US Evaluation of Bolivian Drug Control Misleading and Inaccurate

US officials continue to cling to eradication figures and old yardsticks to evaluate Bolivia’s new approach to coca cultivation and drug control.

The 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)1 criticizes the Morales administration for an increase in coca production and in drug trafficking in Bolivia.  Although official U.S. figures have not been released, it is probable that coca production has indeed gone up.  Data presented in the report, though, contradicts the assertion that this increase has pushed up potential cocaine production.  Although the report acknowledges progress in interdiction, meeting the eradication quota, a determination to fight corruption and continued bilateral collaboration, the Bolivia section contains a series of internal contradictions and misrepresents the reality of coca and cocaine in the country. 

The INCSR informs the US Congress about drug producing and trafficking countries and guides their decision on whether to certify a nation as cooperating fully with the US drug control strategy.  If a nation is decertified it can have its economic funding eliminated and lose trade preferences.2   The U.S. government will announce on March 15, whether Bolivia will be recertified and has demonstrably complied with US antinarcotics objectives based on six conditions set in September 2006.  

The U.S. needs to move away from old and ineffective yardsticks to measure drug control, such as yearly coca cultivation statistics and eradication figures.  During US-funded forced eradication using the Bolivian military, the coca crop temporarily shrank – technically it shifted to other areas, like the La Paz Yungas and Colombia – but farmers with almost no economic alternatives quickly replanted coca to survive.  This allowed the US to laud high eradication numbers for several years.  Instead the Morales administration allows a small portion of coca for subsistence in coca growing regions previously designated as illegal and a negotiated gradual reduction of coca plants beyond this limit in those areas.  Looking at eradication and cultivation levels after one year will not meet narrow U.S. expectations, but this approach has a much better chance of providing lasting results, without the mounting cycles of conflict, human right violations, poverty and general political instability, that the US designed, funded and directed military forced eradication program did. Furthermore the Morales administration has followed through with its promise to step up interdiction and has shown impressive results.  Coca farmers now cooperate with anti-drug police to denounce maceration pits and traffickers.

Oddly, the report itself never mentions the cato, a small 1600 square meter plot of coca permitted per coca grower union member for traditional consumption.  The cato is the cornerstone of the Morales drug control strategy which supports the cultivation of coca while increasing cocaine interdiction efforts.  The cato of coca has eliminated protests, conflict and human rights violations in the Chapare coca growing region and provided a legal source of subsistence income for these farmers, but the INCSR attributes these achievements to USAID alternative development programs through Chapare municipal governments, many of which did not function for the bulk of 2006.  In short, the Bolivia report demonstrates that the US government has been unable to readjust its analysis to the new drug control model in place in Bolivia.  

Point by Point Critique of the 2007 INCSR for Bolivia: Inaccurate Information and Internal Contradictions

Coca Cultivation and Eradication

The INSCR asserts that Bolivia “had substantially reduced coca production in the last five years”

•    This statement is patently false.  According to the USG’s own statistics and the 2005 INCSR report, coca production has INCREASED in Bolivia each year since 2000, except in 2003. (see chart at the bottom of the Bolivia section.)  From 2000-2004 coca production increased in Bolivia under the US-sanctioned and funded forced eradication program.   The State Department presents different figures for past coca cultivation estimates in the 2007 INCSR than are included in previous reports, generating further confusion.

“Bolivia now faces an erosion of these achievements.”

•    Not only was there no lasting reduction in the coca crop under the US-designed forced eradication program, but it also provoked considerable social unrest, human rights violations, counterattacks on security forces, general political instability, and increased poverty in the Chapare region. These can hardly be called achievements.

“There was a slight increase in coca production, in most parts of the country including 17% in the Chapare.”

•    This statement is misleading; there is no coca cultivation at all in “most parts of the country.” Cultivation still occurs in the regions where planting existed before Morales’s inauguration.

•    Lasting results in a transition to a new, negotiated approach to limiting coca production, cannot be accurately measured by yearly production statistics, which have yet to be released.  Lower net cultivation figures and higher eradication numbers are misleading indicators.  In the past a reduction in the coca crop and high eradication led to rapid replanting of coca, and an increase in the amount of coca grown in Bolivia.

Asserts that, “cocalero activism and a desire to avoid violent confrontations have led to a rise in coca production.”

•    This statement suggests that a desire to avoid violence is a negative trait and that an acceptance of violent confrontations would lead to a reduction in production.  Recent history has proved that this logic is inherently flawed. From 1998-2004 forced coca eradication carried out by the Bolivian armed forces led to increasing cycles of violent conflict and the death of 35 coca growers and 27 members of the security forces.  

“From 2001 to 2005, coca cultivation increased from 19,900 to 26,500 hectares, and as a result, Bolivia’s estimated potential cocaine production has increased from 100 metric tons in 2001 to 115 metric tons in 2005.”

•    US anti-drug officials have repeatedly stated that more coca directly translates in to greater cocaine production. The INCSR replicates this hypothesis. Yet, in spite of the increase in coca cultivation cited by the report, the figure cited for potential HCL production, 115 metric tons, has remained the same since 2004 (see chart at the end of the Bolivia section).  Furthermore, the increase in potential cocaine production occurred between 2001-2003, while U.S. promoted and funded military forced eradication operations continued, and not as a result of Morales’s cooperative eradication program.

“In June, President Morales introduced a plan to authorize all Bolivian coca growers to sell leaf anywhere in the country.”

