Bolivia to Crack Down on Coca


IT is in this hot, tropical town of Yapacani that the Bolivian government plans Sunday to start forcibly eradicating coca - the stout green bush which provides the raw material for cocaine. One year ago the government launched an ambitious plan, with strong support from the Reagan administration to destroy about half the country's 70,000 hectares (170,000 acres) of coca in a five-year period.

Areas like Yapacani were designated illegal for growing coca, and peasants had a year to voluntarily get rid of their coca and receive, as compensation, $2,000 per hectare from Bolivian and United States government funds.

``I eradicated my acre of coca three months ago,'' says Eduardo Blanco, a farmer near Yapacani. He is one of thousands who started to grow coca five years ago when one acre could yield an income of up to $10,000 a year. Now the price of coca has slumped to a fifth, a major reason why about 70 percent of the 1,200 peasants growing coca here are prepared to have their bushes pulled up to meet the July 23 deadline.

``I received $1,500 for the acre I eradicated,'' Mr. Blanco says, ``but now I need credit to improve the income from my cows.''

About 20 peasants, grouped outside the local office of the state eradication agency, DIRECO, enthusiastically agree. ``We are complying with the law and have eradicated our coca,'' they say, ``but now we need credit.''

Their problem is that only six families in the area have so far received a loan from the credit program for peasants reducing their coca crop which was launched last December by United States Agency for International Development (USAID). There are only 200 loans to disburse, but the peasants say up to 5,000 families want the credit. ``If we don't get the credit soon,'' they warned, ``we will simply replant our coca.''

The unions representing them and most of Bolivia's 60,000 coca growers strongly oppose the government's plans to forcibly destroy the coca.

``We are not drug traffickers'' says Ancle Pillco, a leader of the CSUTCB, the coca grower's union federation. ``But we are going to defend coca as our source of income and work.''

The coca growers have planned a series of protest measures, prompting fears of violent clashes between them and the drugs police, known as the Leopards. On June 28 the Leopards badly beat up one of the coca union leaders, Evo Morales, who was later freed by an angry group of peasant supporters. According to Genaro Marquez, until recently the government sub-secretary responsible for drug suppression, ``It was pure luck no-one was killed.''

Unlike Yapacani, it will not be illegal to grow coca in the Chapare region, 80 miles west of here where three-quarters of Bolivia's coca is grown. The Chapare has been labeled a transition area, where only voluntary eradication is taking place. Figures from DIRECO show that 1,100 hectares have been destroyed so far this year, mostly in the Chapare. But the government must get rid of 5,000 hectares of coca by the end of the year to qualify for tranches of a $24 million package of US aid.

Some experts question the DIRECO figures, suspecting that the same amount of hectares destroyedhave been planted in new areas. According to a March 1989 US State Department report, total coca cultivation in Bolivia is expected to rise from 50,000 to 54,000 hectares this year.

Enzo Fernandez, DIRECO's field coordinator in the Chapare, says the reasons for the snail-like progress in eradication are ``the opposition from union leaders, the good prices a peasant continues to receive from coca, and 1989 being a [Bolivian] election year.''

He adds that the conditions for loans from USAID for alternative crops are a further obstacle. Until December last year, a community had to destroy 70 percent of its coca to qualify for credit or technical help - a condition described as ``utterly unrealistic'' by Giovanni Quaglia, local head of the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control.

The requirement has now been lowered to 30 percent, but less than $2 million has been disbursed of a $17.5 million total. ``These loans come at a 13 percent interest rate, but tied to the [US] dollar, that means the equivalent of 20 percent,'' Mr. Quaglia says. ``No farmer in the world is going to pay back a loan at that rate.''

Most experts agree that to stop peasants growing coca, alternative crops must be found, roads built, and new markets opened.

In New Canaan, a typically poor village in the Chapare, most villagers have destroyed some of their coca and are experimenting with coffee, tea, and coconuts.

Basilia Sanchez, a widow with two children and three grandchildren to support, recently destroyed her coca and was growing coffee. ``I received a $4,000 loan [through the USAID program],'' she says, ``but after six months I had to start to repaying the loan. But coffee will only give me an income after four years.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Bolivia to Crack Down on Coca
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today