“When Indigenous Fashion Hits the Runway, Details Matter” by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

Read the article below for an insightful exploration of the rise of “chola” fashion and identity both within and outside of Bolivia.

When Indigenous Fashion Hits the Runway, Details Matter

 By Jean Friedman-Rudovsky
All image credits: Yvette Paz Soldan

Fifteen years ago, Glenda Yañez put on the clothes of her ancestors. She had always admired how her grandmother dressed—her wide, layered skirt; a thick embroidered shawl; and a top hat leaning just so, two long and dark braids coming down her back. Yañez, who grew up in the bustling city of La Paz, Bolivia, had come of age in jeans and T-shirts.

That’s because her grandmother’s indigenous dress — known as the chola style — had for centuries been a target of acute discrimination. For most of Bolivia’s history, a Spanish-descended, white minority lorded over the country’s native majority in a system akin to apartheid. The chola wardrobe is a fashion distinctive to Bolivia’s second largest indigenous group, the Aymara people. And it’s one that has endured since the 1700s, even though it has brought with it heightened segregation.

Yañez’s grandmother would have been expected to use the service elevators in downtown apartment buildings and was not welcomed in upscale restaurants. Cholas were de-facto barred from certain neighborhoods and occupations such as judgeships, government offices, and most of academia. Yañez remembers her grandmother recounting the shame she felt when walking into government buildings. With each new generation, many mothers—including Yañez’s — chose to spare their daughters similar fates.

Glenda Yañez in traditional chola dress.

But by the time Glenda Yañez was in her 20s, Bolivia was on the cusp of change. The 1990s had brought a wave of indigenous power protest, and in 2005 the country elected its first indigenous president. As Bolivia’s original occupants gained increasing economic and political power, the once-stigmatized Aymara dress saw a resurgence.

Cholitas, as they are affectionately known, now star in commercials and line high-fashion runways. The dress of indigenous Bolivians is today “a status symbol,” said La Paz-based economist Valeria Salinas Maceda, who specializes in the study of Bolivian culture. It’s gone from an object of scorn and stigma, to one of fashion phenomenon.

Women like Yañez, now 37, have not only reclaimed their grandmothers’ style, but are capitalizing on the up-and-coming industry of chola fashion. Founder of one of the country’s first indigenous modeling academies, Yañez’s studio takes up a large two-story apartment in La Paz. Hovering over dark, wood-paneled floors are several oversized mirrors with elaborate, ornamental gold framing. In one room, a series of portraits — chola headshots and bible scenes — line the wall.

On a recent September morning, nine models-in-training gathered for class. Since opening last year, The Chola Studio has graduated 50 women and currently represents 20 models. With chola images increasingly appearing on billboards, in TV shows, and now on the insignia of La Paz’s City Hall, the aesthetic and Yañez’s business are expanding.

Her current students, all of whom have day jobs, are a gaggle of vibrant color, tassels, sparkles, sequins, and gaudy jewelry. “We teach women how to do their own makeup, braid their own hair, what the basic color combinations they should have in their wardrobe [are], and what the latest trends are,” Yañez told me when we spoke by phone.

Students at The Chola Studio.

While several weeks of the three-month curriculum are dedicated to learning how to dominate a runway, the models also have coursework. Yañez said that her cholita models are often asked about the origins of cholastyle when they go on shoots, so she believes they should be well versed in the tradition’s history. They learn about how Spanish colonizers forced the pseudo-European wardrobe onto La Paz’s mestizo-indigenous in an effort to break the connection to their rural, native relatives and undermine their heritage—this all in response to the bloody uprising of the Tupac Amaru in 1780, which nearly toppled the Spanish regime in the Andes.

In an attempt to wipe out all trace and memory of the rebellion, said economist Salinas, city-dwelling women were obligated to wear a pleated skirt, blouse, and a shawl with tassels. They were given the name “cholas” because of the similarity between their dress and that of Spanish “chulas” — the wives of the assistants to Spanish bullfighters.

But over time, the colonizers’ plan to use dress to subdue the Aymara spirit all but backfired: The Aymara women owned the style. The skirt — known as the pollera (also used as shorthand to represent the entire outfit) — spread to the villages, the women together committing to the wardrobe as a lasting expression of cultural unity. This comes as no surprise to anyone who’s spent time in Aymara communities. The group has a reputation for fortitude, strength, ethnic pride, and, yes, stubbornness.

Today, chola dress has six integral parts: 1) the wide, pleated pollera skirt worn high on the waist to accentuate a woman’s rear; 2) several layers of colorful, visible petticoats below; 3) a heavy shawl that’s embroidered and has long tassels on the ends, fastened with a broach; 4) a round bowler hat; 5) flat pumps; and 6) matching, often ostentatious, jewelry. Just as Indian saris range from those worn daily to others donned for weddings, the Aymara wardrobe can be dressed down or up. The chola aesthetic refers to the classier, elaborate end of the spectrum.

It’s not clear how or why this specific — and somewhat odd — combination of items has become the Aymara uniform. The bowler hat draws the most speculation. The story goes that in the 1920s, British designers hoping to sell them to railway workers overseas miscalculated a serious fashion flop. When the hats arrived in Bolivia, their sellers told locals they were fashionable among European women at the time (not true) to unload the cargo. Aymara women bought the tale — and the hats. That this assortment of clothing has hung together despite attracting such scorn and prejudice over the centuries, and then transformed into a bona fide fashion trend, is a remarkable trajectory.

Yañez still remembers the days when she was the only woman in professional circles in La Paz wearing chola dress. It was on one such day in 2010, in fact, that her modeling career began. She attended a conference for small businesswomen in La Paz and was the only one in pollera. The event photographer caught a few shots of her, and several days later she got a call from the conference organizers: An advertising agency had seen the picture and wanted to hire her for an ad. She said yes; more offers followed.

At the time, said Yañez, there was only one modeling agency for chola women and she was turned off by its ethos. “They were doing a selection process,” she said. “They only wanted the youngest and most beautiful.” Yañez believes that chola fashion is better than that. “I think every woman is beautiful, especially in a pollera, and especially the chunky ones!” she told me. That’s why she opened her own studio, welcoming any woman with a love of the pollera and fashion.

This approach is what attracted Carla Antonia Vega to the style. Vega is the newest face of one of Bolivia’s largest banks, Banco Union. “I’d never done anything like it,” she said of the recent video promo shoot with the bank, where she had her hair and makeup done by professionals. “It was a wonderful experience.”

