Category Archives: Press Monitoring

Brazil Border Piece Gives Bolivia a Bum Rap

The recent Washington Post article, “Brazil tries to fight cocaine trafficking at huge, porous borders,” misrepresents Bolivia’s active collaboration with Brazil on drug control.  Juan Forero reports that, along with Peru, Bolivia’s “coca production increased dramatically in recent years.”  In fact, Bolivia’s coca crop is shrinking–13 % in 2011, according the US, while coca production in both Peru and Colombia far surpass that.

Forero highlights Bolivia’s contribution to Brazil’s cocaine crisis, but omits that is has signed multiple multilateral and bilateral agreements with Brazil to address these issues.  He highlights US intelligence sharing with Brazil, but overlooks a trilateral coca monitoring agreement that also includes Bolivia in shared intelligence–something President Obama called, “the kind of collaboration we need.”

He is right that Brazil’s methods obtained some of the same results as the US hardline approach, but it is more than incarceration—it is crucial to understand the absolute folly of militarily controlling the porous Brazilian-Bolivian border, even longer than that between the US and Mexico, and the high human costs it will provoke.  When Latin American leaders are actively challenging the US-style “Drug War,” the focus on the militarization of the Brazilian border may do more harm than good.

Please read “Bolivian Drug Control Efforts: Genuine Progress, Daunting Challenges” (December 2012, co-authored by Kathryn Ledebur, Director, Andean Information Network and Coletta Youngers, Senior Fellow, Washington Office on Latin America) for further analysis on Bolivia’s recent

Wall Street Journal Warps Impact of American’s Arrest in Bolivia

The Wall Street Journal’s recent article from August 1st, “Jailed American’s Drug Case Stokes Tension With Bolivia,” fails to acknowledge the many discrepancies in the Ostreicher case, dramatically exaggerates the effect the case has had on Bolivian-US relations, and contrives false connections between Ostreicher’s case and other drug-related cases.  Prolonged pretrial detention and harsh conditions take a dramatic toll on prisoners and their families.  However, the fact that Ostreicher is imprisoned under a law that the US pressured Bolivia to pass is noticeably absent in the article’s extensive discussion of US-Bolivian relations and the drug war.  (Please see the AIN report, “Ostreicher Case: US-Imposed Legislation Still Dictates Drug Prosecutions.”)

US-Bolivian Relations

“The case of an American jailed in Bolivia without trial for more than a year is gaining increased attention from human-rights groups and members of the U.S. Congress, adding to frictions between the U.S. and Bolivia over the country’s antidrug efforts.”

  • Although one Bolivian human rights group criticized the proceedings early in the case, international human rights organizations have not emitted any public statements regarding the Ostreicher case.
    • While the issue has clearly rubbed both Bolivian and US government officials the wrong way, there has yet to be any tangible impact on the countries’ relations or bilateral drug cooperation.
      • In fact, Republican Representative Chris Smith has been an outspoken critic of the US government’s lack of attention to the issue.  On August 2nd, Representative Smith introduced a bill he calls the “Justice for Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act” that would ban travel to the US by foreign officials from countries in which American citizens “unjustly languish in their prisons.”  The bill has so far not made it out of committee, and estimates it has a 3% chance of passing.
      • In response to Smith’s bill, Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera responded:
        • The US does not have moral grounds to stand on considering it has been protecting Bolivian ex-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada for more than eight years, who has been accused in Bolivia of genocide for the events of the 2003 Gas War.
        • The attitude the US has taken towards the Ostreicher is blatantly hypocritical given the harsh sanctions the US has imposed on Bolivians in the fight against drug trafficking.  It appears to have a double standard when it comes to its own citizens in Bolivia.

“The Bolivian government has had an increasingly fraught relationship with the U.S. government over drug policy.”

  • Although friction persists over these and other issues, bilateral relations have recently improved. On the ground, daily cooperation between the Narcotic Affairs Section of the US embassy and Bolivian drug control officials and agencies continues.
  • Other US officials have also recognized Bolivian counterdrug efforts.  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 that 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.”

“Mr. Morales expelled U.S. antidrug agencies from Bolivia in 2008 after accusing them of interfering in Bolivia’s political affairs…”

  • The Bolivian government announced it would expel one agency, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in November, yet the much larger US Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) of the Embassy continues to fund antidrug and coca control efforts – albeit with a reduced budget – and coordinates with the Bolivian government on a daily basis.
  • US Chargé de Affaires John Creamer confirmed on July 15, 2012 that “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.”

“Mr. Ostreicher’s lawyer says his client is being used by Bolivia to get back at the U.S. after a Miami court last year sentenced Gen. Rene Sanabria, Bolivia’s top-ranking antidrug official, to 14 years in jail for trying to smuggle cocaine into the U.S….Relations sank further after Gen. Sanabria was sentenced.”

Drug Control Record

“Concerns about Bolivia’s role in the international cocaine trade have risen in recent months. A U.N. study released in June showed the cultivation of coca, the raw material in cocaine, has risen more than 20% since Mr. Morales took office in 2006, and Brazilian federal police report a rise in drug trafficking to Brazil from Bolivia.”

“’The Bolivian government has failed in its struggle against narcotics trafficking and wants to camouflage its defeat and surrender to the drug trade by waving Jacob as a trophy,’ said Yimmy Montano, Mr. Ostreicher’s attorney, who is scheduled to testify Wednesday.”

  • While the international drug trade remains a pernicious problem for the Morales administration, the Bolivian government has made significant strides against illegal coca production and drug trafficking in recent years.
  • The UN released their last coca cultivation study in September 2011.  It concluded that “there are 31,000 hectares of coca crops in Bolivia, a 0% increase, which reflects stability in the evolution of the size of the coca crop.”  Preliminary reports suggest that the UNDOC will report a 12% reduction in Bolivia ‘s coca crop to 27,000 hectares, less than their estimate for 2006, Morales’s first year in office.
  • While cultivation of coca initially rose during Morale’s tenure, cooperative coca reduction is beginning to show results, and coca production has actually decreased significantly in the past year.  Although US and UN statistics vary, John Creamer, the highest-ranking US official in Bolivia, also affirmed there has been an “impressive reduction” in coca production in the past year, and the statistics provided are reliable.  Creamer stated, “During the last three years, the Bolivian effort has been impressive; in 2009 they eradicated 5,400 hectares, in 2010, the amount went up to 8,200, in 2011 it reached 10,500 hectares…In 2010 and 2011, we saw an impressive net reduction in the number of hectares of coca.  In other words, they have eradicated more than they replanted, and this is an important achievement for the Bolivian government.”
  • The 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report also notes: “The government took significant steps to control coca production in the Chapare.”  In addition, “The FELCN [Bolivian antidrug police] achieved numerous high-profile successes during 2011,” and “ Bolivia intensified coca eradication efforts, reporting the eradication of more than 10,000 hectares for the first time since 2002, even as eradication forces continued to meet resistance from coca growers.”
  • Bolivian and Brazil law enforcement signed multiple bilateral agreements that seek to contain drug trafficking. One important achievement is the arrest and extradition of Maximiliano Dorado in 2010, a large-scale Brazilian trafficker residing in Bolivia who sold land to Jacob Ostreicher and partner through their associate, a Colombian woman previously romantically linked to Dorado. This land sale, and Ostreicher’s meetings with Dorado were stated as sufficient evidence to maintain Mr. Ostreicher in custody.
  • Furthermore, that the Bolivian government is “waving Jacob as a trophy” is an exaggeration.  In fact, the Ostreicher case has received little attention in domestic press.  Most articles have been brief, and primarily report the US reaction to the case.

Accusations of Morales Administration’s Ties to Drug Trade

“The case comes as Bolivian President Evo Morales’s government is scrambling to defend itself against allegations that it protects drug traffickers.”

“Brazil recently granted asylum to a leading Bolivian opposition senator, who claimed to be the victim of death threats and trumped-up criminal investigations after denouncing on the Senate floor what he said were Bolivian government links to drug traffickers.”

  • Pinto accused high-ranking Bolivian official of connections with same trafficker, Maximiliano Dorado, who owns the land that Ostreicher farmed—this is the only apparent connection between the cases.
  • The case of the Senator Roger Pinto is not connected with Ostreicher.  His asylum request seems to have been a dramatic political maneuver. Pinto has a long history of vehement opposition to MAS.[1]
  • In 2010, opposition senator Roger Pinto made highly public but vague denunciations, accusing the Morales administration of having ties to drug traffickers and covering up said ties.  However, these claims were never substantiated.  Most recently, in July 2012, the right-leaning sensationalist Brazilian magazine, Veja, published an article called, “The Cocaine Republic,” alleging that Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana and former Miss Bolivia and current Regional Director of Development of Beni Jessica Jordan met with convicted Brazilian drug trafficker Maximiliano Dorado.[2]

Discrepancies in the Ostreicher Case

The case has been riddled with contradictory information and odd accusations even from the defense:

  • For example, it seems questionable that Ostreicher and his partner would chose to invest approximately $25 million dollars through a Colombian woman they barely knew in a country in which they had no experience.  Also, Ostreicher did not speak Spanish or have any experience in agriculture.
  • Apparently, Ostreicher and his partner did not have access to legal documentation of their investments. They claim that after three years, they discovered that the land they were farming still belonged to a Brazilian drug trafficker.
  • Furthermore, Ostreicher has given misleading and inaccurate portrayals of the Bolivian prison.  In an interview with ABC’s Nightline, he showed a cell with nothing but a mat on the floor; however, prisoners are free to bring furniture, personal belongings, appliances, etc. into their cells.
  • The conditions that Ostreicher faces in Palmasola Prison are clearly harsh, but there is no indication that he has been treated differently from other prisoners.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (UNHCHR), “the delays that have occurred in Mr. Ostreicher’s case are not unusual.”[3]  (Please see AIN report, “Prison Detainees in Bolivia: Bad Fruit of a Slow Judiciary System.”)

