Dec 27, 2012

When Coca Production is Allowed: The Case of Bolivia

The NYT has an interesting article by William Neuman on coca production in Bolivia, where individuals can produce legally a certain amount. The origin of this is the traditional use of the product. This is a partial legalization (or decriminalization) of production. Only some coca, probably less than fifty percent, is used traditionally, the rest is exported to Brazil for drug production, illegally. 

The producers belong to organized unions where certain rules are enforced, although not completely. 

The homicide rate in Bolivia is much lower than in other countries (around 9 homicides per 100,000 per year) such as Mexico or Guatemala, which have adopted the US-led war on drugs against production, transportation, and consumption.  

From the NYT article:
President Evo Morales, who first came to prominence as a leader of coca growers, kicked out the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2009. That ouster, together with events like the arrest last year of the former head of the Bolivian anti-narcotics police on trafficking charges, led Washington to conclude that Bolivia was not meeting its global obligations to fight narcotics.
But despite the rift with the United States, Bolivia, the world’s third-largest cocaine producer, has advanced its own unorthodox approach toward controlling the growing of coca, which veers markedly from the wider war on drugs and includes high-tech monitoring of thousands of legal coca patches intended to produce coca leaf for traditional uses. 
To the surprise of many, this experiment has now led to a significant drop in coca plantings in Mr. Morales’s Bolivia, an accomplishment that has largely occurred without the murders and other violence that have become the bloody byproduct of American-led measures to control trafficking in Colombia, Mexico and other parts of the region. 
Yet there are also worrisome signs that such gains are being undercut as traffickers use more efficient methods to produce cocaine and outmaneuver Bolivian law enforcement to keep drugs flowing out of the country.

In one key sign of progress in Bolivia’s approach toward coca, the total acres planted with coca dropped 12 to 13 percent last year, according to separate reports by theUnited Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. At the same time, the Bolivian government stepped up efforts to rip out unauthorized coca plantings and reported an increase in seizures of cocaine and cocaine base.

“It’s fascinating to look at a country that kicked out the United States ambassador and the D.E.A., and the expectation on the part of the United States is that drug war efforts would fall apart,” said Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivian research group. Instead, she said, Bolivia’s approach is “showing results.”
The method of production is called "social control." This article explains more:
Lopez Vasquez, the former coca union leader, is now on the front lines once again. But this time instead of fighting for the right to plant coca, she works with a program that supports social control to limit cultivation. She says getting the program off the ground was not easy, but many people who lived through years of conflict eventually embraced the idea of growing a cato in peace­ - especially if it helped the Morales government. 
"It was hard to make our people understand, because no one had heard of social control before," she said. Despite those challenges, the unions eventually took up the responsibility of policing their members. "Our organizations considered how to not make the government look bad, how we could help and how we can stick to the cato of coca. 
Along with the collaborative elements of social control, satellite monitoring and a grower registration system are used to track crops. Coca planted outside permitted cultivation zones, or planted in excess in those zones, is still eradicated - but now the unions don't fight the process.
Note that unions police their members. I'm sure is more complicated than that, but the idea of self-organizaiton is interesting. 

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