Like Yañez, Vega did not grow up wearing Aymara dress. But after graduating from university, she started dancing in Bolivia’s folkloric festivals, which have always showcased elaborate chola outfits. Vega also had a childhood fondness for the style — similarly imbibed with memories of her grandmother — and said she was drawn to the idea of modeling after seeing cholitas on TV talk shows and in magazine ads.

Vega is convinced that pollera popularity is a result of President Evo Morales’s election. Salinas, a foremost expert on chola fashion in Bolivia, said Morales should be recognized as a catalyst for a process already underway. “The endurance of chola dress is due to the strength of chola character,” she said. “They are dedicated workers with a great capacity for doing business, and they themselves make sure they aren’t left behind.”

Left: Carla Antonia Vega.

The political reckoning of the first indigenous presidency surely bought an important shift in national optics, though. Not only was an indiocommanding government, but a mass of indigenous politicians flooded Parliament and lower level offices as well. Many of them were women, and many of them wore their polleras to work. (Morales himself refuses to don a suit, preferring tailor-made sports coats with native weavings across the chest.)

With this transition, the indigenous people also earned more buying power. During Morales’s tenure, the Bolivian economy has been one of the strongest in Latin America, and the Aymara sector has faired exceptionally well. “Commerce led by Bolivia’s indigenous has, for a long time, been a very important economic activity,” said Rosanna Barragan, a Bolivian historian whose research focuses on urban and labor studies. In the last 10 years, she noted, this sector has grown considerably. Along with it, Aymara tastes and aesthetics have likewise gained increasing popularity. The rest of the business world — the companies who want this group to buy their products and services — have responded to the emergence of what some consider a new indigenous bourgeoise. “Fashion is a market trend,” Barragan said.

The Wilshire Boulevard of the Aymara world teeters on the east-facing slopes of the city of La Paz. Max Paredes street is wildly chaotic—too many public transport minivans, too few traffic laws. The shopping centers that line the broken sidewalks are narrow and deep, each one a maze of shops and stalls offering the best of chola fashion.

Here one can find every signature element of the chola outfit — and it’s not cheap. An affordable, but respectable ensemble for going out ranges from $1,500 to $2000. It’s $200 to $300 for handmade manta and pollera; $100 for shoes, blouses, and petticoats; $150 for the hat; and $800 for the jewelry. This pales in comparison to the price of the outfits some women buy for Gran Poder, the most important of the folklore festivals. Those can cost upwards of $10,000.

To the untrained eye, the differences between a very nice and an exquisite ensemble are hard to detect. Yañez laughed when I mentioned this. “We can tell the difference,” she responded. Every detail connotes a certain status: the girth of the pollera, the number of pleats, the complexity of the manta’sembroidery and its adornments. Most especially, women are on the lookout for whether another woman’s accompanying jewelry is made with real or imitation gold. (The latter is not looked upon fondly.)

Top: Vega inspecting manta, or shawls, in La Paz.

Though the main elements of the wardrobe are unwavering, chola wear — like all fashion — evolves. Recently, for example, hats are changing. They are getting shorter and are now available in green and blue. Before, the only options were black, gray, or brown.

Shifts like these are propelled by designers looking to take chola fashion to the next level. “We are always innovating,” said Veronica Limachi, the founder of Danzart, a small chola design and manufacturing company. Veronica calls her work “vanguard,” incorporating things like feathers or small mirrors into her designs. She takes inspiration from international runways — she’s working a lot with pastels this year — and “frompachamama, or Mother Earth,” she told me. “We design for distinct tastes.”

This kind of innovation is widely celebrated in La Paz. Other innovation is not. This year, La Paz hosted its first fashion week. On the runway, one designer turned heads by daring to put her models in narrow-toed, thin heels, and very low-cut blouses. “I spoke to her after the show,” said Salinas, referring to the controversial designer. “She admitted to knowing nothing about the history of the clothes and to having started to wear the pollera only a few years ago, because she thought it would be good publicity for her company.”

Salinas, who called this variation “a transgression,” said that while designers should be free to be creative, they ought to respect the primary elements of the ensemble and the roots of the style — such as modesty (that means no low-cut tops). “You can create fashion by respecting limits,” Salinas told me. “You can be creative without distorting identity.”

Another recent controversy is the emergence of designers who are catering to size-zero bodies. Those involved with chola fashion are proud that the dress was derived from the petite, round figure of the Andean indigenous group, and insist that it looks best on this body type. Though that hasn’t apparently stopped some designers from trying to see if it will play well with other women.

These kinds of disputes have put the wardrobe and the identity it represents at a crossroads. How this plays out has implications well beyond the Andean highlands. That an indigenous custom not only holds strong in the 21st century, but has also become a national trend, is a sign of the strength of those who kept the custom alive. But it also puts those same people in a position to lose control over what was once wholly theirs.

One need look no farther than the once-indigenous practices that have already been appropriated and spread over time — yoga, prayer flags, African drumming—to see that when a tradition gains a foothold outside its originating group, the practice will morph in ways that feel like betrayal. Aymara dress may not be a global phenomena, but its emergence on the high-fashion scene offers a peek into what happens when a deeply rooted custom begins to shed its singularly ethnic boundaries.

Yañez and Vega at the studio.

To that end, there’s also conversation about whether, locally, chola fashion will find its way back to more traditional, daily usage — or if its popularity will be confined to the world of festivals, parties, and runways.

Vega is a case in point. She owns a liquor business and doesn’t wear the pollera regularly. “It’s not comfortable for my work,” she told me. Throughout La Paz, its neighboring city of El Alto, and into the rural highlands, however, there are still plenty of Aymara holdouts doing all kinds of jobs — from construction to farming — in their polleras, just as their mothers and grandmothers did before them.

“It is a paradox,” said historian Barragan, one similar to the pollera-wearing women who are proud of their heritage but don’t dress their daughters in chola fashion except for festivals and celebrations. “On the one hand, you’ve got self-esteem and pride,” she said. “On the other, there’s abandonment.”

Regardless, Salinas believes the return of chola fashion to the national stage is staying true to its origins of endurance and resistance. “The chola fashion industry emerged out of a chola revolution … Chola women forced a conversation about clothes, fashion, and identify,” she said. “Through this, they emitted the message: ‘We are here and we want to be seen.’”

For her part, Yañez is leaving the decision up to the next generation.She has two daughters, ages 14 and six, whom she has always dressed in non-traditional kids clothing. Already, though, both are showing interest in the style, as they help her dress and ply through her closet.

“They are starting to develop that passion for the pollera,” she said. Particularly, it seems, the six-year-old. She already tells her dad: ‘You have to buy me real jewels, the ones made of gold.’”

