LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales said Wednesday that coca leaf had “won” the battle with the United States, which had sought its complete eradication, with the signing of a law increasing the local legal cropland for the plant.
At the signing ceremony for the law increasing coca leaf cropland from 12,000 to 22,000 hectares (about 30,000 to 55,000 acres), Morales said that coca leaf production is guaranteed “for life” in the provinces of La Paz and Cochabamba.
“In other words, coca leaf has prevailed against the US empire, coca beat the US in this tough battle because the US wants zero coca,” he said.
The Bolivarian leader signed the new Coca Law at the government palace in La Paz before government ministers, top military and police officials, unions supporting the government, lawmakers and coca leaf producers, particularly from the central Chapare zone, Morales’ union and political bastion.
At the event, Morales, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, several ministers and police chiefs all wore garlands made of coca leaf.
The plant has cultural, ritualistic and medicinal uses in Bolivia that are recognized in its 2009 constitution but a certain portion of local production is diverted to drug trafficking and the manufacture of cocaine.
Coca leaf production had been regulated until Wednesday by Law 1008, on the books since 1988, which also set the parameters for the fight against drug trafficking.
Law 1008 had established a maximum of 12,000 hectares devoted to legal coca production in the subtropical Yungas zone in La Paz.
Another agreement signed during the 2003-2005 Carlos Mesa administration allowed 3,200 hectares of legal coca production in Chapare, although peasants there have always sown more than twice that area in coca leaf.
Opposition leaders criticized the increase in coca cropland arguing that it will create more drug trafficking, while coca union leaders in Yungas – where 14,300 hectares may now be used to grow the plant – rejected the measure because they feel it is more favorable to Chapare, with 7,700 hectares allotted to coca.