Shortly after winning the presidency in 2005, Evo Morales went on a whirlwind world tour and brought a few small coca leaves with him to New York.
For years, Bolivia has been considered only a transit point for cocaine — but in the last five years it has increasingly become involved in cocaine production as well. Last week, the U.N's International Narcotics Control Board annual report chided Bolivia's government for allowing an increase in coca production. But president Evo Morales has repeatedly fought efforts to eradicate coca in his country, saying that an increase in coca doesn't necessarily mean an increase in cocaine.
Following the legal market of coca from the fields in Los Yungas, to the Villa Fátima market in La Paz, and finally, in the production of coca-based products.
Photos by Bear Guerra.
The U.N.'s International Narcotics Control Board said last week that Peru and Bolivia should outlaw the chewing of coca. Those are fighting words in Bolivia, where coca leaves are widely grown and part of traditional Andean culture. Bolivia's president Evo Morales is a former coca grower who has pushed for increasing the legal uses of coca leaves — while clamping down on the illegal uses. He calls his policy "Coca Yes — Cocaine No" — that means encouraging legal coca growers — but cracking down on drug traffickers.
We left Chulumani early in the morning, looking for Hernán Justo. He's the newly-elected president of the Departmental Association of Coca Producers or ADEPCOCA, an increasingly powerful organization that represents the rights of cocaleros to sell their coca in the legal market. People around town had told us that Justo was a young and charismatic farmer-turned-union leader -- just the man to talk to us about the commercialization of coca and how it's faring so far.
"Forced eradication" is a loaded term in Bolivia, and among cocaleros, it calls to mind the abuses and conflicts of the past few administrations. These days, the preferred word is "rationalization", used equally by government officials, military, police, and even the cocaleros themselves to refer to the limits placed on coca cultivation. Under president Evo Morales' "Coca Si, Cocaina No" plan, there's a rightful place and treatment for all kinds of coca -- whether it's grown in legal zones, in so-called "excess" areas, or in illegal zones.
The bus drops us off at the non-descript "tranca" in Chulumani -- the name given here to the place where all traffic comes to a halt, and where the trucks and buses stop to pick up passengers and unload. It's raining. The town is sleepy as always, but especially so now because it is noon-time and most villagers are either in the fields tending their crops, or they are back at home, having lunch.