The Coca War
Testimony of Chapare Peasants, Alison Spedding, 2018. "The Coca War", The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics, Sinclair Thomson, Rossana Barragán, Xavier Albó, Seemin Qayum, Mark Goodale
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In the U.S. War on Drugs in the Andes, one of the stated aims was to eliminate the production of raw material for cocaine, although in Bolivia the traditional cultivation and consumption of coca leaf was so well established that it would be impossible to eradicate the crop completely. The 1988 Law on Coca and Controlled Substances (Law 1008), written with United States oversight, established a limit on traditional coca production and declared all the rest to be “in excess” and destined for drug production. Peasant farmers in these “excess” zones who agreed to uproot their coca fields received cash compensation and “alternative development” projects promoting other crops, most of which failed to find profitable markets. This obliged growers to maintain, or replant, some coca fields in order to guarantee a basic income. Starting in 1997, the Banzer government began to phase out the compensation payments and declared a cut-off date after which any coca field in the “excess” zone of the Chapare would be automatically illegal and could be eradicated by the military at any moment without consultation. The aim was to achieve “zero coca” in the region, a target which delighted the government’s backers in the United States. Armed squads of conscripts searched and destroyed coca fields, but nothing was done to bolster the prices for alternative crops such as pineapples and palm hearts. Hence, peasants sought to protect a few clandestine coca fields, while the militarization of the region provoked constant conflicts. The following testimony by peasants in 2002–3 in the Chapare, where the repression of coca producers was heaviest, conveys some of the human costs of these policies and the resentment they generated at the local level.