'There'll be war' if Bolivia cuts coca growing, farmers warn


COROICO, BOLIVIA — For the coca farmers of western Bolivia's Las Yungas region, the loss of president Evo Morales — himself a one-time coca grower, and a champion of indigenous rights — is less worrying than the drop in price of their crop.

And the growers of the coca leaf are warning of "war" if the amount of land under legal cultivation is reduced by the interim government in power since Morales resigned last month.

"Coquita," as it is known locally, is the only crop grown in Cruz Loma, a village near the town of Coroico, perched 1,700 meters above sea level in the Andes.

"There are no citrus trees, no coffee plants, nothing," said Gladys de Quispe, pointing at a hilly parcel of land of some 1,600 square meters, divided into terraces, where her family grows coca leaf.

The almost fluorescent green of the plants stands out against other lush vegetation in this subtropical mountain zone, a warm and humid area with heavy rainfall.

"The price can't go down, or we'll all die," said the 38-year-old.

The plant constitutes the raw material for cocaine production, but since pre-colonial times it has also been used in everyday life by the indigenous population, who chew the leaves, use it in teas and for religious rituals. It is also used for cosmetics and medicines.

For the Yungas, as the people here call themselves, coca growing is a tradition passed down from generation to generation. Gladys is the daughter and granddaughter of coca growers. Her husband and four children grow the leaves, which brings in around 2,000 bolivianos ($280) a month for the family.

"We just scrape by. This pays for our kids' schooling," complained her aunt Eudora.

In Cruz Loma, a village of around 2,000 people where the Yungas live, there is a primary and a secondary school that the children and teenagers attend when they are not doing the arduous work of planting, harvesting or drying the leaves in the sun.

Since the late 1980s, Bolivia has pledged to eradicate the cultivation of the coca leaf.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the area under coca cultivation decreased by six percent from 2017 to 2018, from 24,500 to 23,100 hectares.

But the crop produced on that land is still more than what the experts determine is necessary for legal consumption.

Coca grower Luis Prudencial warned "there'll be war" if the interim government of Jeanine Anez, or whoever wins the next election, decides to cut their lands "even by a bit."

"We won't let that happen," he said. If the government "behaves badly, they'll be kicked out." — AFP