In addition, there have been questionable circumstances regarding the family’s campaign for Ostreicher.

“The Bolivian government denies it is holding Mr. Ostreicher for political reasons. “Mr. Ostreicher is being investigated for presumed crimes of money laundering and links to people involved in drug trafficking,” said Fernando Rivera, the lead prosecutor in the case.”

  • While Ostreicher has endured a lengthy wait for his trial, this is by no means atypical in Bolivia.  As confirmed by the UNHCHR office in Bolivia, “many of the procedural delays that have occurred in Ostreicher’s case are commonplace throughout the Bolivian judicial system,” and “the delays which have occurred in Mr. Ostreicher’s case are not unusual.”[4]

“Mr. Ostreicher said he came to Bolivia on August 2010 to check into reports that the company that he co-owns, Coliagro SA, a Bolivian agriculture venture that produces mainly rice and soy, had been swindled in land deals by its local administrator.”

  • The article omits some important background information.  According other press accounts, Ostreicher invested from $25,000 to $200,000 USD in a rice business in which his Swiss partner, Andre Zolty, invested a combined $25 million USD on the recommendation of Colombian Claudia Liliana Rodriguez.  Ostreicher had never been to Bolivia, did not speak Spanish, and had no experience in agriculture.  Ostreicher and his partner’s choice to invest in a country, sight unseen, and without any capacity for oversight provoked prosecutors’ suspicion.  Prosecutors also produced a 2009 marriage certificate for Ostreicher and one of Rodriguez’s employees, which further complicates the investigation.

“Bolivian police arrested the administrator in April 2011 based on Mr. Ostreicher’s complaints, and she is now in a Bolivian jail awaiting trial on charges of “illicit enrichment.” She has pleaded innocent.”

  • Police arrested Rodriguez on money laundering charges during an investigation of trafficker Maximiliano Dorado’s properties.  Bolivian police allege she has ties to Dorado and a Colombian drug trafficker charged with transporting 944 kilos of drugs to Argentina from Bolivia.

“The Bolivian government is accusing Mr. Ostreicher of laundering money for an alleged Brazilian kingpin, Maximiliano Dorado, who lived in Bolivia before his 2010 extradition to Brazil, where he is in jail awaiting trial on drug charges.”

  • Dorado is a convicted drug trafficker. He was serving a 15-year sentence in Brazil for drug trafficking, murder, and money laundering, but escaped from prison in 2001.

“One of the administrator’s deals was a land purchase from Mr. Dorado. Bolivian prosecutors viewed the link as evidence against Mr. Ostreicher and arrested him. Mr. Dorado couldn’t be reached to comment.”

  • Although Rodriguez claimed that she had purchased the land for them, Ostreicher and his partners’ rice farm was still legally in Dorado and his brother’s name, as a result, the property, equipment and contents are subject to confiscation under Bolivian drug laws.

“Mr. Smith, the congressman, said he witnessed a June 11 bail hearing in Bolivia in which the prosecutor, Mr. Rivera, threatened to penalize the presiding judge if the hearing was held.

  • Fernando Rivera is a legal advisor for the Bolivian Government Ministry, not the lead prosecutor.

“Mr. Smith said he was ‘shocked by how a clearly innocent man was being sent back to jail by a judge who was clearly intimidated.’”

  • Representatives of the Bolivian court system also perceived Smith’s attendance as an attempt to pressure the hearing’s outcome.

 “Mr. Ostreicher, 53, recently declared himself on hunger strike. His lawyers say he has lost about 44 pounds and his health is failing. Doctors who examined him last week recommended his immediate transfer to a hospital. He says that prison officials have refused to move him, his lawyers say.”

  • A hunger strike is clearly an extreme measure, but not uncommon in Bolivia.  During the same week in Bolivia, there were at least three other hunger strikes, including that of El Alto prostitutes demanding affordable sexually transmitted infections testing.
  • Ostreicher told the press he began his hunger strike in mid-April, three and a half months before the WSJ article was published.  There have been several warnings about his health since then.  However, when US embassy officials requested that medical personnel within the prison, as stipulated by Bolivian regulations, to verify his condition and advocate for his transfer to a hospital if necessary, but Ostreicher initially refused. He has since been released for medical treatment and returned to prison.


Ostreicher was denied bail for a third time in his most recent hearing on August 30th, 2012.  Under Bolivian law, as Ostreicher does not have fixed residency in Bolivia or sufficient ties to Bolivia, he does not meet the conditions for bail.

While Ostreicher’s judicial process has been protracted and tedious, the Wall Street Journal’s attempt to inflate this case into a bilateral dispute over drug policy is not helpful to Ostreicher or the many other prisoners awaiting trail on drug charges under the US-authored Law 1008.

[1] Pinto’s dramatic and highly public request for asylum in Brazil seemed to be a politically motivated attempt to stir up conflict.  As a member of the opposition, Pinto may have been trying to drive a wedge between MAS and Brazil at a particularly delicate time when with the recent cancellation of a contract with a Brazilian company to build the Amazonian highway through TIPNIS and the imminent summit of the Organization of the American States in Bolivia.  Interestingly, although Pinto is from Pando, which borders Brazil, and could have easily crossed the border to leave his country as he himself admits in a dramatic letter published in the press, he decided to go to the site of MAS’s power, in La Paz, and hole up in the Brazilian embassy.

Pinto was a support and member of dictator Hugo Banzer’s party, National Democratic Action (ADN) and Democratic Social Power (PODEMOS), which evolved out of ADN.  Pinto is a close ally to Leopoldo Fernández, the former governor of Pando who was is awaiting sentencing for his role in the massacre of eleven people in the remote Pando province in September of 2008.  Although Pinto was not legally implicated in the massacre, a Bolivian diplomat accused Pinto of being an accomplice.

[2] Inter-American Security Watch’s translation of the article:

[3] Email Communication, “Report on Meeting with UNHCHR” from Felicia D. Lynch. 12 July 2012 included in

[4] Ibid

COHA “Spotlight” on Bolivian Coca Out of Focus

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs’ (COHA) April 25 “Spotlight on Bolivia: The “Coca Diplomacy” of Evo Morales,” generalizes and speculates about Bolivian drug policy and relations with the United States. While the general conclusion that U.S. policymakers should do more to cooperate with Bolivia’s vision of coca is valid, inaccuracies presented weaken its arguments. The following clarifications on coca and cocaine data and policy would help improve COHA’s message.

1.“At last month’s meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Bolivian President Evo Morales made headlines by dramatically brandishing a coca leaf he had apparently smuggled into the Austrian city between the pages of a book.”

  • This event occurred at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in 2009, not last month.
  • As a head of state, Morales has no need to “smuggle” coca leaves because he has diplomatic privileges

2.“Morales swept into the presidency in 2006 with the backing of Bolivia’s cocaleros movement, a syndicate of coca-growers unions Morales has helmed for decades.”

  • Morales gained a higher percentage of the popular vote than any other president, at that time and still, in spite of recent setbacks, his support extends far beyond coca growers unions.  He has long been head of one sector of coca growers’ from the Chapare region, but other groups in the La Paz Yungas at times oppose his initiatives

3.“[Morales’] support base is firmly rooted in Bolivia’s largely agrarian indigenous population. “

  • Bolivia’s indigenous population is no longer “largely” agrarian, with large population center like El Alto.  Furthermore, indigenous support for Morales should not be generalized. At this time, key indigenous umbrella organizations, such as CIDOB and CONAMAQ strongly oppose a series of Morales initiatives, such as the construction of a highway through the TIPNIS indigenous territory. Furthermore, Morales also has non-indigenous support from various unions and traditional leftist leaders.

4.  While the article, like many others, note that Bolivia is the third largest coca producer, that also puts Bolivia in last place with much less the amount of coca produced in both Colombia and Peru.

5.   “Bolivia represents an enormously important area of interest for the United States.  The Andean nation’s drug policy is of vital concern to Washington

  • Certainly, the expulsion of Ambassador Goldberg and the DEA in 2008 provoked a great deal of resentment against the Morales administration in Washington, leading to the withdrawal of trade preferences and repeated “decertification” of the country’s drug war performance.  However, Bolivia has never been a priority in U.S. foreign policy of the cocaine produced in Bolivia goes to the United States, with the great bulk of it traveling to or through Brazil and Argentina to Europe and West Africa.

6. “The Andean nation’s drug policy is of vital concern to Washington, and so when the Morales government officially devotes 12,000 hectares…—to the cultivation of a plant classified internationally as an illegal substance, the United States takes notice, and when it calls for 8,000 more to be set aside, that is doubly true. “

  • Although 1988 Drug Law 1008 stipulates 12,000 hectares of legal coca production, Morales administration policy sets the limit at 20,000 hectares, based on model of controlled, rationed coca production initially agreed upon in October 2004 before Morales was president.

7. “12,000 hectares—about 30,000 acres, though Bolivian coca occupies approximately triple that in reality”

  • This comparison depends on which coca production statistics and legal limit ceiling used. At 20,000 hectares, the state limit since 2006, current coca cultivation surpasses this figure by only 50%.  According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Bolivia had 31,000 hectares of coca in 2010, the U.S. sets that number at 34,500.

8. The article in accurately described the coca leaf as “deceptively innocuous-looking.”

The coca leaf, in its natural form is, in fact, innocuous and has significant medicinal and nutritional benefits.

9. “Washington, traditionally in favor of the complete eradication of the plant as part of its ongoing War on Drugs, has in recent years endorsed alternative development programs.”

  • USAID began alternative development efforts in Bolivia almost 25 years ago.
  • Yet, as the COHA piece points out, the success of these programs, which subsidize farmers who choose to suspend their cultivation of coca in favor of other crops, has been limited, as coca is far more cost-effective than alternatives like coffee and rice, which are more labor-intensive and require more land to grow.

