Global Politics

Bolivia's anti-drug efforts

Every morning this market is bustling with coca growers who come to sell their crops to individual buyers. There are consumers who buy small bundles of leaves to chew, which works as a small stimulant that many believe has medicinal properties. Then there's the business end for people who use the leaves in everything from tea to liquor and buy the leaves in bulk, about $100 US dollars for a 50 pound bag. This security workers keeps an eye on things to make it all works. He estimates half the coca sold in this market winds up in cocaine labs throughout Bolivia. Finding out exactly where the coca goes is not his job, but the jobs of these special police officers. Most of their equipment has been donated by the US, from cars to computers. This director acknowledges that coca growing has increased in recent years under President Morales's new program, but he stresses that Bolivia's anti-drug efforts have increased in recent years. Recently he announced a latest bust in which half a ton of cocaine was seized outside La Paz. Bolivian officials are careful not to link the recent uptake in drugs to Morales's legal coca promotion and instead emphasize their own efforts against drug trafficking. This US official says Morales's programs have been very mixed and says the government has been less active in coca plant eradication. He says under international law there is no such thing as legal coca. Evo Morales disagrees and is a former coca grower himself. Bolivia allows coca to be grown for legal reasons, but according to a UN report Bolivia is allowing far more coca to be grown than it says it legally allows. That's what this US official objects to. The Morales administration counters that it's stepping up drug fighting efforts on its own terms, and is fighting drug traffickers, not coca growers. The Vice President says his government coordinates coca eradication with the growers themselves. Some analysts praise the Bolivian government for trying this new approach to eradication, but there's no consensus on whether that approach succeeds in lowering cocaine production. But even Morales's critics would agree that any eradication program must give the growers a financially viable alternative. US sponsored programs haven't had much success in the last 15 years and making alternative crops work remains a challenge in Bolivia.