Category Archives: Political Analysis

Latin America Advisor Q&A: What Should Bolivians Expect From a Third Morales Term?

Excerpt from the Inter-American Dialogue’s newsletter, the Latin American Advisor.  For the full version, please see the Inter-American Dialogue’s website.

Featured Q & A: Bolivian President Evo Morales won re-election on Sunday, Oct. 12 with an estimated 60 percent of the vote. What can investors expect from another Morales administration? What do Sunday’s legislative election results suggest about Morales’ governing strength and maneuverability moving ahead? Will anticipated lower prices for natural gas, an important export commodity for Bolivia, undermine the recent momentum in the economy? What economic priorities would you advise Morales to set for his next term? 

A: Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network in Cochabamba: “Investors can expect a continuation of policies that have boded well macroeconomically and electorally.  Morales’ MAS party should be close to, but may not attain, the two-thirds congressional majority needed to change the Constitution, but it will have the means through executive action to implement key policy initiatives and enough backing to push through its legislative agenda. The IMF projects that international natural gas prices will remain stable through 2018, and Bolivia’s gas industry is not vulnerable to short- or intermediate-term price fluctuations. Contracts with its largest export partners, Brazil and Argentina, extend to 2019 and 2025 with prices currently set at double U.S. rates. Although Bolivia increased its gas production almost 500 percent between 2006 and 2003 and even more in 2014, the country has not yet reached the maximum exportation ceilings set in these contracts. In short, current exports can expand to meet high demand for Bolivian national gas. Furthermore, Bolivia has invested income from its international reserves in infrastructure improvements to successfully attract additional foreign investment and provide a safety net to weather any economic downturn. Economic priorities should be furthering expansion of social and basic services including potable water, healthcare, education, infrastructure, as well as continued pragmatic fiscal policy.”

A: Miguel Centellas, assistant professor of political science at Jackson State University in Mississippi“I’m not sure what impact if any Evo Morales’s re-election will have on investors. After governing for nearly a decade, his policies seem pretty clear. If anything, investors—who prefer stability over all else—should have been more nervous if Morales had lost. For all his flaws, Morales has steered Bolivian economic policy in a generally positive direction. Certainly, lower gas prices will have an impact. But unlike Venezuela, Bolivia has been conservative, stockpiling large cash reserves and spending rather frugally on social policy. The push to diversify exports and expand the domestic manufacturing base will likely continue. What many supporters will expect, however, is an increase in social spending in areas like education and health care—areas that have improved under Morales, but still have significant needs. Morales should look to the future and invest in children rather than pensioners, which is more popular politically. Support for Morales and his MAS party has plateaued and diversified. Preliminary results show Morales winning five points less than—while also winning more departments than—he did in 2009. But this means his support fell in traditional bases of support, even as it increased in the lowland regions. MAS is less polarizing than before, at least regionally. It also looks like MAS might have lost seats in the legislature, and will not count on a two-thirds supermajority. All this this could have a strong moderating force on Morales and his party, if it truly becomes a large ‘national-popular’ party like the 1950s MNR.”

A: César Arias, associate director of Latin American sovereigns at Fitch Ratings“Fitch placed Bolivia’s BB- ratings on positive outlook in August, highlighting the country’s strong economic performance and favorable reform momentum. The economy grew by a record 6.8 percent in 2013 and could expand by 5.2 percent in 2014-2016. President Morales is likely to use his renewed electoral mandate, solid legislative majority and rising regional support to accelerate infrastructure investment, industrialization policies and anti-poverty programs in 2015-2020. With most political obstacles overcome after the general elections, success will largely depend on the government’s capacity to develop new natural gas reserves. The prospect of a new hydrocarbons regime is yielding positive results. The legislature approved seven exploration contracts and will study eight more association agreements with foreign companies and subsidiaries of the state-owned YPFB. These agreements could increase investment in exploration and prevent projected difficulties to meet the gas requirements from the local market and export contracts with Argentina and Brazil in 2017-2018. Similarly, a new investment promotion regime, if effectively implemented, could reduce regulatory uncertainty, nationalization risks and encourage greater private participation in the economy. Broader access to external borrowing sources mitigates financing risks for the ambitious public investment agenda, particularly in the event of lower gas export prices and tighter international liquidity conditions. Bolivia intends to maintain an active presence in capital markets after the issuance of $1 billion in global bonds in 2012-2013 and announced plans to negotiate up to $3 billion in infrastructure and mining bilateral loans from China in 2015-2020.”

A: Jaime Aparicio Otero, former Bolivian ambassador to the United States: “With 60 percent of the votes, President Morales secured an unconstitutional third term. The election news came as no surprise. There is no question that the average Bolivian has seen a clear improvement in the standard of living under Morales’ government. Regrettably, it has come at the expense of democracy, freedom and rule of law. Bolivia is a dysfunctional democracy benefiting from high commodity prices. During his celebratory speech, Morales dedicated his victory to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and to all the anti-capitalist governments around the world. He also blasted the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru), accusing them of ‘joining the Washington Consensus.’ Although Morales’ populist rhetoric does not bring fresh air to potential U.S. investors, it is possible that beyond his inflammatory speeches, the shadows of a major slowdown in the economies of emerging markets, and lower gas prices, may bring a more pragmatic approach toward foreign investment. As Professor James Petras points out, Bolivia has ‘a very astute political regime which successfully manipulates radical rhetoric and applies orthodox economic policies. Morales has secured a political-economic formula which has succeeded in gaining the support of Fidel Castro and the IMF, the agro-oligarchy and the indigenous peasant coca farmers.’ In the long-term perspective, Bolivia is far from overcoming the challenges of building a more sustainable economy that is able to generate value and transform natural resources into a productive force. Unless President Morales, the last ‘caudillo’ of the socialism of the 21st Century, decides to tackle structural problems (productivity, education), its largest economic boom is at risk of becoming the greatest missed opportunity in Bolivian history.”

A: Delfina Cavanagh, associate director at the sovereign and international public finance group at Standard & Poor’s: “We expect that economic policy will remain broadly pragmatic, reflecting the government’s need to encourage foreign and private firms to invest and introduce new technology to expand output in key sectors of the economy, such as hydrocarbons and minerals. Sustaining both private and public investment will remain a key priority for long-term economic growth. We also expect the government to continue to pursue an ambitious program of social and infrastructure development broadly along the lines of his previous years in office. Still, the Morales administration will remain vulnerable to social unrest and demands for higher wages, especially from social groups that carry clout within the governing political party. Continued investment, consumption and gas production should sustain GDP growth above 5 percent in 2014 and likely at about 4.6 percent on average in the next three years. Commodities comprise more than 80 percent of total exports, and about one-third of fiscal revenues (tax revenues and royalties) comes from the hydrocarbon sector. Sustaining recent high GDP growth rates and booming exports will depend on the government’s ability to encourage nonstate firms to undertake exploration work by providing sufficient incentives within the current legal framework. It would also depend on the government’s ability to adequately manage public-sector enterprises such that they continue to generate resources to make more investments. Higher output, would, at least partially, compensate for a potentially sharp fall in commodity prices. Also, Bolivia is likely to make gradual progress in creating a longer chain of production using natural resources by building downstream industries, especially in petrochemicals, gradually diversifying the economy.”

A: Roberto Laserna, director of the Center for the Study of Economic and Social Reality (CERES) in Cochabamba: “In his previous administrations, President Morales had electoral and social support, expanding its political power. He even changed the Constitution. And yet, governance, measured by the capacity of the government to implement and monitor its policies, was low, mostly due to weak institutions and lack of managerial skills. Moreover, clientelistic pressures absorbed much of the energies of the president and cabinet. These problems were disguised by the unprecedented flow of money from the exports boom. No matter how impressive they are, the Sunday ballots have not made those problems disappear. The prospects for the coming years are dim. Commodity prices are declining and so will exports. Industrial investors could not take advantage of the internal market because they fear changing policies on interest rates, labor costs and taxation. Consumption was supplied by imports on low exchange rates. The economy is more vulnerable and dependent on natural resources and exports than 10 years ago, despite its international reserves.  The government ignored warnings and advice and lost opportunities to make a better use of the bonanza. It despised private investors and trusted its inexperienced bureaucrats, whose investment decisions failed one after the other: PDVSA exploring for oil, Jindal developing the iron industry, communities managing milk and coca plants, and so on. It is time to give private investors the legal certainty they need to do their job. Bolivia needs to reestablish the rule of law, to strengthen its institutions and to give the money, currently in the hands of the bureaucrats, to the citizens. Doing these would energize the productive capacities of the people.”

Latin American Advisor Q&A: Is Bolivia’s Morales a shoo-in for a third term?

Excerpt from the Inter-American Dialogue’s newsletter, the Latin American Advisor.  For the full version, please see the Inter-American Dialogue’s website.

Featured Q&A: Is Bolivia’s Evo Morales a Shoo-in for a Third Term?

Bolivian President Evo Morales is leading in voter intention with 52 percent of voters saying they would vote for him ahead of the country’s presidential election on Oct. 12 in which he will face four challengers and seek a third term, according to a poll by Equipos Moris published in early August. Morales has so far refused calls from opposition candidate Samuel Doria Medina for a public debate ahead of the election. What is behind Morales’ disinterest in holding a debate, and what are the main issues driving the campaigns? Is Morales in a strong enough position to win in the election’s first round? How are the races for the more than 160 seats in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies shaping up, and how will the composition of Congress affect how the winner of the presidential race can govern?

Answer: Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network in Cochabamba:

“Morales feels no need to defend his track record to what he considers neoliberal opponents, and their escalating demands for engagement have led him to dig in his heels even deeper. In short, he knows he will win the election without making the effort. The stagnant, inefficient judicial system, continued high levels of violence against women and the lack of prior consent from the residents of TIPNIS territory have provoked broad criticisms of the ruling MAS party. Its opponents have done little to provide alternative proposals to address these issues. Instead, campaigns focus on complaints and denunciations, some fabricated and others well founded. Contenders often target issues such as coca production and social programs, which the Morales administration has addressed much more successfully than its predecessors. The strong economy, including popular cash transfer programs, and flailing opposition have even allowed MAS to announce unpopular initiatives against illegally imported vehicles and reduction in fuel subsidies by 2016 without putting re-election at risk. Morales will probably win in the first round, or easily in the second, as his opponents show no apparent inclination toward alliances. Opposing candidates seem resigned to obtain dispersed congressional seats, some through direct election and others based on the percentage of votes received by presidential contenders. It impossible to predict whether MAS can obtain the two-thirds majority in Congress needed for major initiatives, but it will most likely garner 50 percent. In any case, the longstanding history of strong executive action by decree in Bolivia would impede U.S. levels of legislative gridlock.”

For answers from Jaime Aparicio Otero, former Bolivian ambassador to the United States, and Miguel Centellas, assistant professor of political science at Jackson State University in Mississippi, please see this link.

Bolivian Political and Social Landscape: Primer for Pending Presidential Elections

As the presidential campaigns gain momentum, AIN outlines the political and social landscape in Bolivia to provide background to understand upcoming electoral debates.

President Evo Morales is running for a third term in the October 12, 2014 elections.  Critics argue he is not eligible to run for another consecutive term, but the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal ruled in his favor, and the opposition across the political spectrum lacks a strong, unifying candidate.  Four candidates have formally registered to run against Morales.

Bolivian Government Achievements

  • Macroeconomic success:
    • From 2009 to 2013, Bolivia’s economy experienced steady growth.

1 GDP growth

The population living in extreme poverty fell from 38% in 2005 to 24% in 2011.

2 poverty

  • Bolivia has accrued a significant “rainy day fund.”  According to the New York Times,  “Bolivia has the highest ratio in the world of international reserves to the size of its economy, having recently surpassed China.”
  • Employment rates and wages have both steadily increased under Morales. The minimum wage increased in 2013 from about $145 USD (1,000Bs) to about $174 USD (1,200Bs) a month.
  • Double holiday bonus: In November 2013, President Evo Morales decreed that all employers must pay a double holiday bonus to all employees.  Previously, the bonus was one month’s salary paid in December.  The double holiday bonushad a mixed reception, celebrated by workers, but criticized by many employers and small business owners.
  • Social programs: The Morales administration started several popular cash transfer programs, including benefits to school children and pregnant mothers, which have promoted significant decreases in maternal and infant mortality as well as increases in school attendance and high school graduation.
  • Gas income: The Bolivian government has strengthened the economy by increasing state hydrocarbons revenues as a result of the 2004 hydocarbons law, the 2006 Nationalization Decree, and high gas prices.  This income has permitted significant investment in infrastructure and social programs.

Coca Leaf and Drug Control

  • In 2013, Bolivia successfully petitioned the United Nations to recognize legal coca cultivation and uses within its borders.
  • The Morales administration has achieved sustained reductions in the cultivation of illicit coca leaf using a system of community coca control. (26% reduction from 2010-2013).
  • Unlike previous military forced eradication, this innovative model relies on coca grower participation.  This model guarantees subsistence and enables coca growers to diversify their income, leading to greatly reduced human rights violations.  For more information see this WOLA-AIN memo.

3 eradication
Source: Bolivian Vice-Ministry of Social Defense

  • Bolivia currently has less than half as much coca as Colombia and Peru.  Yet inexpensive and abundant Peruvian cocaine paste base floods through Bolivia to Brazil and other consumer countries, offsetting national control efforts.
  • The Morales’ administration has diligently pursued drug interdiction after the 2009 expulsion of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, reporting significantly increased seizures. However, the great bulk of cocaine sales and profits trafficking occur outside Bolivia’s border, limiting the impact of these initiatives.
  • In spite of tensions, US-Bolivian on-the-ground collaboration on coca reduction continued productively until September 2013, including a trilateral agreement, including Brazil, to improve monitoring technology.

Challenges facing the Morales Administration 

  • TIPNIS issue: In spite of much rhetoric about protecting the rights of Mother Earth, the Morales administration has gone ahead with plans to build a highway through the Amazon, including the TIPNIS, a national park and indigenous territory.
    • This is an enduring point of contention in the country, most notably among lowland indigenous peoples who led two marches to La Paz to protest the lack of prior consultation of TIPNIS resident about the project, which is guaranteed by the 2009 Bolivian constitution.  Both marches, in 2011 and 2012, were met with police repression from the government. The segment of the construction project within the territory is on hold, but may be resumed.  Critics highlighted contradictions with the administration’s pro-indigenous and environmental discourse and its handling of the incident.
  • The lowland indigenous umbrella organization, CIDOB, and its highland counterpart CONAMAQ are both split between factions that support the MAS ruling party and its vocal opponents.
  • Policies of extraction vs. environment: One of the most significant challenges for the MAS administration has been balancing multi-sector demands for basic services financed primarily by extractive industries with its rhetoric of protecting and living in harmony with nature.
    • Bolivia’s economy has always been heavily reliant on extractive industries such as mining and hydrocarbons that have a substantial environmental impact.  Conflicts often arise in mining communities over the benefits of mining income versus the damage to the environment.  In addition, continuing contamination, such as the recent bursting of a damn holding toxic mining tailings in the Chuquisaca department, exacerbates the Morales administration’s inherited legacy of environmental degradations from centuries of mineral exploitation.
  • Violence Against Women: Violence against women and children has always been startlingly prevalent in Bolivia.  In March 2013, the Bolivian Congress passed a comprehensive a law to address these issues, which contained progressive ideas and preventative measures.  However, the government lacks the resources and political will to fully implement the law.  See this AIN update for more information.

4 violence stat

  • Unsafe abortions: This is another concern for women in Bolivia.  Abortions are illegal except in the case of incest, rape, or if the mother’s life is in danger. Pro-choice advocates had a partial victory in a February 2014 constitutional tribunal ruling that upheld the illegality of abortion, but threw out the rule that requires women to get a judge’s consent in the three permitted exceptions.  (See Emily Achtenberg’s article in NACLA for more information on this ruling.)  Lack of access to and information about sexual and reproductive health combined with cultural taboos and widespread sexual violence put women’s health at risk and severely limit their choices.  Although they are illegal, an estimated 60,000 abortions are performed in Bolivia each year, and only 46% of them are performed without complication.  See this AIN update for more information.