*Many thanks to Bolivian photographer Yvette Paz Soldan for photographing this story.

Story originally printed on How we Get to Next

Original Text–Memorandum of Justification for U.S. “Decertification” of Bolivia

Below is the text of the White House’s Memorandum of Justification  for  Bolivia, used to justify the ninth consecutive “decertification” of Bolivia’s drug control efforts:



“During the past 12 months, the Bolivian government has failed demonstrably to make sufficient efforts to meet its obligations under applicable international counternarcotics agreements or uphold the counternarcotics measures set forth in Section 489 (a) (1) of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of 1961, as amended. Bolivia is the world’s third largest cultivator of coca leaf used for the production of cocaine and other illegal narcotics derivatives.

Bolivia’s policy of allowing the cultivation of 20,000 hectares of coca exceeds the amount of coca needed for traditional purposes, as assessed by the European Union, by approximately 36 percent and exceeds the current Bolivian legal limit by 67 percent. While the Bolivian government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that coca cultivation decreased to 20,200 hectares in 2015, the United states Government – using different methodology -estimated that coca leaf Cultivation increased in Bolivia to 36,500 hectares in 2015, representing a Is-year high.

UNODC data from 2015 shows that 65 percent of the coca produced in Bolivia is sold through local legal markets; the rest is unaccounted for and likely diverted for illicit purposes. UNODC officials have noted that 95 percent of coca grown in the Chapare region is not used for traditional consumption and that 89 percent of the coca grown in the Chapare region did not make it to the legal market in 2015. Bolivia’s precursor chemical law, enacted in 1988, is outdated and does not effectively control the import or trade of precursor chemicals.

Bolivia re-acceded to the 1961 U.N. Single convention on Narcotic Drugs with a reservation permitting coca to be used only within Bolivia for traditional, cultural, and medicinal purposes. Despite these stated conditions, Bolivia continues to promote the use of coca in other countries by not prohibiting the export of coca leaf (prohibited under the 1961 U.N. Convention) for consumption by Bolivians residing in Argentina and discussing potential export opportunities for coca products with other countries.

Peruvian officials estimate that 50 percent of all Peruvian cocaine transits Bolivia via aerial transshipment, commonly known as the “air bridge.” Most Bolivian cocaine is exported to other Latin American countries, especially Brazil and Argentina, for domestic consumption or for onward transit to west Africa and Europe rather than to the united States. During 2015, Bolivia signed counternarcotics cooperation agreements with Peru and Paraguay. It previously negotiated agreements with Argentina in 2000 and Brazil in 1978. Bolivia and Chile also maintain limited bilateral cooperation on counternarcotics‘ despite their ongoing dispute over access to the Pacific Ocean. The present impact of these agreements is unclear.

As a matter of official policy, the Government of Bolivia does not encourage or facilitate illegal activity associated with drug trafficking. Nevertheless, high-level government officials Acknowledge serious corruption in the judiciary and police. In 2015, corruption accusations were frequent and often unaddressed by an already strained judiciary.

If passed, Bolivia’s new counternarcotics laws could permit Bolivia to enhance its controls of precursor chemicals and its monitoring of coca cultivation. Implementation of those new laws will be crucial to bolstering Bolivia’s counternarcotics efforts. Bolivia should also strengthen efforts to stem the diversion of coca for cocaine processing by tightening controls over the coca leaf trade, achieving net reductions in coca cultivation, and improving law enforcement and judicial efforts to investigate and prosecute drug-related criminal activity. Enacting new asset forfeiture legislation to complement the new counternarcotics laws would also provide Bolivian law enforcement with improved tools and funding for future counternarcotics efforts.

At present, however, Bolivia’s actions represent counterproductive national drug control policies. Bolivia fails to account for excess coca production, it remains a major transit country for Peruvian coca and lacks adequate controls over its internal legal coca markets. Serious shortcomings in arrests and prosecutions expose its judicial system as ineffective in dealing with producers and traffickers. Therefore, Bolivia’s narcotics control performance in the Fiscal Year 2017 Majors List cycle again demonstrates that the country continues to make a smaller contribution than required to meet its obligations in the worldwide effort to control drugs.

Increased Bolivian counternarcotics cooperation with other countries and in international fora would be welcome. There are no U.S. counternarcotics assistance programs in Bolivia, but Bolivian law enforcement officials attended International Law Enforcement Academy training programs in 2015. There is little data on the potency of Bolivian coca, crop yields, and cocaine production in the country. The air bridge between Peru and Bolivia is a pressing issue that calls for improved cooperation between the two countries. Bilateral counternarcotics and law enforcement agreements with Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina should be energetically implemented and enhanced.

At the end of 2015, the Bolivian customs office was in the process of finalizing an agreement with the U.S. government that would permit information exchanges and collaboration to prevent illegal shipments and related criminal activities, including drug trafficking. In February 2015, the Bolivian government assisted the United states coast Guard in seizing 1,017 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated U.S. street value of $125 million dollars on a Bolivian-flagged vessel in panamanian waters. Bolivia subsequently waived its right of primary jurisdiction over the vessel and crew, which enabled criminal prosecution in the united states.

In accordance with U.S. legislation, the determination that Bolivia has failed demonstrably to make substantial efforts to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements and to take counternarcotics measures set forth in the FAA does not result in the withholding of humanitarian and counternarcotics assistance. It is not in the vital interest of the United States to grant a national interest waiver to Bolivia. As United States assistance to and relations with Bolivia are extremely limited, there is no bilateral programming in place that is vital to the national interest of the United States.

Please visit AIN’s point by point response to this Memorandum of Justification & U.S. Decertification here.

Some are more equal than others: U.S. “decertification” of Bolivia’s Drug Control Efforts

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Some are more equal than others:

                   U.S. “decertification” of Bolivia’s Drug Control Efforts

                                                          Kathryn Ledebur and Julia Romani Yanoff

                                                                                  Andean Information Network

                                                                                                    September 21, 2016

In its annual Presidential Determination[1], the U.S. “decertified” Bolivia’s drug control efforts for the ninth consecutive year, since 2008, when the Bolivian government expelled the U.S. ambassador and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. As Bolivian coca production holds steady at the lowest rate in the region, without widespread conflict, and the country strengthens regional antidrug cooperation efforts, the U.S.’ unilateral “F” grade for Bolivia appears contrived and unconvincing.

In response, the New York Times Editorial Board observed, “the yearly condemnation of Bolivia has been futile. So far, that country’s experience with its drug strategy is showing more promise than Washington’s forced-eradication model.” The merits of Bolivia’s unique coca control model have been lauded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, researchers, and drug policy reform advocates.