•    This statement is exaggerated. The plan would permit each coca grower union affiliate to barter 150 lbs of coca every three months for other products and allow legally authorized organizations to purchase coca for traditional use directly from legal markets without intermediaries.  Bolivian law states that “The production, circulation and marketing of coca are subject to State control, through the appropriate agency of the Executive, and shall be the subject of special regulations within the legal framework of the present Law. (Article 15, Law 1008) The Executive shall establish a system of permits and monitoring, both for producers and for transporters and merchants. (Article 19, Law 1008)

Alternative Development

“A new, integrated alternative development approach in the Chapare provides for participation by municipalities in GOB decisions on development, implementation and monitoring of programs. This has helped reduce coca-related conflict and strengthen local commitment to licit development.” and “notably raised the income levels of farmers in the Chapare.”

•    A reduction in coca-related conflict and increased levels of income in the Chapare are primarily due to the consolidation of the cato privilege, not community development programs which had their USAID funding frozen for most of 2006.  The cato allows campesinos to make a subsistence income and has increased willingness to participate in income generating efforts beyond coca.  Chapare municipal government did successfully obtain non-USAID development money from alternative sources, including the European Union, Spain and Venezuela, to carry out their own initiatives without U.S. conditioning and restraints.

“The licit economies in coca-growing regions expanded and consolidated in FY 2006, providing former coca growers with opportunities to live within the rule of law and make a decent living.” and in the Chapare and Yungas the “average licit incomes are substantially above the national average.”

•    With the Morales’s administration’s cato strategy, growing coca is within the law and provides a decent living.  The cato assures a small, secure income allowing producers to assume the risks of an alternative development program which may not provide a subsistence income for several years.  The decrease in conflict also makes it easier for growers to explore other opportunities.


“The GOB explains that the excess coca leaf not used for internal consumption will be industrialized and exported to an international market. However, currently worldwide demand for coca leaf used in commercial flavorings and pharmaceuticals only requires the amount of coca that can be grown on 250 hectares (in Peru).”

•    No legal stipulation exists stating that Peru has a corner on the commercial flavorings and pharmaceutical market. Until approximately four years ago Coca Cola also bought coca in the Chapare through a company called Albo Export.   These significant purchases occurred even at the peak of the Banzer administration’s zero coca campaign.

“The GOB plans to increase legal cultivation of coca to 20,000 hectares and support coca industrialization and export. These policies, if implemented, would violate Bolivian law and the 1988 UN Drug Convention.”  

•    It is true that Bolivian Law 1008 allows for the legal cultivation of only 12,000 hectares of coca, but the Morales Administration has announced plans to modify the law. The law, though, does not prohibit industrialization. Instead it stipulates that “industrial processing for legal use shall be subject to special regulation.” (Article 5, Law 1008)

“Bolivian Law 1008 requires the GOB to complete a study to determine the actual licit demand for coca in Bolivia.”

•    There is no such requirement in the law.  The Chapare coca growers consented to a study as part of an agreement with the Bolivian government in October 2004.


“According to Bolivian law enforcement, the number of cocaine base labs more than doubled since the inauguration of President Morales.”

•    Interdiction statistics imply that the number of cocaine base labs has increased, but during 2006 Bolivian law enforcement officials repeatedly clarified to the Andean Information Network and the Washington Office on Latin America that increased destruction of labs has almost doubled.  Additionally, three different officials confirmed that this was a result of an increased number of missions and intensified interdiction efforts, not an increase in the number of existing cocaine labs in the country.

“In July the Morales Administration issued Ministerial Resolution 112, requiring seized leaf to be consolidated and returned to communities rather than be destroyed as required by Bolivian domestic law.”

•    Bolivian drug control Law 1008 makes a distinction between the coca leaf in its natural state and illicit drugs. Article 98 of the law mandates that only illegal drugs seized must be incinerated; there is no mention of the coca leaf.

Code of Criminal Procedures

“The principal challenges facing Bolivia today are the control of coca cultivation, especially near and in the Yungas, the need to develop new laws and regulations to control precursor chemicals, and pass new laws to modify the current Code of Criminal Procedures, which handicaps drug case prosecutions.”

•    Ironically, USAID and their consultants worked to develop and implement the Bolivian Code of Criminal Procedures as part of their regional Administration of Justice Program. The Code eliminated many of the unconstitutional stipulations of Anti-drug Law 1008, another U.S. supported initiative, and instituted a series of due process guarantees similar to those that apply in the U.S. for detainees in all criminal cases.   This initiative provided guidelines to address overwhelming standards of evidence.  The protection of due process should never be considered a “handicap” for prosecution.  Before the implementation of the new code the great majority of detainees for drug cases were incarcerated indefinitely without even being formally charged with a crime.

A New Strategy

As a coca grower, Morales has a profound understanding of a complex issue.  The current program, like any new initiative, will take time to show definitive results, but it has the support of the bulk of the affected population and makes sense.  Since the right to the cato was granted in late 2004, there have been no serious conflicts or gross human rights violations in the Chapare region, although there were two coca growers killed in another region.  The drug war is no longer a permanent source of internal strife and upheaval.  

What the Morales government understands, and what the U.S. government does not comprehend, is that coca growing is about feeding people’s families.  A lasting reduction in the coca crop will depend on lasting alternatives for these families’ survival.  At the same time the administration has made a concerted effort – with demonstrable results—to fight the drug trade and come up with legal uses for its coca crop. Furthermore, the Bolivian government has kept lines of communication open with the US, and still closely cooperates with the DEA and the Narcotic Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy. The rules of the game have changed, and, as a result, the benchmarks used to evaluate progress must change as well.  This year’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report on Bolivia, with its faulty analysis, internal contradictions and chiding tone, shows that the Bush administration has been unable to shift its focus from an outdated, ineffective and harmful vision of drug control in Bolivia.

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