5 abortions
Source: La Razón

  • Judicial delay and prison overcrowding: The Bolivian justice system suffers from tremendous judicial delay, resulting in lengthy pretrial detention, as well as severe prison overcrowding.  Only 17% of prisoners in Bolivia are actually serving their sentence, while the other 83% are merely awaiting trial, which could take years.  After prison riot and fire that killed 35 people, Morales a pardon and amnesty decree in September 2013.  However, to date the pardon has benefitted only about 800 people. More comprehensive reforms, including the reduction of disproportionately high drug sentences (drug war prisoners make up almost half of all inmates) need to be enacted.

6 prisoners
Source: La Opinión

  • Legacy of dictatorships: Unlike neighboring Chile and Argentina, which initiated some legal action against those involved, impunity for authors of human rights violations continues in Bolivia.   A group of survivors of the dictatorship have maintained a vigil for more than two years outside the Ministry of Justice, demanding acknowledgment for the crimes of the dictatorship and the declassification of military files from the dictatorship era.  In 2004, the Bolivian government passed a law guaranteeing compensation to victims, but modifications have reduced the initial promised aid to 20%, and only 1,714 of the 8,000 who applied were approved to receive benefits.  See this AIN update for more information, as well as this Amnesty International report and BBC article.

 

7 dictatorship march
Photo: Gonzalo Ordoñez for AIN

Bolivian-US Bilateral Relations

  • A mutual lack of trust is the single largest impediment to improved bilateral relations.  This lack of confidence should be addressed as a prerequisite for reinstatement of ambassadors. In spite of a lack of ambassadors, bilateral relations have varied, depending on the skill of the Chargés and other officials from both nations.
  • A lack of transparency on the part of USAID and credible allegations that the agency was inappropriately aiding lowland opposition led Morales to expel Ambassador Goldberg in 2008.  USAID in Bolivia did not follow international agreements on development. See AIN background.
  • The Morales administration responds positively to genuine diplomatic gestures.  For example, November 2008 meetings with US congressional leaders permitted the sort of frank exchanges that can create rapport and lay the basis for more regular dialogue and better mutual understanding. See WOLA and AIN analysis on bilateral relations.
  • US decisions to “decertify” Bolivian drug control efforts since 2008 are increasingly disconnected from reality. Governments in the region continue to see the US determinations as offensive and politically motivated. More information here.
  • US funding steadily decreased since 2008.  Although the Narcotics Affairs Section, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and USAID are now gone, Bolivia has compensated with funds from its own treasury and increased support from the European Union.
  • Request for extradition of ex-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada: Widespread resentment continues for the US refusal to extradite the ex-president for the death of 69 protestors in October 2003. Although US officials claim the charges are politically motivated, two-thirds of the Bolivian congress, where Sánchez de Lozada’s own coalition had a majority, voted to indict him. The Bolivian government submitted a new extradition request on July 10th, 2014 and the US has promised to respond within sixty days. The US is expected to reject this initiative.
  • US citizen Jacob Ostreicher accused of money laundering:  Although US representatives and Sean Penn have argued for Ostreicher’s innocence, charges against Ostreicher appear credible. He was subject to protracted pre-trial detention in violation of his due process rights, as is every Bolivian arrested on drug charges under drug legislation imposed by the US in 1988.  There was also a great deal of corruption around his case on the part of some Bolivian government officials.  He escaped from Bolivia at the end of 2013 and is considered a fugitive by Interpol.

Conclusion

Recurring protests and strikes from diverse sectors, including transportation workers, university students, and milk and meat producers have characterized the political and social landscape in the past few months.  However, this does not necessarily equate to discontent with the Morales administration.  Rather, many sectors are strategically taking advantage of election momentum to leverage to get demands met.  As one indigenous protester explained, “We’re not the opposition.  We just want the respect of our people and our rights and a solution.”

Although the administration’s performance has been mixed, Morales still enjoys widespread support and his party will most likely retain a majority in both houses of congress.  Furthermore, the opposition on both the left and the right lack a strong, representative, unifying candidate.  It is likely that Bolivian voters will opt for continuing the status quo.

Held to a Different Standard: The US Decertifies Bolivia

All cocaine-producing countries are equal; but some are more equal than others.

The White House’s decision to “decertify” Bolivia’s drug control efforts for the sixth time is no surprise.  Since Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2008, the US has portrayed Bolivia as uncooperative and incapable of curtailing illicit drug production and trafficking.  The White House’s corresponding Memorandum of Justification lacks objectivity and attempts to hold Bolivia to higher standards than Peru and Colombia (which are both fully certified), or even the US.  As a result, as in previous years, it fails to acknowledge that although problems persist, Bolivia has made steady progress in drug control according to the US’s own yardsticks.

Some of the most glaring contradictions and inaccuracies presented include:

1- Last year’s inaccurate determination pointed to a whopping 36% increase in potential cocaine production from 2010 to 2011 as a key cause for decertification. Yet, the US figure reported for 2012 potential production is 41% lower –a dramatic reduction; although the Memorandum only cites an 18% drop, there is no explanation provided for the dramatic rise and fall in figures.  The Memorandum calls this supposed dramatic change an “incremental positive step,” compared to what they characterize as Bolivia’s “overall negative counternarcotics performance.”

2- Accusations that Bolivia does not comply with United Nations drug regulations highlight the selective arguments employed in the justification, given that the US directly violates the UN Single Convention with legalization of marijuana in two states.

3- The US accusation that the Bolivian government has a “disinclination to be transparent with the international community” is ironic.  The US government does not explain its methodology to arrive at estimates for coca and potential cocaine production.  Furthermore, between September 2012 and July 2013, the US retroactively changed its statistics for potential cocaine production and estimated coca cultivation for Bolivia and Colombia without any explanation to the international community.

Even after the expulsion of the DEA and the precipitous drop in aid money from the US, Bolivia has reduced coca leaf cultivation and potential cocaine production, and increased seizures and destruction of cocaine laboratories.  The Presidential Determination seems particularly unfair considering the only other coca-producing countries, Peru and Colombia, produce far more coca and cocaine (in spite of their close cooperation with the DEA).

Source: US White House

Comments on Memorandum of Justification

Sections from the Memorandum of Justification are in the highlighted boxes.

Bolivia’s ability to interdict drugs and major traffickers was seriously compromised by its 2009 expulsion of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) personnel, harming its ability to conduct counternarcotics operations and cooperate on international illicit drug interdiction. 

The illegal drug trade continues in Latin American countries where the DEA continues to operate, just as it did during 35 years of DEA presence in Bolivia.  The US places selective blame on Bolivia, suggesting that collaboration with the DEA is indispensible.  For example, Peru cultivates more than twice as much coca leaf as Bolivia does, and has 145 metric tons more cocaine production potential—almost double Bolivia’s—all the while cooperating with the DEA.  A great deal of comparatively inexpensive Peruvian cocaine paste comes through Bolivia, not because the Bolivians are permissive, but because coca leaf costs half as much in Peru.

The DEA highlights its key role in intelligence exchange between countries, and the US claims that since its expulsion, Bolivia has become “a convenient venue for drug smuggling.” It is time to step back from that reasoning.  Beyond resentment for the expulsion, there is no impediment to intelligence exchange, and Bolivia would readily accept it.  Instead, drug control officials in neighboring countries argue that the DEA blocks these exchanges in spite of their intelligence-sharing agreements Bolivia.  Furthermore, it would be naïve to think that the DEA has no intelligence capacity in Bolivia.  The DEA has access to the Brazilian drone surveillance of potential trafficking sites and coca fields.  At least one long-term DEA officer stayed on in Bolivia after the agency’s expulsion as regional director for the US Narcotic Affairs Section. According to one analyst, “What strikes me is the US desire to punish Bolivia for not keeping with the program, as opposed to giving credit where it’s due and mitigating harm (such as through sharing intelligence) where it’s needed.”[i]

US Fiddles with Figures: Cites Only “Incremental Positive Steps in Coca Control”

The 2012 United States Government coca cultivation estimate for Bolivia is 25,000 hectares, a 2 percent decrease from the 2011 estimate of 25,500 hectares. 

There is actually a 17% decrease in the amount of coca cultivation reported by the Obama administration for 2011 in 2012 (30,000 hectares) and the figure reported in 2013.  The administration quietly reduced coca cultivation estimates for the previous five years[ii] without explanation or noting the reduction. A similar shift occurred in the potential cocaine production statistics.  (Note: according to Law 1008, the anti-drug law passed in 1988 under extreme pressure from the US, 12,000 hectares of coca are allowed for licit, traditional use.)

Source: US White House

Source: US White House

 

[Bolivia] failed to develop and execute a national drug control strategy.

A copy of the Bolivian Strategy to Fight Drug Trafficking and Reduce Surplus Coca Leaf Cultivation 2011-2015 is available on the Organization of American States website.

…This reservation encourages coca growth and adds to the complication of distinguishing between illegally and legally grown coca.

In fact, in 2011, the year Bolivia withdrew from the UN Single Convention, the US registered a 13% drop in the coca crop, a trend that continued in 2012.  The reservation merely validates the status quo in Bolivia, and there is no indication that it will increase production.  Furthermore, Bolivia has a complex monitoring system that benefits from direct participation from coca farmers and collaboration with the UN, the US, the European Union, and Brazil, and the system provides the most accurate estimates in the Andes[iii]

The United States remains concerned about Bolivia’s intent by this action to limit, redefine, and circumvent the scope and control for illegal substances as they appear in the UN Schedule I list of narcotics.

Bolivia’s withdrawal and reentry to the Convention followed established Convention guidelines.  The 15 objections from UN member countries fell far short of the 60 votes required to impede the initiative.  As a result, Bolivia re-entered the convention as a full member.

This is a textbook case of “the pot calling the kettle black.”  The US also currently violates the stipulations of the UN Single Convention.  In November 2012, two US states, Colorado and Washington, legalized marijuana, also included in the UN Schedule I list. In August 2013. “The United States—architect and major proponent of the prohibitionist UN drug control treaties—is rightly choosing not to block the state-level implementation of legal, regulated marijuana markets.”  According to John Walsh of WOLA.

The European Union provided funding for the completion of a study to identify the amount of legal cultivation needed to support traditional coca consumption.  The unwillingness of the Bolivian government to share this report in a timely way demonstrates its disinclination to be transparent with the international community.

Although the long-delayed results of the coca study have been a source of substantial friction with the international community, this does not indicate a lack of transparency on other drug control issues.  For example:

  1. In January 2012, the US, Bolivia, and Brazil signed a trilateral agreement to improve “Bolivia’s ability to measure excess coca cultivation and verify progress in meeting coca eradication targets.”  President Obama called the project, which began in March 2012, “the kind of regional cooperation we need.”  The US Embassy in La Paz noted, “The use of this technology combined with the presence of Brazil and United States as parties and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as a project participant will make the reported amount of hectares eradicated more transparent and precise.”
  2. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recognizes “close collaboration and information exchange between UNODC and the Government of Bolivia” for its coca monitoring study.
  3. In August 2013, a European Union representative stated, “We’re very satisfied with the cooperation in the work we are doing with our Bolivian partners, “ and added that “it is possible to trace every euro of assistance from its origin to its beneficiary.”  He highlighted that the EU planned to increase its funding to Bolivia by 17%.

While Bolivia continues lo make drug seizures and arrests of implicated individuals, the Bolivian judicial system is not adequately processing these cases to completion.        Bolivian law requires that an arrestee be formally charged within 18 months of arrest.  An overwhelming majority of the incarcerated population in Bolivia, however, has not been formally charged in accordance with Bolivian law.  The number of individuals who have been convicted and sentenced on drug charges in Bolivia has remained stagnant over the last several years and has not increased in proportion of the number of arrests.

Unlike many statements, this one is painfully true.  However, the White House fails to mention that Bolivian judicial delay and prison overcrowding have their root in Law 1008, the strict anti-narcotics law that the US obligated Bolivia to pass in 1988.  Please see AIN updates (Bolivian Prison Deaths Highlight Flaws in Judicial and Penitentiary Systems and Prison Detainees in Bolivia: Bad Fruit in a Slow Judiciary System) as well as this report by Puente Investigación Enlace (Bolivia y la retardación de justicia en procesos de la ley antidrogas “1.008”) for more analysis and information.

Conclusion

In conclusion, although the Presidential Determination is disappointing, Bolivia’s decertification does not come as a surprise given the US government’s seeming unwillingness to recognize Bolivia’s drug control efforts.  The determination continues the trend of politicized reporting on drug control in the Andean region, and it is a failure by the White House to provide internal consistency.  The determination is perhaps most discouraging considering the efforts Bolivian government has made in drug control, including the implementation of innovative, collaborative, conflict reduction strategies such as community coca control.  The determination continues the trend of subjective reporting on drug control in the Andean region.  It further erodes US credibility in the international community, and reinforces the urgency of reform US international drug policy to accompany encouraging developments in domestic efforts.



[i] Email correspondence, September 18, 2013.

[ii] For example, Digprococa, the Bolivian government agency in charge of planning coca reduction, requires each coca-growing family to legally register their coca plot with the agency.  The agency verifies each property and enters the coordinates of permitted coca (1600 m2 in the Chapare and 2500m2 in Yungas) with GPS into a database that is shared with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Bolivian Social Control Program, and other organizations.  US assistance through a trilateral agreement with Brazil and Bolivia signed in January provided funding for additional GPS’s and laser distance meters.  The European Union-funded Social Control Support Program (PACS) concluded a biometric licensing and registration of coca growers in 2012, which provided detailed information for a complex database of legal coca growers.[ii]  In order to cross-reference information on registered growers, the EU also funded a program that provided government titles all to legal coca-growing properties and properties in regions where coca cultivation has expanded without authorization.

 

From Conflict to Collaboration: An Innovative Approach to Reducing Coca Cultivation in Bolivia

This article was originally published in Stability: International Journal of Security and Development.  View full text and .pdf versions here.

 

From Conflict to Collaboration: An Innovative Approach to Reducing Coca Cultivation in Bolivia

Kathryn Ledebur* and Coletta A. Youngers1

*Director of the Andean Information Network (AIN), Cochabamba
Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), United States

 

Upon his presidential election, Bolivian coca grower leader Evo Morales adopted a policy of promoting consensual coca reduction through social control, a sophisticated coca monitoring system, and economic development. That strategy is paying off. In 2011, coca cultivation decreased by 13 per cent according to the U.S. government. The Morales administration has also made significant progress facing the ongoing challenges of drug production and trafficking. Seizures of coca paste and cocaine and destruction of drug laboratories have steadily increased since President Morales took office. Despite continued tensions in bilateral relations, U.S.-Bolivian counter-drug cooperation continues and the signing of a new framework agreement in 2011 should lead to an exchange of ambassadors. Internationally, Bolivia has successfully gained acceptance of the right to the traditional use of coca within its own territory. But Bolivia’s efforts must be carried out in tandem with effective demand reduction strategies to shrink the global cocaine market.

Introduction

For decades, Bolivia faithfully carried out forced eradication of the coca leaf2 – the raw material used for processing cocaine – as required by the U.S. government to receive economic assistance and trade benefits. However, Bolivians paid a high price for waging Washington’s ‘war on drugs’. Forced coca eradication efforts generated social unrest, violence, and political instability. Human rights violations proliferated, including arbitrary detentions, mistreatment of the local population and, in some cases, torture and killings. Targeting poor farmers, the eradication strategy plunged families deeper into poverty.

