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Bolivia says most of its coca for traditional uses

Updated at: 11/13/2013 4:35 PM
By CARLOS VALDEZ

(AP) LA PAZ, Bolivia - A study released Wednesday by Bolivia’s government says 58 percent of the country’s coca crop is devoted to traditional uses, meaning the rest is processed into cocaine.

The long-awaited European Union-financed study said 31 percent of Bolivia’s 10 million people consume coca, a mild stimulant used in religious rituals and chewed and taken in tea to fight off fatigue and altitude sickness.

President Evo Morales promised the study early in his presidency and Interior Minister Carlos Romero said the field work began in 2010.

Morales, who took office in January 2006, remains head of a coca growers union and his core constituency is in the coca-growing Chapare region, where he first released the study Tuesday night.

The president’s backers have long maintained that to meet traditional needs, Bolivia needs four-fifths of the 25,300 hectares (98 square miles) of coca that were under cultivation in 2012.

Bolivia’s opposition says no more than 6,000 hectares are needed for traditional uses.

The U.S. government has long insisted Bolivia adhere to its own law, which specifies that 12,000 hectares can be grown legally. This year, Washington halted all counter-narcotics aid to Bolivia after deeming Morales’ government a failure in meeting its international treaty obligations in combating the illicit drug trade.

Morales expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008 along with the U.S. ambassador, accusing them of inciting his political opponents.

Bolivia is the world’s No. 3 coca producer, following Peru and Colombia. The United Nations says Bolivian government eradication efforts have diminished the size of the country’s coca crop for two consecutive years.

International law enforcement officials say Bolivia has a growing drug trafficking problem, with much of the cocaine processed in its territory originating in Peru.

The main markets for cocaine originating or transiting Bolivia are Brazil, Argentina and Europe, with much of the drug being smuggled through West Africa.

More than 40,000 Bolivians depend on coca cultivation for their livelihood and it contributes 1.5 percent, or $332 million, to Bolivia’s economy, according to U.N. figures. ___

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)