6 Arrested, 11 Wounded in Bolivia Coca Clashes

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Ongoing clashes between coca growers and police over coca eradication in northwest Bolivia highlights the strained relationship between the security forces and the coca sector, although officials say they have now reached an agreement.

Six coca growers were arrested and 11 people were injured in clashes registered June 2 in Apolo, northwest of La Paz, as La Razon reports. The tensions come after 250 Joint Task Force (FTC) agents were deployed to Apolo to eradicate illegal coca crops, along with another 100 specially trained police responsible for providing control and surveillance.

As of part of their protests, coca growers reportedly set up a temporary roadblock, demanding that the eradication team withdraw from the area. They also kidnapped three FTC agents over the weekend, who have since been released. 

Similar confrontations were registered at the end of May, when a coca eradication team was met with armed resistance when entering Apolo. The government’s top anti-drug official later said the violence was incited by Peruvian drug traffickers.

The government recently said that it had reached an agreement with Apolo’s coca growers, in which only those cultivating coca within a designated area — about 280 hectares — would have their crops recognized as legal (Bolivian law allows for a certain amount of coca to be legally cultivated each year). Special cards would be given out to those cultivating coca within the designated area. 

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Bolivia allows coca to be grown legally on some 20,000 hectares, while President Evo Morales’ administration has pledged to eradicate all cultivations that exceed that amount. La Paz department is an important hub for coca production, and tensions between growers and eradication teams, often made up of members of the security forces, have long existed. These recent aggressive clashes in Apolo could be one indication that the government faces a serious rift here between its eradication campaign and the coca sector. 

Morales relies on this sector for support and has previously encouraged coca growers to monitor each other in order to stay within legal limits. He also continues to push forward policies for commercializing legal coca products, allegedly as part of a strategy to combat drug trafficking, though there are signs that demand is not great enough to make it a viable industry.

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