La Paz (EFE) – A high-ranking Bolivian official on Friday de-scribed as “insignificant” the increase in the country’s coca crop,
and predicted that acreage dedicated to the leaf will continue to grow while most of his compatriots remain poor.
The statement was made by Deputy Social Defense Minister Felipe Cáceres, a former coca growers’ leader who is currently Bolivia’s anti-drug “czar.”
A report issued last week by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the independent and quasi-judicial organ for implementation of the United Nations’ drug control conventions, indicated that the area under coca bush cultivation rose 17 percent in 2004 over the previous year to 27,700 hectares (68,395 acres).
The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, said in a report re-leased Wednesday that growth of coca leaf rose 8 percent last year from 24,600 to 26,500 hectares.
Cáceres, for his part, did not mention figures, but said the growth in coca cultivation “cannot be hidden.”
He noted that the main reason Bolivian peasants cultivate coca is that they have no other options for permanent employment.
The anti-drug chief said voluntary reduction in coca cultivation in the Chapare region – where coca growing is not allowed – began at the end of 2004 following an agreement with government authorities.