Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bolivia’s Coca Policy Working, Says U.S. Report

NEW YORK (digitalwarriormedia) – The Morales administration’s “Coca Yes, Cocaine No,” policy has been validated by the results of a U.S. State Department report sent to Congress on Friday.

The report concluded that the Bolivian government has improved measures to fight the illicit production and sale of coca – the main ingredient in cocaine.

Under U.S. law, countries that fail to demonstrate significant efforts to combat the spread of illicit narcotics may be penalized with a cut-off in certain types of aid.

The recently completed report says Bolivia made progress last year, including the successful eradication of more than 5,000 hectares (12,360 acres) of coca in 2006. It also found that Bolivia met adequate benchmarks to stave off any financial sanctions, despite coca production increasing slightly since 2005.

In an interim report released earlier this year, the U.S. criticized Morales for failing to deal with increased coca production. And there was a recurring debate about whether the Bolivian government should continue to receive U.S. aid, with Washington delaying its decision.

As a result of this most recent report, the Bush administration decided to waive penalties against Bolivia which could have resulted in the loss of more than $100 million in aid.

However, the U.S. did criticize the Bolivian government for failing to give adequate support to drug abuse prevention programs, and publicly address the dangers that excess coca production, drug production and consumption pose to Bolivian society.

Upon assuming the Presidency in early 2006, Morales announced his “zero cocaine” policy. Morales agreed to eradicate excess coca crops grown illicitly, while also supporting coca growing families in the Yungas region by proposing to increase the legal coca production limit from 12,000 to 20,000 hectares (29,650 to 49,420 acres).

"For us, it is a way of life, but coca is not cocaine. Traditionally, Bolivians have not processed it into the narcotic drug cocaine. We completely oppose that. I am saying no to ‘zero coca’, but yes to ‘zero cocaine’." stated Morales last year.

The plant has held traditional medicinal and spiritual purposes for the nation’s indigenous population for centuries. Critics of U.S. drug policy contend that Bolivia does not have a domestic cocaine problem and the international drug markets of the U.S., Canada and Europe are the real culprits, not poor coca farmers.

Bolivia is the world's third-leading producer of coca and the government began voluntary eradication in the Yungas region last year. New, integrated alternative development approaches were implemented to negotiate voluntary eradication measures among Bolivia’s cocalero constituency.

Morales’ administration is well aware of the opposition to forced coca eradication by Bolivia’s coca farmers and it has supported coca reduction through voluntary means by negotiating directly with the farmers and their unions.

The Bolivian government is also supporting the industrialization of coca and the exploration of an international legal market for coca products in medicine, toothpaste, shampoo, liquors and foods.

Morales vowed to find industrial uses for the traditional plant and the European Union agreed to fund a study for such a purpose.

In September 2006, President Morales presented a coca leaf while giving his speech before the United Nations 61st General Assembly. He announced the importance of coca in the traditions of indigenous people and that the plant does not warrant a place in UN conventions as a narcotic drug.

A former coca grower himself, Morales remains the head of the nation’s largest coca farmer’s union based in Chapare.

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