Bo­livia Ex­pands Le­gal Coca Crop

Traveling Minds - - Table Of Contents - By Franz Chávez

A new bill in Bo­livia, which will al­low the amount of land al­lo­cated to pro­duc­ing coca to be in­creased from 12,000 to 22,000 hectares, mod­i­fy­ing a nearly three-decade coca pro­duc­tion pol­icy, has led to warn­ings from in­de­pen­dent voices and the op­po­si­tion that the mea­sure could fuel drug traf­fick­ing.

Since 1988, the amount of land au­tho­rised for grow­ing coca has been 12,000 hectares, ac­cord­ing to Law 1,008 of the Reg­u­la­tion of Coca and Con­trolled Sub­stances, which is line with the 1961 Sin­gle Con­ven­tion on Nar­cotic Drugs.

This United Na­tions Con­ven­tion pointed the way to a phas­ing-out of the tra­di­tional prac­tice among indige­nous peo­ples in the An­dean re­gion of chew­ing coca leaves, which was en­cour­aged dur­ing the Span­ish colo­nial pe­riod, when the na­tive pop­u­la­tion de­pended heav­ily on coca leaves for en­ergy as they were forced to ex­tract min­er­als from deep mine pits. But the tra­di­tional use of coca leaves in­stead grew in Bo­livia. Ac­cord­ing to the pres­i­dent of the lower house of Congress, Gabriela Mon­taño, some 3.3 mil­lion of the coun­try’s 11 mil­lion peo­ple cur­rently use coca in tra­di­tional fashion.

Cit­ing th­ese fig­ures, law­mak­ers passed the new Gen­eral Law on Coca on Feb. 24. The bill is now await­ing Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales’ sig­na­ture.

Mo­rales orig­i­nally rose to promi­nence as the leader of the seven unions of coca leaf grow­ers in the cen­tral re­gion of Cha­pare, in the de­part­ment of Cochabamba, fight­ing against sev­eral con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments that wanted to erad­i­cate coca cul­ti­va­tion, in ac­cor­dance with Law 1,008 and the U.N. Con­ven­tion.

The law had en­abled the anti-drug forces, fi­nanced by the U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion (DEA), to wage an all-out war against coca cul­ti­va­tion. The strug­gle against the law cat­a­pulted Mo­rales as a pop­u­lar fig­ure and later as a politi­cian and the coun­try’s first indige­nous pres­i­dent, in Jan­uary 2006.

Mon­taño es­ti­mates that an­nual pro­duc­tion amounts to 30,900 met­ric tons, 24,785 of which are used for medic­i­nal pur­poses, in in­fu­sions or rit­u­als, she said.

The re­main­ing 6,115 tons are pro­cessed into prod­ucts, or used for re­search and ex­port, she said. As­sess­ing com­pli­ance with the 1961 Con­ven­tion, med­i­cal doc­tor and re­searcher Franklin Al­caraz told IPS that in South Amer­ica, only Ecuador has man­aged to erad­i­cate the prac­tice of chew­ing coca leaves.

On Feb. 28, some fifty in­tel­lec­tu­als signed a pub­lic let­ter ti­tled: “Pub­lic Re­jec­tion of the Gen­eral Law on Coca”, which stated that “this law is mak­ing avail­able to the drug traf­fick­ing trade more than 11,000 met­ric tons of coca leaves per year, the av­er­age yield from the 8,000 hectares which the law grants to pro­duc­ers.”

Bo­livia was one of the 73 sig­na­tory coun­tries to the 1961 Con­ven­tion where clause “e” of ar­ti­cle 49 de­clared that the prac­tice of chew­ing coca leaves would be banned within 25 years of the (1964) im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ac­cord.

In Jan­uary 2013, Bo­livia re­cov­ered the right to prac­tice tra­di­tional coca chew­ing, when it won a spe­cial ex­emp­tion to the 1961 Con­ven­tion. Its re­quest was only voted against by 15 of the 183 mem­bers of the U.N., in­clud­ing Ger­many, Ja­pan, Mex­ico, Rus­sia, the United States and the United King­dom.

