Any plan that touches the volatile coca leaf and cocaine issue will undoubtedly be received through leery lenses. Past experiences of forced eradication, human rights abuses, alternative development failures, and a sense of imposition would make any cocalero highly skeptical.
Yet, Bolivia has no choice in the matter. Spurned by external pressues, namely from the United States embassy, the Government of Bolivia (GOB) has to make due and find a way to make the plan work. Recently the GOB released their new plan titled, “Estrategia Integral Boliviana de Lucha Contra el Tráfico Ilícito de Drogas 2004-2008,” with a whopping budget of $969 million dollars. Roughly 89% of that money will be funneled through external international sources.
What makes this plan different than the doomed Plan Dignity, which was resisted throughout the Chapare and Yungas Region? Primarily, the Minister of External Relations Juan Ignacio Siles explained that no longer will this effort be imposed upon the communities affected, as every effort will be made to work in conjunction with unions, community groups, and farmer associations to determine where and how the money will be used.
Easier said than done. Some groups already say that this plan has been imposed on them and no dialogue took place before it was released.
Those on the far left continue to capitalize on the illusion that all coca is grown for traditional and medicinal purposes. Yet, they never acknowledge the fact that a large majority of the coca grown is destined for cocaine production. If this leaf is so sacred, and has been for centries, then why is it allowed to be used (knowingly and unknowingly) for the manufacturing of an illegal and illicit product?
Granted, cocaine use is largely a U.S. and Western European problem, but it affects poor Bolivians far removed from those areas.
Money is the only reason why this crop continues to be grown in both those regions. Both the Chapare and Yungas regions are typical examples of rural extreme poverty. Poor infrastructure and the lack of basic needs can only be diminished by additional funds, where perhaps, a family can send their child to the doctor in one of the urban centers.
These regions need development. No one disputes that the income from the sale of coca to these third-parties cannot be rivaled by alternative development plans for banana, papaya, etc. But development is much more than equalling income levels, it also is access to education, health and clean water.
Like any other government project, a large portion of these funds will be channeled through agencies and development organizations. The bulk of these funds should be used for basic needs, such as the construction of hospitals, schools, and water sanitation projects. This new plan seeks to improve these areas throughout the country, so that people are not tempted to move to the Yungas and Chapare.
Likely, this plan will be met with resistence, and rightly so, because past experiences have not been totally successful. But it’s time for the cocalero movement to admit that a large portion of the coca leaf goes towards cocaine production and use the reduction of that as a bargaining chip – one that brings actual and meaningful change in those regions and helps improve the lives of the inhabitants of those regions.
To see an example of a biased look at this issue please watch the film titled “Chew on This”.