Illegal drug trade in Bolivia

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The illegal drug trade in Bolivia is complicated by a longstanding indigenous tradition of using coca leaf for chewing and for coca tea. In an example of the balloon effect, dramatic falls in coca cultivation in the late 1990s saw some cultivation move to Colombia.[1]


In 1980 the Junta of Commanders headed by Luis García Meza Tejada forced a violent coup d'etat—sometimes referred to as the Cocaine Coup - on 17 July. Garcia Meza's rule was so violent, and his regime so internationally isolated due to his drug trafficking, that he was forced to resign in 1981. His main collaborator, Colonel Luis Arce Gómez, was extradited to the United States, where he served a jail sentence for drug trafficking.

Drug kingpin Roberto Suárez Goméz was arrested in 1988.

In 1991, under pressure from the United States, Bolivia involved its military forces in anti-drugs actions, despite local opposition.[2]

Plan Dignidad[edit]

In 1995 at the height of coca production, one out of every eight Bolivians made a living from coca.[3] The country was the world's third largest grower of coca after Peru and Colombia.[3]

In 1997, 458 square kilometres of land were being used to produce coca leaves, with only 120 km² of that being grown for the licit market.[4] In August 1997, with strong support of the US government, Bolivian President Hugo Banzer developed "Plan Dignidad" ("The Dignity Plan") to counter the drug trade. The plan focused on eradication, interdiction (through lab destruction), efforts to counter money laundering, and implementation of social programs that countered and prevented drug addiction.[4]

The plan's heavy emphasis on plant eradication and noticeable lack of focus on trafficking organizations was noted by its critics at the time. The US Embassy in Bolivia defended the aggressive focus on crops, maintaining that Bolivia was devoid of significant trafficking organizations and claiming that the bulk of illegally exported coca went through small ‘mom-and-pop’ operations.[4]

This claim continues to be rejected by scholars of Bolivian society who say "Bolivia is very vulnerable to the influence of international trafficking organizations and that it is very likely that the participation of Bolivian entrepreneurs in the illegal business has increased." During the initial years of the operation area of coca production dropped. While in 1997 it had been 458 km², by 1998 it was down to 380 km²; in 1999 it fell to 218 km², and in 2000 it reached its lowest point at 146 km².[4] Since the 1990s, the US has been funding the Bolivian government's eradication program by an average of $150 million a year.[5]

President Evo Morales (2008-)[edit]

In 2008, President Evo Morales gave the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) three months to leave the country, accusing them of fomenting the drugs trade rather than fighting it.[6]

In 2010, Russia agreed to lend Bolivia $100 million to buy a number of Russian military helicopters, in order to strengthen Bolivian anti-drug actions.[7]

President Morales has continued to maintain relations with the US government, including on counter-narcotics issues. Such relations appear to have been strengthened by the Morales administration's success in reducing coca cultivation. Its strategy is based on the voluntary participation of farmers from all coca-growing regions in the country. For instance, farmers in Chapare are allowed to grow one cato (1,600 square meters)[8] of coca per year, as part of policy formally introduced in Bolivia in 2004.[9] Any coca grown beyond that limit, or any cultivation outside of approved coca-cultivation regions such as Chapare, is subject to elimination. The strategy relies on coca growers federations’ ability to enforce the agreement. Such federations are influential, and penalties for violations by farmers or lax enforcement by federations can be stern (including seizure of lands). As a result, coca cultivation in Bolivia fell to 27,200 hectares in 2011 from 31,000 hectares in 2010 - a 12 per cent decrease.[9]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Stopping it, How Government Try--And Fail--to Stem the Flow of Drugs". The Economist. July 26, 2001.  "The main targets of American supply-reduction campaigns over the years have been Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. The net effect appears to have been a relocation and reorganisation of production, not a cutback. Dramatic falls in coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia in the late 1990s coincided with an equally dramatic rise in Colombia, even though almost all the top people in Colombia's notorious Cali cartel had been jailed in the mid-1990s."
  2. ^ Youngers, Senior Associate, Coletta, "Part I. A Fundamentally Flawed Strategy: The U.S.", Washington Office on Latin America. September 18, 1991(1).
  3. ^ a b "Bolivian tension mounts as roadblock deadline looms". CNN. October 3, 2000. Retrieved February 14, 2007. 
  4. ^ a b c d Dina Siegel, Henk van de Bunt, D. Siegel (editors) (2004). Global Organized Crime: Trends and Developments. AA Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 36–37. 
  5. ^ Boggan, Steve (February 9, 2006). "Coca is a way of life". The Guardian. London. Retrieved February 6, 2007. 
  6. ^ AFP, 6 November 2008, DEA complicit in drug trade, says Morales
  7. ^ 3 April 2010, Russia lends Bolivia $100 mln to aid drugs fight
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Ledebur, K.; Youngers, C. (2013). "From Conflict to Collaboration: An Innovative Approach to Reducing Coca Cultivation in Bolivia". Stability: International Journal of Security and Development. 2 (1): 9. doi:10.5334/