Letter: Drugs policy pushes Bolivia closer to war

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Sir: Behind the photo of rioting coca farmers (7 September), lie events which threaten to plunge poor but peaceful Bolivia into civil war. At fault is international drug-control policy which increasingly risks damaging democracy and human rights as greatly as the illegal drug trade it seeks to defeat.

There is a long-standing agreement between the Bolivian government and the farmers' unions: farmers will eradicate coca voluntarily when alternative livelihoods become available. Numerous studies show that forced eradication merely compels impoverished peasants to replant coca elsewhere. This cancels the effect of eradication and prompts more deforestation.

But, eager to demonstrate 'success' in reducing drug supply, the Clinton administration is pressing for rapid coca eradication - with or without the farmers' agreement. Unless the Bolivian government destroys 3,000 hectares before October, it will lose millions of dollars of US aid.

Bolivia's President Sanchez clearly feels he has no choice but to ignore both Bolivian law and common sense, and eradicate coca forcibly. In so doing he undermines Bolivia's own peace and democracy.

Since late August, peaceful peasant protests have been viciously repressed, with at least one death from torture. Elected farmers' leaders have been arbitrarily detained, along with development experts advising peasant projects, including one British agency worker.

The tragedy is that forcible eradication of coca will do nothing to stem the cocaine trade, so long as demand for cocaine in the US and Europe remains high, and international economic policies deprive Andean peasant farmers of viable substitutes.

Yours faithfully,


Drug Trade and Development Programme

Catholic Institute for

International Relations

London, N1

7 September