10. “And so while recent spikes in global food prices and renewed USAID pushes for alternative development models’

  • In 2008 farmers in the Chapare, one main coca-growing region, decided to reject USAID alternative development projects. As a result, the organization no long works in the region.
  • Although USAID continues to carry out alternative development efforts in parts of the La Paz Yungas coca producing region and has recently had some success with coffee projects, repeated Morales administration officials accusations of USAID’s meddling in Bolivian politics and severe budget cuts have dramatically reduced the scope and depth of these efforts- clearly these are not “recent pushes.”

11.“ USAID pushes for alternative development models have made life without coca more feasible for the average farmer, the polarizing plant remains an attractive option for many Bolivians.”

  • The areas in which USAID carries out alternative development efforts have limited and reduced coca production per family, but not eliminated it entirely in a Bolivian government initiative known as “Integrated Development with Coca.”

12. “Indeed, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, although significant eradication efforts have been made under the Morales administration, they “have not resulted in a net reduction in the cultivation of coca,”

  • Yet, US figures published in the same report register a net reduction of 500 hectares from 2009 to 2011.

13.“The sheer size of Bolivia’s domestic cocaine industry, to say nothing of the vast amounts of the drug produced elsewhere and shipped through Bolivia en route to markets in the U.S. or Brazil, is of grave concern to the United States

14. “And Morales, who expelled the American ambassador and drove U.S. DEA agents from the country in 2008, has done little to assuage Washington’s fears.”

  • Although friction persists over these and other issues, bilateral relations have improved. On the ground, daily cooperation between the Narcotic Affairs Section of the US embassy and Bolivian drug control officials and agencies continues. In November 2011, both countries signed a new bilateral framework agreement, formally reinstating relations and announced the intention to reinstate ambassadors. The agreement includes recurring dialogue on drug policy issues. In January 2012, Bolivia, the U.S. and Brazil signed a trilateral coca monitoring agreement. At the Summit of the Americas, President Obama observed, “The recent agreement between the US, Brazil and Bolivia to go after (excess) coca cultivation in Bolivia, is the kind of collaboration we need.”
  • Other U.S officials have also recognized Bolivian counterdrug efforts. 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…Those findings are reinforced by the U.S. estimate that 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.”
  • The 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, also notes: “The government took significant steps to control coca production in the Chapare.” As well as “The FELCN [Bolivian antidrug police] achieved numerous high-profile successes during 2011”and “ Bolivia intensified coca eradication efforts, reporting the eradication of more than 10,000 hectares for the first time since 2002, even as eradication forces continued to meet resistance from coca growers.”

Insight Crime Misrepresents Bolivian Dilemma by Projecting “Prison Gang” Dangers

Insight Crime’s “Massive Overcrowding Allows Bolivia’s Prison Gangs to Flourish accurately highlights some of the endemic problems faced by Bolivia’s prisons. Yet, the crisis is not new; it began soon after the passage of drug control Law 1008, when the prison population swelled with prisoners detained on low-level drug charges. At the peak of the drug war, over 90 percent of all inmates were prosecuted by Law 1008 and this number still hovers around 85%, in spite of legal reforms.

Clearly, since that time there has been criminal activity within the jails, including cell phone cloning groups, and people connected to car thefts, and drugs and prostitutes are available. Periodically, police break down these rings and transfer involved inmates.  Yet, the suggestion that criminal gangs run the prisons is overdramatic and overstated.  During more than 20 years of abject, and truly unbearable overcrowding, judicial delay, crumbling infrastructure, and ridiculously low budgets, criminal activity has not increased or spilled over dramatically to the detriment of larger Bolivian society.

The delegates mentioned by Insight Crime, don’t “extort” inmates, instead they are elected by them and considered advocates for their interests. As the post notes, inmates do pay fees for the right to cells and other privileges, but the amounts charged are defined by prisoner voting, as is the set of internal prison regulations. There are mutually agreed-upon internal sanctions for incompliance with these rules, but these are not “torture’ or “death.”  Funds gathered are spent according to collective decision on infrastructure improvement, income-generating initiatives, and assistance for indigent inmates, bus-fare and other costs for elected “procuradores” (prisoners with some legal knowledge that help assume inmates’ defense) and even holiday celebrations. Prisoners also use funds and internal regulations to cover healthcare and other costs for hundreds of inmates’ children who reside in the prisons.

Although the system should not be romanticized, it is a desperate attempt to cover prisoner needs and maintain some semblance of order in intolerable conditions. For example, Cochabamba’s San Sebastian prison houses approximately 650 inmates in 500 sq meters (5,400 sq ft).   And, in fact, there are very few cases of violence inside the prisons, where cells are open and stores, soup kitchens, small businesses and even carpentry shops function. Human rights monitors, journalists and others have frequent access to the facilities.

It is inaccurate to automatically liken the longstanding internal prison control in Bolivia to those of Mexico, Venezuela and El Salvador, very different nations with much higher rates of violent and organized crime and distinct prison systems.

Insight Crime correctly cites the presence of an “extortion ring” in a Bolivian jail, but fails to note that Bolivian inmates organized a protest through their internal governance system and obtained the transfer of the ring members to a maximum-security facility.

After over two decades of extreme conditions, the Bolivian government has agreed to raise the daily prisoner allowance to approximately $1.40, over double what it was five years ago, but obviously still woefully inadequate.

Insight’s dramatic statements on international drug trafficking and its potential impact on prison gangs also misses the mark.  Clearly Brazilian and Colombian traffickers do business in Bolivia, as they do in every cocaine-producing and transit nation. Yet it is gross hyperbole to suggest they have “established control pockets of territory” or that they carry out sustained acts of violence that will impact the prison system.  These international traffickers and their local colleagues almost never see the inside of a Bolivian jail, which are filled to bursting with transport “mules” and impoverished individuals hired to make cocaine paste for little profit, expendable tools for trafficking rings.

Insight Crime’s years of experience and keen analysis on Mexico and Central America cannot be super-imposed on a very different context.  The plight of Bolivia’s prisoners is indeed desperate and heart-breaking, but the situation is uniquely Bolivian. Projecting other Latin American realities and patterns of organized crime onto Bolivian inmates does little to improve their dilemma.

McDonald’s Left Bolivia in 2002; Fast Food Still Abundant on City Streets

According to the blogosphere, the biggest news out of Bolivia in the end of 2011 is that Bolivians have rejected McDonald’s. Headlines such as “McDonald’s goes belly up in Bolivia”[i] and “Fast Food fails to deliver in Bolivia”[ii] have topped Google alerts for weeks. Most all of the articles on the subject offer the same quote from news-site Hispanically Speaking News: “Bolivians consider a good meal to be prepared with love, dedication, certain hygiene standards and a proper cook time.”[iii] Everyone from nutritionists to anti-corporate activists would like to hail this victory for Bolivia. But the inconvenient truth is that it’s no better to devour unvetted news than it is to gobble fast food.

McDonald’s left Bolivia in 2002.[iv] After operating in the country for 14 years, they closed all 8 of their Bolivian franchises. That same year, McDonald’s closed 175 branches and pulled out of 10 countries.[v] The reason bloggers only picked up on this news now, ten years later, is that a documentary entitled Por qué quebró McDonald’s en Bolivia, or Why did McDonald’s Bolivia go Bankrupt, has revived the story. Though Hispanically Speaking News’ review of the film correctly states that McDonald’s left Bolivia in 2002, bloggers picked up only on the review’s December 22, 2011 headline: “McDonald’s Closes All Their Restaurants in Bolivia.”[vi] Many blogs even used photos from McDonald’s not in Bolivia to accompany their articles: Scallywag and Vagabond both printed a photo from Miraflores in Lima, Peru, mislabeling it “McDonald’s in Bolivia.”[vii]

Beyond misleading readers to believe that McDonald’s exit from Bolivia was breaking news, the blogs also convince a willing readership that the reason McDonald’s left was that Bolivians do not like fast food. Indeed Hispanically Speaking News says that the film, Por que quebro McDonald’s en Bolivia, “includes interviews with a series of interviews with cooks, sociologists, nutritionists and educators, who all seem to agree, Bolivians are not against hamburgers per sé, just against ‘fast food,’ a concept widely unaccepted in the Bolivian community.”[viii]

Monica Heinrich V., a blogger, accuses the movie of failing to look at their question of why McDonald’s left Bolivia—and she is careful to point out that closing its franchises in Bolivia is distinct from going bankrupt—in a methodical way. Rather than support its thesis with statistics and numbers, Heinrich says the movie relies on anecdotes to prove its message that Bolivians value their traditions of slow meals over the convenience, taste or popularity of a Big Mac.  She counters with her own anecdotal memory of McDonald’s opening day in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz: “The last thing anyone received was fast food because the lines were so long.”[ix]

Despite the flurry of news his movie has provoked, the definitive answer to filmmaker Fernando Martinez’ question about why McDonald’s left Bolivia remains unknown. Did Bolivia’s economic instability make it less lucrative than other places for McDonald’s? Was the cost of McDonald’s food—much of it imported despite the existence of Bolivian sources—too high for the average Bolivian? Or do Bolivians simply prefer a Whopper? In any case, the presence of Burger King, Subway, fried chicken chains and hot dog joints, not to mention Bolivian specific fast food providers such as salteñerias, on every block of most Bolivian cities suggests that the slow food movement would be unwise to look to Bolivia as a model nation of consumers.

[i], “McDonald’s goes belly up in Bolivia,” 26 December 2011.

[ii] “Fast Food fails to deliver in Bolivia.” 10 January 2012.

[iii] Hispanically Speaking News, “McDonald’s Closes All Their Restaurants In Bolivia,” 22 December 2011.

[iv] BBC “Bolivia: McDonald’s cierra sus puertas,” 2 Decemeber 2002.

[v] Monica Heinrich V , Aullidos de la calle. “Falso Conejo.” 8 November 2011.

[vi]McDonald’s Closes All Their Restaurants In Bolivia.

