Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

I'd like to Make a Reservation: Bolivian Coca Control and Why the United Nations Should Amend the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

I'd like to Make a Reservation: Bolivian Coca Control and Why the United Nations Should Amend the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

Article excerpt


"We are not going to retreat one centimeter," declared former Bolivian President Hugo Banzer during a speech in 2001, expressing his "firm commitment . . . to leave Bolivia without drugs by 2002."1 His pledge to bring Bolivia "totally outside the drug circuit"2 was not mere rhetoric; a U.S.-backed program of forced coca eradication known as Plan Dignidad3 was already underway, pitting Bolivian peasants against the military.4 As part of President Banzer's plan, machete-wielding soldiers descended on Bolivia's coca-growing regions, hacking apart the coca farmers' crops.5 coca growers organized protests in response, resulting in a series of violent confrontations with the military.6 During the period of instability that followed the implementation of Plan Dignidad, "farmers threw rocks and sticks of dynamite at soldiers, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets in return."7 Coca growers protected their fields with booby traps and, in one instance, an "antinarcotics policeman was found buried . . . with acid poured on his face . . . ."8

By the time it was discontinued, Plan Dignidad had failed to achieve its objective of combating coca and cocaine production, succeeding only in "foment [ing] instability and poverty" in Bolivia's coca-growing regions.9 The resounding failure of a zero coca policy manifested itself in wide-scale protests in 2005, which ultimately brought down the Bolivian government.10 The protests, organized by the coca growers unions in response to violent eradication efforts by the state, were led by Evo Morales, who at that time served as the leader of an association of unions for coca growers.11 Following the protests, Bolivia made history by electing Morales as the country's first indigenous president.12

Morales' campaign focused on respect for indigenous people and culture, and after his election he implemented a system of legalization for growing small plots of coca, commonly referred to as "Coca Sí, Cocaina No."13 Bolivia withdrew from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (Single Convention) in 2012 over disagreement with the Single Convention's treatment of coca chewing and coca cultivation.14 Bolivia then re-acceded to the Convention in 2013, this time subject to a reservation on coca leaf chewing.15

Coca cultivation in Bolivia and in other Andean countries has a long history, predating the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century,16 and rooted in indigenous traditions.17 Bolivians use coca leaves for a variety of reasons, including as medicine and in religious ceremonies.18 Chewing coca leaves is an accepted social practice in Bolivia, akin to a coffee break in other cultures, which helps "to increase productivity and stave off hunger while working in the fields."19 As of 2015, approximately one in three Bolivians consumed coca in its raw, leaf form.20

Since assuming the presidency, Morales has stressed the cultural importance of the coca leaf to Bolivian citizens while distinguishing the practice of chewing coca leaves from that of cocaine use.21 On this basis, the Coca Sí, Cocaina No program "established a system legalising small plots of coca in some areas such as the Chapare, where it had been targeted [for eradication], while encouraging farmers to find ways to prevent the leaf from entering the drug market."22 These coca policies flew in the face of decades of international drug control law and policy, the provisions of which make little distinction between the unprocessed leaf and cocaine.23 Morales' coca policy has also led to a series of diplomatic disputes between Bolivia and the United States, including the expulsion of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from the country in 2008.24 Initial reactions to Morales' coca program, especially within the United States, were that government-sanctioned coca growth could only result in increased coca production and, therefore, increased cocaine manufacture.25 Present statistics, however, reflect decreased coca production and lend support to Bolivia's policy. …

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