Category Archives: Coca

Bolivia: Legacy of Coca

Introduction

Bolivia is the third largest producer of coca leaves, following Colombia and Peru. The plant, which has been a part of the Bolivian culture for thousands of years and is sometimes described as hoja milenaria, or leaf of millennia, is viewed by the U.S. as unnecessary and is the focus of eradication in the U.S. War against Drugs. The lives of Bolivian coca growers are mired in poverty: families live in remote areas in rudimentary wooden houses and entire families work the crops. The image presented of the common coca grower as a drug trafficker, or worse, narco-terrorist, is a gross misperception, based in part on a lack of understanding of the traditional and cultural significance of the coca leaf in Bolivia. It is also due to a failure to differentiate between coca and cocaine. The intent of this article is to provide a general overview of the legacy of coca in Bolivia.

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Rethinking Alternative Development in Bolivia

When an opposition movement supported by the coca grower’s political party forced the resignation of Bolivia’s President Sánchez de Lozada in October 2003, it was fueled in part by long-standing resentment against the U.S. war on drugs. Even though an estimated $300 million has been spent by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) since 1982 on alternative development programs in Bolivia, the world’s third-largest producer of coca, growers complain that they have never been offered viable alternatives to growing coca. They identify three principal problems: an uncoordinated strategy that operates outside existing community organizations and local governments; the inflexible conditioning of assistance on eradication; and a large, expensive bureaucracy.1 

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Bolivians pay dearly for U.S. war on drugs

Originally published in the Miami Herald, Op-Ed section on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2002.
 

Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada meets today with President
Bush in Washington, D.C. The perennial U.S. determination to fight drugs
by ripping up coca plants will certainly drive the meeting. As
representatives of NGOs who monitor drug policy in Bolivia, we hope that
the presidents face up to some uncomfortable facts.

U.S. international drug-control policy is ineffective. Over the last
decade, despite spending more than $25 billion on drug-control programs
overseas, more illicit drugs are available in the United States, and at
cheaper prices, than ever before. Plan Colombia was so profoundly
unsuccessful that coca cultivation in the Andean region increased 21
percent during the plan's first year.

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Keeping Coca a Cash Crop; Bolivian Peasants Fight U.S. Campaign to End Cultivation of Their ‘Sacred

Originally published in The Washington Post: Sep 29, 1995. pg. A.18.

The circle of coca growers in this small town drew closer when one of the leaders, a man who was sitting on a pink plastic sack filled with coca leaves, dropped the lofty arguments and delivered a more direct pitch.

"These are not mafiosos!" he declared. "We are talking, whether you believe it or not, about a vegetable product. Where do you see a chalet here? Do narco-traffickers dress like this?"

The little girl he pointed to was wearing an old T-shirt and old pants, a common uniform here in southern Bolivia's illegal coca belt, the Chapare. Some of the peasants, laconic coca growers waiting for middlemen to pick up their harvest, nodded as the man finished delivering the mantra of towns like this: Coca is not cocaine; peasants are not criminals.

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