<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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The Draconian “Law 1008” Will Be Revised

The Bolivian Government and Coca Growers, Under the Watchful Eye of the US, Continue Negotiations

By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief

March 23, 2004

COCHABAMBA, 23 de marzo de 2004. After 15 years of imposition from the United States, the Regulation of Coca and Controlled Substances Law, better known as Law 1008, will be revised by a technical and legal committee made up of both government representatives and coca producers.

The committee’s creation was the most important accord the two parties reached after intense negotiations held here yesterday.

“A technical and legal committee will be formed that must produce an evaluation of Law 1008 by April 19,” said government minister Alfonso Ferrufino. “The committee will look at the success of alternative development, as well as the issue of coca eradication, taking into account the moratorium on eradication that the coca growers have proposed.”

“We want to show that according to Law 1008, forced eradication of coca crops should not exist, but that such eradication should be voluntary, government-assisted, and subject to alternative development plans,” responded congressman and coca growers’ leader Evo Morales. “That is to say, we will show that for all these years, the various Bolivian administrations have not followed the law.”

Law 1008 was passed on July 19, 1988, during the neoliberal administration of Víctor Paz Estensoro. It comprises 149 separate articles, plus a host of other provisions.

This legal arrangement intentionally penalizes the natural coca leaf along with all other controlled substances. Since the law’s passage, the coca producers have demanded a new law that recognizes the benefits of the coca plant, separate from the law that deals with other controlled substances. This demand was never met, because drug policies here are not written by a sovereign Bolivian government; rather, they are imposed by the United States.

None of Law 1008’s 149 articles provide for the use of force in the elimination of coca crops. All eradication is supposed to be voluntary and coordinated between farmers and the government.

According to Article 14: “Voluntary reduction is understood to mean that the producers freely coordinate and reduce the surplus volume of coca production, within the framework of alternative development and crop substitution.”

Article 22 explains: “All substitution of coca crops will be planned in a gradual and progressive manner, coinciding with sustained socio-economic development programs.”

However, the reality is different. With Law 1008, even the constitution has been violated.

The elimination of coca plantations is violent. The political and military forces dedicated to eradication in the Chapare region are currently estimated at more than five thousand. Each year, both coca growers and government troops end up killed or injured as a result of the violence that forced eradication provokes.

Interference from the US

Although the Bolivian government and the coca growers continue negotiations over eradication and alternative development, the US position is well known. Robert Charles, the US assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said on March 11 that there must be no pause in eradication, and that all coca crops classified as illegal must be eliminated.

After a private meeting with Bolivian president Carlos Mesa, Charles told the press: “In my opinion, a pause in eradication would mean the deterioration of all that has been so far achieved in Bolivia. At the moment that Bolivia and the Chapare should be proud of having put the breaks on this (coca cultivation) and increased their chances for democracy, it seems to me that it would be a mistake to speak of a pause in eradication.”

There are an estimated 28,100 hectares (69,500 acres) of coca crops in Bolivia – 23,550 hectares located in the Yungas region, near La Paz, and 4,600 in the Chapare region, near Cochabamba.

Of that amount, 16,100 should be eliminated according to the law, as the law permits only 12,000 hectares in the entire country.

Congressman Morales criticized US meddling in Bolivian internal affairs. But above all, he said, it is an embarrassment that the Bolivian government bows to international pressure; not only on questions of drug control, but on other issues as well that should be handled autonomously.

According to Morales, although the authorities continue eliminating coca crops by force, “there will never be zero coca in the Chapare.”

In any case, the coca growers decided to continue negotiations with the government. A technical team will try to expose all the irregularities committed under Law 1008.

A Decision from Below

Coca growers’ leader Leonilda Zurita told Narco News today that there have been some advances in the dialogue with the government, but that her actions will depend on the results of the upcoming assembly of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba to be held March 27 in the town of Lauca Ñ, 175 kilometers away.

An assembly of all the coca growers’ organizations usually brings together more than one thousand delegates. These men and women from all the federations, local, and regional trade unions, will spend hours debating, but they will eventually produce a set of resolutions to be distributed throughout their bases.

“The truth is that we no longer believe in this government,” said Zurita, “because it seems to act in an authoritarian manner, and what’s more, is very controlled by the US embassy. Because of that, if they do not end the forced eradication of coca crops and do not demilitarize our communities, we will have to do it ourselves.”

The agreement reached yesterday between the government and the coca growers provides for the direct join participation in alternative development programs by the municipalities of the Chapare. It also includes the provisional authorization of 15 markets for legal coca trade, and an independent study on the marketing of the coca leaf.

According to Zurita, Law 1008 is “a North American imposition” that will require not only talk at the negotiating table, but also the mobilization of the Bolivian people, to be changed.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America