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Social control in Bolivia: a humane alternative to the forced eradication of coca crops

Grisaffi, T. (2018) Social control in Bolivia: a humane alternative to the forced eradication of coca crops. In: Labate, B. C., Cavanar, C. and Rodrigues, T. (eds.) Drug Policies and the Politics of Drugs in the Americas. Springer, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 149-166. ISBN 9783319290805

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-29082-9_9


For over three decades a central element of US anti-drug policy in the Andean region has been the aggressive eradication of coca crops (coca is used to process cocaine). This is generally done manually; eradication teams, accompanied by heavily armed members of the security forces, enter small farmsteads to uproot coca crops. The logic underlying supply side enforcement is that if production is wiped out at the source, then the drugs will never reach US streets. Not only is this strategy inefficient, but it also generates myriad harms. Eradicating crops in the Andean region destroys local economies, criminalizes some of the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society, and opens the space for the violation of human rights. When coca grower leader, Evo Morales, was elected President of Bolivia in 2005, he vowed to end the US backed War on Drugs. On entering office, Morales advanced a radical policy that allows farmers to grow a limited amount of coca, known as a “cato” (an area of land measuring 1600 square meters) to ensure some basic income, while working with coca grower federations and units of the security forces to voluntarily reduce any excess coca production. The overriding aim of the policy⎯referred to here as the “cato accord”⎯is to limit harms to coca-grower communities. Morales’s approach has shrunk coca production and had immediate positive impacts, including cutting human rights abuses and allowing farmers to diversify their sources of income. In spite of these successes, the US has been very critical, and, since 2008, has placed Bolivia on a blacklist of countries that do not cooperate in the fight against drugs (see Pearson and Grisaffi 2014). The objective of this chapter is to describe how farmers, who depend on coca for their livelihoods, have experienced a range of coca control policies. It begins with a brief overview of coca use and production in the Andean region, paying particular attention to the Chapare, one of Bolivia’s principal coca growing zones. The chapter then outlines the harms associated with US-backed forced crop eradication and the failure of “alternative development” to offer farmers realistic livelihoods. The second half of the chapter provides a grassroots assessment of Morales’s new coca control policy. It is argued that, by addressing the underlying causes of coca cultivation including poverty, unemployment and lack of state presence, it might prove to be more effective at constraining coca production in the longer term, than was the previous strategy of forced eradication. This chapter is based on more than 30 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Chapare region of Bolivia. The research was spread over several visits between 2005 and 2014. To gather data, the author carried out interviews and participant observation with a broad range of informants, including peasant farmers and their families, landless laborers, local agricultural union leaders, pichicateros (people who work processing cocaine paste and trafficking it), members of the security services, and political leaders, including mayors, councilors and members of congress. In this chapter, only public figures are named.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
ID Code:80174

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