LA PAZ (EFE) – Bolivian President Evo Morales reached an agreement with the United States to reduce surplus coca crops in the central Chapare region and adopt a “zero cocaine” policy.
Morales and his vice president, Alvaro García Linera, held a long meeting Saturday with U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia David Greenlee to discuss the anti-drug policy to be implemented by Bolivia’s new government.
The Bolivian leader, who was sworn in last week for a sixth consecutive term as leader of the union representing coca growers in the And-ean country’s central jungle region, said at the end of the meeting that peasants would be allowed to eradicate excess coca crops either voluntarily or with the help of anti-drug forces.
Like neighboring Peru, Bolivia permits the cultivation of small amounts of coca for nutritional, cultural and medicinal purposes. Although Chapare is not one of the areas where the leaf is allowed, authorities agreed in late 2004 to let each of the more than 30,000 families represented by the Morales – led union to plant just over a third of an acre with coca, the raw material of cocaine.
Morales said the surplus coca crops would be defined as those that exceeded an area 40 meters by 40 meters (43.7 yards by 43.7 yards).
He said the agreement with the U.S. diplomat opened the way for the voluntary reduction of coca crops, but he did not say by what amount.
Morales said the agreement was designed to ensure peace in Chapare, so there would not be “even one death, or one injury, or one blockade of roads, or one march.”
Greenlee, meanwhile, told reporters that the Bolivian government had committed to “continue with an effective policy” of destroying coca crops, and how the goal would be met would be decided in the next few days.
Last week, Morales said he would not expel U.S. drug-enforcement agents, as sought by the coca growers who helped propel him to power, but he warned foreign officials operating in Bolivia to respect the nation’s sovereignty and dignity.
Coca growers gathered in the central city of Cochabamba for their annual congress voted Feb. 14 to ask Morales to expel U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents.
Under a bilateral pact, the United States provides financial, material and technical assistance to Bolivia in battling the cocaine trade. Part of the program involves the presence of DEA agents in the central coca-growing region of Chapare.
Washington views Bolivia’s decision to allow any coca growing in Chapare as inconsistent with the bilateral accord on anti-drug cooperation.