Friday, November 15, 2013

Market Study to Reshape Bolivian Coca Production

The Bolivian government has published the results of a long-awaited study (.pdf) on the size of its legal coca market. While the release has been widely reported, many outlets have overlooked the main story: this report has been pending for nine years, and will likely have major implications for the future of legal coca production in the country.

The report has been in the works since a 2004 agreement between the government and coca cultivators to adjust coca limits based on an accurate survey of the licit market. Its impending release was mentioned in the 2005 UNODC Coca Monitoring Survey, and in every subsequent UN annual report after that. In 2007 the European Union put up over a million dollars to support the survey, and it was allegedly completed in 2010. Over the next three years the government continued to delay its publication, however, claiming that it was conducting unspecified “complementary studies.”

But there were political factors behind the delay as well. Cocalero unions are a significant source of political support for President Evo Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, and results suggesting a major reduction in coca would doubtlessly face opposition. In fact, months after the study was commissioned the government authorized a temporary increase in coca cultivation (of 3,200 hectares) beyond the constitutionally-allowed maximum of 12,000 hectares. MAS lawmakers have since proposed several bills which would increase this limit, the most high-profile of which would raise it to 20,000 hectares.

The results of the study do not support this move, however. The legal market of coca for traditional and medicinal uses requires a maximum of only 14,705 hectares. InSight Crime points out that this figure is still far larger than estimates by government critics, including Juan del Granado of the opposition Movement Without Fear (MSM) party, who recently claimed he saw an earlier version of the report which put the market size at around 6,000 hectares.

Interestingly, La Razon notes that the report found that the licit coca market grew by 15 percent from 2006 to 2012. This is likely a result of Morales’ attempts to boost demand for coca both domestically and abroad. But even if this trend continued apace, legal demand would only stand at 16,910 hectares by 2018, still just two-thirds of the 25,300 hectares currently produced  in Bolivia. Clearly, raising demand alone will not dry up the black market for coca.

Now that the legal market estimate has been published, the Morales administration faces some tough choices.  There is no justifiable reason to boost the legal coca quota to 20,000 hectares, as the president’s supporters advocate. Like it or not, coca growers’ unions will have to scale back cultivation, and the government now has a benchmark figure to use as a guide.

Most of the reduction will likely have to occur in the Yungas region of La Paz Department, which alone accounted for 67 percent of total coca cultivation nationwide in 2012, according to UN statistics. The area has long been the epicenter of traditional coca cultivation in Bolivia, and is considered a MAS stronghold. Readjusting coca cultivation here will require delicate negotiation, as it could pit the ruling party against its base.

Likely because of this, earlier this month the MAS announced that it would postpone a debate over Law 1008 (the 1988 “Law on the Regime Applicable to Coca and Controlled Substances,” which sets the 12,000 hectare limit) until after the October 2014 general elections.

News Briefs
  • El Comerio and RPP report on an emerging scandal in Peru after it was revealed that a businessman with ties to ex-intelligence director Vladimir Montesinos, who is imprisoned on drug trafficking charges, had a protective police escort stationed outside his home in Lima. The businessman, Oscar Lopez Meneses, was a longtime facilitator for Montesinos , and has been convicted of embezzlement, illegal wiretapping and illegal weapons possession.  President Ollanta Humala has ordered an investigation into the order, and denied any links to Lopez or “Montesinismo” in his administration.
  • After an armed conflict between security forces and miners in a remote Amazonian region in Ecuador left one civilian dead and several soldiers wounded, Ecuadorean Vice President Jorge Glas has called for a crackdown on illegal mining in the Andean country, the Los Angeles Times reports.
  • Considering all of the reform promises that Chilean candidate Michelle Bachelet has made in the lead up to Sunday’s first round of presidential elections, many analysts have questioned whether she will be able to live up to expectations. The AP notes that the leading candidate has already begun to dial down expectations somewhat, recently remarking: “People understand that governments can't immediately deliver dramatic results on day two.” Analysts consulted by the news agency agree that Bachelet appears to have reined in her promises significantly since her campaign first began early this year. In an op-ed column for El Mostrador, Chilean political scientist Santiago Escobar agrees that Bachelet has played the field in her campaign by making her commitments vaguer with time, but asserts that some kind of constitutional reform will inevitably move forward in the next administration, which will in turn give rise to new social and economic rights.
  • Spain’s El Pais has an update on the regional backlash to the Dominican Republic’s recent court ruling stripping thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship. As a consequence of the ruling, several members of the Caribbean community regional trade bloc (Caricom) are demanding the Dominican government’s suspension from Cariforum, Caricom’s international group that promotes engagement with African, European and Pacific countries.
  • In the latest sign of opposition to the Supreme Court of El Salvador’s decision to consider the repeal of the country's 1993 amnesty law (following the closure of Tutela Legal), a leading human rights organization had its San Salvador offices looted yesterday morning. The L.A. Times and El Faro report that around 4:30am local time, unknown attackers disarmed and tied up the security guard outside the Asociacion Pro-Busqueda, and proceeded to destroy several files related to a case currently being assessed in the Constitutional Court. It is the first attack on a human rights group since the immediate post-war years, and Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales characterized the incident as an attempt to “bully, intimidate and instill fear within the fight against impunity.” Fortunately, the group says it has backed up the files which were destroyed.
  • The New York Times points out that despite the Brazilian Supreme Court ruling this week which upheld prison sentences for some of the main figures in the mensalão scandal, it remains unclear who exactly will go to prison and when they will do so. According to O Globo, Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa is expected to issue imprisonment orders in the coming days. Meanwhile, Jose Dirceu’s legal representative told reporters yesterday that his client had returned from vacation to his home in São Paulo and was ready to present himself to authorities.
  • While the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has declined over the previous four years, the past 12 months saw deforestation rise by 28 percent. Environmental activists say this is due to a relaxation of legislation meant to protect the rainforest.
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, David Smilde has a helpful Q&A dealing with the most commonly asked questions about President Nicolas Maduro’s “economic war.” Smilde agrees with most analysts’ assertions that the recent anti-speculation measures announced by the president are a bid to boost his PSUV party’s chances ahead of the December municipal elections, which will be seen as a preliminary referendum on his government. He also suggests that Maduro’s move may be fairly effective in this, because in Venezuela “market discourse has not been naturalized as it is in countries with longer and more robust capitalist traditions.” But instead of chalking an embrace of price controls up to a “culture of underdevelopment,” Smilde argues that this is in fact understandable given the local economic context, where private profit margins are far higher than in developed nations. This has not stopped international press from comparing the government’s forced price-slashing and liquidations to a “fire sale” (the NYT) or “cannibalizing an already damaged economy” (from the AP).
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told reporters yesterday that he has “practically” made up his mind about whether to run for re-election in next year’s presidential race, El Tiempo reports. However, it looks like he will continue to play it coy. The president said he would not reveal his decision until November 25, the legal deadline for him to announce his candidacy.
  • The Economist offers an assessment of the Colombian peace process. While the magazine praises Santos for calling the FARC’s ”bluff ” and ignoring their demands for a constituent assembly, it also notes that the recently-discovered plot to assassinate former President Alvaro Uribe gives ammunition to critics of the peace process, which will raise pressure on the talks in the coming months.
  • The Wall Street Journal profiles the exhumation of the remains of Brazilian ex-President João Goulart yesterday, noting that it is part of a wider movement on the part of South American governments to investigate Operation Condor. The exhumation is being carried out under the auspices of Brazil’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has not released a timeframe for the results of its analysis. 

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