However, the election of coca grower leader Evo Morales in January 2006 radically transformed that scenario.3 The Morales government adopted a strategy best summarized as ‘coca yes, cocaine no’, which is aimed at decreasing the cultivation of coca while increasing law enforcement efforts targeting cocaine production and drug trafficking organizations. The government’s policy of promoting gradual and consensual coca reduction through economic development and improved livelihoods is paying off. In 2011, the land area devoted to coca cultivation in Bolivia dropped by 13 per cent, according to U.S. government figures, in contrast to net increases in Peru and Colombia. And the violence and conflict that characterized past policy is largely a thing of the past. Seizures of coca paste and cocaine as well as the destruction of drug laboratories have steadily increased since President Morales took office. Yet despite the positive results achieved to date, the government faces increasing challenges as the amount of coca paste (pasta base) and cocaine flowing across its borders from Peru has increased, the production of cocaine in Bolivia itself has risen, and drug traffickers have diversified and expanded areas of production and transportation within the country.

As a long-standing foe of U.S. drug policy, many expected Morales to break ties with Washington and put a stop to drug policy cooperation. Instead, both Morales and the George W. Bush administration initially kept the rhetoric at bay and developed a workable bilateral relationship – though one that at times has been fraught with tension. Following Bolivia’s expulsion in 2008 of the U.S. Ambassador, Philip Goldberg, for allegedly meddling in the country’s internal affairs and encouraging civil unrest, and the subsequent expulsion of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the White House upped its criticism of the Bolivian government and for the past five years has issued a ‘determination’ that Bolivia has ‘failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to [its] obligations under international narcotics agreements’ (The White House 2012). U.S. economic assistance for Bolivian drug control programs has slowed to a trickle. Nonetheless, in 2011 the two countries signed a new framework agreement to guide bilateral relations and are planning an exchange of ambassadors.

At the international level, Bolivia is seeking to reconcile its new constitution, which recognizes the right to use the coca leaf for traditional and legal purposes and that coca is part of the country’s national heritage, with its commitments to international conventions. In June 2011, the country denounced the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol and announced its intention to re-accede with a reservation allowing for the traditional use of the coca leaf (List 1 of the 1961 Convention mistakenly classifies coca as a dangerous narcotic). A minimum of one-third of the 184 members of the treaty would have had to object to prevent Bolivia from rejoining the convention, yet only 15 countries did so. Bolivia has scored a historic victory for its people. However, coca remains illegal outside of the country and the historic error in the classification of the coca leaf has yet to be corrected.4

Cooperative Coca Reduction Strategy Produces Results

In September 2012, both the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the U.S. government released their 2011 statistics on coca cultivation in Bolivia (Figure 1). The convergence of the coca cultivation estimates, which differed by only one per cent, highlight the effectiveness of the government’s coca crop monitoring strategy. The statistics also point to the effectiveness of the cooperative coca reduction strategy. In contrast, according to the UNODC, in 2011 Colombia cultivated 64,000 hectares of coca and Peru 62,500 hectares, representing three and five per cent increases, respectively.

Figure 1: Estimated Hectares of Coca Cultivation, UN vs U.S. Figures. Source: UN Crop Monitoring Reports and U.S. International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports

According to the UNODC’s 2011 Coca Cultivation Survey, coca cultivation in Bolivia fell to 27,200 hectares5 in 2011 from 31,000 hectares in 2010 – a 12 per cent decrease (UNOCD 2012). The report notes that coca cultivation declined in every important coca-growing region in the country, bringing the overall area under cultivation to near the 2005 level. The UN attributes this ‘significant’ decrease to ‘effective control’ through cooperative coca reduction and eradication. The UN also reports a 13 per cent reduction in overall coca leaf yields, down to 48,100 metric tons in 2011 from 55,500 metric tons in 2010. According to the head of the UNODC office in Bolivia, César Guedes, ‘The progress in Bolivia is undeniable. This year, Bolivia is the only country with a decrease in coca cultivation…The facts are sufficiently clear, not only with regards to coca cultivation but also with a long list of verifiable successes.’ Similarly, the White House’s 14 September 2012 determination reports that the 2011 U.S. government coca cultivation estimate for Bolivia was 30,000 hectares, a 13 per cent decrease in Bolivia’s coca crop (Guedes 2012; Youngers and Ledebur 2012).

The Morales administration’s coca reduction strategy is based on the voluntary participation of farmers from all coca-growing regions in the country. Each farmer in the Chapare coca-growing region6 is allowed to grow one cato of coca,7 continuing a policy adopted by the Carlos Mesa government in 2004. Any coca grown beyond that limit, or in regions not covered by the cato agreement, is subject to elimination. The strategy’s relative success hinges on the ability of the powerful coca growers federations’ ability to enforce the agreement.8 The sanctions imposed by the federations for failure to comply with the one cato limit are severe, including the loss of the right to grow coca and, ultimately, land expropriation for repeat offenders. As a result of the cato agreement, the violence and conflict generated by forced eradication in the Chapare has, with rare exceptions, ceased.

The Bolivian government has expanded the cooperative coca reduction approach into areas of the country, such as parts of the La Paz Yungas, where no significant coca eradication had previously occurred. For many years, coca production in the Chapare region far exceeded that in La Paz Yungas, but the success of cooperative coca reduction in the Chapare has meant that the Yungas is now the country’s largest coca producing region, with 67 per cent of the national crop (UNODC 2012: 5). Prior governments were unable to reduce excess coca planting in this region, but the Morales administration has initiated reductions through extensive negotiation and integrated development efforts which seek to complement income provided by coca. Beginning in 2006, the government has implemented hundreds of infrastructure, economic development, institutional strengthening, and social development projects, primarily in coca-producing zones, with an emphasis on consultation with the participating families and food security (FONDAL 2011). Launching these participatory development initiatives before negotiating coca reduction has helped the Morales administration begin to implement the cato system in the Yungas and establish coca production ceilings for other areas of the Yungas. The UNOCD reported an 11 per cent reduction in coca cultivation in the Yungas in 2011.

According to the UNODC, in 2011 coca cultivation declined in all coca-growing regions, including national parks (resulting in the nationwide 12 per cent decrease noted earlier). As noted, in the Yungas, there was an 11 per cent decrease, in Apolo-Norte de La Paz seven per cent, and in the Chapare 15 per cent. National parks also saw a 15 per cent reduction, resulting from forced eradication. The UNODC data show that cooperative coca reduction through social control is the driving force behind declining coca cultivation. Still, the government faces the challenge of the continuing spread of coca into new areas, including national parks.

Promoting Equitable Economic Development

For the farmer, limited coca production maintains a relatively stable and high price for coca and a guaranteed subsistence base. According to the UNODC 2011 report, the price for coca in the legal and illegal markets is the same, providing little comparative incentive to deviate from legal sales. The secure income generated from the cato of coca also allows for experimentation with other income-generating activities so that farmers can diversify their sources of income, reducing their dependence on income generated from coca. Concrete data is hard to come by, but farmers appear to be taking advantage of a range of income-generating opportunities. The UNODC points to significant agricultural diversification in the core area of the Chapare region (excluding national parks). According to its 2011 coca monitoring survey, bananas covered the largest area cultivated in the Chapare, followed by citrus fruit and palm hearts and then coca. UNODC attributed this phenomenon to sustained, integrated development efforts (UNODC 2012: 47).

At the same time, the Morales government is implementing programs to improve the overall quality of life of the local population. In spite of a lack of available statistics, many actors agree that the overall quality of life in the Chapare has improved due to increased government investment in education, health, and transportation. A generation of children of Chapare coca growers has now graduated from local universities, returning to the area with a range of technical skills. Banana exports to Argentina have become a mainstay of the local economy and, in addition to the crops listed above, farmers are investing more in products such as honey, coffee, and chocolate, and some are investing in cattle. Others are getting involved in small-scale businesses, such as marketing or transportation services.

An Innovative and Comprehensive Approach to Coca Monitoring

Through its coca monitoring strategy, the government can ensure that the cato agreement is respected. It is a unique model incorporating the active, voluntary participation and engagement of coca farmers with state institutions, as well as information sharing and engagement with international entities and agencies, including the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Brazil. The General Coca Production Directorate (Dirección General De Desarrollo Integral De Las Regiones Productoras De Coca, DIGPROCOCA) registers the catos and provides farmers with land titles. That registry is part of a sophisticated database, SYSCOCA, which cross-references the information with satellite images, aerial photography, en situ inspections, and measurements with GPS and laser distance meters and recently updated land tenure information. This information is then used to plan cooperative coca reduction. SYSCOCA is part of the EU-funded Coca Social Control Support Program, and the database is also shared with the UNODC’s Coca Monitoring Project. Most coca plots are monitored several times a year by satellite, ground verification by three different offices, and aerial photography.

As a part of the monitoring effort, the EU has funded a biometric registry of coca producers, each of whom is to receive his or her own personal identification card. The registry of over 48,0009 producers has been completed and the ID cards, which contain an electronic chip to facilitate government control, will be distributed to each authorized farmer. The SYSCOCA database described above provides Bolivian government officials with up-to-date information on the precise amount of coca planted, to whom it belongs, and whether it complies with national law. Through the electronic ID and the information obtained in the registry, government officials will be able to trace the harvest of the coca leaf and its sale in the legal local market. This will also allow the government to be able to trace coca diverted from the legal market with greater efficiency (Hansmann 2012).

Of particular significance, the Bolivian government plans to extend the biometric registry, with EU support, to control the transit, sale, and marketing of the coca leaf. Eventually, anyone involved in the legal transportation or sale of coca will have an identification card and will thereby be entered into the system. Then, by scanning their respective biometric identification card, the government will be able to monitor the transportation of coca by registered intermediaries to the two authorized wholesale markets and its distribution to individual vendors. When fully implemented, the system, which requires the technological equivalent of a smart phone, will represent a dramatic improvement over the current paper records, allowing for more complete and rapid information sharing. Though no system is foolproof, and multiple obstacles still stand in the way of the effective implementation of the monitoring program, it nonetheless represents a pragmatic and ambitious effort to control the diversion of coca to illicit markets.

Disrupting Drug Trafficking

Even though coca production declined significantly in 2011, the Bolivian government confronts a growing drug trade in the country. The institutional challenges are formidable as Bolivia faces severe budget limitations and limited technical capacity in dealing with a complex criminal enterprise with virtually unlimited funds. Nonetheless, since the Morales administration took office in 2006, increased enforcement efforts have led to a steady increase in seizures of coca pasta and cocaine, as well as destruction of ‘laboratories’, mostly small-scale production sites (see Figures 2 and 3). According to the EU’s Nicolaus Hansmann, going after the drug trade is ‘one of the top priorities of the government as they know that both internally and externally the worst damage that they can do to [the Movement for Socialism party, MAS] is to associate it with drug trafficking’ (Hansmann 2012).

Figure 2: Tons of Drugs Seized in Bolivia, 2000–2012. Source: Vice-Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances of Bolivia and Special Force against Drug Trafficking (FELCN)

Figure 3: Cocaine Laboratory Destruction in Bolivia, 2000–2012. Source: Vice-Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances of Bolivia and FELCN

Bolivian authorities have repeatedly expressed concern about the presence of international drug trafficking organizations in the country, something they largely attribute to Bolivia’s geography. The country is in the center of the continent, is the most efficient corridor through Argentina and on to West Africa (now a major transshipment point for illicit drugs en route to Europe and other parts of the world), and borders the second largest cocaine market in the world, Brazil. In addition, Bolivia offers comparatively low operating costs due to fuel subsidies and provides a safer operating environment as it does not suffer from the violence associated with drug trafficking in Mexico and Colombia.

Traditionally, elite, geographically-concentrated families dominated drug trafficking in Bolivia. In recent years, however, trafficking networks have diversified, tend to concentrate on one part of the drug trafficking chain, and have spread throughout the country. The great bulk of drug production and trafficking in Bolivia is now carried out by small family ‘clans’, none of which has a significant share of the market. The arrest and disbanding of one group hardly makes a dent in the drug trade as it is quickly and easily replaced.

Another major challenge for Bolivian authorities is that approximately half of the coca paste and cocaine seized in the country originates in Peru. As the price of a kilo of coca paste is US$200 higher in Bolivia than Peru, more and more coca paste is being brought from Peru into the country, where it is either processed into cocaine or transported directly to Brazil where it is converted to paco, a highly addictive cocaine derivative.

The U.S. government claims that the expulsion of the DEA, which left Bolivia in January 2009, permanently impeded Bolivia’s ability to deal with drug trafficking and calls into question President Morales’ political will to implement effective drug control policies. With the DEA’s departure, however, Bolivia has begun to work closely with its neighbors on a range of drug control initiatives and has signed bilateral agreements with Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia, and others. Moreover, according to an analysis carried out by Bolivian authorities, since the DEA left Bolivia cocaine interdiction has increased by 234 per cent, the number of illicit drug laboratories destroyed has increased three-fold, and drug control operations have increased significantly (Incautación de cocaine 2013).

U.S. Policy toward Bolivia

Despite the expulsion of the DEA, the Bolivian Ministry of Government’s Vice Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances and the U.S. Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) maintain daily cooperation on the ground. The NAS continues to fund drug and coca control efforts – albeit with a significantly reduced budget – and coordinates with the Bolivian government on a daily basis. In November 2011, bilateral relations were formally restored through the signing of a framework agreement that includes regular drug policy meetings and the governments announced their intention to reinstate ambassadors. In January 2012, Bolivia, Brazil, and the United States signed a trilateral coca cultivation monitoring agreement.

As demonstrated in Figure 4, U.S. economic assistance to Bolivia has declined steadily since President Morales came into office. This is largely due to overall budget cuts, vocal opposition on the part of key Republican members of Congress to Morales’ relationship with former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Raúl Castro, and in protest of the expulsion of the DEA. However, the Bolivian government prefers less aid to greater funding with strings attached. As noted by Foreign Minister Choquehuanca, ‘We would rather have good relations without economic assistance than economic assistance whose use is dictated by the United States’ (Choquehuanca 2012).

Figure 4: U.S. Drug Control Funding to Bolivia (US$). Source: U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) reports via Just the Facts

However, two issues in particular have put significant strain on the bilateral relationship: the annual U.S. ‘determination’ and U.S. opposition to Bolivia’s re-admission to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The continuation of the unilateral annual U.S. drug control ‘determination’ (previously called ‘certification’) – in which the United States judges which countries are effectively meeting international drug control obligations – is widely criticized across Latin America. The Obama administration has continued the practice of its predecessor of giving Bolivia a failing grade (along with Venezuela and Myanmar). However, in the case of Bolivia, the numerous errors and inaccuracies – particularly evident in the 2012 determination – give the impression that the decision is based on political motivations rather than an accurate assessment of drug control efforts on the ground.

The White House’s 14 September 2012 determination concludes that Bolivia has ‘failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to [its] obligations under international narcotics agreements’, basing this assertion primarily on what appear to be exaggerated estimates of potential cocaine production (The White House 2012). Despite reporting declining coca cultivation in 2010 and 2011, the U.S. government announced a staggering increase in Bolivia’s potential cocaine production: from an estimated 195 metric tons, which held steady from 2008 to 2010, to a potential production of 265 metric tons in 2011. In other words, even with the U.S.-estimated 13 per cent reduction in coca, Washington asserted that Bolivia’s potential cocaine production increased by 36 per cent and that the country is now producing more cocaine than Colombia, which has more than twice the amount of coca under cultivation. The Bolivian government itself estimates that approximately 80 metric tons could be produced in the country. The UNODC’s 2011 coca cultivation report on Bolivia did not provide any data on potential cocaine production, although they reported a 13 per cent decrease in coca yields, which would suggest a reduction, rather than an increase, in potential cocaine production.

U.S. officials maintain that the increase in potential cocaine production in Bolivia is due to more efficient processing methods (ironically, the same methods used in Colombia) and to the maturity of existing fields, which contribute to higher yields. All agree that more cocaine can be produced with less coca in Bolivia today. Yet that would be unlikely to account for such a dramatic increase in potential production. Furthermore, the U.S. government announced a 50 per cent increase in its estimates of Bolivia’s potential cocaine production in 2008, using the same argument – more efficient cocaine processing methods.10 In short, U.S. officials claim that potential cocaine production more than doubled in three years, despite reductions in coca cultivation, each time pointing to the adoption of Colombian processing methods.

