Bolivia President Pushes to Sell Coca Tea to Regional Partners

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Bolivian President Evo Morales plans to sell coca tea to neighboring countries, in his latest attempt to expand the legal coca market — which has so far failed to take off. 

Morales announced he would promote coca tea at a conference of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) countries in Guayaquil, Ecuador, reported La Razon. He said he had plans underway to begin selling the tea to Ecuador, and had already spoken with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on the matter.

The La Paz Department Coca Growers Association (ADEPCOCA) also inaugurated a new coca processing plant, reported La Prensa, which officials say can process 75 tons of coca per year and 1,500 boxes of coca tea every eight hours. The construction of the plant cost around $637,000, and was subsidized by the government. Morales said it was necessary to step up production in anticipation of demand from the ALBA nations.

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The government has pushed to create legal demand for coca by using the leaf in products including energy drinks and toothpaste. There have been indications, however, that the commercialization of coca products in Bolivia is not working well. Two coca processing plants financed by Morales have been shut down due to a lack of demand for their products, and a new coca-leaf soft drink called Coca Colla, based on the original Coca Cola recipe, also failed to take off. The vice-minister of coca said in May the public was “not accustomed” to coca products, with another official saying “People… prefer hamburgers, coffee.”

It remains to be seen whether selling coca products abroad could bring more success. If so it could help Morales, himself a former coca grower, retain the favor of the country’s coca farmers in the face of protests over eradication of illegal crops in the north of the La Paz department. Protesters have continued to push for legalization of their crops beyond the current caps on legal cultivation.

Coca legalization in Bolivia has caused continued rifts with the US, which in May announced plans to close down its anti-drug office in Bolivia. The US State Department maintains that cocaine production potential in Bolivia has risen despite a reduction in hectares of coca grown, while the Bolivian government continues to herald its success in anti-drug efforts.

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