Cocalero Expansions Draw Conflict

Bolivia’s cocaleros have long been at the center of some of the country’s most serious conflicts, but usually those conflicts have been with coca eradication efforts backed by the U.S. and the DEA. Now with the DEA gone and the U.S. largely out of the picture, those growing Bolivia’s expanding coca crop are at the center of a new set of conflicts, very different ones.

Earlier this month it was the cocaleros vs. the monkeys, or more specifically the world famous Chapare animal reserve, Parque Machia. The park just outside of Villa Tunari is known for its overly-friendly monkeys (they’ll happily pick your pocket while pretending to cozy up) and collection of young foreign volunteers who tend to the large variety of protected wildlife that live there. Two weeks ago some of those volunteers were using a well-known Bolivian protest tactic, the road blockade, to try to stop construction of a new highway through the park. Critics claim that the new road between Villa Tunari and Central Copacabana is about more than local transportation convenience, but to make it easier to move around the region’s growing coca crop.

President Morales, who counts the cocaleros as his most loyal political base, has agreed to a temporary halt to the road to study environmentalists’ concerns. But angry cocaleros in Central Copacabana are now threatening to reopen the road by force. Here is a report by some of the Parque Machia volunteers.

On Saturday in Isiboro National Park in Beni the conflict over expanded coca growing turned deadly. The park, home to the Yuracare Indians, had been encroached on by a growing group of cocalero “colonies” which, according to the Yuracare, have been clear-cutting forests to make room for the growing of the green leaf that is also the root ingredient of cocaine.

According to news reports, over the weekend the Yuracare took matters into their own hands and tried to move the cocaleros out by force, sparking a conflict that left at least one person dead and others severely injured. The details of the fighting are still sketchy but it appears that police sent in from Cochabamba and elsewhere to stop the conflict were ill-prepared and many were left injured as well.

The coca issue is a complicated one and we have written about it many times here on the Blog. On the one hand not all coca grown in Bolivia is used to produce cocaine and there are many non-narcotic uses (I am drinking coca tea as I write this) that could be expanded if exportation of non-narcotic coca products were made legal. And it is true that in the name of the War on Drugs that thousands of innocents have been jailed to boost arrest statistics aimed at keeping Washington happy.

That said, it is also true that stories are widespread here about cocaine labs taking over the hills above Cochabamba and about foreigners moving in to take advantage of a coca-growing environment that has become much looser.

Now it has come to a violent conflict – not the first – between indigenous people defending their land and coca growers looking for new land to cultivate. That should give all those looking at this issue pause to look beyond the rhetoric from all sides and closer at the reality of what is happening on the ground and what it means.

[Note: The Blog will be on a break until Friday.]

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21 Responses to Cocalero Expansions Draw Conflict

  1. Anonymous says:

    "On the one hand not all coca grown in Bolivia is used to produce cocaine and there are many non-narcotic uses (I am drinking coca tea as I write this) that could be expanded if exportation of non-narcotic coca products were made legal."

    Yungas coca = Mate de Coca, could be used in other ways.
    Chapare coca = Cocaine, it absolutely has no other potential use whatsoever.

    Coca only profitable if is used to make cocaine, otherwise a loosing proposition.

    Legalize drugs, the only way to go. That is what Soros wants after all.

  2. Manuel says:

    "clear-cutting forests to make room for the growing of the green leaf"

    What happened to the belief that Morales is a the protector of the Pachamama? Would he dare tell his cocaleros to respect the environment?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Those monkeys really have nimble fingers. Their fame as thieves is legendary. They deserve to be relocated to a zoo to be rehabilitated.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The label 'Cocalero' is used by all coca farmers, legal and illegal. The illegal coca growers, just like the illegal loggers who until recently did as they pleased in Bolivian, have to be dealt with by the law. The government sent in a strong contingent of police officers to quell the dispute in Beni.

    Unlike former administrations, the current administration is stepping up its presence in Bolivian areas previously seen as the Wild West by logger barons, ranchers, illegal coca growers, etc.


