Eduardo A. Gamarra
On December 20 in the town of Chimore, located in the coca growing region of the Chapare, President Hugo Banzer Suárez symbolically pulled the last coca plant of the 7,000 hectares Bolivia was obligated to eradicate in 1997 under the terms of bilateral agreements with the United States. Banzer also unveiled a promise to eradicate all coca grown in the Chapare by the year 2002. This is not the first time that a Bolivian head of state has promised to eradicate coca and to face head-on narcotics trafficking. In 1962, Bolivia pledged before the United Nations to wipe out all coca within two decades. And in the mid-1970s, during Banzer’s own tenure as de facto president (1971-1978) Bolivia also pledged to wipe out the production of coca. Paradoxically, the coca-cocaine industry emerged as a significant dimension of Bolivian politics and economy during those very same years. Rather than disappearing, the coca-cocaine cycle has become a very significant component of Bolivia’s polity, society, and economy.
In 1996, 48,100 hectares were under cultivation in Bolivia, which could yield up to 75,100 metric tons of coca leaf. The production of cocaine also increased, reaching a high of 66 metric tons in 1993, and according to the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Matters, 215 metric tons are potentially available from Bolivia. Although estimates are notoriously unreliable, U.S. government agencies calculate that the value of exports of cocaine base and hydrochloride (HCL) peaked in the late 1980s at about $450 million. According to the same sources, total income generated and retained in Bolivia was about $300 million. The most credible figure of the industry as a percentage of gross domestic product is between 4 and 5 percent.