Andes Alternative Development, the Reality

Originally published on ISN Security Watch, September 8, 2006.

Zero coca policies and a lack of security harm sustainable economic development and contribute to a poor history of alternative development in Bolivia and Colombia.

By Sam Logan 

Alternative development programs in South America’s Andean countries have a long history of tension and conflict. Many examples of success stories exist, but the balance often tips in favor of poor implementation and distrust.

The reasons why alternative development economic programs succeed or fail rarely bubble to the surface. US officials compute statistics that may conceal very real concerns. Left behind in this process are the farmers surrounded by dead coca bushes and little by the way of real economic development to show for it.

read more

Bolivia’s Agrarian Reform Initiative

 · The United States and European governments, as well as international agencies should support agrarian reform in Bolivia, as they have done in the past.  Bolivia should not be forced to turn only to Venezuela for support of a reform process that is critical to future economic and social stability.[i]

Morales Promises Land for the Poor

On May 2 of this year in the lowland city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, announced his government’s plans for agrarian reform to benefit thousands of indigenous people.[ii] Morales presented land titles for 3 million hectares to 60 indigenous communities and groups and promised that Bolivia’s 2.5 million rural poor would receive title to 20 million additional hectares over the next 5 years. This would constitute about 13% of Bolivia’s land being given to about 28% of its people.[iii] About one third of the land to be redistributed was already owned by the state, while another two-thirds would be reclaimed from individuals or companies holding large amounts of land in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands with no legal title or illegally obtained titles.  The government assured landowners that property legally obtained and used productively would not be affected.  The administration also stated that it would not permit land invasions and squatting settlements.  During the past ten years landless farmers and others, frustrated by the lack of government implementation of agrarian reform, increasingly moved into unoccupied lands in rural and outlying urban areas throughout the country.   Bolivia’s large national parks and forest reserves would also continue to be protected. 

read more

A New Constitution for Bolivia

          Although some U.S. officials have expressed concern that the Morales government has "demonstrated inclinations to consolidate executive power and promote potentially anti-democratic reforms through the Constituent Assembly and other means," [i] the structure and organization of the assembly has consistently followed the stipulations of Bolivian law and the organizing precepts of Bolivian representative democracy.  Since 2004 Bolivian presidents and legislatures have approved a legal framework and timeline for the assembly, in compliance with the stipulations of the country’s existing constitution.  The law convoking the assembly, approved by the Bolivian legislature in March 2006, bases the election of delegates on the established  democratic electoral  system, allowing political parties, established citizens’ and indigenous groups to run.

read more

Bolivia shifts tactics in its war on cocaine

Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle

President focuses on eradicating means of making drug, and not on coca farming

Puerto Villarroel, Bolivia — As Bolivian soldiers torch a pit filled with chemicals and coca leaves used to make cocaine, a fireball shoots toward a jungle canopy. The anti-narcotic task force destroys seven such holes daily in a region known as the Chapare.

Since Bolivia's new president, Evo Morales, assumed power in January, he has continued his nation's war on drugs in the Chapare near Bolivia's third-largest city, Cochabamba. But he also has antagonized the United States by shifting the focus away from the subsistence farmers who grow coca leaf — the raw ingredient of cocaine — to destroying pits and laboratories and confiscating chemicals needed to manufacture cocaine. Coca has been the lifeline for many Chapare farmers, many of whom had been tin miners until the collapse of metal prices in the 1980s.

read more

Crisis or Opportunity? Bolivian Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Response

Click here to view this joint Andean Information Network and Washington Office on Latin America report as a PDF.

The December 2005 election of indigenous leader and coca grower Evo Morales marked a major turning point for South America’s poorest country. Winning 53 percent of the vote, Morales received an unprecedented mandate for change, and he is following through on his campaign promises on a range of issues. Of particular importance for U.S.-Bolivian relations is drug control policy, where the Morales government’s framework – “coca yes, cocaine no” – seeks to distinguish clearly between coca, a plant long used by indigenous peoples for health, religious and cultural purposes, and cocaine, an illicit drug.

read more

Colombia politics: Coca and cocaine in the Andes

Progress against coca in Colombia is threatened by the perilous politics of the drug "war" and, as always, by market forces

LA MACARENA National Park is a dramatic mountain ridge that cuts like a serrated knife through the tropical grasslands of Colombia. It is a refuge for dozens of species of wildlife found in few other places on earth. But recently it has become a new front in the "war" on the cocaine industry that the United States and its allies have now been waging for a generation in the Andean states of South America.

read more

Bolivian Leader’s Stance on Coca Raises U.S. Concerns

Click here to listen to the story 

Morning Edition, December 29, 2005 · Bolivian President-Elect Evo Morales has promised to allow more coca farming, which has renewed a debate in Washington over the U.S. drug war and its heavy emphasis on coca crop eradication. Morales has said his government will try to interdict drugs, but he wants to preserve the legal market for coca leaves.

The story features interviews with Sanho Tree and AIN Director Kathryn Ledebur.

Continued Impunity Could Aggravate Pending Political Conflict

Part One: 
Ex President Sánchez de Lozada and Others Avoid Prosecution in the United States

Over two years have passed since Bolivian security forces killed 59 and left over 200 people seriously injured during widespread demonstrations protesting the management of Bolivia’s gas reserves in September and October of 2003. As with other social conflicts in Bolivia, there have not been legal consequences for the human rights violations committed during the "Gas War." By the time President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada resigned, the armed forces and police had killed almost as many people during his fourteen-month presidency as during seven years of the Banzer dictatorship, considered one of Bolivia’s bloodiest military governments since the 1952 revolution.  The military’s systematic refusal to cooperate in a meaningful way with investigations – although ordered to do so by the Bolivian Supreme court – and the delay of the U.S. government to deliver subpoenas to Sánchez de Lozada and two former cabinet ministers living in the U.S. have impeded attempts to seek justice for the victims and stem future human rights violations in a politically tenuous climate.

read more

US Interests and Bolivian Elections: Demonizing Morales, Jeopardizing Stability

In June 2005, two weeks of massive street protests and widespread blockades in Bolivia culminated in the resignation of President Carlos Mesa and a subsequent power vacuum in the country. U.S. officials suggested that Bolivian coca leader and Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party head, Evo Morales, manipulated popular protests within the country. Washington has also asserted that the governments of Cuba and Venezuela provoked and funded the social unrest. Accusations put forth by Bush administration officials represent both a misreading of the complex Bolivian political crisis and the latest incarnation of an unsuccessful long-term strategy to prevent a Morales presidency, which U.S. officials claim would be a destabilizing force in the region. As public statements once again failed to impede popular support for Morales, the U.S. has likely resorted to behind the scenes attempts to affect Bolivian politics, or to influence the viability of a Morales presidency if elected. In the context of a potentially volatile political climate, U.S. attempts to thwart a Morales presidency threaten to produce exactly the prolonged political instability they purportedly are seeking to avoid.

read more

Roadblocks to Bolivian Elections

The road to Bolivian elections, scheduled for December fourth, is becoming increasingly fraught with obstacles. With Carlos Mesa’s resignation and the inauguration of Supreme Court head, Eduardo Rodriguez, as interim president last June, a hard fought political agreement was reached to move up national elections, originally to take place in 2007. That journey, however, recently hit a large roadblock as a new Bolivian Constitutional Court ruling threatens to delay elections.  Rodriguez has warned he will resign if elections do not take place as planned, stating that his sole mandate is to insure a democratic electoral transition.  A resignation only four months after his inauguration, and the resulting uncertainty would inevitably pitch the nation once again into political chaos.

read more