Bolivian Peasant Farmers Step Up Pressure, Begin Planting More Coca
The Mesa Administration Keeps Quiet as the US Opposes Revision of Bolivian Drug Policy
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief
March 29, 2004
Cochabamba, Bolivia, March 29, 2004: Free cultivation of the coca plant is the answer of thousands of coca growers to the government’s refusal of a moratorium on the forced eradication of their crops, as well as to the pressure coming from the United States government.
More than five hundred coca growers’ leaders – who represent the trade unions and federations of the Coordinating Committee of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba – met on Saturday, March 27, in the town of Lauca Ñ, where they resolved to encourage the planting of coca crops.
“As long as the Bolivian Government continues to be a puppet of the US Embassy, and as long as it does not agree to an end to the elimination of our crops, we have instructed our people to boost their coca production,” said Leonilda Zurita, main leader of the women coca growers.
The coca growers’ leaders that attended the weekend gathering must now organize meetings within their own communities and unions, to pass along the decision and begin planting the new crops.
According to satellite data from the US Government, there are 28,100 hectares (69,500 acres) of coca fields in Bolivia. Of these, 23,550 are located in the Yungas region near the capital La Paz, and 4,600 in the Chapare region, near the city of Cochabamba. According to the coca growers, however, there are currently more than 6,500 hectares in the Chapare. After this weekend, that amount will grow even more as new crops are planted.
Zurita said that while they want to put pressure on the government, farmers should avoid any direct conflict with the coca eradication troops.
The “Ayni” System
The peasant farmers who live in the provinces of Chapare and neighboring Carrasco and Tiraque will make use of the traditional ayni system of communal work to plant the new crops. That is, a certain union will go into another community and work together with its members. Once the work is finished, the community that benefited from the work will return, to help complete the same tasks in the community of the union that helped them.
Ayni is a Quechua word that means “communal work.” Ayni is still used in Bolivia today. In the ayni system, the children, men, women and elderly of a community don’t just work together; they get to share their different experiences with each other, as the work can last for hours or days on end.
The coca growers’ council of this weekend also decided not to confront the forced eradication of coca in their communities directly. Instead, they will respond with new coca crops.
Although no exact count is available, the political and military troops of the Joint Task Force – the group charged with the coca eradication – are estimated to number about 5,000. This estimate does not include advisors from the United States, who are also present.
The coca growers and government representatives have both agreed during recent negotiations to revise the Regulation of Coca and Controlled Substances Law – better known as Law 1008. However, the US government, through its Bolivian embassy, has already decided: there will be no pause in coca eradication.
“We have always thought that a pause would be a pause in the road toward development,” said US Ambassador David Greenlee on March 23. “The law says nothing about pauses.”
One day before Greenlee’s statements, government and coca growers’ representatives formed a technical-legal committee to revise Law 1008 and discuss a moratorium on the eradication of coca crops. However, the US position makes things clear – the basic structure of Law 1008 will not be changed.
“A technical and legal committee will be formed that must produce an evaluation of Law 1008 by April 19,” said government minister Alfonso Ferrufino after meeting with the farmers. “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. It limits legal coca cultivation to 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) for the entire country; the rest is to be eliminated. If one accepts the US government’s statistics on Bolivian coca cultivation, this means that between the Yungas and Chapare regions, 16,100 hectares must be eradicated.
For fifteen years, 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 has never been met.
After the US ambassador’s statement, there was no response from the Bolivian government, so the coca growers opted for the free cultivation of coca leaf…
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