Most disturbingly, the U.S. government provides no information whatsoever about how they derive these statistics, giving credence to allegations that the numbers are constructed for political purposes.11 It is not lost on the Bolivian government that every year Peru is lavished with praise from Washington, despite significant and steady increases in both coca cultivation and cocaine production in that country.

Bolivia and the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

Since President Nixon first launched the U.S. ‘war on drugs’, U.S. drug policy officials have maintained that eradicating the coca plant – perceived as the weakest link in the drug trafficking chain – will lead to reduced cocaine production. Decades later, coca cultivation in the Andean region has remained relatively constant (though it has shifted between countries) while cocaine production has increased, in part due to improved processing methods. Yet despite clear evidence that forced eradication has failed to achieve the desired results – while causing a great deal of collateral damage for the poor farmers whose crops are destroyed – the U.S. government has remain wedded to forced coca eradication.

The U.S. government has also remained opposed to any modifications of the international drug control treaties which it had a major role in crafting. Hence, another point of contention in bilateral relations is U.S. opposition to Bolivia’s re-admission to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol. In taking that action, Bolivia was reconciling its new constitution with its international commitments. Article 384 of the 2009 Constitution states, ‘The State shall protect native and ancestral coca as cultural patrimony, a renewable natural resource of Bolivia’s biodiversity, and as a factor of social cohesion; in its natural state it is not a narcotic. Its revaluing, production, sale, and industrialization shall be regulated by law.’ The Constitution allows for a period of four years for the government to ‘denounce and, in that case, renegotiate the international treaties that may be contrary to the constitution.’

Bolivia failed to amend the Single Convention by deleting its provision obligating that ‘coca leaf chewing must be abolished’ within 25 years (Article 49). The U.S. government led opposition to Bolivia’s proposed amendment, even though it is quite clear that the elimination of coca chewing is not feasible and that that the practice is widely accepted in many sectors, in Bolivia and internationally.

Hence, in June 2011, the country denounced the 1961 Convention and announced its intention to re-accede with a reservation permitting the traditional use of the coca leaf within its borders. More than one-third of the 184 members of the treaty had to object by 10 January 2013 to block the Bolivian reservation. The U.S. was the first country to object formally. Fourteen other countries followed its lead, well below the number needed to block the Bolivian initiative. As a result, on February 10, Bolivia again became a full Party to the Single Convention. The formal recognition of the reservation is a significant political victory for Bolivia and for efforts to recognize the need to right the historic wrong in the classification of the coca leaf in the 1961 convention.

Recommendations

Staunch defenders of the Single Convention fear that Bolivia’s return with a reservation upholding traditional uses of the coca leaf could open up a Pandora’s Box, with other countries proposing changes that call into question the fundamentals of the current treaties. However, the 51-year old international drug control regime must prove that it can adapt and adjust to the changing dynamics of the drug trade. Fundamental reform of the international drug control conventions is needed to adapt to the realities of today’s drug markets. A first step forward is for the international community to remove the coca leaf from List 1 of the 1961 convention.

With regards to U.S.-Bolivian bilateral relations, the signing of the framework agreement marked significant progress. Both governments should build on that success by using the accord as a venue to discuss areas of concern, friction, and consensus. While differences will undoubtedly arise, it is in the best interests of both countries to maintain an open dialogue.

The Bolivian government has in fact made significant progress facing the ongoing challenges of drug production and trafficking, in part due to the significant assistance provided by the EU and, to a lesser degree, the U.S and others. The U.S. government should now recognize this progress in its annual determinations. The string of negative determinations is increasingly disconnected from reality in Bolivia and retains little credibility with the Bolivian government or with other governments in the region, which continue to see the annual U.S. rating as offensive and politically motivated. Along the same lines, the potential cocaine statistics presented by the U.S. government in the 2012 determination were met with disbelief in Bolivia. Given the ongoing doubts about the reliability of such estimates, the U.S. government should – at the least – be transparent about how it derives these numbers.

Bolivia has developed and implemented a cooperative coca reduction strategy that has largely eliminated the conflict. Yet the country faces daunting challenges from drug production and trafficking. Bolivia cannot and should not be expected to solve the problems associated with cocaine production and trafficking, even within its own borders, on its own. Bolivia’s efforts must be carried out in tandem with effective demand reduction strategies to contain and eventually shrink the global cocaine market.

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Notes

1 The authors would like to thank AIN Program Assistant Jessica Robinson for her assistance.

2 The coca leaf grows in Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia and has been used for centuries. In its natural form, coca is a mild stimulant that alleviates altitude sickness, stomach pains, and hunger. In fact, for decades the U.S. Embassy in La Paz served coca tea to visitors. Many Andeans chew the coca leaf or brew it in tea. The stimulus from the coca leaf is comparable to a cup or two of strong coffee. The leaf is also an essential element of many Andean religious ceremonies.

3 Morales won the December 2005 elections with 53.7 per cent of the popular vote. He was re-elected in December 2009.

4 For additional analysis and information on the issues in this article see, Kathryn Ledebur and Coletta A. Youngers, Bolivian Drug Control Efforts: Genuine Progress, Daunting Challenges, http://www.wola.org/publications/bolivian_drug_control_efforts

5 One hectare is roughly 2.5 acres.

6 Bolivian law considers two regions as ’traditional coca-growing zones’: part of the La Paz Yungas and one small region in the Cochabamba department. From 1988–2004, the government permitted 12,000 hectares for traditional use. After October 2004 the policy changed allowing approximately 7,000 hectares in the Chapare region, distributed into catos, which had previously been subject to complete forced eradication. The Morales administration further extended this cato policy to parts of the La Paz Yungas, outside the traditional zone where coca production had also been considered as ‘illegal’, such as La Asunta. Coca production is forbidden and subject to forced eradication in national parks.

7 A cato is 1,600 square meters, or about a third of an acre, in the Chapare, and 2,500 square meters in the Yungas (where farmers argue the coca plant yield is less than in the Chapare).

8 In the Chapare region, there are six coca grower unions that together form the Six Federations of the Cochabamba Tropics (Seis Federaciones del Trópico de Cochabamba).

9 See http://www.mingobierno.gob.bo/pdf/vicemindefsocial.pdf for more information.

10 ‘Excess coca leaf is being diverted to the production of cocaine hydrochloride. Compounded by improved processing methods, the U.S. Government estimates potential cocaine hydrochloride production increased in Bolivia during 2008 by 50 per cent to 195 metric tons.’ U.S. Department of State. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, 1 March 2010. http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2010/vol1/137190.htm

11 For additional information see: Coletta A. Youngers and Kathryn Ledebur. “Washington in Wonderland.” http://www.wola.org/commentary/washington_in_wonderland

 

References

Guedes, C (Head of the United Nations Office of Drug Crimes) interviewed by Coletta A. Youngers and Kathryn Ledebur 28 September 2012.

Choquehuanca, D (Bolivian Foreign Minister), interviewed by Coletta A. Youngers and Kathryn Ledebur 28 September 2012.

FONDAL 2011 Información Institucional. La Paz: Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Alternativo. Available at http://www.fonadal.gob.bo/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=44&Itemid=188 [Last accessed 20 November 2012].

Hansmann, N (Attaché to the Cooperation Section of the European Union in Bolivia), interviewed by Coletta A. Youngers and Kathryn Ledebur 27 September 2012.

La Razón 2013 Incautación de cocaine creció en 234% sin participación de la DEA, 20 January.

The White House 2012 White House Presidential Determination: Memorandum of Justification for Major Illicit Drug Transit or Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2013, 14 September. Available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/09/14/presidential-memorandum-presidential-determination-annual-presidential-d [Last accessed 4 February 2013]

UNODC 2012 Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia: Monitoreo de Cultivo de Coca. La Paz: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 19 September. Available at https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2012/September/coca-crop-cultivation-falls-significantly-in-bolivia-according-to-2011-coca-monitoring-survey.html [Last accessed 4 February 2013]

Youngers, CA and Ledebur, K 2012 Washington in Wonderland, 21 September. Available at http://www.wola.org/commentary/washington_in_wonderland [Last accessed 4 February 2013]

Bolivian Drug Control efforts: Genuine Progress, Daunting Challenges

Link to .pdf version of the memo

Bolivian Drug Control efforts:
Genuine Progress, Daunting Challenges

By Kathryn Ledebur and Coletta A. Youngers

Introduction

Following a landslide victory at the polls, Evo Morales became president of Bolivia in January 2006.[i] Head of the coca-growers’ federation, Morales was a long-standing foe of U.S. drug policy, and many observers anticipated a complete break in U.S.-Bolivian relations and hence an end to drug policy cooperation. Instead, both Morales and the George W. Bush administration initially kept the rhetoric at bay and developed an amicable enough bilateral relationship—though one that at times has been fraught with tension. Following Bolivia’s expulsion in 2008 of the U.S. Ambassador, Philip Goldberg, for allegedly meddling in the country’s internal affairs and encouraging civil unrest, and the subsequent expulsion of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the White House upped its criticism of the Bolivian government and for the past five years has issued a “determination” that Bolivia has “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to [its] obligations under international narcotics agreements.”[ii] U.S. economic assistance for Bolivian drug control programs has slowed to a trickle. Nonetheless, in 2011 the two countries signed a new framework agreement to guide bilateral relations and are pending an exchange of ambassadors. Moreover, cooperation continues between the primary Bolivian drug control agency—the Ministry of Government’s Vice Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances—and the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) of the U.S. embassy.

At the international level, Bolivia is seeking to reconcile its new constitution, which recognizes the right to use the coca leaf for traditional and legal purposes and recognizes coca as part of the country’s national heritage, with its commitments to international conventions. In June 2011, the country denounced the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol and announced its intention to re-accede with a reservation allowing for the traditional use of the coca leaf. (The 1961 Convention mistakenly classifies coca as a dangerous narcotic, along with cocaine.) Unless more than one-third of UN member states object by the January 10, 2013 deadline, the Bolivian reservation will be accepted and the country will once again be a full Party to the Single Convention.

The approaching date for Bolivia’s potential return to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs provides an opportune moment to evaluate the Bolivian government’s progress achieving its drug policy objectives. Moreover, the Morales administration has been in office for nearly six years, providing a clear track record to evaluate. Adopting a “coca yes, cocaine no” approach, Bolivia has sought to decrease the cultivation of coca—the raw material used in manufacturing cocaine—while increasing actions against cocaine production and drug trafficking organizations. In 2011, the land area devoted to coca cultivation in Bolivia dropped by 13 percent, according to U.S. government figures, in contrast to net increases in Peru and Colombia. Seizures of coca paste and cocaine and destruction of drug laboratories have steadily increased since President Morales took office. Yet despite the positive results achieved to date, the government faces increasing challenges as the amount of coca paste and cocaine flowing across its borders from Peru has increased, the production of cocaine in Bolivia itself has risen, and drug traffickers have diversified and expanded areas of production and transportation within the country.

The Bolivian government has made significant progress facing the ongoing challenges of drug production and trafficking, in part due to the assistance provided by the European Union (EU), the United States, and others. The U.S. government should now recognize this progress in its annual determinations. The string of negative determinations are increasingly disconnected from reality in Bolivia and retain little credibility with the Bolivian government or with other governments in the region, which continue to see the annual U.S. rating as offensive and politically motivated. The signing of the framework agreement marked significant progress in U.S.-Bolivian bilateral relations. Both governments should build on that success by using the accord as a venue to discuss areas of concern, friction, and consensus. While differences will undoubtedly arise, it is in the best interests of both countries to maintain an open dialogue.

 

Coca Cultivation

In September 2012, both the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the U.S. government released their 2011 statistics on coca cultivation in Bolivia. The UN and U.S. estimates differed by only one percent (in stark contrast to statistics produced for other countries). The convergence of the coca cultivation estimates points to the effectiveness of the government’s coca crop monitoring strategy, which benefits from coca grower cooperation, a more concentrated coca crop, and technological advances in measuring cultivation. In short, the monitoring system in place allows for a far more accurate measurement than is the case with either Peru or Colombia, the primary producers of coca for the illicit market. (According to the UNODC, in 2011 Colombia cultivated 64,000 hectares of coca and Peru 62,500 hectares, representing three and five percent increases, respectively.) It also provides the Bolivian government and the international community with an opportunity to develop collaborative policies based on reliable information about coca trends.

Source: UN Crop Monitoring Reports

Source: UN Crop Monitoring Reports

The UNODC’s 2011 Coca Cultivation Survey,[iii] released on September 17, 2012, indicates that coca cultivation in Bolivia fell to 27,200 hectares[iv] in 2011 from 31,000 hectares in 2010—a 12 percent decrease. The report notes that coca cultivation declined in every important coca-growing region in the country, bringing the overall area under cultivation to near the 2005 level. The UN attributes this “significant” decrease to “effective control” through cooperative coca reduction and eradication. The UN also reports a 13 percent reduction in overall coca leaf yields, down to 48,100 metric tons in 2011 from 55,500 metric tons in 2010. According to the head of the UNODC office in Bolivia, César Guedes, “The progress in Bolivia is undeniable. This year, Bolivia is the only country with a decrease in coca cultivation … The facts are sufficiently clear, not only with regards to coca cultivation but also with a long list of verifiable successes.”[v]

Similarly, the White House’s September 14 determination reports that the 2011 U.S. government coca cultivation estimate for Bolivia was 30,000 hectares, a 13 percent decrease in Bolivia’s coca crop.[vi] In a July 2012 interview, the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia’s Chargé d’Affaires, John Creamer, stated that there had been an “impressive net reduction in the number of hectares of coca in 2010 and 2011.”[vii] Nonetheless, the September determination—which concludes that Bolivia has “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to [its] obligations under international narcotics agreements”—downplays the significance of the coca reduction, referring to the 13 percent decrease as only “slightly lower” than the 2010 estimate of 34,500 hectares.

Source: UN Crop Monitoring Reports and U.S. International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports


Cooperative Coca Reduction and Social Control Begin to Show Results

The success of the Morales administration’s cooperative coca reduction strategy hinges on the voluntary participation of farmers from all coca-growing regions in the country and on balancing pressures from the international community with the demands of its coca-growing constituents. Successful collaboration between Bolivian authorities and those of neighboring countries, notably Brazil, and with international organizations and foreign donors has also contributed to improving the effectiveness of the monitoring effort.

Bolivia’s cooperative coca reduction strategy allows each Chapare farmer to grow one cato of coca,[viii] continuing a policy adopted by the Carlos Mesa government in 2004. Any coca grown beyond that is subject to elimination. The Bolivian government has expanded this approach into areas of the country, such as parts of the La Paz Yungas, where no significant coca eradication had previously occurred. As a result of the cato agreement, the violence and conflict generated by forced eradication in the Chapare has, with rare exceptions, ceased. It also was initially successful in stabilizing coca cultivation and 2011 marks the beginning of what Felipe Caceres, Bolivia’s Vice Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances, expects to be a sustained downward trend in coca cultivation.[ix]

Photo:  Sara Shahriari

The relative success of the policy stems, in part, from the coca growers federations’ ability to enforce the agreement.[x] In turn, limited production maintains a stable and relatively high price for coca, a guaranteed subsistence base, and freedom from the repression that accompanied forced eradication. According to the UNODC 2011 report, the price for coca in the legal and illegal markets is the same, providing little comparative incentive to deviate from legal sales. The secure income generated from the cato of coca also allows for experimentation with other income-generating activities with complementary implementation of economic development programs through the National Alternative Development fund (Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Alternativo, FONADAL) and other programs that offer additional sources of income, often referred to as “integrated development with coca” (see below). Finally, the sanctions imposed by the federations for failure to comply with the one cato limit are severe, including the loss of the right to grow coca and, ultimately, land expropriation for repeat offenders.

