Category Archives: Coca

The Beat Goes On: The U.S. War on Coca

NACLA Report on the Americas (
Nov/Dec2004, Vol. 38, Issue 3

In unguarded moments during the month-long road blockade of September and October 2000, coca growers and Bolivian security forces chatted, played soccer and ate together while they waited for government orders to reinitiate their confrontation. In a country where coca leaves have been legally consumed and used in rituals for centuries–even soldiers chew the leaf during coca eradication missions and clashes with protesters–this strangely amicable standoff demonstrates how, to many Bolivians, U.S. drug control objectives are an external imposition doing more harm than good. A 1998 survey found that even among the military, 73% of personnel believed the armed forces participate in anti-drug efforts as a result of U.S. pressure. "The reality is that the military," commented an ex-officer, "is conscious that eradication has created economic and social conflict.2

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Agreement Permits Limited Coca Production in the Bolivian Chapare, Diffusing Conflict in the Region


After almost three weeks of tension in the Chapare coca-growing region, the Bolivian government signed a landmark agreement with coca growers to permit 3,200 hectares of coca to remain in the region for one year.  Coca growers agreed to voluntarily eradicate approximately 3000 hectares of coca by the end of the year to meet an 8,000-hectare eradication quota.  In addition, coca farmers accepted eradication in the two major national parks in the region, although the boundaries of these parks remain poorly defined.   The accord represents a dramatic departure from past stilted efforts at dialogue, limited by U.S. government intervention, that had characterized negotiations and agreements since the 1998 initiation of Plan Dignity, an accelerated militarized eradication program, with the unattainable goal of total elimination of the Chapare coca crop, referred to as "zero coca" in Bolivia

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Bolivia’s Prisons and the Impact of Law 1008

“Please tell Americans that many of us in prison are here only because we are poor. If the United States wants to stop drug trafficking, they should start by helping Bolivia confront its poverty, not by enacting unfair laws like Law 1008.”

–Prisoner in San Sebastian Men’s Prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

History of Law 1008

In Bolivia, the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, most citizens wage a daily struggle to survive. That struggle is even worse for Bolivia’s prison population. Often considered inferior citizens, prisoners are subject to substandard lives in the best economies; in Bolivia’s unforgiving financial crisis, their plight is bleak. Overcrowding caused by a U.S. sponsored and imposed anti-drug law, Law 1008, exacerbates already severe prison conditions. The harsh terms of this law account for approximately 41% of Bolivia’ total prison population. (Los Tiempos, March 10, 2004). Dr. Eloy Avendaño, Director of the Prison System for the department of Cochabamba, which includes the coca-growing Chapare tropics, estimates that 65% of the approximately one thousand prisoners there are incarcerated under Law 1008.

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Bolivia: Legacy of Coca


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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