In a Jan­uary 2014 com­mu­nique, the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the United Na­tions Of­fice On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), An­tonino De Leo, stated that the ex­emp­tion “only ap­plies to the na­tional ter­ri­tory.”

The new bill re­peals the first 31 ar­ti­cles of the 1988 law and le­galises 22,000 hectares for cul­ti­va­tion – 10,000 more than be­fore.

In prac­tice, the new le­gal grow­ing area is just slightly larger than the 20,200 hectares of coca which UNODC counted in 2015, ac­cord­ing to its July 2016 re­port on the coun­try.

Pres­i­dent Mo­rales has de­fended the in­crease in the le­gal cul­ti­va­tion area and re­it­er­ated his in­ter­est in car­ry­ing out an old project for the in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of coca leaves.

On Feb. 28, Mo­rales ex­pressed his sup­port for the new bill and ac­cused con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments of sup­port­ing the de­mon­i­sa­tion and crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of coca leaf chew­ing at an in­ter­na­tional level.

Mon­taño said that in 2006, when Mo­rales first took of­fice, 17,000 hectares of coca were grown in the Cha­pare re­gion. Ten years later, UNODC reg­is­tered only 6,000 hectares de­voted to coca pro­duc­tion.

She said that un­der Mo­rales, the re­duc­tion of coca crops has been ne­go­ti­ated and with­out vi­o­lence, in con­trast to the re­pres­sion by con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments that gen­er­ated “blood and mourn­ing”.

Be­fore Congress passed the law, coca pro­duc­ers from the semitrop­i­cal re­gion of Yun­gas, in the de­part­ment of La Paz, held vi­o­lent protests in the cap­i­tal.

Be­tween Feb. 17 and Feb. 23, hun­dreds of de­mon­stra­tors sur­rounded Murillo square in La Paz, where the main build­ings of the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches are lo­cated, de­mand­ing 300 ad­di­tional hectares, on top of the 14,000 presently ded­i­cated to coca in Yun­gas.

There are an es­ti­mated 33,000 coca farm­ers in Yun­gas, and 45,000 in Cha­pare.

In the midst of clashes with the police, de­struc­tion of pub­lic prop­erty and the ar­rest of at least 143 or­gan­is­ers, talks were held with the gov­ern­ment, which ended up giv­ing in to the de­mands.

The set­tle­ment also granted grow­ers in the Cha­pare re­gion an ad­di­tional 1,700 hectares, on top of the 6,000 cur­rently reg­is­tered and mon­i­tored by UNODC.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Julio Aliaga told IPS that tra­di­tional use of coca leaves only re­quires 6,000 hectares, rather than the 22,000 hectares that the gov­ern­ment of the leftist Move­ment To­wards So­cial­ism (MAS) is about to le­galise.

This fig­ure of 6,000 hectares is drawn from a Euro­pean Union study on de­mand for coca leaves in Bo­livia for in­fu­sions, chew­ing or in rit­u­als. This study was not men­tioned by the au­thor­i­ties or MAS leg­is­la­tors.

“Bo­livia has a large sur­plus of coca which goes to­ward drug traf­fick­ing. The co­caine ends up in Africa, Europe and Rus­sia, and the new colos­sal mar­ket of China,” Aliaga said.

Sa­muel Do­ria Me­d­ina, the leader of the op­po­si­tion cen­tre-left Na­tional Unity (UN), ques­tioned the 80 per cent ex­pan­sion of the law­ful cul­ti­va­tion area and told IPS that the mea­sure is “a clear sign of an in­ter­est in in­creas­ing the pro­duc­tion of nar­cotic drugs.“

“The new pol­icy will be in­de­fen­si­ble be­fore mul­ti­lat­eral drug con­trol agen­cies,“since the UNODC cer­ti­fied that “94 per cent of the coca pro­duc­tion from Cha­pare goes to­ward the pro­duc­tion of co­caine,” he said.

In his opin­ion, the new law pro­vides an in­cen­tive for the drug traf­fick­ing mafias to sell drugs in Bo­livia, “with the well-known vi­o­lence that this busi­ness en­tails.”

Bo­li­vian Coca mar­ket. Photo by Steve Wil­ley

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