Coca growers in west Bolivia have demanded the government halt eradication and reclassify their crops as “legal,” highlighting the delicate balancing act required of President Evo Morales if he is to find success with his “coca yes, cocaine no” policy.
For the last week, coca farmers have been manning road blocks in the north of the department of La Paz in protest against government eradication efforts, which began at the end of May.
Under Bolivia’s coca regulation law 1008, five cultivation areas in the province of Bautista Saavedra are classified as “zones of surplus production in transition,” marking them out for destruction. The coca growers argue the areas are instead zones of traditional cultivation that predate the law and so should be classified as part of Bolivia’s legal coca crop, reported La Razon.
The local coca growers union said they would continue the blockade to prevent eradication and planned to launch protests against the government policy.
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Bolivia currently allows 20,000 hectares of coca to be grown legally and has stepped up efforts to eradicate the rest of the country’s crop as part of President Evo Morales push for policies that differentiate between the coca leaf and cocaine.
For the Morales government, the policy presents serious logistical challenges in determining which crops should be considered legal and which illegal — a process which at times is likely to be fairly arbitrary due to the difficulties in classifying plantations and the necessity of not exceeding the set targets for the number of legal hectares.
The president is also walking a fine line politically, as he searches to prove the country is capable of addressing its role in the drug trade without the help of the United States — which no longer cooperates with Bolivia in anti-narcotics operations in any meaningful way — while at the same time tries to retain the political support of the coca growers that represent a significant part of his political base.
The policy has already led to protests and violent clashes with security forces.