After months of negotiation, Bolivia has agreed to work with Brazil and the US to track coca cultivation, in an apparent policy shift for the government of Evo Morales.
According to a State Department press release, the agreement creates an “integrated monitoring system” with the US providing equipment and training, and Brazil contributing satellite imagery and analysis. Both the US and Brazil will provide training to Bolivian authorities.
Bolivia is the world’s third-largest producer of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine, and shares a long border with Brazil. The State Department, in its annual narcotics report, said Brazilian authorities have reported an increase in trafficking of processed cocaine from Bolivia.
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This agreement can be viewed as backtracking by Bolivian leader Morales, who has previously resisted US pressure to step up coca eradication efforts. This agreement shows Morales is more willing to engage in counter-narcotics activities with neighboring countries in South America than he is with the United States. Brazil’s involvement is key, given Bolivia’s tense relationship with the US.
The US and Bolivia restored diplomatic ties in November, after the US ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration were expelled from the country in 2008. Morales said, however, that the DEA would not be allowed back into Bolivia.
As recently as August Morales called for the expulsion of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), accusing the body of undermining his government.
Weeks before Bolivia and the US restored diplomatic ties, a US court sentenced a former Bolivian anti-drug official to 15 years in prison. US federal agents arrested General Rene Sanabrias, a top advisor to Morales, in Panama, accusing him of running a cocaine trafficking ring.
Sanabrias’ arrest and recent sentencing, an embarrassment for Bolivia, have contributed to an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty in US-Bolivian relations.
Morales’ political career began in Bolivia’s coca-growing trade union. After he became president, Morales made it legal to grow certain amounts of coca for whole-leaf consumption, and this new agreement is designed to monitor “excess” production, according to a US official. Morales is currently challenging the 1961 UN convention that placed an international ban on the coca leaf.