[vii] Scallywag and Vagabond, “McDonald’s close all their stores in Bolivia, making Bolivia the only Latin- American free McDonald’s,” 26 Dec 2011.

[viii] McDonald’s Closes All Their Restaurants In Bolivia,.”.

[ix].“Falso Conejo.” Monica Heinrich V.: “Y el tiempo que estuvo funcionando, en horarios de almuerzo y cena era un suplicio ir a comprar Fast Food porque lo último que obtenías era comida de manera rápida, siempre colas y colas y colas.”

Response to the Bolivian Ex-President’s Defense Team’s Press Release

On August 30, immediately following the “Black October” verdict, convicting five military officials and two ex-ministers for 68 killings in October 2003, the defense team of ex-president Sánchez de Lozada, disseminated a press release claiming the  trial was politicized and the verdict invalid.  Sánchez de Lozada, along with three former ministers who are also defendants in the case, have avoided prosecuting by living in the United States.  The U.S. government has not responded to an extradition request filed by the Bolivian government almost three years ago.  AIN responds to inaccurate assertions in the press release[i] (in italics) below.

The trial that recently concluded against two former Ministers and the then Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Government of President Sánchez de Lozada demonstrates that the Bolivian justice system is highly politicized.  No objective observer could take the sentences announced by the Attorney General seriously.

  • International human rights organizations heralded the ruling.  These same respected organizations have also objectively criticized the Morales administration for leniency on military impunity and other human rights issues.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, praised the verdict: “I commend the Bolivian Supreme Court for its decision, which is an important step in the fight against impunity….A number of Latin American countries have been demonstrating to the rest of the world that it is possible not just to move from dictatorship to democracy, but also to bring justice – no matter how powerful or influential those responsible for human rights violations may be, and irrespective of their civilian or military status….Those who carry out torture, extrajudicial killings and other such crimes on other continents would do well to reflect on this very healthy and accelerating trend towards combatting long-standing impunity in Latin America.”[ii]
  • Denis Racicot, Representative for the UN High Commission on Human Rights in Bolivia commented: “”Those who were also responsible from the political point of view, particularly President Sanchez de Lozada and other ministers that are outside, should also face charges. ….The defense to ‘obey orders’ is not a defense as such.  I think that the president [Morales] has expressed a general opinion.  On the other hand, justice has shown its own independence in that sense.  Today, they have decided to declare responsible those who were under trial and also to sentence them…..if you consider they were illegal orders, you are not obligated to obey such an order in international law… maybe we have seen one of the best days of the Bolivian justice system.”[iii]
  • Amnesty International affirmed that “these convictions are an important victory for the families of those killed and injured who have waited nearly eight years to see justice delivered after the tragic events know as  ‘Black October.’…We hope that this ruling sets a positive precedent for the pursuit of lasting and impartial justice in other human rights cases in Bolivia.[iv]
  • Human Rights Watch had continuously advocated a fair trial in Black October, including the extradition of ex-President Sánchez de Lozada: “In November 2008 Bolivia’s government requested the extradition of former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and two of his ministers to stand trial for killing at least 60 people in anti-government protests in September and October 2003, when the army used lethal force to quell violent demonstrations in the highland city of El Alto. As of November 2010 it has received no response from the United States government.”[v]

As just one example, in 2004, following a thorough investigation, independent prosecutors found no basis to bring charges.

  • During 2004 investigations, public prosecutors, who had been in close contact with international human rights monitors about significant evidence available to press charges, stated that they had closed the investigation because of repeated threats against them.[vi]

Nevertheless, Evo Morales, as a plaintiff pursued criminal charges against the Ministers.

  • Beyond public statements soon after his inauguration, the Morales administration has demonstrated little or no support for the process. For example, in August Morales affirmed, “Why would the ex-commanders be to blame for obeying political orders at some time; I salute the retired military.” [vii]
  • Morales only responded to the subpoena to testify in the case after four months and a Supreme Court order to do so.[viii]

  • Carlos Mesa, Sánchez de Lozada’s hand-picked vice president, withdrew his support for the president on October 13, 2003, explaining that, “If the government does not have the capacity to understand [the concept of] unconditioned dialogue, it will not be able to be a valid participant in the process to address popular demands I will not tolerate death as a response to popular protest.”[ix] Mesa promised full investigations and sanctions of those responsible for the deaths and injuries that took place during Black October when he became president after Sánchez de Lozada’s resignation.[x]
  • In fact, there was consensus across the political spectrum about the need for impartial investigations and prosecutions.  On October 14 2004, during Mesa’s, presidency, the Bolivian Congress authorized the trial of Sanchez de Lozada and his cabinet.  At this time, the majority of congress belonged to Sánchez Lozada’s own MNR party,[xi] or to allied parties. The present government’s MAS coalition, had about 20 percent of the congressional seats at the time.
  • Furthermore, Sanchez de Lozada himself signed the Trial of Responsibilities Act –  the legal foundation for the charges against him his former cabinet. –into legislation.  This law establishes that ministers, the president, and other high-ranking officials can be held accountable for crimes, including the Bolivian definition of genocide. [xii]
  • The Bolivian Supreme Court ratified the congressional decision to try Sanchez de Lozada as stipulated by Bolivian law.

Later, after he became president, Morales appointed the presiding judges rather than following a legal appointment process that would have required Congressional approval.

  • In 2007, the Bolivian Congress elected the two Supreme Court justices Ángel Irusta (president) and Hugo Suárez Calbimonte, who ruled on the case,  by a more than 2/3 majority vote, following the legal stipulations of the existing constitution,[xiii] which had been last modified during Sanchez de Lozada’s first term.[xiv] They were not part of the temporary February 2010 appointments to fill empty judicial positions until universal judicial elections on October 6, 2011.[xv]
  • In 2007, MAS had 84 of 157 seats (53%), which was not enough to push through judicial appointments with a 2/3 majority without other parties’ support.[xvi]
  • Morales had no role in the appointment of the five associate justices appointed to the Supreme Court, according to the stipulations of Bolivian law.[xvii] In fact, one associate justice, the brother of a military colonel, quit his post to work on of the defense team of the accused generals.

Plainly, the Bolivian judiciary was used here as a political tool.

  • All legislation used to authorize the trial and prosecute the defendants was passed long before Morales’ election.
  • Interim Attorney General Mario Uribe who served as chief prosecutor in the trial, was not a MAS appointment, and assumed the post after the resignation of his predecessor, because Bolivian law stipulates that the regional district attorney of Chuquisaca assume this post. MAS merely extended his tenure.[xviii] Furthermore, Uribe began working a state prosecutor in 1995, during Sánchez de Lozada’s first term.[xix]
  • Both special prosecutors assigned to the case are career prosecutors, originally selected in 2000 through a series of competency exams carried out by U.S. contractors as part of democracy promotion initiatives and received further U.S. funded training.

Former President Sánchez de Lozada was not a defendant in the trial.

  • Attorney General Pedro Gareca, unanimously elected in 2004 by the Bolivian Congress [xx], formally charged Sánchez de Lozada on February 1, 2007.[xxi] On November 11, 2008, The Bolivian Government formally requested his extradition from the United States, a decision ratified by the Supreme Court.[xxii]

  • Sánchez de Lozada did not return to Bolivia to assume his defense, a very different matter, and the U.S. government has not responded to the extradition request.   Legally, he cannot be tried in absentia according to Bolivian law and international law.

[i] Full text of the press release:  Statement by Ana Reyes, Counsel to former President Sánchez de Lozada of Bolivia
The trial that recently concluded against two former Ministers and the then Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Government of President Sánchez de Lozada demonstrates that the Bolivian justice system is highly politicized.  No objective observer could take the sentences announced by the Attorney General seriously.
As just one example, in 2004, following a thorough investigation, independent prosecutors found no basis to bring charges.  Nevertheless, Evo Morales, as a plaintiff pursued criminal charges against the Ministers.  Later, after he became president, Morales appointed the presiding judges rather than following a legal appointment process that would have required Congressional approval.  Plainly, the Bolivian judiciary was used here as a political tool.
Former President Sánchez de Lozada was not a defendant in the trial.

[ii] UNHCHR, Press Release: “UN human rights chief applauds convictions of ministers and military for serious crimes in Bolivia, cites ‘healthy trend’ in Latin America,” 2 Sept. 2011.

[iii] BBC World Service, “The World Today,” 31 August 2011.  Racicot responded to a question from BBC reporter Mattia Cabitza about how Morales had previously stated that the military should not be held responsible for following orders.

[iv] Amnesty International Press Release  “Amnesty International Applauds Conviction of Former Officials in Bolivia Massacre” 31 August 2011

[v] Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2011: Bolivia” 25 January 2011.  In the same report HRW criticizes the MAS administration: “Lack of accountability for rights abuses remains a serious problem in Bolivia…In 2010 officials of President Evo Morales’s government backed the military when it failed to comply with court orders to provide access to information.”

[vi] AIN interview with initial prosecutorial team, 14 June 2004, 5 Aug. 5, 2004

[vii] El Mundo “Evo Morales libera de culpa a los excomandantes de FF.AA. 8 Aug 2011.

[viii] Erbol, “Suprema conmina a Evo Morales a entregar su declaración sobre “octubre negro”’ 11 Feb 2011.

[ix] ,” El Diario “Carlos Mesa Gisbert: No tolero que muerte sea respuesta a las protestas populares,”14 Oct. 2003

[x] La Razón, “El debate sobre los conflictos está a punto de postergarse,”,20 Oct. 2003.

[xi] La Razón, “El congress autoriza el juicio a Goni y  al pleno de su gabinete,” 14 Oct, 2003.

[xii] Bolivian National Congress, “LEY Nro. 2445,” 14 March 2003.

