Historically, the chewing of coca leaves was a cultural practice among the Indian peasant laborers of the Andes. The mild stimulation received from the low cocaine-content leaves enabled workers to endure the burdens of their 12- to 14-hour days in the mines and in the fields, so both Bolivian and Peruvian laws have permitted controlled production of coca for domestic consumption—about 12,000 kilograms (kg) in Bolivia (which also includes production for international pharmaceutical use). A part of the Bolivian economy has therefore always depended on the cultivation, transport, and sale of coca leaves.
The growers of illegal coca in Bolivia are the thousands of farm families who have shifted away from the cultivation and harvest of more traditional crops. In the early 1990s, coca accounted for as much as 40 percent of Bolivia's agricultural production, about 50 percent of its gross domestic product, and about 67 percent of its export earnings. However, the Bolivian government, with the
In the Bolivian jungle, a soldier helps to destroy an illegal chemical lab that was used for processing coca into cocaine paste for shipment to Colombia. (© Bill Gentile/CORBIS)
assistance of the United States, began to take steps in the 1990s to eradicate illegal coca cultivation. Bolivia is now the third-largest cultivator of coca, after Peru and Columbia. Voluntary and forced eradication programs have dramatically reduced coca production, with a 55 percent reduction since 1995. The Bolivian government has encouraged farmers to grow legal crops and has set a goal of total elimination of illegal coca production by 2002.
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