Given the dimensions it has acquired in the international context, the issue of illegal drug production and traffic needs, more than ever before, to be analyzed from a multilateral perspective. For this reason, the book under review is part of a project sponsored by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, the United Nations University, and Brigham Young University. The project intends to analyze, through a multicountry study, the socioeconomic and political impact of the production, trade, and use of illicit drugs.
In Bolivia, coca and cocaine production, promoted by a growing demand, has increased significantly since the 1980s, beginning with the production of raw materials and gradually moving into drug elaboration and drug trade. James Painter’s well-documented study centers on the Chapare region, the largest producer of coca leaves destined for cocaine elaboration. His sources are an ample range of Bolivian and U.S. government documents and testimonials of officials who participated in the various control programs and operations. The figures and tables must be interpreted by the reader, although they are useful for studying the phenomenon with greater objectivity.
The book correctly presents the complicated process of chemical transformation that coca leaves undergo to become pure cocaine. The various stages of this ecologically harmful process require specialized knowledge, time, space, and industrially elaborated chemical substances not available in the country. Good prices and an open market have turned the Chapare region into a privileged destination for a migratory current of peasants determined to produce coca leaves. Although this activity, today illegal, does not resolve the problems of local or national poverty, it is the most profitable one for the peasants. The projects intended to eliminate the coca crop generally have proposed no alternatives to replace those highly profitable conditions.
Painter’s conclusion implies that the efforts to decrease coca leaf production have not yet yielded the expected results; the peasants have been passive recipients of the projects. A reorientation of the interdiction policies is therefore in order. Future projects must find mechanisms to prevent clientelism, corruption, and the politization of institutions, especially at intermediary levels, and must propose policies to promote the desired sustained development that will eradicate hunger and poverty as well.