Bolivia: coca production down, cocaine production up?

The US government has determined that Bolivia now has fewer coca plantations but it is producing more cocaine because traffickers are using a more “efficient” process known as the “Colombian method,” according to an interview with a diplomat in La Paz daily Pagina Siete. Said John Creamer, outgoing charge d’affaires at the US diplomatic mission in La Paz: “That is the paradox in Bolivia. There are fewer coca plantations in the past three years, but there’s more production of cocaine.” Creamer said that using the new process, producers “can obtain more cocaine with lesser quantities of coca leaves.” He also warned of the “resowing” of eradicated coca fields. The Bolivian government boasts that it reduced coca leaf production for three consecutive years from 2009 to 2011, but according to UN figures overall coca production increased from 25,400 hectares in 2006 when Evo Morales took power to 31,000 hectares in 2010 (the last year for which the UN has data). Bolivian law allows the legal cultivation of just 12,000 hectares of coca for traditional purposes.

Creamer, who assumed leadership of the diplomatic legation in 2008 when Bolivia expelled then-Ambassador Philip Goldberg, also said that the United States will not support the new reservation in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs proposed by Bolivia that would sanction traditional use of coca leaf because Washington believes that it places the integrity of the treaty in jeopardy. (EFE, July 16; Página Siete, July 15)

The opposition in Bolivia is meanwhile making much of claims in the Brazilian magazine Veja July 7 (translated by InterAmerican Security Watch) that it has obtained Bolivian National Police Intelligence Unit documents linking the country’s presidency minister, Juan Ramón Quintana, with Brazilian drug lord Maximiliano Dorado Munhoz Filho. Munhoz is accused of shipping up to 500 kilos per month of Bolivian cocaine to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Sporting an image of Evo Morales holding a coca leaf and luridly entitled “A Cocaine Republic,” the article says the documents were leaked by a member of Morales’ party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).

According to Veja, the documents say that on Nov. 18, 2010, Bolivian police witnessed Quintana and former Miss Bolivia-turned-political aspirant Jessica Jordan enter Dorado’s house in the city of Santa Cruz, and leave 20 minutes later carrying briefcases. At the time of the meeting, Quintana was director of the Agency for Development, and Jordan was regional director of development for Beni department. The following January, Bolivian police arrested Dorado and handed him over to Brazilian authorities.

The Veja report also airs claims that Morales has persecuted those who criticize the government’s narco ties. Opposition senator Roger Pinto presented the documents asserting Quintana’s meeting with Dorado to Morales in March 2011, according to the report—only to be accused of corruption himself. Pinto has been granted political asylum and is currently holed up in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz.

This is not the first accusation of drug trafficking ties high in the Bolivian government. In September last year, US-based Spanish-language network Univision reported that it had obtained a Bolivian intelligence report (the agency was unnamed) that tied 40 officials to a drug trafficking network run by Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and Colombia’s Valle Cartel. Pinto was accused of having leaked the document, which he denied. In May this year, the country’s former drug czar Rene Sanabria, now imprisoned in the US for drug trafficking, charged that Morales was actively hindering investigations into officials’ ties to the drug trade.

However, many of the accusations are clearly highly politicized; neither Univision nor Veja have published the intelligence documents they claim to have obtained. (InSight Crime, July 11; Erbol, July 8)

See our last posts on Bolivia and the hemispheric narco wars.

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  1. Brazil-Bolivia tensions over narco-diplomatic scandal
    Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota resigned in the midst of a diplomatic scandal concerning a Bolivian opposition figure who accused the Evo Morales government of narco-corruption. See full story at Global Ganja Report