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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