Bolivian President Evo Morales says he's committed to fighting cocaine production and trafficking in his country. Three years ago, he instituted a drug program called "Coca si, cocaine no." That means it's illegal to make cocaine -- but farmers are allowed to grow the coca plant, the basis of cocaine, for traditional uses such as chewing or making tea.
Lindsey Mullikin, for the Pulitzer Center
The big city of La Paz may be a draw for younger people in Sabina Ramirez and her husband Roberto's village. But not for her. "I was born into a coca-growing family," Sabina says, "and we're going to keep it that way." The Ramirezes live in a humble two-bedroom cinder block house in the village of Irupana, in the forest region of Los Yungas. Of Aymara Indian stock, Roberto's eyes are constantly smiling. Sabina wears the traditional braid across her back, like most indigenous women from the area. Both show signs in their skin of a lifetime working under the strong Andean sun.
The coca plant, used in indigenous cultural rituals and traditional medicines, is also the main ingredient for cocaine. Bolivia is the third largest producer of coca and cocaine after Peru and Colombia. Despite pressure to cut back on coca farming, many Bolivians see few alternatives.
Aired on Foreign Exchange with Daljit Dhaliwal the week of September 19, 2008.
From the VQR website:
"Bolivian President Evo Morales won office three years ago with the support of the nation's coca growers. He's supporting those cocaleros with his "Coca Si, Cocaína No" program, allowing coca to be produced and marketed legally, while barring production of cocaine. This is a difficult line for Morales to walk, but he does it to satisfy both his citizens and the international community."
The United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board recently made the announcement that Peru and Bolivia should, once and for all, outlaw the chewing of coca.
Those are fighting words in Bolivia, where coca leaves have been grown and used in their natural form for thousands of years.
Aired on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Dispatches on April 14, 2008
Ruxandra's piece starts approximately 15:30 minutes in.
From CBC's Dispatches site:
The government of Bolivia would like it understood that it is NOT in the cocaine business. It's in the COCA business. Big difference. Bolivia encourages farmers to grow the plant that produces cocaine, providing they turn it into something else.
Shortly after winning the presidency in 2005, Evo Morales went on a whirlwind world tour and brought a few small coca leaves with him to New York.
For years, Bolivia has been considered only a transit point for cocaine — but in the last five years it has increasingly become involved in cocaine production as well. Last week, the U.N's International Narcotics Control Board annual report chided Bolivia's government for allowing an increase in coca production. But president Evo Morales has repeatedly fought efforts to eradicate coca in his country, saying that an increase in coca doesn't necessarily mean an increase in cocaine.
Following the legal market of coca from the fields in Los Yungas, to the Villa Fátima market in La Paz, and finally, in the production of coca-based products.
Photos by Bear Guerra.