President Evo Morales of Bolivia has again defended his administration’s plans to expand legal coca cultivation, a move that aims to please some of his biggest political supporters ahead of a reelection bid even though it may increase cocaine trafficking in the country.
Morales defended his decision to increase legal coca cultivation during a speech commemorating 192 years of Bolivian independence on August 6, El Diario reported.
In February, the Bolivian government and coca farmers agreed to allow for 22,000 hectares of coca to be legally planted each year, up from the 12,000 hectares that had previously been permitted.
Morales has said that the new limit will allow for increased exportation of coca derivatives across the region to be used in tea, toothpaste and other minor products. (Indigenous communities in South America have used coca derivatives for centuries.) But this is a very limited market, raising concerns that some of this product could be diverted to the illicit trade.
Despite losing a referendum last year to run for reelection, Morales plans to run again for president in 2019 and coca growers promise to be one of his biggest support groups. Political analyst Iván Arias wrote in El Diario that Morales is defending the increase in coca cultivation limits to help his reelection bid.
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While increasing legal coca cultivation may win Morales political points, it is also likely to boost cocaine production and trafficking. However, the impacts of this development on the regional cocaine trade are likely to be limited.
A 2013 study found that Bolivia’s legal coca market could be supplied with 14,700 hectares of coca, which means that the new limit will potentially offer more than 7,000 hectares for absorption by the illegal cocaine market. Potentially doubling or tripling the amount of coca going into the illegal market would come on the heels of the first reported growth in coca cultivation in six years in Bolivia. Coca cultivation grew 14 percent between 2015 and 2016, from 20,200 hectares to 23,100 hectares.
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However, the potential entry of 7,000 additional hectares of coca into the illicit market would only represent a small increase in the total amount of the crop dedicated to cocaine production on a regional scale. Colombia alone is estimated to have produced nearly 190,000 hectares of coca last year, and Peru is esimated to be home to more than 50,000 hectares. This means the 7,000 additional hectares of Bolivian production would account for less than a 3 percent increase in total cultivation in the Andes, which grows virtually all the world’s coca.