March 1, 2006

Bolivia and Peru Grow More Coca, Says US

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON -- Increased political clout of coca growers in Bolivia and Peru has farmers growing more coca in a trend that is causing concern in Washington, the U.S. State Department said in a report on Wednesday.

The influence of coca growing associations, known as cocaleros, was greatest in Bolivia, where coca association founder and farmer Evo Morales won the presidency in December.

"We are concerned about the inability thus far of Bolivia's new president to articulate whether or not he will allow coca eradication and U.S. counter-narcotics assistance to continue," said Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

The department's annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report provides the basis for the U.S. government to decide later this year which countries belong on the U.S. list of major drug-trafficking and drug-producing states.

Some countries will be vulnerable to losing U.S. aid if the Bush administration also decides that they have failed to make substantial efforts to respect international agreements and U.S. legal requirements on counter-narcotics.

Peru and Bolivia are the second- and third-largest producers of coca, the raw material used in making cocaine, and the United States funds drug eradication programs in both nations.

In Peru, the report said, coca cultivation was on the rise but the government was meeting its eradication goals.


Bolivia's coca cultivation grew by 8 percent in 2005 to 65,500 acres, thanks in part to "cocalero activists" and the government's desire to avoid violent confrontation, said the report.

"Though this amount is half of Bolivia's peak cultivation figure of 52,000 hectares in 1989, the trend is disquieting as it shows no signs of being reversible in the short run," it said.

These farmers' groups were often exploited by drug traffickers and coca reduction programs were portrayed as a way for a mainly white, urban governing minority to curb economic gains by the rural indigenous majority.

The report praised Colombia, the source of roughly 90 percent of cocaine destined for the United States, for its efforts in eliminating coca crops.

Cocaine seizures set new records, with Colombia seizing 228 metric tons in 2005. Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Mexico seized about 329 metric tons of cocaine with a street value of about $33 billion.

The report pointed a finger at Venezuela, a key transit point for drugs leaving Colombia. Last year, Venezuela was one of only two countries that "failed demonstrably" to meet international counternarcotics obligations. Burma was the other.

Political differences between the United States and Venezuela hampered cooperation at a high level over the issue.

Last year's report said Afghanistan's heroin production posed a major threat to world stability, but this year's cited a 48 percent drop in the amount of opium poppies cultivated. However, the opium yield rose sharply due to favorable weather.

Other success stories were in Thailand, which had practically eliminated its opium poppy crop and sharply curtailed cross-border trafficking.