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Latin America Blog

Bolivia cuts coca cultivation: What about cocaine?

The United Nations released a report on coca cultivation in Bolivia today showing it has decreased for the first time since 2005. But estimates of cocaine production raise questions.

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President Morales rejected the US decision to decertify the country, saying the US criticizes Bolivia for resisting its policies, and refuses to recognize its accomplishments in the fight against drugs for political reasons.

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"The United States has no moral authority to speak on the fight against drug trafficking," Morales said, according to state news agency ABI. "The biggest market for cocaine and other drugs is the United States."

Though both the US and UN agree there was a reduction in Bolivian coca crops cultivated between 2010 and 2011, information published by the US Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates potential cocaine production in Bolivia actually increased by 36 percent from 195 to 265 metric tons.

The UN did not publish estimates on potential cocaine production this year, but said "[e]xtraction methods normally do not vary significantly from year to year. However, there is some indication that the efficiency of laboratories in Peru and Bolivia has gradually changed due to the influence of the Colombian production method." The Colombian method makes the cocaine production process faster and easier to hide by using tools like a weed cutter and chemicals to prepare the coca leaf, instead of placing it in large pits where the leaf used to be mashed by walking on it of hours. 

The US estimates of cocaine production has inspired some skepticism among analysts, especially in light of recent US data on coca cultivation in Colombia. Colombia works in close partnership with the US on its drug policies. In recent years it was the world's top cocaine producer, but the July US report found Colombia's potential cocaine production had dropped below Bolivia's – despite US data that shows Colombia cultivates 320 square miles of coca to Bolivia's 116.

“Beginning in 2008, cocaine production in Bolivia increased due to the usage of more efficient cocaine production techniques that had been brought from Colombia,” according to the US Office of National Control Policy.

Some question that conclusion. “For Bolivia to be producing more cocaine than Colombia from half as much coca is difficult to fathom," The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) wrote in a paper following the release of the US data on Colombia. The methods of producing cocaine attributed to Colombia “are apparently not at work in Colombia,” WOLA wrote.

While Bolivia's recent success in cutting back on coca crops is a point of agreement for the UN and US, exactly what that means for cocaine production remains a topic of debate. 


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