As explained by federation leader Rolando Vargas, there is a two-pronged strategy for coca control: “the internal control of the union and state control,” which includes aerial surveillance and elimination of coca that is grown in violation of the cato agreement.[xi] According to Vice Minister Caceres, during the first year of the Morales government, 150 coca farmers lost their right to grow coca for one year. From January to September 2012, the number rose to 600 farmers.[xii] A second offense results in the permanent loss of coca growing privileges. To enforce this—or in cases where coca is grown in areas not covered by the cato agreement—the Bolivian government has formed the Grupo Surazo (named after a biting cold front that quickly descends in tropical regions), an elite military unit of the Joint Task Force that enters communities without warning and forcibly eradicates excess or unpermitted coca. However, the new units’ modus operandi raises concerns about the potential for abuses, particularly mistreatment of the communities affected, of the kind that characterized the past forced eradication campaigns.

UNODC satellite imagery clearly delineates catos of coca in the Chapare

Finally, the Morales government has consistently met its annual coca reduction targets. According to the Vice Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances, as of mid-November 2012, 10,201 hectares had been eliminated. The goal for 2012 is a reduction of 11,000 hectares.


Coca Monitoring from Fields to Markets

The heart of these efforts is the coca monitoring strategy itself, which is carried out collaboratively by Bolivian state institutions. Bolivian cross-referenced coca monitoring is a unique model incorporating the active, voluntary participation and engagement of coca farmers with state institutions, as well as information sharing and engagement with international entities and agencies, including the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Brazil. The General Coca Production Directorate (Dirección General De Desarrollo Integral De Las Regiones Productoras De Coca, DIGPROCOCA) registers the catos and provides farmers with land titles. That registry is part of a sophisticated database, SYSCOCA, which cross-references the information with satellite images, aerial photography, en situ inspections, and measurements with GPS and laser distance meters and recently updated land tenure information. This information is then used to plan cooperative coca reduction. SYSCOCA is part of the EU-funded Coca Social Control Support Program, and the database is also shared with the UNODC’s Coca Monitoring Project. Most coca plots are monitored several times a year by satellite, ground verification by three different offices, and with aerial photography.

 

As a part of the monitoring effort, the EU has funded a biometric registry of coca producers, each of whom is to receive his or her own personal identification card. The registry of over 48,000[xiii] producers has been completed and the ID cards, which contain an electronic chip to facilitate government control, will be distributed to each authorized farmer. The SYSCOCA database described above provides Bolivian government officials with up-to-date information on the precise amount of coca planted, to whom it belongs, and whether it complies with national law. Through the electronic ID and the information obtained in the registry, government officials will be able to trace the harvest of the coca leaf and its sale in the legal local market. The idea is that government authorities will then be able to trace coca that had been diverted from the legal market with greater efficiency and will be able to determine who is not selling their coca to legal markets. [xiv]

Of particular significance, the Bolivian government plans to extend the biometric registry, with EU support, to control the transit, sale, and marketing of the coca leaf, from the field to the consumer. Social Control Support Program officials have already overcome what was potentially the most significant impediment to this system: the consent of coca farmers. The farmers have agreed, primarily because the registry validates their right to the cato. Eventually, anyone involved in the legal transportation or sale of coca will have an identification card and will thereby be entered into the system.  Then the government will be able to monitor the transportation of coca by registered intermediaries to the two authorized wholesale markets and its distribution to individual vendors, all through the scanning of their respective biometric identification cards. When fully implemented, the system, which requires the technological equivalent of a smart phone, will represent a dramatic improvement over the current paper records, where registered merchants have stamped forms that allow them to transport coca. In contrast, the biometric registry will allow for more complete and rapid information sharing.

No system is foolproof and multiple obstacles still stand in the way of the effective implementation of the monitoring program, as drug traffickers are adept at adapting to new technological challenges, and corruption could undermine the effort, with opportunities for diversion to the illicit market all along the way. Nonetheless, it represents a pragmatic, ambitious, and potentially viable effort to control the diversion of coca to illicit markets. If successfully implemented, this effort will arguably provide the most precise coca monitoring system available in the region.

 

Economic Development in the Chapare

The success of coca reduction efforts depends in large part on the ability of coca farmers to diversify their sources of income. In the case of the Chapare coca-growing region, efforts are underway to improve the overall quality of life of the local population. Concrete data is hard to come by, but there are signs that farmers are taking advantage of a range of income-generating opportunities. The UNODC points to significant agricultural diversification in the core area of the Chapare region (excluding national parks) where cooperative reduction has been implemented since late 2004. According to its 2011 coca monitoring survey, bananas covered the largest area cultivated in the Chapare, followed by citrus fruit and palm hearts, and then coca. UNODC attributed this phenomenon to sustained, integrated development efforts.[xv] But it is also important to note that the guaranteed subsistence income provided by the small parcel of permitted coca also allows farmers to take risks with other crops.[xvi] A June 2012 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) came to a similar conclusion, noting that “USAID’s activities in Bolivia have contributed to improved poverty indicators, and hectares of principal alternative crops—such as bananas and citrus—have increased more than coca.”[xvii]

In interviews conducted by AIN and WOLA in late September 2012, Chapare municipal and national government officials, coca growers, and representatives of international organizations all agreed that the overall quality of life in the Chapare has improved due to increased government investment in education and health, and improved transportation. A generation of children of Chapare coca growers has now graduated from local universities, returning to the area with a range of technical skills to offer. Banana exports to Argentina have become a mainstay of the local economy and, in addition to the crops listed above, farmers are investing more in products such as honey, coffee, and chocolate, and some are investing in cattle. Others are getting involved in small-scale businesses, such as marketing or transportation services. As one female coca grower told AIN and WOLA, “We don’t want to be dependent on coca. That is why it is mandatory for members of our union to grow other things.”[xviii]

According to the mayor of Shinahota, Rimer Agreda, one of the most important advances in the region is the improvement in basic services, particularly transportation. “We now have roads and bridges to about 80 percent of the zone,” which allows for the transportation of other agricultural products. “Now many people have their cato, but they are also exporting bananas and driving a truck too.” Such economic diversification appears to be slowly increasing local incomes, though documentation as to how much is not available. Agreda also points out, however, that it is also the case that coca growers “are now accustomed to having their cato of coca.”[xix]

The Morales administration has also promoted the development of licit uses of the coca leaf as a means of generating additional income. The industrialization of the coca leaf is probably the weakest pillar in the Morales strategy, yet some advances have been made. Several years behind schedule, a coca-processing plant began operations in the Chapare in late 2011.The high price of coca, combined with difficulties in obtaining organic coca (which is required for every product), have slowed productivity. Dealing with the very high humidity in the zone also presents a challenge, as food products quickly go stale. Nonetheless, the factory has begun to manufacture a variety of products, including coca “chips” for the subsidized public school breakfast program, coca liquor, energy drinks, flour, ointments, and coca holiday cakes. When WOLA and AIN staff visited the plant in late September 2012, production had paused for a week so the machinery could be cleaned, but we were able to meet with the two technicians who run the plant. They said that about thirty local people are employed at the plant and that they are presently filling orders as they come in, with the hopes of moving to full-scale production over time.

 

Beyond the Chapare

For many years, coca production it the Chapare region far exceeded that in La Paz Yungas. But the success of cooperative coca reduction in the Chapare has meant that the Yungas is now the country’s largest coca producing region, with 67 percent of the national crop.[xx] Prior administrations were unable to reduce excess coca planting in this region, but the Morales administration has initiated reductions through extensive negotiation and integrated development efforts, which seek to complement income provided by coca. Beginning in 2006, FONADAL—with funding from both the Bolivian national treasury and from the EU—has implemented hundreds of infrastructure, economic development, institutional strengthening, and social development projects, primarily in coca-producing zones, with an emphasis on consultation with the participating families and food security.[xxi] Launching these participatory development initiatives before negotiating coca reduction has helped the Morales administration reach agreements in spillover zones, implement the cato system in the Yungas,[xxii] and establish coca production ceilings for Yungas sub-regions. These factors largely explain the 11 percent reduction in coca cultivation in the Yungas in 2011 reported by the UNODC. Furthermore, for the first time, farmers within the traditional coca-growing zone of the Yungas have agreed to work with the Bolivian government to limit their production, although difficulties remain.[xxiii]

According to the UNODC, in 2011 coca cultivation declined in all coca-growing regions, including national parks (resulting in the nationwide 12 percent decrease noted earlier). In the Yungas, there was an 11 percent decrease, Apolo-Norte de La Paz, seven percent, and the Chapare, 15 percent. National parks also saw a 15 percent reduction, resulting from forced eradication. Nonetheless, the UNODC data show that cooperative coca reduction through social control is the driving force behind declining coca cultivation.

Still, the government faces the challenge of the continuing spread of coca into new areas, including national parks. According to UNODC estimates, between 2010 and 2011, there was a 30% increase in the price of coca leaf in authorized markets and a 16% increase in unauthorized markets.[xxiv] The significant price increases have led to coca planting in new regions, as people plant coca or migrate to new areas and plant as a means of generating family income. For example, coca reduction occurred for the first time in November in the Ayopaya Province of Cochabamba, where no coca had been previously detected.[xxv]

The Morales administration implemented forced eradication in the Isiboro Secure National Park Indigenous territory (El Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure, TIPNIS) in an effort to allay fears that the hotly contested highway planned through the region could provoke an explosion of coca and cocaine production there. This scenario is improbable. Settlers in the TIPNIS plant coca as a result of poor road infrastructure and access to markets for other crops, and traffickers already thrive in areas like TIPNIS with multiple waterways flowing toward Brazil. The road would clearly provide greater access for drug control efforts, but is highly criticized as it will provoke severe environmental damage and open the region to commercial agriculture and trade.

 

Efforts to Disrupt Drug Trafficking

Even though coca production declined significantly in 2011, the Bolivian government confronts a growing drug trade in the country. The government’s stated political will and increased enforcement efforts have led to a steady increase in seizures of coca pasta and cocaine, as well as destruction of “laboratories”—mostly small-scale production sites—since the Morales administration took office in 2006. According to the EU’s Nicolaus Hansmann, going after the drug trade is “one of the top priorities of the government as they know that both internally and externally, the worst damage that they can do to [the Movement for Socialism party, MAS] is to associate it with drug trafficking.”[xxvi] Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca emphatically states that “we are fully committed to the fight against drug trafficking … which threatens our children and grandchildren.”

Source: Vice-Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances of Bolivia and Special Force against Drug Trafficking (FELCN)

Source: Vice-Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances of Bolivia and FELCN

Bolivian authorities have repeatedly expressed concern about the presence of representatives of international drug trafficking organizations in the country, something they attribute to Bolivia’s central location in the continent, easy access to the corridor through Argentina and on to West Africa (now a major transshipment point for illicit drugs en route to Europe and other parts of the world), and proximity to the second largest cocaine market in the world, Brazil. In addition, Bolivia offers comparatively low operating costs due to significant fuel subsidies and the absence of sustained violence associated with drug trafficking in Mexico and Colombia. “Let’s face it,” notes police Colonel Gonzalo Quezada, “we’re strategically located for traffickers and Bolivia is a nice place to work without getting killed for emissaries from cartels who want to explore their options; but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing everything we can to stop them.”[xxvii] He claims that four Colombian drug trafficking groups have sent people to Bolivia; however, other nationalities are represented as well. Drug trafficking detention statistics confirm these dynamics. From January to September 2012, Bolivian police arrested people from 30 different countries.

Until the late 1990s, elite, geographically-concentrated families dominated drug trafficking in Bolivia. However, in recent years trafficking networks have diversified, tend to concentrate on one part of the drug trafficking chain and have spread throughout the country. The great bulk of drug production and trafficking in Bolivia is now carried out by small family “clans,” none of which has a significant share of the market. They can be broken down into four different groups: those who buy coca for illicit purposes; those who buy precursors; others who provide the labor and temporary infrastructure for making coca paste (maceration pits for making coca paste have become a thing of the past, as traffickers have adopted the easier “Colombian method” whereby the coca is ground up with weed whackers); and those who transport it to cocaine laboratories or across the border into Brazil where it is used for making paco, a highly-addictive cocaine derivative. [xxviii]  The arrest and disbanding of one group makes a negligible dent, if any, in the drug trade as it is quickly and easily replaced.


Source: Vice-Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances of Bolivia and FELCN

The influx of coca paste and cocaine from neighboring Peru poses another major challenge faced for Bolivian authorities; according to Col. Quezada, approximately half of the coca paste and cocaine seized in the country originates in Peru. As the price of a kilo of coca paste is US$200 higher in Bolivia than Peru, more and more cocaine paste is being brought from Peru into Bolivia. Bolivian police investigations show that most of the influx is coming from the VRAE region of Peru (now referred to as the VRAEM by the Peruvian government). While most is brought in to the country in smaller quantities by “mules,” or small-scale traffickers, it is also being transported by small airplanes into Bolivian territory for processing and then sent on to Brazil. This is a particular concern of the Bolivian police given the country’s very limited capacity to control the country’s airspace.

The U.S. government claims the expulsion of the DEA, which left Bolivia in January 2009, permanently impeded Bolivia’s ability to deal with drug trafficking, generating debate about the Morales administration’s political will to implement effective drug control policies. Other international officials are more supportive of Bolivia’s determination to address the problem. As noted by the EU’s Hansmann, there is a “great will [by Bolivian officials] to move forward on drug control policy … but this doesn’t necessarily conform to what the United States wants.” He also points out that the U.S. focus on eradicating coca has been detrimental to broader drug control efforts: “The rest was crippled, there is no experience, institutional reforms did not happen, they failed to pass good legislation.”[xxix]

The FELCN’s Col. Quezada agrees that institutional strengthening and a range of new laws are needed to strengthen the hand of enforcement in dealing with the drug trade. He also points out that his top priority right now is “not at the international level, but the domestic arena.” As the drug trade has expanded in Bolivia, so has micro-trafficking and other small-scale operations now found in communities around the country. “We are focused on operations that protect our citizens.”[xxx] The institutional challenges, however, remain formidable as Bolivia faces severe budget limitations and limited technical capacity in dealing with a complex criminal enterprise with virtually unlimited funds.

With the DEA’s departure, Bolivia has begun to work closely with its neighbors on a range of drug control initiatives and has signed bilateral agreements with Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia, and others. Brazil is probably Bolivia’s most visible partner in drug control; the two countries have had frequent bilateral talks, have signed multiple agreements to strengthen border control, and Brazilian drones are used to identify cocaine paste production sites.[xxxi] The joint militarization of the shared border could, however, provide more challenges than successes. Longer than the U.S.-Mexican border and much less monitored, physically blocking the flow of drugs is impossible. At the same time, the border is not well defined and Brazilian troops have crossed over into Bolivian territory. As a result, the increased military presence along the border has at times fueled bilateral tensions.[xxxii]

Bolivia also signed two important trilateral accords: one with Brazil and the United States to support coca cultivation monitoring, and one with Brazil and Peru on border controls and interdiction. Most recently, on November 13, 2012, the Bolivian, Brazilian, and Peruvian governments formed a permanent working group to systematize drug control efforts and to develop protocols to secure the countries’ airspace in an effort to address the problem of over-flights described above. The plan includes the placement of radar on the nations’ borders in order to be able to shoot down flights identified as transporting illicit drugs.[xxxiii] Unfortunately, past shoot-down policies in other countries have been fraught with problems and have led to the deaths of innocent civilians.[xxxiv] Also of note, on November 25, 2012, the Brazilian military signed a $420 million contract for the first phase of the Integrated Border Surveillance System, including radar, drones, and sensors to be initially put into place along the border between Bolivia and Paraguay.[xxxv]

 

Varying Estimates of Potential Cocaine Production

Estimates of potential cocaine production are arguably a more important measure of the size of a country’s illicit production and trafficking than are estimates of the land under coca cultivation. Wide discrepancies between the UN and U.S. in cocaine production estimates in Bolivia—and a lack of transparency regarding U.S. estimation methods—have led to contention over how much cocaine is likely being produced in Bolivia. Despite reporting that the land devoted to coca cultivation has diminished in 2010 and again in 2011, in September 2012 the U.S. government announced a stunning increase in Bolivia’s potential cocaine production: from an estimated 195 metric tons, which held steady from 2008 to 2010, to a potential production of 265 metric tons for 2011. In other words, even with the U.S.-estimated 13 percent reduction in coca hectares and the 13 percent decline in coca leaf yield reported by the UN, the U.S. government asserted that Bolivia’s potential cocaine production increased by 36 percent. For its part, the Bolivian government estimates that approximately 80 metric tons could be produced in the country.

WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy Adam Isacson has calculated that 265 metric tons of cocaine from 30,000 hectares of coca amounts to an astonishing 8.83 kilograms of cocaine per hectare of coca, in stark contrast to Colombia where U.S. data shows 2.70 kilograms per hectare.[xxxvi] In other words, the U.S. figures imply that Bolivian coca leaf is yielding three times more cocaine than Colombian coca leaf. (Given that a sizable proportion of Bolivia’s coca yield is produced for traditional, legal purposes—12,000 hectares according to present Bolivian law—the coca-to-cocaine conversion ratio implied by the U.S. figures is even higher.) The U.S. government estimates that the amount of potential cocaine production in Colombia fell between 2010 and 2011 by 25 percent, from 270 to 195 metric tons. By contrast, the UN calculated Colombia’s potential cocaine production at 345 metric tons for 2011, using U.S. government data for the conversion from paste to cocaine.

Source: U.S. International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports

U.S. officials maintain that the increase in potential cocaine production in Bolivia is due to more efficient processing methods (ironically, the same methods used in Colombia) and to the maturity of existing fields, which contribute to higher yields. All agree that more cocaine can be produced with less coca in Bolivia today. Yet that would be unlikely to account for such a dramatic increase in potential production. Furthermore, the U.S. government announced a 50 percent increase in its estimates of Bolivia’s potential cocaine production in 2008, using the same argument—more efficient cocaine processing methods.[xxxvii] In short, U.S. officials claim that potential cocaine production more than doubled in three years, despite reductions in coca cultivation, each time pointing to the adoption of Colombian processing methods. Most disturbingly, the U.S. government provides no information whatsoever about how they derive these statistics, giving credence to allegations that the numbers are constructed for political purposes.

U.S. officials do say that Operation Breakthrough, initiated in Bolivia in 1993, provides the baseline methodology to calculate potential cocaine production in the Andes. (AIN was able to obtain the Operation Breakthrough methodology via a declassified DEA document.)[xxxviii] Yet current estimates, which reportedly continue to employ these methods, demonstrate some dramatic contradictions. First, Operation Breakthrough estimated in 2000 that the “Colombian cocaine processing method” is approximately 25 percent more effective than the maceration pit systems initially used in Peru and Bolivia.[xxxix] In addition, Operation Breakthrough identified “critical elements to estimate cocaine production”:

1)      number of hectares under cultivation;

2)      the coca leaf yield per hectare;

3)      the coca leaf alkaloid content within the leaf;

4)      the efficiency with which the cocaine alkaloid in the leaf is converted into cocaine base; and

5)      the efficiency with which cocaine base is converted into cocaine hydrochloride (HCL) [xl]

The study provided the following formula:

mature coca leaf cultivation X coca leaf yield X cocaine alkaloid content X laboratory efficiency = cocaine base (MT)[xli]

Yet U.S officials acknowledge that they are presently unable to determine coca leaf yields and have no data to calculate the efficiency of the alkaloid extraction, both indispensable to calculate potential cocaine production. 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.[xlii] In other words, U.S. officials do not have the basic information needed to calculate potential cocaine production in Bolivia via the Operation Breakthrough methodology.

The UNODC’s 2011 coca cultivation report on Bolivia did not provide any data on potential cocaine production, although they reported a 13 percent decrease in coca yields, which would suggest a reduction, rather than an increase, in potential cocaine production. Concerns that the previous methodology is out of date and may not produce accurate statistics led the UNODC to revamp its data collection and analysis. The organization developed a new methodology, which includes gathering information from incarcerated drug traffickers to determine cocaine-manufacturing methods in order to replicate them in different areas to estimate coca yields and potential cocaine production. This will both improve statistics at the national level and facilitate comparisons between countries. The new methodology is already being implemented in Peru and Colombia, and in September 2012 the UNODC and Bolivia signed an agreement to allow its implementation in Bolivia. The UNODC hopes to release the new data in mid-2013.[xliii] Calculating potential cocaine production is always a challenging task. In Bolivia alone, there are at least eight ecosystems that will lead to different coca yields. However, the new methodology developed by UNODC, if implemented accurately and completely, offers the possibility for more reliable, transparent, and credible statistics on potential cocaine production.

 

U.S. Policy toward Bolivia

The debate sparked by the White House’s September 2012 “determination,” and in particular its claims regarding potential cocaine production in Bolivia, has strained what has been fairly steady bilateral collaboration on drug control programs. Despite the expulsion of the DEA, the Bolivian Ministry of Government’s Vice Ministry of Social Defense and Controlled Substances and the U.S. embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) maintain daily cooperation on the ground. 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 … Furthermore the U.S. estimate 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.[xliv]

The NAS continues to fund drug and coca control efforts—albeit with a reduced budget—and coordinates with the Bolivian government on a daily basis. U.S. Chargé de Affaires John Creamer[xlv] confirmed on July 15, 2012 that despite rumors to the contrary, “NAS is staying … [Its] mission is changing as a result of the Bolivian’s government’s nationalization of the drug war, an initiative we welcome … so we are approving less operating costs and emphasizing training more.”

A framework agreement that formally renewed bilateral relations was signed in November 2011 and the governments announced their intention to reinstate ambassadors. Although since that time both countries have reiterated this point, it is unclear how long this process will take (and even after the U.S. government announces a candidate for the post, significant delays in the U.S. Senate’s confirmation process could occur). The framework agreement includes recurring dialogue on drug policy. In January 2012, Bolivia, Brazil, and the United States signed a trilateral coca cultivation monitoring agreement. At the 2012 Summit of the Americas, President Obama observed, “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.”[xlvi]

U.S. economic assistance to Bolivia has declined steadily since President Morales came into office. This is largely due to overall budget cuts, vocal opposition on the part of key Republican members of Congress to Morales’ relationship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Raul Castro, and in protest of the expulsion of the DEA. However, from the Bolivian government’s point of view, less aid is better than more aid with strings attached. As noted by Foreign Minister Choquehuanca, “We want to have good relations with all countries. But relations based on respect. I have found understanding in the United States. We are not afraid of the United States as previous governments were. We are a small country, but one with dignity.” He concluded that comprehension of the situation in Bolivia on the part of some U.S. officials is what allowed for the signing of a framework agreement based on “mutual respect,” adding, “We would rather have good relations without economic assistance than economic assistance whose use is dictated by the United States.”[xlvii]

Source: U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) reports via Just the Facts.

However, two issues in particular have put significant strain on the bilateral relationship. The continuation of the unilateral U.S. drug control “determination” (previously called “certification”)—in which the United States judges which countries are effectively meeting international drug control obligations—is widely criticized across Latin America, further eroding U.S. credibility in a region now openly questioning the prevailing drug policy paradigm. The Obama administration has continued the practice of its predecessor of giving Bolivia a failing grade (along with Venezuela and Myanmar) each September. However, in the case of Bolivia, the numerous errors and inaccuracies—particularly evident in the 2012 determination—give the impression that the decision is based on political motivations rather than an accurate assessment of drug control efforts on the ground. For example, the 2012 determination stated that the UNODC had reported a slight increase in coca cultivation in 2011, when in fact three days later the UNODC announced a 12 percent decrease. It also asserted that “Bolivia remains one of the world’s largest producers of coca leaf for cocaine and other illegal products.” As noted previously, Bolivia’s coca crop is significantly smaller than either Colombia or Peru (together, these are the only three countries that produce and export significant quantities of coca ), particularly when coca used for legal purposes is taken into account.

The White House’s September 14 determination concludes that Bolivia has “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to [its] obligations under international narcotics agreements,” basing this assertion on a dismissal of the gains made via declining coca cultivation and what appear to be exaggerated estimates of potential cocaine production.[xlviii] The lack of transparency about how U.S. officials calculate cocaine production estimates, as described above, combined with the contention that Bolivia is producing more cocaine than Colombia—despite having far less land under coca cultivation than Colombia or Peru—further erodes U.S. credibility in Bolivia. Moreover, it is not lost on the Bolivian government that every year Peru is lavished with praise from Washington, despite significant and steady increases in both coca cultivation and estimated potential cocaine production in that country.

 

Bolivia and 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

Another point of contention in bilateral relations is U.S. opposition to Bolivia’s re-admission to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol. Bolivia is seeking to reconcile its new constitution with its international commitments. Article 384 of the 2009 Constitution states: “The State shall protect native and ancestral coca as cultural patrimony, a renewable natural resource of Bolivia’s biodiversity, and as a factor of social cohesion; in its natural state it is not a narcotic. Its revaluing, production, commercialization, and industrialization shall be regulated by law.” The Constitution allows for a period of four years for the government to “denounce and, in that case, renegotiate the international treaties that may be contrary to the constitution.”

Hence, in June 2011, the country denounced the 1961 Single Convention and announced its intention to re-accede with a reservation allowing for the traditional use of the coca leaf. Unless more than one-third of UN member states object by the January 10, 2013 deadline, the Bolivian reservation will be accepted and it will once again be a full Party to the Single Convention.

The U.S. government’s July 2012 formal letter of objection states:

The United States considers the Convention to be one of the cornerstones of international efforts to prevent the illicit production, manufacture, traffic in and abuse of drugs, while ensuring that illicit drugs are available for medical and scientific purposes. The United States is concerned that Bolivia’s reservation is likely to lead to a greater supply of available coca, and as a result, more cocaine will be available for the global cocaine market, further fueling narcotics trafficking and related criminal activities in Bolivia and the countries along the cocaine trafficking route.[xlix]

But in seeking the reservation, Bolivia has been following established Convention guidelines. It also took this action after its effort to amend the Single Convention by deleting its provision obligating that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished” within 25 years (Article 49). The U.S. government led opposition to this amendment, even though it is quite clear that the elimination of coca chewing is not feasible and that that the practice is widely accepted in many sectors, in Bolivia and internationally. In contrast, with regard to Bolivia’s intent to re-accede to the Single Convention with a reservation, U.S. officials claim that they are not organizing opposition to Bolivia’s actions and that they do not expect more than one-third of UN member states to object. At the time of this writing, only the U.S. government had presented a formal objection, although others have indicated that they would also do so.

The Bolivian government is optimistic that they will be returning to the Convention in January 2013. Foreign Minister Choquehuanca did a tour of European countries in October 2012 to press the government’s case. According to Vice Minister of Coca Dionicio Nuñez, “The international campaign has gone well. We are optimistic that we will be able to return to the convention.”[l] One sticking point with European governments is the release of an EU-funded study on the traditional uses of coca, which is intended to provide the baseline for how much coca should be produced in Bolivia for legal purposes. It is now years behind schedule, but Bolivian authorities have stated that they are finishing some complementary components of the study and that it will be released in the first half of 2013.[li]

The Bolivian government registered a diplomatic advance at the November 2012 Ibero-American Summit held in Cádiz, Spain. At that summit, a special communiqué was adopted on the traditional use of coca chewing in which the presidents unanimously stated:

Conscious of the importance of conserving the ancestral and cultural practices of indigenous peoples, in the framework of respect for human rights and the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, in accordance with international instrument … We recognize that the traditional use of coca chewing (akulliku) of the coca leaf is a cultural and ancestral manifestation of the people of Bolivia and Peru and should be respected by the international community.[lii]

In other words, Bolivia now has at least tacit support from all Latin American countries, as well as Spain and Portugal, for eliminating the international stigma presently—and erroneously—associated with the coca leaf.

 

Conclusions

Critics of Bolivia’s UN coca initiative are forced to balance concerns of the precedent set by allowing a country to re-accede to the 1961 Single Convention with a reservation against the implications of Bolivia’s permanent withdrawal from the international drug control system. Staunch defenders of the conventions fear that permitting Bolivia to re-enter the Single Convention with a reservation upholding traditional uses of the coca leaf could potentially open up a Pandora’s box, with other countries proposing changes that call into question the fundamentals of the current treaties. However, the 51-year old international drug control regime must prove that it can adapt and adjust to the changing dynamics of the drug trade. The inclusion of the coca leaf in the 1961 Convention was a historic error whose correction is long overdue. Moreover, regardless of whether or not Bolivia returns to the Single Convention, coca cultivation will continue in Bolivia, and the UN conventions should be adapted to align with that reality.

The Bolivian government has made clear its intention to continue to engage with the U.S. government, the European Union, and neighboring countries on drug control and has significantly reduced overall levels of coca cultivation and has increased drug seizures, among other drug control actions. In other words, Bolivia clearly wishes to continue playing by the established rules of the game to address illicit drug trafficking.

The Bolivian government has in fact made significant progress facing the ongoing challenges of drug production and trafficking, in part due to the assistance provided by the EU, the United States, and others. The U.S. government should now recognize this progress in its annual determinations. The string of negative determinations is increasingly disconnected from reality in Bolivia and retains little credibility with the Bolivian government or with other governments in the region, which continue to see the annual U.S. rating as offensive and politically motivated. Along the same lines, the potential cocaine statistics presented by the U.S. government in last year’s determination were met with disbelief in Bolivia. Given the ongoing doubts about the reliability of such estimates, the U.S. government should be transparent about exactly how it performs these calculations.

The signing of the framework agreement marked significant progress in U.S.-Bolivian bilateral relations. Both governments should build on that success by using the accord as a venue to discuss areas of concern, friction, and consensus. While differences will undoubtedly arise, it is in the best interests of both countries to maintain an open dialogue.

Bolivia faces daunting challenges from drug production and trafficking. While the government has an innovative national strategy for addressing these challenges, the increasing militarization of its borders and proposed air interdiction raise a variety of concerns. Moreover, the continued growth in regional and global cocaine consumption means that Bolivia cannot and should not be expected to solve the problems associated with cocaine production and trafficking, even within its own borders. Bolivia’s efforts must be carried out in tandem with effective demand reduction strategies to contain and eventually shrink the global cocaine market.

 

Kathryn Ledebur is the Director of the Andean Information Network (AIN) based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Coletta A. Youngers is a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). WOLA Senior Associate John M. Walsh, WOLA Program Assistant Adam Schaffer, and AIN Program Assistant Jessica Robinson also contributed to this report.

This report was made possible with the generous support of the Open Society Foundations.


[i] Morales won the December 2005 elections with 53.7 percent of the popular vote. He was reelected in December 2009.

[ii] The White House. White House Presidential Determination: Memorandum of Justification for Major Illicit Drug Transit or Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2013. Washington, D.C.: September 14, 2012.

[iv] One hectare is roughly 2.5 acres.

[v] Authors’ interview. September 28, 2012.

[vi] Coletta A. Youngers and Kathryn Ledebur. WOLA and AIN. “Washington in Wonderland.” http://www.wola.org/commentary/washington_in_wonderland

[vii] “La paradoja es que hay menos cocales pero hay más cocaína,” Página Siete, July 14, 2012.

[viii] A cato is 1,600 square meters, or about a third of an acre, in the Chapare, and 2,500 square meters in the Yungas (where farmers argue the coca plant yield is less than in the Chapare).

[ix] Authors’ interview, September 26, 2012.

[x] In the Chapare region, there are six coca grower unions that together form the Six Federations of the Cochabamba Tropics (Seis Federaciones del Trópico de Cochabamba).

[xi] Authors’ interview, September 24, 2012.

[xii] Authors’ interview, September 26, 2012.

