Bolivian President Evo Morales,
himself a former coca growers' leader, announced last weekend that he had
won an agreement with peasants in the Yungas region to voluntarily limit
their coca production. The move came as part of an emerging two-pronged
strategy by Morales to deal with the coca issue. On the one hand,
he has signaled he will continue to go after the cocaine traffic, while
on the other hand, he is seeking to normalize coca production in a country
where it has a long history of traditional use.
"Never, never will there
be coca zero," he told a crowd in the Amazon town of Caranavi on Saturday.
"But neither can there be unrestricted cultivation," said Morales, draped
in coca leaf necklaces. "Thanks to the unions, we've got rid of the
zero-coca policies. Here it's about rationalizing production," he
|Evo Morales, probably holding a coca branch
In the Yungas, coca has been
grown for thousands of years, and current Bolivian law allows for 30,000
acres to be cultivated there for traditional uses. Under the agreement
with the Morales government, coca farmers in Caranavi have agreed to limit
their production to one "cato," or about 1,600 square meters.
"This is a voluntary eradication
and many comrades have already started. It's already on the way,"
Rene Coromi of the FAPCCA, a local federation representing farmers of coca
and other crops including tea, citrus fruits and coffee, told Reuters.
"For us, a cato sometimes
does not seem enough but we will follow it because we don't want to do
anything wrong by our president," said coca and coffee farmer Carmelo Olori
as he waved a banner reading "Viva Coca." He said he thought the
region would back Morales, who gained 90% of the vote there in the December
The agreement is a limited
first step dealing with one part of the Yungas. No agreements have
been reached with coca growers in the Chapare, where no legal production
is currently allowed. Even in the Yungas, the complexities of Morales'
path were made obvious when he was criticized by other coca growers for
announcing the opening of a third coca market where authorized Caranavi
growers can sell their leaves.
Opening new coca markets
is part of Morales' larger plan to create new coca-derived products as
well as boost sales of traditional nostrums like coca tea. That plan
is in turn part of his effort to "revalorize" coca, or see it recognized
by the international community as a valuable and legal plant. Under
the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotics, coca is defined as an illegal
The United States is casting
a wary eye on Morales' coca policies and has criticized his plans to open
a third coca market. Bolivia is currently the world's number three
coca producer, behind Colombia and Peru.
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