The Memorandum of Justification outlines Bolivia’s noncompliance with “international counternarcotics agreements” using inconsistent, selective, standards. A closer look at key complaints demonstrates that the U.S. continues to overlook its own criteria for certification, in favor of an apparently political determination, based on accordance with U.S. drug control dictates.

Although U.S. domestic drug reform has made progress, international policy, focused on forced crop eradication, including the ‘certification system,’ is obsolete and arrogant. It is time for the U.S. to abandon this system and objectively analyze Bolivia’s efforts.

How does Bolivia match up to U.S. drug control standards?                 See for yourself with AIN’s point-by-point analysis of selected U.S. arguments:

  • Violation of International Counternarcotics Agreements: the U.S. sites violation of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs as an example of Bolivia’s “demonstrable failure”:

“Bolivia continues to promote the use of coca in other countries by not prohibiting the export of coca leaf (prohibited by the 1961 UN Single Convention) for consumption by Bolivians residing in Argentina and discussing potential export opportunities for coca products with other countries.”

 Bolivia withdrew from the convention in 2011 and then re-acceded to it with a reservation on prohibitions to traditional coca use in 2013, in order to protect the historical and customary use of coca in Bolivia. The re-accession was approved by the majority of UN member states.

Moreover, Peru’s state coca agency Enaco, formally promotes coca exports. Its mission is “to be the only legally recognized company in the world, providing coca leaf and industrialized products for national and international markets.” Its motto is to “work to defend traditional coca uses and offer the benefits derived from it to the world.” In 2015, Enaco exported approximately $6.5 million USD in coca, including to the U.S. Although its export of the leaf to the Stepan Chemical Company for use in Coca-Cola is technically legal under a loophole in the UN Single Convention, other exports are not. You can even purchase Peruvian coca leaves in the United States online.


 Enaco’s Delisse Pure Coca Powder, “From Cuzco to the World”. Buycocaleaves.com

By its own yardstick, the U.S. would have to “decertify” itself. The March 2016 UN International Narcotics Control Board report chides the U.S. for violation of the same 1961 Single Convention: “measures taken in various states of the United States to legalize the production, sale and distribution of cannabis for nonmedical and non-scientific purposes are inconsistent with the provisions of the international drug control treaties.”

  • Coca Reduction: The Memorandum cites Bolivia as one of the largest producers of coca leaf and claims:

“the U.S. government—using different methodology—estimates that coca leaf cultivation increased in Bolivia to 36,500 hectares in 2015, representing a 15-year high.”

In contrast, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board affirmed in March 2016: “for the fourth consecutive year, the Plurinational State of Bolivia reported a decrease in the area of coca bush cultivation. In 2014, the area of coca bush cultivation fell to 20,400 hectares which was 11 percent less than in 2013 and the lowest level since 2001.” (p. 64)

Similarly, in its 2015 Coca Monitoring Survey, the UNODC reports that the amount of coca produced in Bolivia has reduced by a net of 10,700 hectares since 2009 (from 30,900 to 20,200). On the other hand, coca cultivation in Peru is twice the amount as in Bolivia (40,300). In Colombia, it is three times as high (96,000 hectares) and has increased in recent years.


 Coca cultivation in the Andes 2015 vs. 2014 according to UNODC statistics

Even according to the U.S. government’s own estimates, Bolivia produces 16,500 hectares less than Peru and 122,500 hectares less than Colombia (Bolivia 36,500, Peru 53,000, Colombia 159,000). Nonetheless, the US continues to “certify” Colombia and Peru.


 Coca Cultivation in the Andes 2015 vs. 2014 according to U.S. ONDCP

  • The U.S. uses a “Different Methodology”

Beginning in 2012, U.S. coca monitoring figures coincided with the UNODC methodology as a result of close collaboration between Bolivia, the U.S. and Brazil coca monitoring through a trilateral agreement. During this time period, the UNODC and U.S. government published the same coca production figures. The 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) explained that through this agreement, “the United States provided computer and digital measuring equipment as well as training to Bolivian personnel.” According to the 2015 U.S. INCSR, “while the project has formally ended, Bolivia continues to use the digital equipment that the United States provided to measure coca cultivation more efficiently and accurately.”

Inexplicably, in 2014, after the formal end of the accord, and the departure of its key proponent at the U.S. embassy, the ONDCP published dramatically different figures, citing a 40% jump in Bolivian coca production from 2012-2014, which it attributed to a “different methodology.” Initially, 2013 figures were not available on their site. In August 2016, a 2013 figure appeared (27,000) and an additional increase of around 4% was cited for 2015 (to 36,500 hectares).

U.S. officials have provided little public explanation. The U.S. Embassy in La Paz asserts that U.S. methodology is “excellent” and its “images used to estimate coca cultivation are of the best quality and definition, cover a broader territory and are obtained during a longer period of time.”

Bolivian drug control officials affirm to AIN that they are willing to continue to collaborate on coca monitoring, but U.S. officials claim they do not have access to the information.[2] U.S. potential cocaine production statistics are also inherently problematic and present substantial contradictions.

In stark contrast, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Bolivia coca monitoring report, financed by the European Union and Denmark, includes an 18-page description of its methodology. Joint UNODC-Bolivian government methodology has received widespread recognition. For example, an April 2016 United Nations Development Program report prepared for the General Assembly Special Session on drugs affirmed, “UNODC shared geo-referenced aerial photography and satellite imagery and accompanying analysis, and carries out joint in situ verification missions with Bolivian authorities…a sophisticated database SISCOCA cross-references coca cultivation, land titling and the biometric registry of authorized growers and traces coca leaf transport and sales. Precise collaborative monitoring and ground verification provides reliable crop estimates to implement policy.” With European Union funding, coca growers and Bolivian government agencies also participate in this effort.

The memo also claims “There is little data on the potency of Bolivian coca, crop yields, and cocaine production in the country.” Indeed it is not clear how the U.S. government conducts on the ground coca monitoring and cocaine yield studies since the DEA’s expulsion in 2009.[3] However, the UNODC calculates a range of potential coca yields by region using the 2010, Average Productivity Study of the Bolivian coca leaf, a 2005 UNODC study from the La Paz Yungas, and Chapare baseline data from the DEA (p. 1). The Morales administration has agreed to carry out new yield studies in the coming year.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-3-50-37-pm                 SISCOCA Screen Shot

  • Control over Internal Coca Market: The Memorandum affirms that Bolivia:

“should also strengthen efforts to stem the diversion of coca for cocaine processing by tightening controls over the coca leaf trade.”

