Bolivia and Coca: Law, Policy, and Drug Control

By Hallums, Melanie R. | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Bolivia and Coca: Law, Policy, and Drug Control

Hallums, Melanie R., Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Centuries mark the history of the relationship between the Bolivian people and coca, the principal ingredient of cocaine. Ancient Indian traditions used the coca leaf in many facets of cultural life, yet it never gained the notoriety of the modern scourge of cocaine. United States-led international concern over illicit narcotics trafficking has transformed Bolivian foreign relations, economics, and internal politics, and it continues to shape Bolivia's future and reflections about its past.

Bolivia is one of the Andean nations targeted by the U.S. "War on Drugs,"(1) escalated by Presidents Reagan and Bush.(2) As cocaine became a problem for the United States, so too did it become a problem for Bolivia. Since the 1980s, the United States has remained heavily involved in fighting an international "war" against drugs,(3) especially against cocaine in the Andean nations of Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia.(4) Since the advent of the "war," however, drug supplies have increased substantially, both in the United States and in the world market. The international drug trade generates an estimated $400 to $500 billion annually.(5) From 1984 to 1994, coca production nearly doubled, although the United States spent billions of dollars on narcotics-control assistance to Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru.(6) While the Bolivian government has cooperated with the U.S. anti-drug struggle,(7) coca production has not diminished. Meanwhile, the problem of U.S. cocaine consumption continues to demand a solution.(8)

While some critics believe the international anti-drug effort is at a standstill, legal mechanisms remain in place and new projects continue.(9) Although the Clinton administration focuses more resources than previous administrations on treatment rather than enforcement, substantial U.S. funding of overseas source country programs still supports the war against drugs in Latin America. The Andean nations of Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia continue to lead the world in cocaine production,(10) while the United States leads the world in cocaine consumption.(11) The United States also leads the international community in protesting the illicit production and trafficking of cocaine, and the supply-side international strategy still garnishes support among the U.S. public.(12)

Bolivia's situation is representative of all the Andean countries' struggles with the cocaine trade. This Note uses Bolivia as a model to evaluate the legal mechanisms available to address the international drug trafficking problem. Part II traces the history of coca production, use, and legislation in Bolivia to shed light on part of the backdrop against which the international drug effort must be viewed. Part III explains the international involvement in Bolivia, including the international drug problem and the United Nations (hereinafter U.N.) response to it. Part IV evaluates this hemisphere's action against cocaine trafficking, focusing on U.S. involvement, bilateral treaties, and regional agreements. Part V suggests possible alternatives in law and policy for addressing the coca issue in Bolivia. The current international approach to cocaine trafficking is failing. This Note concludes that only a multilateral approach, with the greatest involvement by the Andean nations, will approach the necessary regional solution to the drug crisis.


To understand the complex framework of Bolivia's coca production and subsequent international concerns over it, coca itself must be considered as one factor among many. Bolivia's cultural, political, and economic traditions have allowed the coca industry to amass a strength rivaled only by international demand for coca and cocaine. Today, regulation of coca production permeates Bolivia's international relations.

A. Does Bolivia Have a Cocaine Problem?

This question can be answered both in the affirmative and the negative. …

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