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Project June 14, 2016

The “War on Drugs” in South America

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Journalist Simeon Tegel takes an on-the-ground look at two under-reported aspects of the "war on drugs," exploring the perspectives of impoverished rural communities directly affected by counter-narcotics policies: Bolivian coca growers and Paraguayan cannabis farmers.
Bolivia is one of just three countries that produce significant quantities of coca, the key ingredient in cocaine. The Andean nation saw its coca acreage drop 11 percent in 2014 yet Washington once again "de-certified" its counter-narcotics strategy (while giving its blessing to Colombia, which experienced a 44 percent surge). One reason is that La Paz refuses to criminalize growers or forcibly eradicate crops, preferring dialogue and alternative development. Tegel visits Chapare, Bolivia's main illegal coca-growing area, to get growers' rarely reported perspective on why they grow coca, and what would make them stop.
Paraguay, meanwhile, accounts for 15 percent of global cannabis production, according to one United Nations estimate, and supplies much of South America. The current conservative government is committed to prohibition despite the policy's apparent failure (with President Horacio Cartes even claiming to have witnessed school-friends die from the soft drug). Yet one congressman, concerned about the effects of repression on human rights and governance, is pushing for legalization.

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