Yet, Bolivia has the most up to date, detailed system in the region. A 2006 law cites specific, multiple requirements for coca sales, licensing, transport and purchases. The Bolivian government’s SISCOCA database tracks the transport of the coca leaf through the licit market. Licensed coca merchants pay high fees to purchase the leaf and sell it throughout the nation. The Morales administration plans to complete a biometric registry of coca merchants by mid-2017 to further strengthen the system.

Although Bolivia most recently updated its biometric registry system for growers in mid-2016, Peru maintains a farmer registry from 1978, with 25,159 licensed farmers growing 17,016 hectares. The Peruvian government does not permit its modification, citing international drug control treaties.[5]

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-3-54-32-pm      Cultivamos con Responsabilidad (p. 67)

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-3-54-40-pm        Andean Information Network

  • Drug Seizures/Interdiction Programs: The Memorandum also recommends that Bolivia should:

“improve law enforcement and judicial efforts to investigate and prosecute drug-related criminal activity.”

Nonetheless, the number of interdiction missions in Bolivia has steadily increased during Morales’ tenure. In August 2016, Bolivian policed seized 7.5 tons of cocaine near the Chilean border. The Bolivian government incinerates drug seizure with UNODC supervision using ovens donated by the German, British and French governments. The Bolivian antidrug force updates its seizure and arrest data monthly. The U.S. government’s most recent INCSR, cites that in 2015 the Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking, FELCN (Elite Antidrug Police Force) arrested 3,227 people for narcotics offenses, seized 362 MT of excess coca leaf, 12.68 MT of cocaine base, 8.6 MT of cocaine hydrochloride, and destroyed 105 cocaine hydrochloride processing labs and 4,234 rustic cocaine labs.

Although Peru produces greater quantities of coca and cocaine, in 2015 Peru only seized 126.9 MT of coca leaf, 11.6 MT of cocaine base, 8.4 MT of cocaine hydrochloride, and destroyed 546 total cocaine labs. Dinandro, the FELCN’s Peruvian counterpart has not posted statistics since 2014. Colombia, in proportion to its significantly higher level of cocaine production, has seized 252 MT of cocaine hydrochloride, 42 MT of cocaine base, 775 MT of coca leaf and destroyed 3,838 cocaine labs.


screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-4-58-57-pmCocaine Seizures out of Total Potential Cocaine Production (Metric Tons) According to U.S. 2015 Statistics (INCSR and ONDCP)

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-5-00-51-pm Coca Leaf Seizures out of Total Coca Leaf Production (Metric Tons) according to INCSR/UNODC 2015 Statistics

  • Deviation to Illegal Market: According to the Memorandum:

“65 percent of the coca produced in Bolivia is sold through local legal markets; the rest is unaccounted for and likely diverted for illicit purposes.”

According to a 2013 Bolivian government study, funded by the European Union, 14,705 hectares of coca fulfill domestic consumption demands. Although cocaine and cocaine paste seizures demonstrate diversion of the leaf to illegal markets in all three countries, the amount of Bolivian coca leaf transformed into cocaine is significantly lower than for its neighbors. At current levels of coca cultivation, only 5,500 hectares of Bolivian coca are cultivated for the illicit market, or using the 12,000 hectare ceiling established in Law 1008, 8,200. In contrast, in Colombia, due to low levels of traditional consumption, the significant majority of 96,000 hectares of coca produced end up as cocaine, and in Peru 35,791 hectares of coca out of a total of 40,300 hectares goes into the illegal market.[6] The amount of coca deviated into illegal drug trafficking in Bolivia is 1/6th that of Peru, and 1/19th that of Colombia. Bolivia has less illegal coca cultivation than its neighbors.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-5-02-53-pmCoca Deviated to Illegal Markets (hectares) based on 2015 UNODC Reports

The report’s assumption that “UNODC officials have noted that 95% of coca grown in the Chapare region is not used for traditional consumption and that 89% of the coca grown in the Chapare region did not make it to the legal market in 2015” is not supported by the data.

The UNODC study stated that between 9-13 percent of coca grown in the Chapare entered the legal Sacaba market.[7] The study also affirmed that overall licit coca sales in Bolivia increased by seven percent from 2014, in spite of a 1% overall reduction in the coca crop. Furthermore, coca entering the Sacaba market increased 19% from 2014, in spite of a 2% reduction in coca production in the Chapare area. The situation is far more complex than the Memorandum suggests.

  • Bolivia Fails to Cooperate with Neighbors on Drug Control:

“Increased Bolivian counternarcotics cooperation with other countries and in international fora would be welcome.”

 Yet, Bolivia actively cooperates in the region on drug control, and participates twice annually in international drug control meetings with UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Organizations of American States, Inter-American Drug Abuse Control System (CICAD). As active members of both organizations, the US government is well aware of this participation. During, the April 2016 CICAD meetings in Washington, US officials also had bilateral meetings on coca control with Bolivian representatives. Bolivia also participates in drug control meetings of Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the Community of Latin American States (CELAC).

The report erroneously claims that: “during 2015 Bolivia signed counternarcotics cooperation agreements with Peru and Paraguay, it previously negotiated agreements with Argentina in 2002 and Brazil in 1978. Bolivia and Chile also maintain limited cooperation on counternarcotics despite their ongoing dispute over access to the Pacific Ocean. The present impact of these agreements is unclear.”

Yet, Bolivia has actively engaged its neighbors on drug control. For example, in 2016 Bolivia has already signed bilateral agreements with Peru, Brazil, and most recently Argentina on drug control cooperation, including joint border patrol operations, intelligence exchange, precursor control, and coca monitoring, despite the opposing political orientations of their new administrations.

Since 1977, Bolivia has signed eight bilateral accords with Brazil, in addition to the trilateral “Pilot Project for an Integrated Control System for the Reduction of Excess Coca Cultivation” agreement between Brazil, Bolivia, and the U.S. signed in 2012, which President Obama himself lauded saying, “the recent agreement between the U.S., Brazil, and Bolivia to go after (excess) coca cultivation in Bolivia is the kind of collaboration we need.”

The most recent accord with Brazil, signed in June of 2016, and then joined by Peru, called for joint drug interdiction operations, collaborative border patrol, intelligence exchanges, and the provision of technical support for coca monitoring. Furthermore, Bolivia has enjoyed substantial cooperation with the European Union and the United Nations in implementing drug control operations, research, and community development programs since the departure of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2009. (See Appendix for a list of Bolivian drug control agreements).