[xiv] Authors’ interview with Nicolaus Hansmann, Attaché to the Cooperation Section of the European Union in Bolivia, September 28, 2012.

[xv] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia: Monitoreo de Cultivo de Coca, September 19, 2011, 47.

[xvi] For many small farmers, coca is the family’s only source of cash income.

[xvii] USAID reported supporting the cultivation of 39,834 hectares of alternative crops and the creation of 22,386 jobs in Bolivia in fiscal years 2006 through 2010. At the time of this writing, USAID’s results for fiscal year 2011 have not yet been finalized. See U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Counterdrug Assistance: U.S. Agencies Have Allotted Billions in Andean Countries, but DOD Should Improve its Reporting of Results, GAO-12-824, June 2012. 17.

[xviii] Authors’ interview, September 24, 2012.

[xix] Authors’ interview, September 24, 2012.

[xx] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia: Monitoreo de Cultivo de Coca.  September 19, 2012, 5.

[xxii] As noted earlier, in the Yungas the cato is measured at 2,500 square meters, or one-quarter of a hectare, rather than 1,600 square meters in the Chapare, where yields are higher.

[xxiii] Authors’ interview, Dionicio Nuñez, September 27, 2012.

[xxiv] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia: Monitoreo de Cultivo de Coca, September 19, 2012. 5.

[xxv] “FELCN y FTC inician operativos en Cocapata”  Los Tiempos, November 14, 2012. http://www.lostiempos.com/diario/actualidad/nacional/20121115/felcn-y-ftc-inician-operativos-en-cocapata_192426_409446.html

[xxvi] Authors’ interview, September 27, 2012.

[xxvii] Authors’ interview, September 27, 2012 with Col. Quezada,Director of the Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking, FELCN, Bolivia’s drug control police.

[xxviii] Authors’ interview with Nicolaus Hansmann, September 27, 2012.

[xxix] Authors’ interview with Nicolaus Hansmann, September 28, 2012.

[xxx] Authors’ interview, September 27, 2012.

[xxxii] “Brasil espera una respuesta boliviana sobre acción militar,” La Razón, April 30 ,2012; “Bolivia refuerza control militar en la frontera donde lincharon a brasileño,” EFE, August 18, 2012; and “Brasil cierra su frontera con Bolivia por supuestos excesos,” El Diario, November 26, 2012.

[xxxiii] “Bolivia, Brasil y Perú proyectan crear un fondo para la lucha antidroga con dineros de la extinción de bienes,” La Razón,  November 14, 2012. http://www.la-razon.com/nacional/seguridad_nacional/Bolivia-Brasil-Peru-extincion-antidroga_0_1724827563.html

[xxxiv] The Transnational Institute. “The Drug War in the Skies.” November 17, 2005. http://www.tni.org/article/drug-war-skies

[xxxv] “Empresa aeronáutica diseña vigilancia para frontera brasileña con Paraguay y Bolivia,” La Razón, November 26, 2012. http://www.la-razon.com/mundo/Empresa-aeronautica-vigilancia-Paraguay-Bolivia_0_1731426897.html

[xxxvi] “UN and U.S. Estimates for Cocaine Production Contradict Each Other.” Just the Facts. July 31, 2012. http://justf.org/blog/1?page=1

[xxxvii] “Excess coca leaf is being diverted to the production of cocaine hydrochloride. Compounded by improved processing methods, the United States Government estimates potential cocaine hydrochloride production increased in Bolivia during 2008 by 50 percent to 195 metric tons.” U.S. Department of State. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.  2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1, 2010. http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2010/vol1/137190.htm .

[xxxviii] Special thanks to Jeremy Bigwood for providing documentation on Operation Breakthrough.

[xxxix] “Using a water-pit, leaf-stomping technique, both the Peruvian and Bolivian ‘chemists’ were capable of extracting some 45 percent of the cocaine alkaloid from the leaf … Colombian cocaine base processors use and entirely different production method … it is reasonable that Colombian ‘chemists’ may be capable of extracting as much as 70 percent of the cocaine alkaloid from the leaf.” DCI Crime and Narcotics Center and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Colombia: Coca Cultivation and Preliminary Results from Operation Breakthrough, May 2000, 8. http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/bigwood_coca_op_breakthrough.pdf .

[xl] U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Intelligence Report. Operation Breakthrough: Coca Cultivation & Cocaine Base Production in Bolivia, July 1994, DEA-94032, 1.

[xli] Ibid. 16.

[xlii] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Bolivia, March 7, 2012.

[xliii] Authors’ interview with César Guedes. September 28, 2012.

[xliv] Testimony of Ambassador William R. Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics Affairs Hearing on “A Shared Responsibility: Counternarcotics and Citizen Security in the Americas,” March 31, 2011.

[xlv] “La paradoja es que hay menos cocales pero hay más cocaína,” Página Siete, July 14, 2012.

[xlvi] Williams Farfán. “Obama destaca el pacto antidrogas con Bolivia y Brasil,” La Razón, April 14, 2012. http://www.la-razon.com/nacional/seguridad_nacional/Obama-destaca-antidrogas-Bolivia-Brasil_0_1595840433.html

[xlvii] Authors’ interview, September 28, 2012.

[xlix] The Secretary-General of the United Nations. United States Of America: Objection To The Reservation Contained In The Communication By The Plurinational State Of Bolivia, July 3, 2012. Reference: C.N.361.2012.TREATIES-VI.18.

[l] Authors’ interview, September 27, 2012.

[li] “Difundirán en mayo estudio de la coca, base de futura ley antidrogas,” Los Tiempos, November 26,  2012. http://www.lostiempos.com/diario/actualidad/nacional/20121126/difundiran-en-mayo-estudio-de-la-coca-base-de-futura-ley_193581_412158.html

[lii] Authors’ translation from original Spanish.

Colquiri Conflict Continues

In late May 2012, conflict erupted in Colquiri, a mining district about 350km south of La Paz.  Salaried and cooperative miners who work in different areas of the same mine struggled to control territory.  Although the government, salaried workers, and cooperative miners reached an agreement on June 19th, conflict reemerged in September as cooperative and salaried workers continued to fight for control of the richest vein.  Tensions flared after cooperative miners killed a salaried miner and injured seven others during a march in La Paz, and Colquiri threatened to be a repeat of an incident in 2006 in Huanuni, Oruro that left sixteen people dead and 115 injured in a conflict over access to the richest veins.  The government issued a new decree that divided the mining rights equally between the salaried and cooperative miners, but tensions remain high in Colquiri.

Competition for mining rights

Violent competition for access to mining territory has become increasingly frequent in Bolivia.  The government’s closure of hundreds of mines in 1985 and the subsequent privatization of the mining industry throughout the 1990s gave rise to competition between newly formed, private cooperatives and the small number of remaining state-employed, salaried miners.  This dramatically changed the dynamics of mining and miners’ political power, there have since been many conflicts over access to resources.  (For background see AIN’s 2007 update, “Cooperative Miners in the Nationalization Process: Explosive Politics.”)

Salaried miner during a protest in La Paz; “Cooperativists – pay your taxes!”
Photo credit: Gonzalo Ordóñez

The government mining agency, COMIBOL, and Sinchi Wari, a subsidiary of Swiss corporation Glencore jointly administered Colquiri up until late June.  Cooperative miners are independent, artisanal miners whose income comes from the amount of minerals they extract rather than a fixed salary.

At the center of the conflict is the Rosario Vein, believed to be the richest in tin and zinc.  However, the government recently admitted its production potential is unknown, since Sinchi Wari took the only documentation when the mine was nationalized.

Violence Erupts Over Rosario Vein

On May 30th, cooperative miners forcefully took over the mine, occupying it until June 8th.  In response, salaried miners called for total nationalization.  Critics claimed that the government favors the cooperative miners because the incumbent Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) views the cooperativists’ support in the upcoming congressional elections to be more important.

 

“100% Nationalization of the Colquiri mine for Bolivia now!”
Photo credit: Gonzalo Ordóñez

In June, the government, cooperativists, salaried miners, and Sinchi Wari signed agreements, some of which were contradictory and resulted in blockades, marches, and threats from both cooperative and salaried miners.   In rejection of the government’s proposal to grant the most profitable vein to cooperative miners, salaried miners violently retook the mine on June 14th, leaving 22 people injured.  Over the next several days, cooperative miners blockaded, marched, and took over another mine operated by Glencore affiliate, Sinchi Wayra.

Cooperative miners refused to relinquish the Rosario vein.  On June 19th, the parties finally reached an agreement to nationalize the entire mine, but allowing cooperatives to still continue to exploit designated areas. The government allocated the majority of the Rosario vein to the cooperative miners and left a small portion for the salaried workers.

Source: La Razon
Caption: Characteristics of the Rosario Vein

  • The government handed over the greater part of the vein to cooperative miners.
  • A decree granted the southern sector to state mining company.
  • The 26th of February Cooperative obtained the concession for the northern sector.

The agreement failed to satisfy cooperative or salaried miners, and tensions boiled over into another violent confrontation on August 9th.  The armed forces confiscated explosives to prevent an escalation of violence.

After a brief period of peace, on August 30th, salaried miners forcefully took over the Rosario vein, demanding a reversal of the June agreement and threatening to detonate explosives and destroy the mine if their conditions were not met.  Shortly after, salaried miners went on strike and blocked access to the Colquiri Mine, installing guards around the mountain who threatened to throw dynamite at anyone who tried to pass the blockade.

Throughout September, salaried workers maintained their strike and blockade of the mine while cooperative miners held road blockades countrywide.  Both groups staged protests and marches in La Paz.  On September 18th, cooperative miners marched to the headquarters of the salaried miners’ union where salaried miners were stationed.  A confrontation ensued, and cooperative miners launched dynamite at the salaried miners, killing one and injuring at least seven more.

Salaried miner protest with the Bolivian Workers Central in La Paz
Photo credit: Gonzalo Ordóñez

Salaried miners retaliated in Colquiri by taking over cooperative facilities, blocking the entrance to the cooperative sections of the mine, burning two vehicles that belong to cooperative leaders, and threatening cooperative miners and their families.  Families of salaried miners also joined the retaliation.

Government Response

As per usual in these types of conflict, the government’s reaction was tardy.  After the death of the salaried miner, the government sent some 500 police officers to the area.  Police confiscated dynamite from both cooperative and salaried miners on multiple occasions, including once when cooperative miners tried to transport dynamite in an ambulance to use in a march.  Although the government responded late, it seems that government involvement may have helped avoid further violence; shortly after the death of the salaried miner in La Paz, cooperative miners arrived with eight buses of people, and salaried miners prepared to “resist the incursion,” but ultimately the cooperative miners decided against initiating a confrontation.

In the following weeks, there was strained dialogue between the government and both parties.  Cooperative miners from other areas joined the Colquiri cooperativists in installing blockades around the entire country.  The Bolivian Workers Central, the main union in Bolivia to which salaried miners belong, initiated a 72-hour strike in solidarity with the miners.

Salaried miner protest with the Bolivian Workers Central in La Paz
Photo credit: Gonzalo Ordóñez

In response to the death of the salaried miner, the government passed a decree criminalizing the possession and use of dynamite in protests.

On October 3rd, the government passed Supreme Decree 1368, which demarcated the zones of work for salaried and cooperative miners in the Rosario Vein and expanded the area miners are allowed to work.

For now, the conflict seems to have subsided.  However, with such tension between both groups who are working in close quarters, it is likely reemerge.

Washington en el País de las Maravillas: Los EE.UU. Critican Severamente Esfuerzos de Bolivia por Controlar las Drogas, que Son Alabados por las ONU

 

Escrito por Kathryn Ledebur, Directora de la Red Andina de Información (AIN, siglas en inglés)

y Coletta A. Youngers, Asesora Principal de WOLA

Los críticos literarios citan Las Aventuras de Alicia en el País de las Maravillas como uno de los mejores ejemplos del género “literatura del absurdo”. El intento por parte del gobierno de los Estados Unidos por calificar como un retroceso a los avances logrados por Bolivia en cuanto al control de drogas, constituye un vívido ejemplo del sinsentido de las políticas de drogas de Washington. La determinación emitida el 14 de septiembre de 2012 por parte de la Casa Blanca, concluye que Bolivia, “durante los 12 meses anteriores, ha incumplido de manera manifiesta con las obligaciones contenidas en acuerdos internacionales sobre estupefacientes”, basando sus argumentos en una interpretación errónea de la disminución del cultivo de hoja de coca, y en lo que parecen ser proyecciones totalmente exageradas de la producción potencial de cocaína. La falta de transparencia sobre la manera en que las autoridades estadounidenses calculan los estimados de producción de cocaína, combinada con la afirmación de que Bolivia está produciendo más cocaína que Colombia —pese a contar con un territorio ocupado por cocales mucho menor que Colombia o el Perú— socava más aún la credibilidad de los EE.UU., y aliena a Washington en una región que demanda un debate abierto y honesto sobre alternativas de políticas sobre drogas.

 

La descalificación de Bolivia por parte del gobierno de los EE.UU., contrasta marcadamente con el Estudio sobre el Monitoreo de Cultivos de Coca 2011 emitido por la Oficina de las Naciones Unidas sobre Drogas y el Delito (ONUDD)e del 17 de septiembre de 2012. Según las NN.UU., los cultivos de coca en Bolivia se redujeron a 27,200 hectáreas[1] en 2011, de un total de 31,000 hectáreas en 2010 –una reducción del 12 por ciento. El informe señala que los cultivos de coca disminuyeron en todas las regiones cocaleras importantes en el país, llevando el área total cultivada de cocales a un nivel cercano al que estaba vigente en el año 2005. Las NN.UU. atribuyen esta “significativa” disminución a un “efectivo control” a través de la racionalización y la erradicación de cultivos. Las NN.UU. también reportan un incremento superior al 25 por ciento en el número de hectáreas de coca eliminadas, así como una significativa reducción del 13 por ciento en el rendimiento de hoja de coca, disminuyendo a 48,100 toneladas métricas en 2011, de un volumen de 55,500 toneladas métricas en 2010.

 

Es llamativo que el gobierno de los EE.UU. reportó una disminución del 13 por ciento en los cultivos de hoja de coca en Bolivia. La determinación presidencial sostiene: “El cálculo realizado por el gobierno de los EE.UU. sobre cultivos de coca en Bolivia para 2011, del orden de 30,000 hectáreas, fue ligeramente menor que el estimado correspondiente al año 2010, de 34,500 hectáreas”. ¿Ligeramente menor? El Informe de Estrategia para Control Internacional de Estupefacientes (INCSR, siglas en inglés), publicado por el Departamento de Estado de los EE.UU. en marzo de 2012, calificaba como “ligera” la reducción de 500 hectáreas entre los años 2009 y 2010. Sin embargo, una reducción nueve veces mayor merece la misma descripción. Lo que es más, en una entrevista concedida en julio de 2012, el Chargé d’Affaires de la Embajada de los EE.UU. en Bolivia, John Creamer, declaró que “en 2010 y 2011 hemos visto una reducción neta impresionante en el número de hectáreas de coca”.[2]

 

Las afirmaciones patentemente falsas de la determinación emitida por el gobierno de los EE.UU., incluyen lo siguiente: “La Oficina de las NN.UU. sobre Drogas y el Delito calculaba la existencia de 31,100 hectáreas de cultivos para 2011, un ligero incremento sobre su estimado para 2010, correspondiente a 30,900 hectáreas”. Sin embargo, tres días más tarde, los estimados de las NN.UU. contradecían tajantemente la determinación de los EE.UU. La falsa afirmación de que las NN.UU. reportaron un incremento de los cultivos sirvió para ayudar a justificar la siguiente declaración contenida en la determinación: “Aunque Bolivia aún no ha revertido los incrementos netos en cultivos de coca de los últimos años, tal parece que la producción se ha estabilizado”. De hecho, los propios estimados del gobierno estadounidense mostraban una reducción neta durante dos años consecutivos. Ello, combinado con una disminución de 13 por ciento de un año al siguiente, difícilmente puede caracterizarse como “estabilización” de la producción.