ARTICULO 1. (Del ámbito de Aplicación y de los Delitos). Esta Ley establece la

sustanciación y resolución de los juicios de responsabilidades contra el Presidente de la República, Vicepresidente de la República, Ministros de Estado y Prefectos de

Departamento, por delitos cometidos en el ejercicio de sus Funciones. Serán enjuiciados cuando en el ejercicio de sus funciones cometan uno o más de los delitos que a continuación se mencionan. a) traición a la Patria  y sometimiento total o parcial de la nación al dominio extranjero, previstos en el art. 17 de la Constitución Política del Estado y tipificados por los Artículos 109 y 110 del Código Penal. b) Violación de los derechos y de las garantías individuales consagradas en la Primera Parte, título primero de la Constitución Política del Estado, Artículos 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 23, 26,  27,28, 29, 30 y 33 c) Uso indebido de influencias; d) Negociaciones incompatibles con el ejercicio de funciones públicas e) Dictar resoluciones contrarías a la Constitución f) Anticipación o prolongación de funciones; g) Delitos tipificados por los Arts. 146, 150, 151,

152,153 y 163 del Código Penal. h) Genocidio, tipificado por el Artículo 138 del Código Penal i) Soborno y Cohecho; j) Cualquier otro delito cometido en el ejercicio de sus funciones. Los prefectos de Departamento serán enjuiciados por los delitos mencionados en este artículo y por el delito de sedición, definido en el art,. 4 de la Constitución Política del Estado y tipificado por el Artículo 123 del Código Penal.

[xiii] GIZ/PADEP, “Nuevos magistrados de la Corte Suprema elegidos en proceso abierto por el Congreso,” 13 July 2007.

“El Congreso eligió ayer a cuatro magistrados para la Corte Suprema por dos tercios y más de los votos, luego de un largo proceso de selección que comenzó el 12 de mayo de este año con la presentación de 178 candidatos a los cuatro cargos que estaban acéfalos desde hace algunos años excepto algunos meses por el nombramiento interino por decreto del presidente Evo Morales.”

[xiv] Bolivian Supreme Court of Justice.

[xv] Andean Information Network, “Pending Bolivian Judicial Elections: Opportunity for Reform in Uncharted Territory,” 25 June 2011.

[xvi] National Electoral Court of Bolivia, see

[xvii] Government of Bolivia: Judicial Power, “LEY Nº 1455: LEY DE ORGANIZACIÓN JUDICIAL FEBRERO DE 1993,” CAPÍTULO VII: CONJUECES.
La Corte Suprema de Justicia designará a doce abogados en ejercicio en su última reunión, para que en la próxima gestión reemplacen a sus ministros cuando éstos estén impedidos y no hubiese el número suficiente para dictar resolución en un proceso y para dirimir los casos de disconformidad.

Para ser elegido conjuez de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, se requiere tener las mismas condiciones de elegibilidad que para ser ministro de ella.
Los conjueces se hallan sujetos a la misma responsabilidad que los ministros titulares en las causas en cuya resolución intervinieron.

[xviii] La Razón, “García notifica a Uribe para que continúe su interinato.” 27 Jan. 2010.

[xix] AIAMP, “Fiscal General de Bolivia.”

[xx] According to Mario Cossio, MNR (Sánchez de Lozada’s party) head of the lower house of Congress. You  are indebted to no one, Mr. Attorney General, because your appointment wasn’t a political favor from anyone.”Congreso asegura que no cobrará “factura” a Gareca.” El Diario, 17 Dec. 2004.

[xxi] Time, “Bolivia Calls Ex-President to Court,” 1 Feb 2007.

[xxii] The New York Times, “Bolivia: Ex-Leader Sought In ’03 Crackdown,” 12 Nov 2008.

Bolivian Quinoa Questions: Production and Food Security

In January and March 2011, several English-language press outlets ran stories on quinoa production in Bolivia. National Public Radio and the Associated Press reported on quinoa as a development project, hailing its benefits to farmers in the altiplano region of Bolivia.  The New York Times article focused on quinoa’s rising popularity abroad making it less affordable for low income Bolivians. Both AP’s “Quinoa’s Popularity a Boon to Bolivians,”[i] and the Times’Quinoa’s Global Success Creates Quandary at Home” highlight the complex relationship between food security and economic development in Bolivia, although with differing perspectives.

The impact of rising food prices is complex and encompasses food security and sovereignty debates, issues that are difficult to address thoroughly in brief articles.  Until a comprehensive study provides insight into rising quinoa prices, it is difficult to make strong affirmations.  The impact of quinoa production and export must be understood both within the framework of global food security issues and specific local contexts. While these articles presented some important issues, challenging local conditions that affect quinoa consumption and production also substantially affect income generated by this crop.

Quinoa fetches a guaranteed high price affording farmers economic stability. This economic power has also translated into political power though producers’ associations and cooperatives.  Since the 1970’s, these organizations have worked toward greater producer control of the market, spurring other political actions such as blockades and protests for greater economic and environmental rights in quinoa-growing regions.[ii]

Missing key aspects of the “quinoa quandary”

Unfortunately, the Independent article, “The Food Fad That’s Starving Bolivia,” and several online reposts of the Times piece misrepresented the complex relationship between malnutrition and rising quinoa prices by encouraging North American and European consumers to stop buying Bolivian quinoa.  Although the Times never suggested this solution for Bolivian malnutrition, a letter to the editor advocated that exact idea.[iii] Adam Sherwin made glaring and easily avoidable errors in the Independent, for example citing the North American Aztecs when he should have mentioned the Andean Incas. Furthermore, whole paragraphs of Sherwin’s article are copied almost word for word from the Times’ piece, yet Sherwin manipulated its conclusions.

He further incorrectly argued: “There is a potential threat to South America’s farmers – quinoa can thrive in the wet climes of Bolton as well as Bolivia. An increasing number of Britons are cultivating their own supply of quinoa in kitchen gardens and allotments,”[iv] suggesting that small-plot quinoa production in North America and Europe threatens Bolivian farmers’ income.  In doing so, he implies that buying Bolivian quinoa negatively affects Bolivian consumers, yet growing it at home negatively affects Bolivian farmers.  He thus conflates consumption and production issues, with no supporting analysis., and misrepresents the role of international consumers..

Complications of price-based analysis

  • Simon Romero and Sara Shahriari wrote in the Times: “Fewer Bolivians can now afford [quinoa], hastening their embrace of cheaper, processed foods and raising fears of malnutrition in a country that has long struggled with it.”  By ‘processed foods,’ the authors clarified that they meant simple carbohydrates such as white flour and rice, rather than canned or pre-prepared products with chemical additives that provide lower nutritional value.  However, less nutritious white rice and wheat actually require cheaper, simpler processing than the costly, complicated procedures necessary to make quinoa edible.  Raw quinoa must be soaked, rolled, and rinsed to remove the bitter resin covering its seeds.
  • It’s important to understand comparative food prices accurately presented by the Times in context.  Quinoa does on average cost U.S. $4.85 per kilo in Bolivia, compared to white rice at about $1.10.  However, quinoa is more filling than rice and as a result, generally is eaten in smaller portions. For example, many people add small amounts of quinoa to soups and stews.  Furthermore, the Bolivian government subsidizes staples including wheat and rice, artificially lowering prices.  Currently the Morales administration struggles with how to keep food prices affordable while satisfying producers’ needs (See “Ongoing, Unresolved Issues Likely to Perpetuate Tensions in Bolivia”).
  • Furthermore, rising food prices are a global problem, and virtually all staples have increased in price in Bolivia.   For example, rice prices have almost doubles during the last five years.[v] While most pasta often costs less than quinoa, prices vary greatly. Some pasta varieties – particularly whole-grain and more nutritious types – cost over $5.00 per kilo, more than quinoa.  These prices do not reflect rising international costs, but domestic consumption preference; there is lower demand for the more expensive varieties.
  • While quinoa is extremely healthy, Bolivia also produces other highly nutritious seeds and grains, including kañawa[vi] and amaranth.  Both are increasingly available in flours, granolas, and baked goods.  Encouraging production of these grains and seeds for domestic consumption could provide alternatives to high priced quinoa for Bolivians. These grains are not yet widely grown for export, and could therefore remain economical in the national market. Quinoa is not the only nutritious part of the typical Bolivian diet, and with properly managed development and nutrition programs the Bolivian government could expand production and consumption of quinoa alternatives.
  • It is crucial to compare current malnutrition levels to statistics from the 1970’s – when quinoa production for export initially accelerated – to accurately analyze its effect on farmers’ nutrition. The causes of malnutrition in the altiplano, a historically poor and under-served part of the country, are multi-faceted and linked to harsh agricultural conditions, poor infrastructure (which makes food products from the rest of the country less accessible and more expensive), and low economic opportunity.
  • Families make complex choices between keeping quinoa for their own consumption or selling it to invest in education, housing, small businesses, and other food staples. In fact, most quinoa-producing families still eat quinoa at least once a week, and others do so daily. [vii]

Harsh Production Conditions Help Explain Higher Prices

  • Farmers face additional challenges, both in growing and selling quinoa.  Smugglers take quinoa into Peru, selling it at a higher price without benefitting Bolivian producers.  Some of this quinoa later makes it way to international markets, giving the bulk of profit to Peruvian sellers.
  • Periodic droughts in the altiplano, which will likely increase with global warming, can kill crops or delay production.  Furthermore, altiplano soils are dry and lacking in nutrients, making organic and sustainable farming a challenge.  However, many farmers continue to practice organic techniques since organic quinoa fetches a higher market price.[viii]

The importance of a balanced historical perspective

  • Quinoa production is far more robust than it was before the 1970’s.[ix] It is crucial to examine long-term trends to understand why quinoa is such a valuable resource.[x]
  • In general, the quinoa boom greatly benefits farmers in spite of little state support. [xi] According to Kevin Healy, “The fact that some indigenous quinoa pioneers had to seek out adequate technologies for quinoa processing in neighboring Peru is a testimony to the low public status which quinoa agricultural development faced for various decades of the modern era despite Bolivia’s position as the world’s premiere quinoa producer.” [xii]
  • The Times article links to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) website when it cites “American foreign aid organizations” that helped farmers start growing quinoa for export (along with European groups). However past projects, many funded by (USAID), often encouraged farmers in the altiplano to grow wheat[xiii] instead of traditional crops.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s, these projects largely failed, especially as farmers could not compete with low-cost wheat from of U.S. food assistance programs.[xiv] Furthermore, international aid organizations and the Bolivian government continued to encourage both wheat and rice production – helping to explain its continued prevalence in the Bolivian diet.
  • In fact, the smaller, more pragmatic U.S. Interamerican Foundation and various European organizations helped support farmers’ initiatives to significantly enhance their income through export.  USAID support only began within the last five years, after production and export circuits had been established and prices had already increased.