In 2012 the Bolivian and Chilean governments agreed to a pilot border control program, using a vehicle scanner donated by the Chinese government.

  • Transit Hub: The Memorandum criticizes Bolivia for being a “major transit country for Peruvian coca.”

 Nonetheless, Peru has not been decertified for producing cocaine base or allowing it to leave its territory. A 2015 video shows how the Peruvian military allowed drug flights to take off unhindered from the Apurimac Ene Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), a key coca growing area. Increases in cocaine paste prices in Bolivia, stimulate traffickers to transport significantly cheaper Peruvian paste, through Bolivia to consumer and transit nations (Brazil and Argentina).

  • Illegal drug trafficking flights: The Memorandum states:

“The air bridge between Peru and Bolivia is a pressing issue that calls for improved cooperation between the two countries.”

Yet, regional efforts to control drug flights have been ongoing for the last two years. Regional and bilateral intelligence has identified drug flights originating in or through Bolivia to Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. A two-year intelligence exchange initiative between the Bolivian and Peruvian antidrug polices tracing planes at their landing has led to the seizure of 39 drug planes by the Bolivian forces in 2015.

In an explicit effort to address the air bridge, Bolivia finalized a $200 million contract with French company, Thales, for the purchase, installation and training of 4 air defense radars, 3 primary/approach and 6 secondary civil radars that will substantially improve Bolivia’s control over its airspace.

In 2014, Bolivian Congress adopted legislation allowing its forces to shoot down planes that refuse to respond to orders to land. In March 2016, the Bolivian Air Force announced plans to purchase 7-9 fighter planes for training to intercept drug flights. These shoot-down policies are risky and can provoke human rights violations.

  • International [Dis]approval: The Presidential Determination claims that there is a:

“growing international consensus that counternarcotics programs must be designed and implemented with the aim of improving the health and safety of individuals while preventing and reducing violence and other harmful consequences to communities.”

 And yet, the U.S. condemnation is out of step with the international community in its stance on Bolivia. In May 2016, the UNODC Deputy Director, Aldo Lale-Demoz, highlighted the “long-term productive collaborative relationship between the Bolivian government and the UNODC.” The UNODC representative for Bolivia, Antonino de Leo, has lauded Bolivia’s continuous reduction in coca cultivation since 2010. In August of 2015 he said “I wanted to congratulate the Plurinational State [of Bolivia] for its continuous reduction in coca cultivation, and to highlight that in the last four years the area of coca cultivation in Bolivia reduced by 10,600 hectares which is more than a third of the amount of coca cultivated in 2010.”

The European Union has also continuously supported Bolivia’s coca reduction efforts. Former European Union delegation chief, Timothy Torlot stated in August of 2015: “I congratulate the Bolivian Government, the Police, and the FELCN) for the policy’s success, it is a great achievement to continue reducing coca production in the country.” His successor affirmed in September 2016, “I ratify the European Union’s support for Bolivia’s progress in the shared drug control model, that respects its international commitments. The new National Drug Control Council (CONALTID) center is yet another symbol of the President’s efforts, and we decidedly support them.”


Although Bolivian drug control is far from perfect and faces multiple challenges the small nation has demonstrated significant political will, resources, and creativity to address the evolving, complex threats of illegal drug trafficking, through both sustainable development goals, a stated UNGASS objective, as well as U.S. “body count” indicators focused on coca cultivation, arrests and seizures. Often Bolivia’s performance surpasses its “certified” coca-producing neighbors.

It’s high time U.S. policymakers abandon their Drug War report card program and reform punitive, ineffectual international drug policies that, not only have failed to limit the drug trade, but have also eroded the U.S.’ credibility with the international community.


Bolivia Regional Bilateral Counternarcotics Agreements (non-exhaustive) since 1977

Year Countries Content
1977 Bolivia-Brazil Reciprocal Assistance Agreement to Repress Illicit Drug Trafficking
1988 Bolivia-Brazil Additional Protocol to the Reciprocal Assistance Agreement to Repress Illicit Drug Trafficking
1990 Bolivia-Ecuador Agreement for Prevention of Use and Repression of Illicit Trafficking of Controlled Substance
1990 Bolivia-Ecuador Agreement to Prevent Deviation of Specific Controlled Substances
1991 Bolivia-Uruguay Agreement for Prevention of Use and Repression of Illicit Trafficking of Controlled Substances and Specific Precursor Chemicals
1991 Bolivia-Paraguay Reciprocal Assistance Agreement for the Prevention of Use and Repression of Illicit Drug Trafficking
1992 Bolivia-Chile Agreement on the Control, Monitoring and Repression of Illicit Drug Trafficking and Precursor Chemicals
1998 Bolivia-Paraguay Memorandum of Understanding on the Control of Precursor and Essential Chemicals for the Production of Illicit Drugs
1998 Bolivia-Chile Agreement on Mutual Cooperation for the Prevention and Control of Precursor and Essential Chemicals used for the Illicit Production of Controlled Substances
1999 Bolivia-Brazil Agreement to Impede the Illegal Use of Precursor and Essential Chemicals for the Production of Controlled Substances
2000 Bolivia-Peru Agreement on Alternative Development, Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Illicit Drug Traffic Control
2000 Bolivia-Argentina Agreement on Alternative Development, Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Illicit Drug Traffic Control
2001 Bolivia-Colombia Agreement on Alternative Development, Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Illicit Drug Traffic Control
2001 Bolivia-Brazil Memorandum of Understanding between Financial Investigations Unit of Bolivia and Financial Activities Control of Brazil
2004 Bolivia-Colombia Agreement on the Commercialization of Products from Alternative Development Programs
2008 Bolivia-Argentina Memorandum of Understanding on Investigative Crimes (Drugs, Precursor Chemicals, Blank Capitals) and related crimes from a human rights perspective
2009 Bolivia-Brazil Agreement between Country’s police departments for anti-narcotics operations
2011 Bolivia-Brazil Agreement to exchange intelligence and strengthen joint police operations to combat drug trafficking
2012 Bolivia-Peru Agreement to strengthen fight against drug trafficking
2012 Bolivia-Chile Border control agreement with scanner use
2012 Bolivia-Ecuador Agreement to strengthen fight against drug trafficking
2014 Bolivia-Peru Agreement for intelligence exchange, improved airspace control, eradication, interdiction
2015 Bolivia-Colombia Agreement to identify drug trafficking “big fish” through intelligence exchange and joint actions
2015 Bolivia-Peru Security and Antinarcotics Agreement including training and collaboration between three branches of the two country’s militaries, focused on limiting air transshipment of drugs
2015 Bolivia-Paraguay Reciprocal Agreement on Use Prevention and Repression of Illicit Trafficking
2016 Bolivia-Peru Agreement on Cooperation for Alternative Development, Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Drug Trafficking Control
2016 Bolivia-Brazil Agreement on Drugs and Related Crimes
2016 Bolivia-Argentina Security and Anti-drug trafficking agreement

[1] In the “Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal   Year 2017” the U.S. decertified Bolivia along with Myanmar and Venezuela. The Determination states that Bolivia “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.”

