COCA LEAVES: THE ONLY CASH CROP

September 25, 2007

THE COCA GROWERS UNIONS HAVE BEEN AT
the forefront of efforts to turn U.S.-promoted coca
eradication campaigns into real alternative development
programs. They have gone on marches and lost lives to
demand basic services, infrastructure and adequate technical
assistance. The U.S. approach is the proverbial "carrot and
stick": only after a certain acreage has been eradicated will
development plans be implemented.
This is a major reason why U.S. Agency for International
Development (AID) budget allocations for development in
the Chapare have been only partially spent. "The campesinos
are trying to hold the United States to ransom," insists an
AID employee. "If we give them what they want, what
guarantees do we have that they will eradicate?" Valentin
Guti&rrez, leader of the Colonizers' Federation of Tropical
Carrasco, counters, "We've heard so many promises that
have never been fulfilled. For us, coca eradication without
development means hunger and misery. Many who have
eradicated have had to return to their places of origin, but they
can't survive there either."
Eradication programs did experience a boom in late 1989
and early 1990, when crops covering a record area of 20,000
acres were destroyed following a substantial price fall widely
attributed to the drug crackdown in Colombia, where 70% of
Bolivia's cocaine paste is processed into cocaine.
Paco Rodriguez and his family were among those who
decided to eradicate. "We agreed to pull up our coca plants
because the price had gone down so much. DIRECO [a
government agency] came to check that we had really taken
out the.coca, but then they took almost three months to get us
the compensation we'd been promised. What were we sup-
posed to live on? All our plans to buy dairy cattle and plant
fruit trees were put on hold. We've never received any
technical assistance and there are no development projects ."
Producers generally agree that the decision to eradicate is
an individual choice. "Even though I've taken out my coca,
I will continue to fight for the rest of my compafieros who are
still growers," insists Rodrfguez, "and to pressure the gov-
ernment to fulfill its promises." By the end of 1990, prices
were rising once again and eradication had dropped off.
The coca producers' biggest fear at present is the involve-
ment, at U.S. insistence, of the Bolivian military in the anti-
coca campaign. While widespread public opposition has thus
far prevented blatant military occupation of the zone, observ-
ers expect the armed forces to begin anti-drug operations in
the Chapare within a few months.

Tags: Bolivia, Coca, USAID, eradication, Drug War


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