Bolivia Hails Self-Policing Coca Project as a Success

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Bolivian officials said that a five-year project funded by the European Union helped reduce coca cultivation by 12 percent in certain areas, and that it provides a successful model for the rest of the country.

As newspaper La Razon reported, the program, known by its acronym PACS (Program to Support Social Control of Coca Leaf Production), officially ended on February 21, although both the program head and the vice minister who oversees the legal coca economy said that it would likely carry on under a different name. 

The program focused on encouraging communities in coca-growing regions to police themselves and ensure that they did not surpass certain limits for coca cultivations. Bolivia currently allows over 20,000 hectares in legal coca plantings across the country. As shown in a New York Times profile last year, this system of allowing growers to enforce limits themselves has had some significant successes in Bolivia. Both the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy found that the area of land planted with coca in Bolivia decreased by 12 to 13 percent between 2010 and 2011.

Vice Minister of Coca and Integral Development Dionisio Nuñez praised the outcome of the PACS project, describing it as an example of the state reducing coca production without violence, and added that the model could be imitiated in other coca-producing countries like Colombia and Peru.

InSight Crime Analysis

While efforts like the PACS are commendable, Bolivia still faces significant challenges in terms of balancing its legal and illegal coca markets. According to the White House’s findings, even though coca plantings have dropped in Bolivia, the overall amount of cocaine that could be potentially produced in the country has increased significantly (these numbers have faced some criticism). Critics say that much of the country’s legal coca production still ends up in the hands of drug trafficking organizations, particularly Brazilian groups.

Asides from bolstering its anti-narcotics efforts with military aid from Brazil, President Evo Morales’ government will likely continue to pursuing alternative approaches to regulating coca growing. As well as initiatives like the PACS, this includes looking for new, legal uses of Bolivia’s surplus coca crop.

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