September 21st, 2016
Bolivia is home to some of the most fertile areas for coca cultivation used to make cocaine. But US-lead efforts to stop coca production between 1997-2004 resulted in violent crackdowns, including rape by police.
In 2004, Bolivia legalized coca cultivation and in 2008, the country kicked out the Drug Enforcement Agency, Vice News reports. After 30 people were killed in 2008, president Evo Morales told the DEA that he could no longer protect their agents, a not-so-subtle cue for them to leave the country.
Bolivia now works with the UN office on Drugs and Crime to monitor the areas where coca is grown with satellite info and on the ground inspections. They restrict farmers to growing up to only a certain quota of coca, and selling it only to authorized buyers.
As a result of Bolivia’s policy, the country’s coca sector is at the lowest level since the agency began monitoring it in 2003; it’s now roughly a third down from what it was during the DEA’s last year in Bolivia. The system—known as “coca yes, cocaine no”—has allowed coca production to hit almost exactly the national target of 20,000 hectares [about 50,000 acres]—the sweet spot of production, which is enough to meet local demand while ensuring little surplus for cocaine manufacture.
The agricultural harm-reduction has also made the violence associated with the DEA’s control of the area a bad memory.
“It is different now, the police are our friends,” one farmer told Vice. “Before, I would look away when they passed by. I didn’t want to catch their eye. Now, we always stop and say hello.”
The authorities in DC continue to complain about the Bolivian approach, with the State Department saying that Bolivia has “demonstrably failed” to live up to its responsibilities in international counter-narcotics.
But President Morales seems undeterred, stating: “We in Bolivia, without US military bases and without the DEA, even without the shared responsibility of drug-consuming countries, have demonstrated that it is possible to confront drug trafficking with the participation of the people.”