Personal preferences matter

  • Quinoa production and consumption in Bolivia vary by local context and individual choice. According to Andrew Ofstehage, Bolivian quinoa farmers often make individual decisions. Some farmers prefer not to market their quinoa through co-ops because they gain greater benefits and avoid prohibitive transport costs. [xv] Instead, they sell to intermediaries or barter to enrich their diets with fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other staples.[xvi]
  • As Romero and Shahriari suggest, quinoa consumption in Bolivia fluctuates by region and personal preference. They quote the Bolivian Vice Minister of Rural Development and Agriculture: “It has to do with food culture, because if you give the kids toasted quinoa flour, they don’t want it; they want white bread.  If you give them boiled water, sugar and quinoa flour mixed into a drink, they prefer Coca-Cola.”[xvii]
  • Outside of the altiplano, Bolivians consume quinoa less frequently, especially in the lowlands, since it is not grown there nor considered a staple food, although this pattern has shifted due to highland migrants moving into the lowlands.  Quinoa has been part of the diet in the mid-highland regions, such as Cochabamba, for centuries. In past decades, quinoa’s popularity declined among the upper middle classes in favor of wheat and rice that they perceive as more “sophisticated” and “upwardly mobile.” Ironically, the valorization of quinoa in North American and European markets has caused many up-scale Bolivian restaurants to begin serving quinoa and the middle and upper class to consume more of the grain.

Conflicting data complicates research

  • The lack of verifiable data complicates quinoa research.  For example, the Bolivian government, quinoa producers’ associations and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) all track quinoa production, yet release completely different statistics. Contraband quinoa smuggled into Peru, informal sales of quinoa, and lack of documentation in all quinoa-producing parts of Bolivia all further complicate tracking the percentage of quinoa exported versus sold domestically. This situation highlights the need for more careful and precise reporting on quinoa production and consumption.

Big picture: Food security and development are complex, global issues

Recent media coverage on quinoa lauds Bolivian rural development initiatives or highlight food security concerns.  In reality, the “quinoa quandary” encompasses both approaches; examining it through only one lens obscures the multi-faceted nature of quinoa production and consumption in Bolivia.

Food security and sovereignty are ever evolving – neither term has a universal definition or scale of reference.  Food security, at the most basic level, implies an adequate food supply to give all people proper nutrition.  Proponents of food sovereignty, on the other hand, affirm that small producers and consumers should have influence in shaping food policy.[xviii] As a result, it is crucial to acknowledge the global scale and system that affects food prices and consumption choices.

Experts on food issues point to the need to consider the multiple hierarchies of power involved in food production and prices in order to understand how positive changes can be made.[xix] The Times published a letter to the editor that asserted: “While I appreciate being able to find such a nutritious and satisfying product on the shelves of my local supermarket, I’d gladly give it up to ensure that Bolivians can afford to eat it. Having foods from around the world is a convenient luxury so long as others are not paying a hefty price for it.”[xx] Foreign consumers of quinoa can stop buying the grain, but this change would actually intensify existing poverty and malnutrition by taking away Bolivian producers’ steady source of income.  True food and economic security must be achieved simultaneously.

Bolivian quinoa production straddles the line between food and economic security.  There is no easy answer to the problems created by rising food prices. However, the positive changes for quinoa producers cannot be ignored in the debate. As Healy explains:

Quinoa’s current boom would probably have been much weaker had the Quechua and Aymara producers themselves not organized producer associations to revitalize quinoa real (the most commercial variety of quinoa) back in the late seventies and eighties. In contrast to Peru where quinoa received a big boost from the national government, Bolivian state institutions with the exception of several agricultural research stations provided little support to producers for credit, marketing or processing nor promote recognition of its food value among Bolivian consumers.[xxi]

Just as they have pushed to expand the quinoa industry, Bolivian producers and consumers must be the catalyst to push for greater food security and sovereignty.  Bolivian Government nutrition programs have begun to incorporate quinoa into school breakfast and new mothers’ subsidies,[xxii] finally recognizing the important role quinoa can play in food security.  Quinoa farmers, government entities and funding organizations must work collaboratively to insure that quinoa continues to benefit both producers and consumers in Bolivia.

[i] Note: this AP article prompted the NPR story

[ii] Ofstehage, “The Gift of the Middleman: An Ethnography of Quinoa Trading in Los Lipez of Bolivia.”

[iii] Loubaton, Emily, “ Re ‘A Food’s Global Success Creates a Quandary at Home’(news article, March 20),” letter to the editor, the New York Times, 26 March 2011.

[iv] Sherwin, Adam, “The food fat that’s starving Bolivia,” The Independent, 22 March 2011.

[v] Rice in Cochabamba sold at $0.46 USD wholesale in April 2006 and $0.91 USD/kilo in April 2011.  See FAO’s price tool for more information:

[vi] Other similar crops include kañiwa and kiwicha.

[vii] AIN Interview with Andrew Ofstehage,  PhD Candidate at UNC Chapel Hill, 3 May 2011.

[viii] Healy, 183-4

[ix] Ofstehage interview

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid and Ofstehage Interview.

[xii] Email communication, 11 May 2011.

[xiii] Spanish settlers introduced rice and wheat into the Bolivian diet.[xiii]

[xiv] Healy, Kevin, Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia, Univeristy of Notre Dame Press, 2001: 161-162

[xv] Ofstehage interview.

[xvi] Ibid; See also: Ofstehage, Andrew “The Gift of the Middleman: An Ethnography of Quinoa Trading in Los Lipez of Bolivia.” Master’s Thesis, Rural Development Sociology, Wageningen University, August 2010.

[xvii] Romero, Simon and Sara Shahriari, “Quinoa’s Global Success Creates Quandary at Home,” The New York Times, 19 March 2011.

[xviii] Patel, Raj, “ What does food sovereignty look like?” The Journal of Peasant Studies 36: 3, July 2009, 663–673.

[xix] Ibid.


[xxi] Email communication with Kevin Healy, 11 May 2011.

[xxii] Municipal Government of La Paz, “ El mejor desayuno escolar de Bolivia llega con más sabores y productos,” 31 January 2011.

Is Bolivia Ready to Export Lithium?

On October 11, Bolivia’s Mining Minister Jose Pimentel stated that Bolivia plans to start production of lithium carbonate and potassium chloride for export this month, and expects a finalized product by January or February.[i] However, it is unlikely that Bolivia’s lithium carbonate will be available on the international market in the near future.

At an isolated pilot plant, Bolivian and international scientists have been working to develop a process to separate lithium from other minerals present in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats.  The unique climatic conditions and mineral concentration of the Salar present special challenges, and it is unclear whether the extraction process has been perfected.  Between October and March the region receives significant rainfall, which could negatively affect evaporation and separation.  This separation process can take up to 18 months, even without foreseeable rainy season delays.[ii] Furthermore, a successful trial run at the pilot plant would represent the first time lithium carbonate has been produced outside a laboratory in Bolivia.

The pilot plant, when fully functioning, should produce up to 480 metric tons of lithium carbonate per year, a small amount in comparison to regional competitor Chile’s annual production of 40,000 metric tons.  With lithium carbonate prices at five dollars per kilogram (April 2010), the potential sale of 40 tons a month seems fiscally feasible for a pilot plant that cost the Bolivian government $5.7 million.  Moreover, Bolivia and South Korea signed a deal for future investment in lithium in August 2010.

However, information about the Bolivian government’s economic strategy to get its lithium to market is not readily available.  Aside from the challenges of locating the “best market,” Bolivia faces immediate infrastructure hurdles.  The logistics of transporting the lithium to port in a region where roads and electricity are limited further complicate exploratory efforts.

Rebecca Hollender is lead author of “Bolivia and its Lithium; Can the ‘Gold of the 20th Century’ Help Lift a Nation out of Poverty,” (May 2010).  The report is available in English and Spanish at:

[i] “Bolivia to Start Producing Lithium in October for Export, Minister Says.” Bloomberg. 12 October 2010.

[ii] Estimate based on Chile’s lithium carbonate production methods.

Bolivia: Marcela Sanchez Misses the Mark on Morales

Marcela Sanchez’ article, “Ambition’s Costs — The Ongoing Evolution of Bolivia’s Evo Morales,” published in the Latin American Herald Tribune comments on U.S. decertification of Bolivian drug control efforts, the draft anti-racism law, and ex-president’s Jorge Quiroga’s defamation sentence.  Sanchez tries to connect these disparate issues with loose analysis and apparently little research.

In less than 800 words, Sanchez manages to misconstrue the dynamics of the drug trade, Morales’ alleged manipulation of the legal system and the potential impact of anti- racism legislation on freedom of the press in Bolivia.

Misinformed on Morales’ drug trafficking stance

Referring to the U.S. government’s September 15th “decertification” of Bolivia’s drug control efforts, Sanchez writes:

“What has my attention of late is the evolution of Bolivian President, Evo Morales, on this subject.  Just last month Morales expressed ‘deep concerns’ over the ‘structural weaknesses’ in Bolivia that make it difficult to combat drug trafficking. Speaking to the Bolivian Congress, he acknowledged the efforts of police and military forces, but added, ‘drug traffickers are better equipped than the state.’”

