Coca Reduction Pact Between Brazil, Bolivia, US Canceled at Last Minute

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Brazil, Bolivia and the U.S. canceled the public signing of a trilateral agreement on reducing coca crops in Bolivia, with officials from that country suggesting La Paz wanted more specific wording to ensure the government’s control over anti-drug operations.

The flags of Brazil, Bolivia and the U.S. hung limply behind three empty seats Friday night in the Bolivian Foreign Ministry’s Room of Honor. The room had been prepared for the public signing of a trilateral agreement establishing a new, cooperative system for monitoring and reducing coca cultivation in Bolivia. Yet, as the announced time of the signing came and went, the room remained unoccupied.

Various explanations have been offered since the abrupt cancellation as to why the signing of the agreement was postponed for the fifth time since March, and the second time in 24 hours.

Officials had said the previous postponements were due to logistical and scheduling problems. Felipe Caceres, Bolivia’s top drug official, continued this theme Friday evening, saying the signing was postponed because he had to attend the closing ceremonies of the South American Council on the Global Drug Problem.

Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde, on the other hand, told El Deber the postponement was due to issues with the agreement itself and that the signing would be postponed until further orders. “The document is being revised,” he said. “It still is not as we would like it.”

Minister of Government Wilfredo Chavez, who was to sign the agreement for Bolivia, also felt the document had to be rewritten. According to the Associated Press, Chavez said Sunday that the Bolivian government needed clearer control over the counter-narcotics efforts outlined in the agreement.

“The draft of the agreement must be improved so that it is understood that the Bolivian state is at the head of the drug war, under the total and absolute control of the Bolivian state, and that there can not be a single word or concept that can be misunderstood,” the minster of government said.

The Brazilian ambassador to Bolivia, Marcel Biato, told the Associated Press that, as far as Brazil is concerned, “negotiations are closed.”

“I expect it will be signed shortly. The commitment of the countries is there. We are waiting patiently,” Biato said.

A prepared joint statement announcing the signing gave further testament to how close the parties had been to signing the document.

According to that statement, the agreement called for high precision GPS equipment, laser distance calculators, satellite imagery and software for analyzing geographical data. The U.S. is to provide the equipment and training in its use. Brazil is to provide the imagery and instruction in interpreting the data and Bolivia is to “do the field work and provide the necessary infrastructure.”

Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of cocaine. Bolivian law permits the cultivation of 12,000 hectares of coca, yet, according to the 2011 United Nations World Drug Report, Bolivia has nearly 31,000 hectares under coca cultivation.

U.S. Charge d’Affaires John Creamer, who was to sign the document on behalf of the U.S., and the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, have yet to issue an official response to Friday’s postponement.

See William W. Cummings’ blog.

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