 

Socavando aún más la credibilidad de los EE.UU., la determinación presidencial afirma que “Bolivia sigue siendo uno de los mayores productores mundiales de coca para la cocaína y otros productos de drogas ilegales”. De hecho, de los tres países que cuentan con niveles medibles de cultivo de coca, Bolivia es el menor productor de hoja de coca empleada para producir cocaína. Según los estimados del propio gobierno de los EE.UU., Bolivia contaba con 30,000 hectáreas de cultivos de coca. La ley boliviana destina 12,000 hectáreas para consumo tradicional y legal, lo cual deja 18,000 hectáreas para el mercado ilícito.[3] En contraste, con 83,000 hectáreas en 2011, Colombia proporciona más de cuatro veces ese volumen de coca al mercado ilegal. Aunque el otro país productor de coca, Perú, también muestra un significativo consumo tradicional, su producción de coca es también casi dos veces mayor que la de Bolivia.[4] Los otros “productos ilegales de drogas” a los cuales se refiere Washington, continúan siendo un misterio.

 

 

Como resultado de una efectiva estrategia de monitoreo de los cultivos de coca —la cual se beneficia de la cooperación proveniente de los agricultores cocaleros— los estimados del gobierno estadounidense y de las NN.UU. sobre cultivos de coca en Bolivia convergen, en contraposición a lo que ocurre con los estimados para los otros países. Dada la eficiencia de los sistemas de monitoreo empleados en Bolivia, es difícil manipular el cálculo de las áreas donde se cultiva la coca. Pero tal no es el caso con los cálculos referidos a la producción potencial de cocaína. Aunque desde hace mucho tiempo Washington ha postulado que la erradicación de los cultivos de coca es el principal indicador de “éxito” en las acciones para el control de drogas en Bolivia, no hace mucho la Oficina sobre Políticas Nacionales para el Control de Drogas (ONDCP) de los EE.UU. empezó a plantear la idea de que “la medición importante no se refiere a los cultivos. Se trata del potencial de producción —la cantidad de cocaína que puede producirse del cultivo de la hoja coca; ésa es la medición importante”.

 

Aún cuando el área que ocupan los cultivos de hoja de coca ha disminuido, el gobierno de los EE.UU. anunció un increíble incremento de la producción potencial de cocaína en Bolivia, que se eleva de un volumen estimado de 195 toneladas métricas –nivel que se mantuvo estable desde 2008 hasta  2010— a 265 toneladas métricas. (La ONUDD no proporcionó información alguna sobre producción potencial de cocaína en su informe más reciente sobre Bolivia). En otras palabras, incluso con la reducción de las hectáreas de cultivos de coca, estimada por los EE.UU. en un 13 por ciento, y la disminución de un 13 por ciento en el rendimiento de hoja de coca reportada por las NN.UU., el gobierno de los EE.UU. afirma que la producción potencial de cocaína se incrementó en 36 por ciento. Según cálculos realizados por Adam Isacson, Coordinador Principal del Programa de Políticas de Seguridad Regional de WOLA, 265 toneladas métricas de cocaína procedentes de 30,000 hectáreas cultivadas de cocales, representan un sorprendente coeficiente de producción de 8.83 kilogramos de cocaína por hectárea de cultivo de hoja de coca, en marcado contraste con la situación en Colombia, donde la información del gobierno estadounidense muestra una producción de 2.70 kilogramos de cocaína por hectárea cultivada de hoja de coca. En otras palabras, ellos sostienen que la hoja de coca boliviana rinde tres veces más cocaína que la hoja de coca colombiana. (Dado que un alto porcentaje de la producción de hoja de coca en Bolivia está destinada a fines tradicionales y legales, la tasa de conversión coca-cocaína atribuida por los estimados del gobierno estadounidense resulta aún más exorbitante)[5]. El gobierno estadounidense sostiene que la cantidad de cocaína producida en Colombia disminuyó en un 25 por ciento entre 2010 y 2011, de 270 a 195 toneladas métricas. En contraposición, las NN.UU. calculaban la producción potencial de cocaína en Colombia en un formidable volumen de 345 toneladas métricas para el año 2011, empleando información del gobierno de los EE.UU. para la conversión de pasta a cocaína[6].

 

El gobierno de los EE.UU. sostiene que el incremento de la producción potencial de cocaína en Bolivia se debe a métodos de procesamiento más eficientes (irónicamente, los mismos métodos empleados en Colombia) y a la creciente madurez de los cultivos existentes, que contribuyen a un mayor rendimiento productivo. Incluso si tal fuera el caso, ello difícilmente explicaría un incremento tan dramático. Más aún: hace apenas seis meses, el gobierno de los EE.UU. afirmaba que no había podido llevar a cabo estudios para determinar el rendimiento de la hoja de coca en Bolivia, realizados anteriormente por la Agencia Antidrogas (DEA, siglas en inglés), la cual había sido expulsada del país en noviembre de 2008[7].  Lo que resulta más preocupante es que el gobierno de los EE.UU. no brinda información alguna sobre la manera en que derivan estas estadísticas, alentando acusaciones de que las cifras simplemente han sido fabricadas para cumplir con fines políticos del gobierno.

 

Pese a la severa condena por parte de Washington hacia el gobierno boliviano, contenida en la determinación presidencial del año 2012, la cooperación antidrogas entre ambos países continúa. De hecho, desde la determinación emitida en 2011, los EE.UU. y Bolivia han suscrito un acuerdo marco bilateral, así como un Memorándum de Entendimiento trilateral, incluyendo a Brasil. En efecto, tal como se señala en la página web de la Embajada de los EE.UU. en Bolivia, “el Presidente Obama dijo durante la Cumbre de las Américas que el acuerdo entre los EE.UU., Bolivia y Brasil para rastrear los cultivos de coca en Bolivia, es el tipo de cooperación regional que necesitamos”.

 

La decisión de la Administración Obama, durante un año electoral, de denunciar una vez más a Bolivia como un socio insatisfactorio en cuanto a control de drogas —pese a clara evidencia de lo contrario— puede no resultar sorprendente. El proceso de “certificación” sobre drogas ha sido desde hace mucho tiempo censurado y ridiculizado en América Latina, caracterizándolo como un ejercicio altamente politizado mediante el cual los Estados Unidos afirman unilateralmente su autoridad para emitir juicios sobre otros países. El flagrante desdén mostrado por los hechos que se evidencian en esta reciente determinación sobre Bolivia, sólo puede profundizar la opinión generalizada en la región de que los funcionarios a cargo de políticas sobre drogas en Washington viven desconectados de la realidad, y que están tejiendo su propia versión de las Aventuras en el País de las Maravillas.

 

La AIN y WOLA realizarán una visita de investigación al Chapare en Bolivia durante la próxima semana y elaborarán un informe más detallado sobre este tema.


[1] Una hectárea equivale aproximadamente a 2.5 acres.

[3] El gobierno boliviano ha establecido un tope de 20,000 hectáreas para la producción legal de hoja de coca.

[4] Según las estadísticas del gobierno estadounidense, los cultivos de coca en el Perú ocupaban una extensión de 53,000 hectáreas en 2010. No se han publicado estimados de los EE.UU. sobre cultivos de coca en el Perú para el año 2011.

[5] Los estimados del gobierno de los EE.UU. sobre producción hoja de coca, cocaína, marihuana, opio y heroína son estimados potenciales; es decir, se asume que toda la coca, marihuana y amapola cultivadas son cosechadas y procesadas para destinarlas a la producción de drogas ilegales. Éste puede ser un supuesto razonable para calcular la producción potencial en Colombia. En Bolivia y el Perú, sin embargo, los estimados del gobierno de los EE.UU. sobre la producción potencial de cocaína son sobreestimados hasta un grado desconocido, dado que una cantidad significativa de hoja de coca es masticada y empleada en productos como el mate de coca. Informe de Estrategia Internacional para el Control de Estupefacientes, “Metodología para Estimados del Gobierno de los EE.UU. sobre Producción de Drogas Ilegales”, 7 de marzo de 2012.

Washington in Wonderland: U.S. Slams Bolivian Drug Control Efforts Lauded by UN

 

AIN-WOLA Joint Commentary

By Kathryn Ledebur, Director of the Andean Information Network

and Coletta A. Youngers, Senior Fellow, Washington Office on Latin America

 

Literary critics cite Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as one of the best examples of the “literary nonsense” genre. The U.S. government’s attempt to cast Bolivia’s recent drug control progress as a setback is a vivid example of Washington’s drug policy nonsense. The White House’s September 14 determination concludes that Bolivia has “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to [its] obligations under international narcotics agreements,” basing their arguments on a misconstrued interpretation of declining coca cultivation and what appear to be wildly exaggerated potential cocaine production projections. The lack of transparency about how U.S. officials calculate cocaine production estimates, combined with the contention that Bolivia is producing more cocaine than Colombia—despite having far less land under coca cultivation than Colombia or Peru—further undermines U.S. credibility and isolates Washington from a region calling for a candid, open debate on drug policy alternatives.

 

The U.S. government’s failing grade for Bolivia stands in stark contrast to the 2011 Coca Cultivation Survey released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on September 17, 2012. According to the UN, coca cultivation in Bolivia fell to 27,200 hectares[1] in 2011 from 31,000 hectares in 2010—a 12 percent decrease. The report notes that coca cultivation declined in every important coca-growing region in the country, bringing the overall area under cultivation to near the 2005 level. The UN attributes this “significant” decrease to “effective control” through cooperative coca reductions and eradication. The UN also reports a more than 25 percent increase in the number of coca hectares eliminated and a significant 13 percent reduction in overall coca leaf yields, down to 48,100 metric tons in 2011 from 55,500 metric tons in 2010.

 

Interestingly, the U.S. government reported a 13 percent decrease in coca cultivation in Bolivia. The presidential determination states: “The 2011 U.S. government coca cultivation estimate for Bolivia of 30,000 hectares was slightly lower than the 2010 estimate of 34,500 hectares.” Slightly lower? The U.S. State Department’s March 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) referred to the 500 hectare reduction from 2009 to 2010 as “slight.”  Yet a reduction that is nine times larger receives the same description. Moreover, in a July 2012 interview, the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia’s Chargé d’Affaires, John Creamer, stated that there had been an “impressive net reduction in the number of hectares of coca in 2010 and 2011.”[2]

 

The determination’s obviously false assertions include: “The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated 31,100 hectares of cultivation for 2011, a slight increase over its 2010 estimate of 30,900 hectares.” Yet three days later, UN estimates flatly contradicted the U.S. determination. The false assertion that the UN reported increased cultivation served to help justify the determination’s next statement: “While Bolivia has not yet reversed the increases in net coca cultivation of the past several years, it appears that production has stabilized.” In fact, U.S. estimates themselves show a net reduction for two consecutive years. That combined with a 13 percent decrease from one year to the next can hardly be characterized as “stabilized.”

 

Further undermining U.S. credibility, the presidential determination asserts that “Bolivia remains one of the world’s largest producers of coca leaf for cocaine and other illegal drug products.” In fact, of the three countries with measurable levels of coca growing, Bolivia is the smallest producer of coca leaf used to manufacture cocaine. According to the U.S. government’s own estimates, Bolivia had 30,000 hectares of coca. Bolivian law destines 12,000 hectares for traditional and legal uses, leaving 18,000 hectares for the illicit market.[3] In contrast, with 83,000 hectares in 2011, Colombia provides more than four times as much coca to the illegal market. Although the other coca-producing country, Peru, also has significant traditional consumption, its coca crop is also almost twice as big as Bolivia’s.[4] The other “illegal drug products” Washington refers to remain a mystery.

 

 

As a result of an effective coca crop monitoring strategy—one that benefits from cooperation from coca farmers—the U.S. and UN estimates of coca cultivation in Bolivia converge, in contrast to the estimates for the other countries. Given the efficient monitoring systems in place in Bolivia, it is hard to manipulate the estimates for land area under coca cultivation. But that is not the case for estimates of potential cocaine production. Although Washington has long put forward coca eradication as the primary indicator of “success” in Bolivia’s drug control efforts, not long ago the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) began to put forward the idea that “the important measure is not cultivation. It is production potential—the amount of cocaine that can be produced from the cultivation of coca that is the important measure.”

 

Even as the land under coca cultivation has fallen, the U.S. government announced a stunning increase in Bolivia’s potential cocaine production, rising from an estimated 195 metric tons, which held steady from 2008 to 2010, to 265 metric tons. (The UNODC did not provide any data on potential cocaine production in its most recent report on Bolivia.) In other words, even with the U.S.-estimated 13 percent reduction in coca hectares and the 13 percent decline coca leaf yield reported by the UN, the U.S. government asserts that potential cocaine production increased by 36 percent. WOLA Senior Associate Adam Isacson calculated that 265 metric tons from 30,000 hectares of coca is an astonishing 8.83 kilograms of cocaine per hectare of coca, in stark contrast to Colombia where U.S. data shows 2.70 kilograms per hectare. In other words, they claim the Bolivian coca leaf is yielding three times more cocaine than Colombian coca leaf. (Given that a sizable proportion of Bolivia’s coca yield is produced for traditional, legal purposes, the coca-to-cocaine conversion ratio implied by the U.S figures is even higher.[5]) The U.S. claims that the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia fell between 2010 and 2011 by 25 percent, from 270 to 195 metric tons. By contrast, the UN calculated Colombia’s potential cocaine production at a whopping 345 metric tons for 2011, using U.S. government data for the conversion from paste to cocaine.[6]

 

U.S. officials claim that the increase in potential cocaine production in Bolivia is due to more efficient processing methods (ironically, the same methods used in Colombia) and the growing maturity of existing fields, which contribute to higher yields. Even if that is the case, it would hardly account for such a dramatic increase. Moreover, just six months ago, the U.S. government claimed that they have been unable to carry out yield studies in Bolivia, previously conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which was expelled from the country in November 2008.[7] Most disturbingly, the U.S. government provides no information whatsoever about how they derive these statistics, giving credence to allegations that the numbers are simply concocted to serve political purposes.

 

Despite Washington’s sharp condemnation of Bolivia in its 2012 determination, counter-drug cooperation continues between the two countries. In fact, since the 2011 determination, the U.S. and Bolivia have signed a bilateral framework agreement and a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding with Brazil. Indeed, as noted on the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia’s web page, “President Obama said during the Summit of the Americas that the U.S.-Bolivia-Brazil agreement for tracking coca cultivation in Bolivia is the kind of regional cooperation we need.”

 

The Obama administration’s decision, in an election year, to once again denounce Bolivia as a poor partner in drug control—despite the clear evidence to the contrary—may not come as a surprise. The drug “certification” process has long been decried and derided in Latin America as a heavily politicized exercise whereby the United States unilaterally asserts its authority to cast judgment. The blatant disregard for the facts that permeate this latest determination on Bolivia can only deepen sentiment in the region that Washington drug policy officials are disconnected from reality and spinning their own Adventures in Wonderland.

 

AIN and WOLA will be conducting a fact-finding mission to the Bolivian Chapare next week and will produce a more detailed report on this topic.

 


[1] A hectare is roughly 2.5 acres.

[3] The Bolivian government has adopted a ceiling of 20,000 hectares for legal coca production.

[4] According to US statistics, Peru had 53,000 hectares of coca in 2010. No U.S. estimates have been published for Peruvian coca cultivation in 2011.

[5] The USG estimates for coca leaf, cocaine, marijuana, opium, and heroin production are potential estimates; that is, it is assumed that all of the coca, marijuana, and poppy grown is harvested and processed into illicit drugs. This may be a reasonable assumption for estimating potential production Colombia. In Bolivia and Peru, however, the USG potential cocaine production estimates are overestimated to some unknown extent since significant amounts of coca leaf are locally chewed and used in products such as coca tea. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, “Methodology for USG Estimates of Illegal Drug Production,” 7 March 2012.