  • Sanchez invents “Evo’s evolution.” Morales has been well-versed for decades on the damage done by drug trafficking in Bolivia, often personally bearing the brunt of poorly designed, ineffective and repressive coca control programs.  From the moment of his inauguration, Morales’ administration has recognized Bolivia’s international commitment to work against drug production and trafficking, a problem Sanchez presents as easily solved with sufficient awareness and elbow grease.  Morales has never denied the negative influence of the drug trade. Yet, drug producing and transit nations of all political ilk face almost insurmountable challenges competing with an illegal industry whose enormous profit margin allows it to easily absorb losses and rapidly regroup to work around interdiction.

Failed to carefully read decertification document

Sanchez makes the misleading assertion that:

“Morales, in other words, agrees with the very complaint that motivated Washington to call out Bolivia. And while he rebuffed Washington’s latest complaints, he no longer denies the growing presence and corruptive influence of the criminal syndicates that run the drug trade. ‘I didn’t think that drug trafficking was so big and had so much economic power,’ Morales said in May.”

  • Although Sanchez concedes the certification process represents an “ugly irony,” she later seems to justify its parameters. Suggesting that Morales agrees with the U.S. complaint that motivated decertification, Sanchez reveals she is unaware of the determination’s multiple criticisms.  While Bolivia often uses the same standards (e.g. interdiction efforts, total coca cultivation, presence of trafficking cartels) to assess its own drug control efforts, Bolivian officials object to the U.S. government’s authority to certify or decertify drug control efforts.
  • Sanchez also misconstrues the nature of the Obama administration’s memorandum. The document cites multiple complaints, often using faulty arguments, asserting that Bolivia “failed demonstrably” to obtain a net reduction in the coca crop. It also mentions their perceived gap in interdiction efforts after the expulsion of the DEA, improved cocaine processing methods and “the increasing presence of Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers in Bolivia.”
  • Ironically, neighboring Peru fails to measure up to the shifting yardstick that the Obama Administration chose to apply to Bolivia, yet the nation received full “certification.”

Portrays coca growers as naïve

“Surely life was different for Morales as a leader of coca farmers. In that capacity, he was clearly on the side of a commonsensical truth — farmers should be able to produce a legitimate crop, traditionally consumed as medicine and as a mild stimulant in tea. That it is also the raw material for a powerful and dangerous drug is not immediately the farmer’s problem. Rather it’s a matter left to those who convert it to cocaine, those who consume the drug and the government officials who must deal with the consequences.”

  • Although Sanchez has made progress in understanding legal uses of the coca leaf (see “Bolivia’s Morales Wants to Expand Coca Use,” 2006), her portrayal of Morales’ understanding of coca-cocaine dynamics — limited to that of coca production during his tenure as union leader — is both condescending and misleading. During the period of forced eradication, coca growers suffered the collateral damage of U.S.-funded anti-drug efforts.

Imagines drug cartel presence in Bolivia

Sanchez continues to misrepresent the drug trafficking situation in Bolivia:

“As president, Morales is the opposite side of this equation. He sees firsthand the influence of the drug trade as local officials are paid off by cartels and become less and less interested in the welfare of their constituents than their own and the mafia’s.”

  • There is no evidence of drug cartels in Bolivia, although Mexican and Colombian traffickers are present.  The decertification memorandum comments on how traffickers in Bolivia have adopted more efficient coca leaf processing methods from Colombia, which has used these methods for over a decade. Processing techniques in Peru have simultaneously evolved, making more efficient processing a problem in all three Andean Countries.  Furthermore, both UN and U.S. documents comment on the increasing presence of Mexican and Colombian traffickers in Peru, which had contributed to greater violence and instability.
  • Her multiple references to “cartels,” perhaps a by-product of her forced comparison to Mexico in other sections of the article, belies her lack of understanding of the dynamics of the drug trade. Although international traffickers travel to Bolivia, the bulk of trafficking and processing is carried out by smaller “family clans,” which makes detection and interdiction even more complicated.
  • When asked about whether cartels operate in Bolivia, U.S. Embassy Narcotics Affairs Section Director, Susan Keogh, stated, “We don’t use that term.” (28 May 2010 El Deber,). U.S. and UN evaluations of Bolivia’s drug control efforts make no reference to “cartels.”
  • Although there is corruption at the municipal level in Bolivia, “cartels” paying off local officials is not a defining characteristic of the drug trade in Bolivia, as it is in Mexico.

“Even close personal associates [of Morales] have been affected [by the drug trade], such as Valentin Mejillones, the Aymara priest that led an inauguration ceremony for Morales in 2006. In July, Bolivian officials found Mejillones at home with two Colombians — and 240 kilos of liquid cocaine.”

  • Mejillones is hardly a “close personal associate” of Morales for participating in his first inauguration.  Furthermore, when police apprehended Mejillones for drug trafficking, Morales issued a public statement insuring that the he would face trial without special consideration.

Over-simplifies anti-racism bill and freedom of speech in Bolivian press

Commenting on the draft of the proposed anti-racism law, Sanchez misleading links its restrictions on the press to narcotrafficking:

“At this moment, a new “anti-racism” bill is making its way through the Bolivian congress, controlled by Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism. The bill would allow the government to suspend the licenses of media companies and even send journalists to prison for their role in the publication of racist ideas.

  • Sanchez provides an overly simplistic analysis of the proposed “anti-racism” law and the current tensions it has caused.  There is a public forum underway to discuss the press corps objections to this law, and thus far there are no limits to “free speech”.  Morales has also promised not to change the law regarding the freedom of press.

A free press isn’t the first thing that comes to mind in the fight against drug traffickers, but it plays a vital role. One of the more obvious examples is occurring now in the Mexican border city of Reynosa. As the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists noted in its latest report, the Gulf cartel today ‘controls the local government, from major law enforcement all the way down to street vendor’ permits, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the local press.
…. Its job has been made easier by a long tradition of graft in which Mexican officials have bought journalistic silence and undermined the independent media. By weakening the press in his own way, Morales is unwittingly working to the benefit of Bolivia’s cartels.”

  • The law would in no way affect reporting on drug trafficking or crime, which will continue to receive a great deal of coverage.
  • Comparing Mexico and Bolivia is like comparing apples and oranges; they have distinct legal systems, political climates, and drug trafficking structures.  Although drugs are a problem in Bolivia, violence does not generally characterize trafficking or efforts to address.  Levels of drug-related violence in Bolivia are significantly lower than in Peru and Colombia, and pale in comparison to the endemic violence in Mexico.
  • Although corruption is a problem in Bolivia, drug traffickers do not control government structures in Bolivia at any level.
  • Although Morales frequently harangues the press, diverse media freely operate in Bolivia and are often quite vocal critics of his administration.
  • There have been attacks on journalists, especially by protestors during the Morales government, but the level of violence can in no way compare to Mexico. For example, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a source cited by Sanchez, documents 2 journalists killed in Bolivia since 1992, and none related to trafficking. In contrast, they cite 22 deaths in Mexico during the same period and many more cases of harassment.

Glorifies Quiroga as drug warrior

She goes on to negatively compare Morales’ drug control efforts to the supposedly effective policies of ex-president Jorge Quiroga:

“During his tenure, [Quiroga] helped make Bolivia Washington’s poster child for antidrug efforts. In a few years, Bolivia nearly eradicated coca from the Chapare, previously known as the world’s second largest coca producing region.”

  • As Vice President and President (1997-2002), Quiroga focused on forced coca eradication, violating the Bolivian constitution by bring the armed forces into a law enforcement role.  During his tenure, the Bolivian government paid significantly less attention to interdiction efforts. Sanchez glorifies the most violent periods of the drug war in Bolivia.
  • In this case, being the “poster child” for U.S. counter-narcotics policies led to human rights violations in the Chapare coca-growing region, and aggravated poverty conditions among farmers who had no alternative to coca.
  • Quiroga’s false successes were used to help justify Plan Colombia.   Aggressive eradication in the Chapare is only one small piece of the puzzle.  In a classic demonstration of the balloon theory, a temporary reduction in the Chapare led to more concentrated coca production in the Yungas, the other major Bolivian coca-growing zone.
  • At the same time, coca production expanded in Peru and almost doubled in Colombia, peaking at 183,000 hectares in 2000 (approximately five times the U.S. estimate for coca cultivation in Bolivia for 2009, which it deemed unacceptable). Colombia has almost no traditional coca use.  Meanwhile, coca farmers in the Chapare region faced with the failure of U.S.-funded alternative development programs to provide economic alternatives, rapidly replanted.
  • In short, Bolivia dropped from second to third place in coca production because of huge increases elsewhere. At best we can give Quiroga credit for shifting the location of production with no lasting or overall effect at a high human, economic and political cost. Quiroga can also be credited for helping to launch Morales’s rise to political prominence for protesting the drug policy he authored and implemented.

Plays the predictable Chavez card

Sanchez goes on to comment on Morales’ political undermining of the opposition:

“Unfortunately, Morales’ candid realizations are too few and far between and haven’t prevented him from undermining the very institutions that form a bulwark against the corrupting influence of drug trade. Taking cues from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Morales has sought to undermine and discredit his critics, manipulating and weakening the independent judiciary and the press in the process.”

  • Although the Morales administration has followed the contemptible example of previous Bolivian governments by politically targeting its opponents, Sanchez erroneously extrapolates the case against Jorge Quiroga as an example of Morales’ “political witch hunt.”

Unfounded claims of MAS persecution through Quiroga conviction

Ms. Sanchez closes by criticized the recent Bolivian court ruling against Quiroga:

“In a strange twist of fate, the former president is now facing a two year and eight month sentence imposed by the Bolivian judiciary for ‘defamation’ after he criticized a state-owned bank. Quiroga, who is appealing the decision, says he is the target of a politicized judiciary that serves Morales’ efforts to intimidate any opposition.”