  5. Anonymous says:

    tururururu tutu turu
    tururururu siempre Coca Cola…

  6. Anonymous says:

    What is the difference between yungas and chapare coca?

  7. Anonymous says:

    P.Vilca-Paz sez:Predominance of big sized leafs -and size alone doesn't make any crop, neither more nor less apt for legal or other use, with the exception of local preference for the smaller yungas variety. If the prices were to reflect quality, instead of subserviance to cartel rule, which still enforces the lowest price, in order to push producers to excede the meager surface imposed per family, as surreal as it sounds, by the wholesale buyers!, with no regard to any sense of quality, or proportion for that matter, but for the detriment, and eventual demise of the whole local production.
    With the loose leaf being liberated world-wide, and despite a manyfold due reevaluation of the local price, we could all play miracle worker with a handbag full of leaves, save lives in any of the famished camps that plague the planet, while for the time being, we watch that invaluable resource being burnt at the altar of greed, to the vain god of the consumed.

  8. Anonymous says:

    well put.

  9. Norman says:

    @Anon 11:57. I'm told that the Yungas coca is a smaller leaf, more supple and more easily chewed. Chapare coca is supposed to be a coarser leaf, tougher on the cheek. It may or may not be more bitter. It defintely has a higher cocaine alkaloid content and is preferable for drug production. Yungas coca is preferable for chewing. I'm not sure that it is more or less suitable for tea.

    There is by far more than enough Yungas coca for internal consumption; always has been. There is even enough for the illegal export market for "traditional" use. Coca is not native to the Chapare, at least not in anywhere near the quantities that are now produced. Traditional use coca has "traditionallly" come from the Yungas. Chapare coca is for drug production and morales knows it as well as anyone.

  10. bolivia libre says:

    How pathetic is to read how the maSSist zealots try to defend the undefendable, Jim included, with words like the title of this blog. If the murder of indigenous Yucarare would have being perpetrated by camba colons, and yes there are many of them as poor as needed as the cocaleros, then Jim will be starting this blog with the word genocide or the sort. Franco’s words are; what can I say, ridiculous!!!! Trying to shift the attention from Evo’s cocaleros murdering Yucare indigenous people to whining about supposedly white logger barons illegally harvesting trees is the typical low class maSSist act, we called, “cortine de humo”.

    So you know, the Yucarare are not the only indigenous community mishandled by Evo’s cocaleros. The Yuquis have being racially excluded since the times Evo Morales was a cocalero union leader, he was never a peasant. And some of the first things maSSist majors en El Chapare, like the one in Chimore, did was to ban their entry on town because they were drunks. You can imagine the violent way this was enforced or just read the following link about it:

    Finally over the coca live, the one in Yungas is from the species Erythroxylum coca var. coca and is found mostly in Los Yungas, Bolivia, it grows in higher grounds, it is smaller and it has less cocaine alkaloid than the one cultivated in El Chapare by Evo’s cocaleros, which is the Erythroxylumnovogranatense. The latter is from lower altitude and is found mostly in Peru and Colombia from where it was brought to El Chapare; it is bigger and has a larger concentration of cocaine alkaloid, it is also a little bitterer than the Yungas version, but not so that a person would not chew it; I know, I chew them both.

    Most coca leaves sold in the Santa Cruz markets comes from El Chapare, even if the seller will swear to her mother soul that it comes from Yungas; but like Norman says, most of the coca production in El Chapare, and now some of the excess harvest from Yungas, go for cocaine production.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The commentator "bolivia libre" is prejudiced.
    Stop labeling Morales a drug dealer. He has more support from all the indigenous tribes from every region than any other President Bolivia has ever had.

    "Norman", "bolivia libre" and all the other "educated" commenters seem to be such narcotics experts. How have any of you ever really supported the Bolivian people? Everyone knows that all coca grown in Bolivia is profitable to sell at the markets, regardless of where it was grown.