[2] AIN communication with US Embassy La Paz Public Affairs office. 11 August 2016.

[3] U.S. officials say that Operation Breakthrough, initiated in Bolivia in 1993, provides the baseline methodology to calculate potential cocaine production in the Andes. Yet current estimates, which reportedly continue to employ these methods, demonstrate some dramatic contradictions. The U.S. government complained in March 2012 that they have been unable to carry out yield studies in Bolivia since the expulsion of the DEA in January 2009. The 2015 INCSR says that the US uses cocaine originating in coca-producing coutnries, but admits it only has data from one Bolivian coca producing region. In other words, U.S. officials do not have the basic information needed to calculate potential cocaine production in Bolivia. For more information see:


[4] For more information on coca monitoring visit https://www.wola.org/sites/default/files/Drug%20Policy/WOLA-AIN%20Bolivia.FINAL.pdf

[5] Plan Estratégico, ENACO, S.A. pp 10-11.

[6] The UNODC report for Peru provides the conversion equation for potential cocaine production: 2,391 kg/ha (2.391 MT/ha). According to a 2013 Peruvian study, the amount of cocaine used for traditional consumption is 10,728 MT out of total potential cocaine production of 96,304 MT. To find cocaine deviated into illegal market: 96,304-10,728=MT, then divided by 2.391 MT/ha gives the result 35,791 hectares of coca deviated for illegal production.

[7] Although the majority of coca produced in the Chapare does not go through the Sacaba Wholesale market in outside Cochabamba, this does not mean it is all being deviated into cocaine production. Coca merchants and producers are reticent to travel 4-5 hours to Cochabamba, to register sales, and then return through the Chapare to more direct routes to sell coca to the Santa Cruz department (37% of all licit coca sales), Tarija Departments (16%). Chapare growers and international funders plan the construction of a checkpoint on the Chapare-Santa Cruz border to improve coca transport monitoring.


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Setting the Record Straight on Bolivia: Analysis from Jean Friedman-Rudovsky on February’s Referendum

Setting the Record Straight on Bolivia

                                         By Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

This past February, Bolivians voted on a constitutional reform that would have allowed Evo Morales to run for a fourth term as president. When all the ballots were counted, the “No” vote won by 132,509 votes, less than 3 percentage points. President Morales, rather calmly, conceded defeat.

I lived in Bolivia from 2005 to 2013 as the longest-tenured English language reporter during Morales’ presidency, writing mainly for Time Magazine. Unfortunately, U.S. coverage of the referendum missed the mark. The reporting fit all too neatly into a larger narrative of the waning “pink tide” of South American leaders. Evo Morales was depicted as a power-hungry dictator who would stop at nothing to extend his reign, and it would seem that the overwhelming majority of Bolivian people have rejected him and his policies.

Neither is accurate.

Evo Morales has been a wildly popular leader. His government won three elections by historically broad margins and he has had among the highest presidential approval ratings in the hemisphere. In part that’s because over the last decade, the lives of the country’s poor and indigenous majority have improved markedly. Morales successfully channeled Bolivia’s hydrocarbons revenue to the public sector, and doubled public investment as a percentage of GDP. Poverty was reduced by 34% from 2005 to 2013, while Bolivia’s economy grew faster than any in the region. Large increases in social spending and huge hikes in the minimum wage helped to greatly reduce inequality.

Beyond statistics, it’s the change in the lives of my loved ones there that speaks to me. My godson Luis was born the day Evo Morales was first elected: December 18, 2005. The trajectory of his indigenous Aymara family parallels the country’s decade of progress. When I first met his parents, in early 2005, they were renting a tiny apartment on crumbling cliffs leading to El Alto, La Paz’s poorer sister city. His father drove a taxi, his mother sold bootleg DVD’s and they barely made ends meet. Over the last decade, the couple started two small businesses that enabled them to buy land and build their own home in La Paz. Luis and his 13 year-old sister Nayeli went from a school with no internet connection and too few books, to classrooms with laptops online.

Why did Morales lose the referendum? The data provides important context: he was first elected President with 54% of the vote in 2005, last Sunday he received 49% while making a big ask of the public. Several Bolivian experts confirm that some of these swing voters favored term limits and democratic rotation, and that what likely tipped the scales were a series of scandals that broke right before the vote. Morales is an imperfect leader, but this referendum should not be read as a significant break in support of his policies or even a strong rejection of his leadership.

The other misrepresentation of the referendum, e.g., Morales’ “power grab,” lacks perspective. Many Americans treat term limits as a litmus test for democracy—at least when it comes to countries where people with brown skin those with white skin. But there are some undemocratic countries that have term limits (like the Central African Republic) and there are some highly functioning democracies (including Norway and Canada) that do not.

Bolivia is engaged in a complex process of emerging from chronic underdevelopment, instability, and near de-facto apartheid. Under Morales, Bolivia has become a more inclusive and stable democracy with a vibrant civil society, less dependent on foreign money and influence. It is important that the international community holds Bolivian leaders accountable to democratic norms, but it is not appropriate to project notions of how leaders should carry themselves nor apply strict lessons from the global north in foreign contexts. The characterization—widely published in the U.S.—that Morales was “undermining democracy” by asking voters to decide if he can run again and then respecting their decision, is a stretch. This is especially true in a U.S. presidential election year when questionable elements of our electoral system, including coin tosses, billionaire-backed campaigns and the influence of superdelegates, are on display.

I visited La Paz last fall. One Sunday, I rode the new public gondola system—a source of great pride for Bolivians—with my godson and his family. As we rode, Luis and Nayeli looked down at the teetering houses near where they used to live. We ate ice cream at the top, outside the shiny El Alto station perched on the edge of the city that’s eye level with snow-capped Andean peaks. The two kicked pebbles off the edge while pointing at the gondola lines crisscrossing in the sky.

Nayeli will vote in the 2019 elections; Morales will not be on the ballot. Whether or not that’s good for her family and nation, only time will tell. But like what Nelson Mandela meant for black South Africans and what President Obama is for African Americans, Morales has been for these kids. The generation of Luis and Nayeli’s indigenous grandparents were obligated by law to move off the sidewalk to let a white person pass. Now, my godson can envision being president.

