Bolivia Coca Monitoring Chief Accused of Stealing Coca Leaf

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The head of Bolivia’s coca commercialization agency has been arrested on corruption charges, in a blow to President Evo Morales’ campaign to convince the international community Bolivia can effectively balance a legal coca market with anti-narcotics efforts.

On October 7, Bolivian authorities arrested the national director of coca industrialization, Luis Cutipa, on charges including extortion, abuse of power and negligence, reported La Razon.

Cutipa, the top government official responsible for monitoring and controlling legal coca transport and sales, is accused of diverting 45 tons of government-seized coca leaves to family members. The leaves, worth about $2.6 million, had been seized by authorities and were supposed to be destroyed. Instead, prosecutors say they were sent to Cutipa’s sisters in the Santa Cruz department, a notorious trafficking hub.

According to Bolivia’s attorney general, Cutipa also made more than $500,000 in illegal income after doubling the price of renewing coca vendors’ licenses in 2008.

InSight Crime Analysis

The scandal is a setback for Bolivian president Evo Morales and his “Coca Yes, Cocaine No” campaign, which aims to persuade the international community to accept legal coca production.

The campaign is based not only on distinguishing between coca leaf and cocaine, but also on assuring the international community that legal coca production will not result in a boom in illegal cultivation of crops destined for the cocaine trade. 

In this area, Bolivia has had mixed success. Coca cultivation has declined for two consecutive years, however Cutipa himself previously estimated that up to 20% of the approximately 20,000 hectares of legal coca grown each year is diverted into the drug trade.

Bolivia’s pro-coca policies have consistently caused tensions with the United States, which closed its anti-narcotics office in Bolivia in May 2013. Morales has also clashed with international monitoring organizations over coca, even withdrawing from the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 2012. Bolivia rejoined the convention in 2013 after gaining an exemption permitting traditional coca leaf consumption within the country.

Though the UN ruling was widely seen as a victory for Bolivia, the sustainability of Bolivia’s position depends on its ability to demonstrate its commitment to fighting illegal coca production. Cases like the Cutipa arrest, which highlights corruption at the very heart of the state’s legal coca institutions, will seriously hamper Morales in his attempts to convince the international community Bolivia is capable of the delicate balancing act required to maintain a legal coca market while effectively tackling illegal production. 

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