    Your false impressions and lies, are meant to paint a false picture. You supporters of previous Bolivian governments have a hopelessly poor record to compare with Evo's government. You never cared for the indigenous before…. So why start now?

  12. Anonymous says:

    I'm from portugal and i have a blog. I wish to have visits from all the world, so if you could visit
    my blog i'll be very grateful!
    E… Muito obrigada pela ajuda ;)

  13. Frank_IBC says:

    Norman –

    As I understand it, coca negra (Chapare coca) is bred to be resistant to herbicides such as Roundup. I believe that the undesirable qualities are a side effect of that breeding.

  14. Norman says:

    As far as I know, no one is using herbicides in Bolivia. Maybe it came from Colombia or Peru.

  15. Norman says:

    okay, I just read B-L's post and I guess the stuff does come from Col / Peru so maybe that is why it might be resisitant to herbicides. As to Anon 12:53, I don't believe I showed any consideration for the indigenous one way or the other in my post. It was not relevant. I simply answered a question. Chapare coca is for cocaine. You know it, I know it and m orales knows it. Why debate it?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Hey how about the tremendous progress in Afghanistan? Its corrupt president- his drug baron brother and his war lord allies- recently won the presidency in a "fair election". Thank goodness for the solid boost the US is giving to that struggling "democracy"

    Norman and his friends should definitely join the "contractors" in that beacon of the east since their hopes for a "democratic" Bolivia -in their style (the Banana Republic of Bolivia) – is getting colder and colder by the day.

    “Distressingly, several past and present cabinet ministers, senior law enforcement officials, and even Karzai's own brother are widely suspected of profiting handsomely from the poppy trade, overseeing growing operations or enabling transport of the yield across and out of the country.”

  17. Norman says:

    I'm confused. Should the US interfere with Karzai's election (corrupt or not) or not interefere. Should we have sent James Carvel to help Karzai's opponent? Who was your viable alternative candidate? Would you prefer to have the Taliban back running the show? i.e. what is your point?!?!

    BTW, where is the relevance to Chapare coca? Anon, please look up "non-sequitur".

  18. Anonymous says:

    These problems unmask Evo who was suppossed to be "hero of the Pachamama (mother earth)", so the whole declaration at the UN of Pachamama´s day was just a show. I believe he doesn´t give a rat´s ass about exploiting the Amazon basin. He was very critical of Alan Garcia for the Bagua massacre and then changed his mind, because he had indians in northern La Paz protesting state oil company explotation. State or corporation they both destroy the rainforest shame on him

  19. Anonymous says:


  20. Anonymous says:

    Norman you are "the viable" choice for president of Afghanistan. If an Afghan could not return that country to democracy maybe you can.

    Just turn back time to see what the Bolivian military junta, former graduates of the School of the Americas, did for Bolivia and you will see why you, someone who claims to be a former "cadet" as well as the most brilliant man in this galaxy, is a "viable" choice.

    You could be the Banzer or Perhaps the Luis Garcia Meza of that mess in the east.

    “In 1978 Banzer called elections. Fraud in favour of his chosen candidate led to a fresh cycle of coups and Banzer was exiled briefly to Argentina. In 1980, just as a civilian government was about to indict him for corruption and human rights violations, his luck improved. Backed by fascists, cocaine smugglers and the Argentine military, General Luis Garcia Meza came to power, and Banzer came home. The key men behind Garcia Meza were the Nazi "butcher of Lyons" Klaus Altmann (Barbie), and Bolivia's cocaine king, Roberto Suarez.”,4273,4407884,00.html

  21. Anonymous says:

    Despite agreement with the government the destruction of the Machida Park continues in the Cochabamba Chapare region.

    Morales does not seem to care about these animals about the work folks have been doing there for years or about the environment. He and his government seem more worried about the 8km road that would facilitate coca transport and destroy ecosystems and years of effort and work.

    World Famous environmentalist and scientist Jane Goodall recently visited the park and is aware of the situation but it may be too late.