The United States Opposes New Agreement Between Government and Coca Growers
State Department Representatives Push for More Violent Eradication as Bolivia Looks for Peaceful Solutions
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief
October 22, 2004
“It is very important that Bolivia meet its eradication goals this year,” Charles Shapiro, the U.S. State Department’s Andean envoy, told the press on Thursday. “The president says that the goal of 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) eradicated will be met. But the new agreement says that (the government) will carry out a study and not eradicate all the coca in the Chapare. This is troubling. ”
Shapiro met with Bolivian President Carlos Mesa and several government ministers on Thursday, to explain to them that the United States opposes the agreement recently signed with Chapare coca growers. The agreement recognizes the legitimate existence of 3,200 hectares (7,900 acres) of coca in the Tropic of Cochabamba (the region where the Chapare is located).
The October 3 Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the coca growers says, in its fourth point: “The reduction of all coca crops the Tropic of Cochabamba to no less than 3,200 hectares is agreed upon, until the results of the Study of the Demand for Legal Coca Consumption are known.”
The fifth point adds: “This area for coca cultivation will be distributed among the 23,000 members of the Six Federations, including the settled area of the Isiboro Sécure National Park.”
“There is joy throughout the Chapare, because if we calculate it, this allows every coca-growing family one cato of coca.” said congressman and coca grower Evo Morales upon signing the memorandum. (A cato is a 40 by 40 foot plot of land.) “This is the product of many years of struggle with previous governments, who were subject to the will of the United States Embassy,”
According to the agreement, the coca growers themselves are in charge of coordinating the peaceful elimination of their crops. Many consider this agreement a major victory because it was able to break Law 1008, the Bolivian “Regulation of Coca and Controlled Substances Law” that has been in effect since 1988. Interior minister Saul Lara assured the press, after signing the agreement, that it did not, in fact, weaken Law 1008 – that in fact, it would help to reach the goal of eradicating 8,000 hectares of coca by the year’s end.
“We have no doubt that the United States Embassy and the international community understand that this is a move to comply with international efforts,” said Lara. “We are using our own sovereign law in a peaceful manner, working in consensus with the coca growers’ leadership.”
U.S. Ambassador David Greenlee told the press on Thursday that “the troubling part of this agreement is that it makes an exception to coca eradication for one year.” He added that he hoped forced eradication would in fact be accelerated in the Chapare.
A U.N. satellite survey confirmed that there are 7,000 excess hectares of coca in the Chapare, thirty percent of which lie in the Isiboro Sécure and Carrasco national parks.
“As far as coca cero (“zero coca,” a term often used to describe eradication goals), that would be the ideal for illegal coca; that if the coca is illegal and in excess, the best case would be to achieve coca cero.” said Greenlee. “Illegal, excess coca should not exist, and eliminating all of it should be a long-term goal.”
Law 1008, which the coca growers often call “the draconian law,” delimits three zones of coca production: “traditional” coca, “excess and transition” coca, and illicit coca.
The traditional zone is defined as the area where, according to the government, coca has been grown historically and for traditional purposes. The excess and transition zone comprises coca planted in marginal areas by settlers, and the illicit zone comprises the rest of the country. The Tropic of Cochabamba contains a mixture of all three zones, so while some coca is already produced legally, much is also targeted for eradication.
Coca grower Leonilda Zurita, a leader of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba – the major coca growers’ organization in the Chapare – condemned U.S. interference in Bolivian internal affairs on Friday, declaring “there will never be coca cero.”
“If they want to eliminate all our coca,” she said, “they will have to kick all 30,000 coca growers out of the Chapare. And they will never accomplish that, because we would rather die than abandon our land. This imposition is worthless, because there will never be coca cero in Bolivia. If the gringos want to eradicate, they should eradicate their own noses.”
Faced with the U.S. rejection of their accord with the government, the coca growers convened an emergency council to decide on what tactics to take in response.
An Uncertain Future
Before the October 3 agreement was signed, violent confrontations had erupted in the Isiboro Sécure National Park, resulting in the deaths of two coca growers and many injuries. Farmers Juan Choque Cruz and later Genaro Canaviri were killed in a violent attack by the Joint Task Force, the military’s main coca eradication force.
In recent days, Bolivian coca growers, together with other groups, marched from Caracollo about 130 miles north to La Paz. They demonstrated that with or without forced eradication, with or without the imposed drug war, they continue to be one of the major social movements in this country, as well as in the entire continent.
As part of the giant mobilization, the coca growers and other groups pressured the National Congress to authorize legal proceedings against ex-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and his ministers for their role in the deaths of more than 80 people in the “gas war” of last October. They also pressured the congress to pass a new Hydrocarbons Law that would move towards the nationalization of Bolivia’s gas.
At the same time that these mobilizations were going on, an important gathering was taking place on the issue of Bolivian coca: the “Coca Summit,” organized by Qhana y Adepcoca, the principal coca growers’ federation of the La Paz/Yungas area. The summit’s goal was to encourage both civil society and the government to support the creation of the proposed Technical/Scientific Coca Institute.
This institute would be responsible for scientific research on coca pharmacology, legitimizing its nutritional benefits, overseeing its industrialization, reclaiming coca’s historical and cultural role, and protecting biodiversity.
The Coca Summit resolved to prepare a proposal for the industrialization of coca farming to present to the Constituents’ Assembly, which is to be held sometime next year. The project would recognize this now-criminalized crop as one of the country’s primary natural resources.
The Summit also resolved that the Constituents’ Assembly should add a new Coca Law to the Constitution, removing the traditional plant from narcotics control programs. Law 1008, they declared, should still be maintained to combat narco-trafficking, but the coca leaf itself should industrialized and exported legally, and patented as property of the Bolivian people.
A Gathering of Andean Coca Producers was also convened recently, with representatives from Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, as well as coca consumers from various countries. They resolved to combine forces for the decriminalization and industrialization of the coca leaf.
And so, we can see that when the organizations, institutions, and movements that defend this natural crop begin to organize, a voice rises from the north to demand a coca cero policy of the Bolivian government. However, it must be pointed out that the latest changes in this country at the heart of our América come not from above, but arise from the people, from below.
Lea Ud. el Artículo en Español
Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site
and making a contribution today.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
For more Narco News, click here.