When Morales steps down his legacy at home will not be of a strongman who tried to turn a fledgling democracy into his kingdom. Instead, his efforts to make Bolivia a nation in which a young people of Luis and Nayeli’s heritage and class will have a better chance to fulfill their potential will be considered his lasting contribution.

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky reported for TIME from Bolivia between 2006 and 2013. She is now a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia and a contributing editor for VICE Magazine.

Kathryn Ledebur participates in Latin American Advisor Q & A on Mining Conflict

In September 9th’s edition of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Daily Publication “The Latin American Advisor”, Kathryn Ledebur, along with academics and policy analysts on Bolivia, participated in a featured Q & A on Bolivia’s mining conflict.

Read Kathryn’s response below:



Latin American Advisor Q&A: What is Behind the Strife Between Bolivia & Miners?

                                                                                                September 9, 2016

Q: Bolivian President Evo Morales’ government on Sept. 1 increased control over the country’s mining cooperatives following violent demonstrations the previous week that resulted in the deaths of four workers and Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes. The government plans to take some land concessions back from cooperatives and also banned the use of dynamite during protests. What is at the heart of the disputes between mining cooperatives and the government? What are the political and economic consequences of the unrest? Will miners receive the better working conditions and pay that they have been demanding?

 A: Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network in Cochabamba: “Although four miners also died from bullet wounds during the protests, Illanes’ brutal murder violated unspoken rules of Bolivian political confl ict and eroded public sympathy for the National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia (Fencomin). Prosecution of key leaders has also demobilized the group. Cooperatives began as loose organizations of freelance miners after mineral prices hit rock bottom, but have, in some cases, grown into profi table private enterprises that oppose unionization of their workforce. Nationalization, reinforced by the 2009 Constitution, coincided with a surge in mineral prices, which reactivated the state mining sector and limited Fencomin’s concessions. As prices slump, the pie grows smaller for both groups. On Sept. 1, the Bolivian government took executive action to regulate the sector, including reverting cooperatives’ joint ventures, subleases and contracts with domestic and international companies. Cooperatives now must report earnings, profi t distribution and payroll to state monitoring agencies. According to the national cooperative law, organizations that fail to equitably distribute profi ts must be registered as private businesses. The decrees also mandate social benefi ts and legal guarantees for employees in compliance with the national labor legislation. The action also establishes prison sentences for the use of dynamite in protests. It is premature to speculate on the long-term political impact for the Morales administration. In spite of recurring violent protests against state regulation during the past decade, Fencomin has continued to support the ruling MAS party electorally. Furthermore, public outrage over the vice minister’s death and approval for MAS’ regulation of the combative group could offset any loss of support from a sector of approximately 60,000.”

To read the full Q & A, visit the Latin American Advisor online and provide a donation.

AIN’s Kathryn Ledebur shares updates on the Cooperative Miners Conflict with Real News Network

On September 8, 2016, AIN Executive Director Kathryn Ledebur spoke with the Real News Network about updates in the Cooperative Miners Conflict. In particular, she explored the possibilities of future negotiations, investigations for the deaths of the 5 miners and Vice Minister Rodolfo Illanes, and the impacts of the conflict on future political developments.

To watch the full interview, click here.





Bolivian Government Regulates Cooperative Mining Sector with Executive Actions

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Bolivian Government Regulates Cooperative Mining Sector with Executive Actions

                                                                                                        September 2, 2016

Following the recent conflict with mining cooperatives, the Morales administration issued 5 decrees in a special cabinet meeting on September 1, 2016. Mining cooperatives escalated protests in August 2016 in retaliation against the new Mining Law and modifications to the Cooperatives Law. In particular, the mining cooperatives opposed efforts to limit direct contracts with private multilateral companies and allow unionization among cooperative members. The escalation of protests resulted in the murder of Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes and five miners, four from bullet wounds.

The government decrees issued on September 1, 2016 declare the following:

  • DS 2888: Using dynamite at protests is now punishable with a 1-4 year sentence. According to Government Minister Carlos Romero dynamite and explosive can be used as lethal weapons. In May of this year, the government inexplicably repealed a 2012 Supreme Decree prohibiting the possession or use of explosives at social mobilizations. Article 211 of the Criminal Code criminalizes the possession, production and sale of explosive materials for violence with a 2 to 6 year sentence.
  • DS 2889: Cooperatives must report their members, the volume and value of production, and earnings distributions to the Administrative Mining Authority (AJAM) and the Cooperatives Tax and Control Authority (AFCOOP). If profits are not distributed equitably, as mandated by Article 6 of the Cooperatives Law, the cooperative will be obligated to readjust or be classified as a private company.
  • DS 2890: Inactive mining concessions will revert to State control.
  • DS 2891: Joint ventures, leases, or subleases between cooperative mines and private companies (national or international) will return to State control.
  • DS 2892: Anyone employed by or providing services to cooperatives will be protected by the General Labor Law, and thus be on the payroll, have the right to unionize, receive health subsidies (including lactation subsidies), and other social benefits. In the past only cooperative members received benefits.
  • Resolution 08/2016: SENARECOM (National Service for Registration and Control of Mineral and Metal Commercialization) will nullify its contracts with regional departments and local governments that allow cooperatives to maintain 1, 3, or 5% deductions for production.

The Bolivian government is demanding accountability from this ambiguously-defined sector, especially following August’s violent confrontations. Bolivia’s mining cooperatives have historically functioned in an unregulated gray area between private and state-owned systems. These decrees seek to provide some oversight to ensure lawful activity among these groups. Mining cooperatives will have to prove that they are distinct from private entities, offer more transparent information about their operations, and provide social benefits mandated by the Nation’s Labor Law.

Despite a decade of electoral support for the MAS government, the cooperative miners have clashed violently with the Morales administration’s tenure.

 Timeline of Cooperative Miners Conflicts during Morales Administration








AIN in WSJ Coverage of Bolivia’s Mining Conflict

In a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Bolivia Aims to Boost Mining Oversight After Deadly Protests” (Sep. 1, 2016), AIN’s Kathryn Ledebur explains:

“‘Right now their case is significantly weakened,’ Kathryn Ledebur, an analyst and executive director of the Andean Information Network in Cochabamba, said of the cooperatives. ‘The government decrees within the current framework are reasonable. They are taking away some concessions but also providing social benefits and bringing people into the formal work force.'”

To read the full article, click here.