- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

Bolivian land under coca cultivation has risen 17 percent in the last year — from 60,300 acres in 2002 to 70,300 acres today — in spite of eradication efforts, according to the latest U.S. government report.

The acreage estimates, obtained using high-resolution and commercial-satellite imagery and survey-sampling techniques, found 26 percent more land given over to coca in the Yungas — the largest coca-growing area in the country — while it had dropped by 15 percent in the Chapare region.

This is the third consecutive year that Bolivia has registered an increase. In 2001, it went from 36,000 acres to at least 49,200, and in 2002 it reached 60,300 acres, according to the latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

Bolivian law only authorizes the legal cultivation of up to 30,000 acres with coca for traditional use by Indians who chew the leaves.

Interdiction in the Yungas area has disrupted the traffic in illegal coca in recent years. Bolivian traffickers are adapting to changing supplies of precursor chemicals, said the report.

In a speech earlier this month in Washington, Bolivian ex-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada warned against links between radicals and the coca business that could affect the eradication programs, especially after disturbances that forced his resignation last month.

He said that besides eradicating coca, Bolivia needs to find an alternate source of income for the farmers.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy said in a document that any new cultivation is of concern but that levels of coca cultivation in Bolivia are lower than a decade ago. In 1994, for example, almost 123,500 acres were used for coca.

“Of the three countries which supply the world’s illicit cocaine, Bolivia has now become an almost marginal source (less than one-tenth of world cocaine production) and Peru has achieved a reduction of about 60 percent in coca cultivation since 1995,” the document said.

However, it has expressed two concerns. Given Colombia’s eradication of coca in the last year, “cocaine traffickers are desperate for new havens for coca.”

“They must not be allowed to exploit Peru or Bolivia, which have greatly reduced illicit cultivation in recent years.”

The second problem is that the reduction of crops has been partially offset by Bolivia’s growing importance as a transit country for Peruvian cocaine destined mainly for Brazil. Remote borders there present natural routes for smuggling.

In contrast to Bolivia, Peru this year showed a 15 percent decrease, with cultivation dropping from 89,000 acres to 77,000 acres. But in the Apurimac-Ene and Monzon valleys, where two-thirds of the illicit coca is produced, cultivation was unchanged, the State Department said.

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