONAMAQ strongly oppose a series of Morales
initiatives, such as the construction of a highway through the TIPNIS
indigenous territory. Furthermore, Morales also has non-indigenous support from
various unions and traditional leftist leaders.
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.
“Bolivia represents an
enormously important area of interest for the United States. The Andean nation’s drug policy is of vital
concern to Washington"
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.
Andean nation’s drug policy is of vital concern to Washington, and so when the
Morales government officially devotes 12,000 hectares…—to the cultivation of a
plant classified internationally as an illegal substance, the United States
takes notice, and when it calls for 8,000 more to be set aside, that is doubly
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.
7. “12,000 hectares—about 30,000 acres, though Bolivian coca occupies
approximately triple that in reality”
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.
article in accurately described the coca leaf as “deceptively innocuous-looking.”
9. “Washington, traditionally in favor of the complete eradication of
the plant as part of its ongoing War on Drugs, has in recent years
endorsed alternative development programs.”
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.
so while recent spikes in global food prices and renewed USAID pushes for
alternative development models"
- 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.
continues to carry out alternative development efforts in parts of the La Paz
Yungas coca producing region and has recently had some success with coffee
projects, repeated Morales administration officials accusations of USAID’s
meddling in Bolivian politics and severe budget cuts have dramatically reduced
the scope and depth of these efforts- clearly these are not “recent pushes.”
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.”
12. “Indeed, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, although significant
eradication efforts have been made under the Morales administration, they “have
not resulted in a net reduction in the cultivation of coca,”
Yet, US figures
published in the same report register a net reduction of 500 hectares from 2009
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
14. “And Morales, who expelled the American ambassador and drove U.S.
DEA agents from the country in 2008, has done little to assuage Washington’s
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.”
U.S officials have also recognized Bolivian counterdrug efforts. In October
2011 Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law
Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield told a congressional committee,”In
Bolivia, eradication efforts are a highlight of a sometimes difficult bilateral
relationship and actually exceeded the 2010 target of 8,000 hectares. These
efforts appear to have stopped the expansion of coca cultivation…Those findings
are reinforced by the U.S. estimate that actually showed a 500 hectare decrease
in land under coca cultivation. In Bolivia, U.S. assistance, including support for training and
canine programs, has resulted in Bolivian seizures of coca leaf that are 19
times higher than they were a decade ago."
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
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promotes human rights, socioeconomic justice and more humane and effective illicit drug control policies in Bolivia. AIN provides information and analysis to NGO colleagues, the media and international policymakers on developments in Bolivia and the impact of US government and European policies. Working closely with civil society organizations in Latin America and in the US, AIN promotes policy dialogue and the development of pragmatic alternatives that address the underlying economic, social, political and cultural needs of Bolivia.