Snow of the Andes:
Bolivia’s Coca Dilemma
Bolivia fights to maintain its traditional use of the coca leaf as drug trafficking threatens national customs.
Bolivia is the third largest coca and cocaine producer in the world.
It is something Bolivians, young and old, have chewed for centuries. The plant is one of the most important agricultural commodities in the country.
Since the election of Evo Morales in 2006 many of the laws that had for generations outlawed coca farming have been thrown out in recognition of the plant’s important role in the country’s heritage and the economy of the indigenous people.
But this has also created an opportunity for those wanting to exploit the new laws for cocaine production. This growing industry is not only using endless acres of the coca plant fields. It is also threatening the traditional way of life.
After decades of a US-backed drug war, the country decided in 2008 to expel the US Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA). That was sparked by an indigenous social movement that sought to revindicate the coca farmer – deeming him an integral part of society, so long as his produce was sold for traditional use.
Today, coca-growing unions control production and the United Nations celebrates their progress. But there are signs that the country has become an international drug trafficking hub. And that not all may be as it seems.