Bolivia's Coca Clash

Bolivia's Coca Clash
Posted by FoM on January 06, 2001 at 06:21:12 PT
By Jimmy Langman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Source: San Francisco Chronicle 
Although President Hugo Banzer says coca leaf in his nation's main growing area has been virtually eliminated, residents of the region vow to keep growing the lucrative plant. In a New Year's address, Banzer said his government's goal of "zero coca" in the jungle-covered Chapare region of central Bolivia had been reached. 
"We need much more than applause," Banzer said. "It is time the world took stock of the work we have done." At the same time, however, more than 25,000 farmers and locals flooded almost two miles of highway leading into Chimore, a Chapare town 360 miles southeast of La Paz. Many carried huge quantities of coca leaves to show that the plant is still a vital presence even though the government has eliminated almost 85,000 acres in the area in the past three years. "Coca will never die. Not here, nor any other place," said Congressman Evo Morales, leader of the coca grower associations in the Chapare, noting that there are still 12,500 acres of coca in the region. Banzer has used security forces to eradicate coca under pressure from the United States, which provides key financial aid to one of Latin America's poorest countries. Last month, President Clinton reportedly sent a letter to Banzer congratulating him for mounting one of the region's most successful campaigns against illicit drugs. But the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia said recent surveillance of the Chapare found at least another 1,500 acres of new coca leaf camouflaged by growers. The Banzer government responded by saying that the new plots would be destroyed by next month and that a strong military and police presence of 6, 000 men will be maintained in the Chapare to prevent new plantings. Under controversial Law 1008, anyone found planting coca in the zone could serve up to four years in prison as well as lose deeds to their properties. Violent Opposition:For years, Washington has warned Bolivia that it must help stem the flood of cocaine that makes its way from the Andean nation to the United States. Violent opposition to coca eradication has long haunted the Chapare and other coca growing areas, and it seems likely to continue despite Banzer's cries of triumph. Since the country of 8 million started its eradication effort in 1998, 60 police officers and 45 farmers opposed to the destruction of their crops have died in clashes, according to press reports. Widespread protests against the eradication campaign in late September and early October cut off the capital of La Paz and killed 10 people. The roadblocks and protests caused more than $100 million in losses to South America's poorest economy. Since September, almost a dozen people have been killed in the Chapare, a region the size of New Jersey. Dozens of coca growers have been jailed, and demonstrations have proliferated. In November, the army moved thousands of troops into the region to temper the unrest. There is a good reason for their collective anger. More than 90 percent of the estimated 185,000 persons living in the Chapare are now mired in poverty. Most are displaced workers from tin mines who migrated to the area after the collapse in tin prices in 1985 to take up the lucrative harvest. In negotiations this year with the cocaleros, the government agreed to cancel plans to construct three military bases in the Chapare. It also agreed to form a commission to determine how to spend the almost $85 million allotted this year by Washington for future alternative development programs in Bolivia. Incentives To Eradicate:The United States has given Bolivia economic incentives to destroy the plants, and the government is encouraging farmers to grow crops such as coffee, cotton and bananas instead. Alberto Zapata, president of the farmers' association of the Cochabamba region, which includes the Chapare, said there are no viable economic alternatives to coca. He and other critics say few former coca-leaf farmers have received funds to grow alternative crops, and much of the monies destined for such programs wind up in the pockets of high-salaried consultants. "This country is complying with the mandate of the United States and the superdeveloped countries," Zapata said. "Why can't they build us factories to export Chapare products to those countries?" Information Minister Manfredo Kempff said his government would continue to reject the principal cocalero demand that each of the estimated 40,000 families in the Chapare be allowed to grow one cato of coca, or about 2.5 acres. "We will help them grow pineapples, bananas, etc. -- but not coca," Kempff said. "The coca in the Chapare is not being used for traditional use. It is going for cocaine trafficking." For many Bolivians, traditional use is brewing coca leaf for tea, chewing it to ward off the effects of altitude, hunger and cold or using the leaf in religious ceremonies. In the northern Yungas region, 30,000 acres of coca crops are legally set aside for such purposes. 'Banzer's Dignity Plan'Under the "Dignity Plan" begun in 1998, the 72-year-old Banzer, who was Bolivia's military dictator from 1971 to 1978, vowed to eliminate every illegal acre of coca by August 2002, when his five-year term ends. Last year, Bolivia claimed to have reduced coca production by an astounding 68 percent. As a result, Bolivia, once the world's leading producer of coca, has fallen to third place among coca suppliers: Colombia now supplies 70 percent of the world's cocaine, leading second-place Peru. But government officials estimate the eradication program has cost the nation's economy almost $500 million. As compensation, the Banzer government has asked the United States to create a special law that would declare all Bolivian textiles and apparel made from cotton tariff-free from 2001 to 2008. Government officials say such a move would create $500 million in exports within the next five years. In 1999, Bolivia exported almost $50 million in textiles and apparel to countries covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement, with 83 percent of that amount to the United States. "Textiles is one of the sectors that provide a lot of jobs," said Trade Minister Carlos Saavedra. "In the narco-traffic fight now, 40,000 families have lost income. We believe this is a fair way to help make up for that." In the meantime, Chapare residents see little relief ahead. "The government has ignored our basic rights; people are being thrown in jail without any evidence," said Juana Quispe, a 26-year-old Chimore resident. "We can't survive economically growing just bananas and pineapples. There isn't any market for them, and they aren't profitable." Note: Farmers battle government's campaign to eradicate cash crop.Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)Author: Jimmy Langman, Chronicle Foreign ServicePublished: Saturday, January 6, 2001Copyright: 2001 San Francisco ChronicleAddress: 901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103Contact: letters sfchronicle.comWebsite: Articles:Drug War in the Jungle Wiping Out Coca, at a Price Drug Farmer Demand End To Crop Eradication
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on January 06, 2001 at 06:50:19 PT:
Sure, We'll Comment on your Folly
"It is time the world took stock of the work we have done." What work is that? Ecological destruction? Victimization of its own population? Impoverishing the nation in a bid to be a toady to an imperialist bully (that's the USA for those wearing blindfolds, ear and noseplugs)? Supporting a recycled dictator? All of the above?Yeah, I'm impressed, but it is with the success of the American prohibitionist reich in exporting a failed policy and imposing its will on people incapable of fighting back, or even having the right of protest to a government too busy bending over for more Yanqui buggery.
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