  • The twist of fate is not so strange. Bolivian defamation and libel legislation is clear, and Quiroga merely had to retract or prove his statements to nullify the charges against him. The law used to prosecute was ratified during the Banzer dictatorship. Furthermore, USAID contractors and Bolivian officials did not feel the need to modify the sentences and terms of the articles used to prosecute Quiroga when they reformed the law in 1999. In fact, the new Criminal Procedures code, which permits Quiroga suspended sentence if he loses his appeals, became law while Quiroga was Vice President and approved by a Congress dominated by his political coalition. Morales had no influence on either of these laws.

Assumes Morales will run for third term

Sanchez concludes her article by discrediting Morales’ policy changes and glossing over the current reelection controversy:

“When the time comes, these efforts may ensure Morales a third term as president. But at what cost?  As Quiroga observed, ‘I don’t think they fully understand that the major adversary in their future won’t be Mr. Quiroga, but drug traffickers.’”

  • Sanchez throws out Morales “running for a third term,” without discussing the current controversy on the issue, or explaining that there has been no decision.  Any followers of Bolivian politics know that it is impossible to predict what will happen within four years, when the next presidential elections are scheduled.
  • Counter to Sanchez’ assumption, Jorge Quiroga has no weight as a viable political contender in future elections, nor is he considered to be an electoral adversary.  Although during Morales’s first term Quiroga’s party, PODEMOS, held a significant number of congressional seats, they lost support of the opposition after a call for a recall referendum that strengthened Morales position. PODEMOS currently has no representatives in Congress, or political allies on any side of the political spectrum

Schipani Dramatizes Bolivian Drug Control Efforts and MAS Official’s Role

Andres Schipani’s article, “Jessica Anne Jordan Burton: beauty queen defies cartel beasts in Bolivia’s war on cocaine,” presents an inaccurate, hyperbolic, and sexist account, which projects narrow-minded generalizations and grossly distorts the current reality of Bolivian drug policy.  Unfortunately, this erroneous portrayal has been widely reprinted and quoted in the English-speaking press.

Inaccurate or incomplete information appears in almost every line. The misrepresentation of Jordan loosely camouflages an improvised dramatization of the dynamics of drug trafficking in Bolivia.

Objectifying Jordan

Schipani’s skepticism that an attractive, ex-Miss Bolivia could be employed by the Morales administration is off the mark.  Young, attractive and female does not signal incompetence.  Although Schipani notes that Jordan has never held public office, he omits that she lost last March’s gubernatorial race in the Beni department to the incumbent by less than three percent.[i] Although the announcement of her candidacy and campaign did generate a great deal of media attention at the time, she quickly faded from the Bolivian media spotlight after the publication of final election results.

Furthermore, Schipani inaccurately describes Jordan’s post by calling her “a controversial figurehead in Bolivia’s increasingly fraught campaign against cocaine barons,”[ii]  In fact, her bureaucratic post is not part of Bolivia’s formal drug control apparatus, and, unlike Social Defense Vice Minister, Felipe Cáceres, she can’t be considered a figurehead.  Thus his claim that Jordan’s position has not “turned the spotlight on the country’s faltering effort to rein in drug traffickers” misrepresents her sway in Bolivia’s drug control policies.  Morales created this new post to address one of its priorities for lowland departments: border control.  Jordan’s official title is “Beni Director of Border Development,”[iii] a new post that she manages to explain despite the article’s dramatized focus.  Her position will address different forms of illicit trafficking, corruption, poverty and “crack down on illegal logging and gold mining as well as drugs.” The assertion that Jordan is the “viceroy with the job of cleaning up the drug-infested border province of Beni,”  is far overstated.

Although Schipani claims her appointment “astonished Bolivia,” in fact the June 7, 2010 announcement received scant notice, beyond sexist jokes in passing. It is a common practice in all Bolivian administrations to appoint leaders who lost in national elections, much like President Obama’s decision to name Hillary Clinton Secretary of State after her unsuccessful presidential bid.

Inaccurate information on anti-narcotic efforts

Although Schipani admits that there are “grim tiding from the rest of the region,” in term of anti-drug efforts, he feels comfortable critiquing Jordan’s efficacy, stating, “it is far from clear that this is a battle she is winning,” after only nine weeks on the job.

In fact, the article’s messy generalizations about the drug war are more like a low-budget B movie than the product of investigative journalism.  Here are some quotes and AIN’s response:

“Latin America’s drug war has long been a byword for ugliness: a macho, brutal world where grim-faced soldiers battled ruthless narco-traffickers in jungles and slums.”

  • In Bolivia the police, not the military carry out interdiction efforts, except for river operations and some transport.  The FELCN anti-drug police have a significant number of female officers, and both men and women certainly participate in drug trafficking. Although the frequency of confrontations between law enforcement officers and drug traffickers has increased in the past year, most drug seizures and destruction of factories occur when the facilities are abandoned or empty.

“The picture in Bolivia is also bleak. UN and US officials estimate that 30,000 hectares of illegal coca is now being cultivated.”

  • Schipani rounded liberally and failed to take into account that some coca production in Bolivia is legal.  Both UN and U.S. reports place coca cultivation between 30,000 and 35,000 hectares.  The UNODC estimated a total of 30,900 hectares grown in Bolivia in 2009, whereas the U.S. claims that there were 35,000 hectares cultivated during the same time period.[iv]  According to Bolivia’s 1988, drug control laws, 12,000 of these hectares are legal and permitted.  In 2006 the Morales administration raised the ceiling of permitted coca production to 20,000 hectares until the completion of an EU-funded legal market study.  Regardless of which amount of legal coca you accept, there is nowhere close to 30,000 hectares of illegal coca.

“A former coca farmer himself, he (Morales) expelled U.S. Drug agents two years ago, saying he could achieve a ‘zero cocaine policy’ by allowing grow the crop for medicinal and cultural uses…”

  • Morales expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA] in November 2008 for alleged political intervention, yet the U.S. Narcotics Affairs Section [NAS] of the Embassy continues to fund antidrug and coca control efforts – albeit with a reduced budget – and coordinates with the Bolivian government on a daily basis.
  • The 1988 Anti-drug Law 1008 stipulated regions where coca leaf could be legally grown in Bolivia for traditional purposes. This law was not a Morales initiative.

“…but [Morales] recently acknowledged his experiment—a bold departure from U.S.-led eradication policies—was in trouble.”

  • Although Morales frequently urges coca farmers to follow the stipulations of the cooperative coca reduction policy and his officials openly recognize the challenges that the negotiated approach presents, Morales officials have never stated that the program struggled to achieve its goals.  In fact, the 2009 UN office on Drugs and Crime Coca Cultivation study stated that this coca control policy is beginning to show results in the Chapare and La Asunta regions, and that controlled coca production helped lead to crop diversification in the affected regions.  The cooperative coca reduction program in the Chapare seems to be working, and efforts in La Asunta are showing initial results.[v]
  • Bolivia is still in last place for coca production. Coca cultivation in Bolivia represents 19% of the global total.[vi]
  • Although 2009 was the fourth consecutive year that the UNODC recorded a coca cultivation increase, the slight 1% rise in coca cultivation [for 2009] reflects the lowest increase in the previous four years. [vii]
  • Bolivia’s coca reduction is in fact a complex, detailed program carried out by Bolivian and international agencies, including the EU and UN.  Cooperative reduction is accomplished by using satellite imagery and aerial photography, as well as on-site verification of property boundaries and continual consultation and negotiation with unions and farmers.  These control measures are carried out within a logical, organized framework.[viii]

“Valentín Mejillones, an Aymara priest who blessed Morales at a presidential inauguration ceremony, was recently arrested alongside two Colombians with a 240kg stash of liquid cocaine. It was an embarrassing blow to the leftwing president.”

  • Although Mejillones’s arrest did provoke surprise and a great deal of attention because of his participation in Morales’s first inauguration in 2006, he has no official ties to the administration, nor did he receive any special treatment once caught.  He is facing appropriate legal consequences for his role in drug trafficking.  Upon his arrest, Morales officials immediately expressed their desire that he face the full weight of the law.

Schipani refers to “cartel beasts” and “cocaine barons.” He also quotes drug control chief Felipe Cáceres’ admission that Bolivian drug traffickers now use more sophisticated methods and have forged ties with large trafficking organizations.

  • Although large trafficking organizations maintain contacts and travel to Bolivia to secure shipments, the majority of local drug production and trafficking is carried out by “family clans.”  Ironically, over the past fifteen years interdiction efforts splintered larger groups into innumerable small organizations, making them harder to detect. When anti-drug police are able to disband them, the overall effect on trafficking is negligible, as rival groups quickly absorb their share of the market.


Unfortunately, the reality of Bolivian anti-narcotic efforts remains sufficiently complicated without inaccurate, misdirected analysis to further confuse the general public.  As in all Andean countries, supply-side efforts face significant challenges.  Despite very real problems on the interdiction front, Bolivia is attempting peaceful, negotiated coca reduction, and their strategy is beginning to show positive results.  The style and muddled focus of the article does a disservice to Bolivian anti-narcotics efforts, Ms. Jordan, and the author himself.

[i] Jordan (40.1% of the vote) lost to her opponent, the incumbent Prefect Ernesto Suarez (PB) (42.5%), in a close race.
[ii] Technically, Beni is a department, the loose equivalent of a U.S. State. Departments are divided into provinces, somewhat similar to U.S. counties.
[iv] See, Andean Information Network, “The UNODC Coca Cultivation Study for Bolivia Shows Minimal Increase in Coca Crop: Sharply Contrasts with U.S. Statistics.”
[v] Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia, Monitoreo de Cultivos de Coca. June 2010.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] The Andean Information Network, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Puente de Investigacion y Enlace organization carried out a fact-finding delegation in the Chapare region in July 2010. See the upcoming joint-organizational memorandum on this topic.