Friday, July 28, 2006

Bolivia: Drug War Policies Paralyzed? Cocaine Production Up?

Bolivian Drug Policy

President Evo recently made headlines by calling U.S. Drug War Certification "Blackmail". He was also reacting to press accounts, such as this one which talk of inaction in several of the governments anti-drug programs. On the one hand he has supposedly wanted to decriminalize certain commercial uses of the coca plant, but has not even advanced legislation to do so. Even worse is his failure to order a comprehensive review of the coca crop in Bolivia.

As the AP article states, this study would determine the size of Bolivia's coca crop needed to sustain the legal industry and traditional consumption. Since 1987 the law mandates that the "legal" coca grown is fixed at 12,000 hectaeres, with 14,500 remaining to be erradicated. MAS position has long been that the demand for legal coca is higher than that allowed. Evo fought tooth and nail for years against efforts to bring in certain institutions he thought too close to Washington, including U.S. Universities to conduct the study. He long said he wanted truly independent agencies to do it, and made a campaign issue out of it. But now, no one has been hired to even do it. What happens in the meantime, is that no one has any fixed numbers of what or how much to eliminate.

No Erradication = Increase?
Sources within the U.S. and Bolivian Drug Enforcement community cited in a Washington Times article, point out worrying trends in Bolivia's cocaine production. Some relate directly to Evo Morales policies. To begin with "the CIA's counternarcotics center" estimates "that Bolivian coca plantations have grown 8 percent in the past year. However if erradication efforts are currently going as Garcia Linera stated, it probably will off-set any growth.

Specific Evo Policies - Decentralizing Sales
Critics say new programs allowing farmers to cultivate small plots of coca are contributing to the rise in cocaine production.

Legal analysts say the government has violated international agreements with decrees that allow the free sale of coca and the auction of confiscated leaf shipments.

This might be overstating it a bit. Proper regulation of the open coca markets, which mainly lie in certain areas of the country, is not impossible. The growers federations arguably have the power and enforcement capabilities to do it now.

More Cocaine?
Counternarcotics officials say the number of cocaine laboratories in Bolivia has almost doubled in the seven months since Evo Morales, a former coca grower and organizer of coca-farming syndicates, was elected president.

The Special Force to Fight Crime and Narcotraffic (FELCN) said more than 2,000 cocaine laboratories making paste or refined powder were uncovered during the first half of this year. A total of 2,575 laboratories were discovered during all of last year.

The government also argues that the FELCN figures reflect stepped-up interdiction efforts. But agency officers point to a spread of makeshift labs, which generally are set up near coca plantations, into areas of the country where drug production had largely disappeared.

One problem, I have is that the author refers to laboratories "making paste or refined powder" which is very misleading. Very, very few laboratories producing refined powder have operated on Bolivian soil, normally one or two are busted a year. The overwhelming majority of the labs caught are primitive operations that process the leaf to a liquid form then to a paste, which is then shipped out to more advanced labs - many in Brazil- where the drug is refined.

Regardless, the number of labs busted is a cause for concern. As a point of comparison, in years when Bolivia's coca crop was more than twice the size of todays, that was roughly the same number of laboratories caught. And that was when there was a larger and more agressive anti-drug effort.

Growing And Expanding?
"Cocaine production is moving to six new areas between the central Chapare Valley and eastern lowlands in Santa Cruz and Beni, where it had been largely eliminated during the 1990s," said a counternarcotics analyst who spoke on the condition he not be identified.

My Take
First of all, this Washington Times article, has leaks written all over it, possibly from from the D.E.A. and/or State Department's anti-narcotics office. South American policy seems to be have shifted to Foggy Bottom, specifically to Undersecretary Shannon's desk. The leaks were obviously timed to coincide with Garcia Linera's visits, and might be an effort to undermine Shannon.
As far as the statements made. There is serious indications that MAS and Morales are not doing much in terms of erradication. Part of that is no doubt attributable to the headaches the Evo-government got itself into by its nationalization of hydrocarbons, elections for the constituent assembly, and the current land crisis. The other is Morales fear of confronting his own core base, some of whom might turn on him if he tries to do much.

But the coca issue has to be dealt with, Bolivia needs good relations with the US there are hundreds of millions of dollars and more than 50,000 jobs involved. At the very least starting the study process, goes a long way in showing commitment to end illegal trafficking, and can provide rational justifications for legal cultivation. That can calm Evo's base, or at least see where resources need to be allocated to, in order to placate farmers who might be out of income. It also will set realistic goals for erradication, and the difficult negotation that will involve. The issues are complicated, but not insurmountable.


Salvador Remas said...

While I know that it is not that complicated, but you might, some day, ask yourself why there is so much cocaine usage in the US. The population is alienated--being 'consumers' instead of 'citizens' leads to a spiritual void because the values of the people are not rooted in something meaningful and tangible.

In its leaf-form, coca is similar to tabocco, which is chewed daily by millions of US citizens--with a minimum of adverse health effects. Why can't we pressure the US to change its laws so as to allow the importation of the leaf?

Your discourse in this thread mirrors that of the US State Department. Demanding that Boliva 'eradicate' coca--instead of demanding that the US 'eradicate' their alienation problem or change its laws to allow for the importation of coca-based products (tea, soap, body therapy, etc.)--is a non-started, and will only lead to more failure and insanity on the part of the decrepit empire.

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