How Bolivia curbed coca production by moving away from violent crackdowns

Dr Thomas Grisaffi is a social anthropologist currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of the Americas (University College London). His main research focus is the political ascent of the Chapare coca growers’ union in Bolivia.

Thursday 6 April 2017, 18.30
Room G34, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Tickets, including refreshments:
non-members £8, members £6, students (with valid ID) £5

Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of cocaine, a drug manufactured from coca leaf – which is central to Andean culture. On coming to power in 2006 President Morales made a radical break with the previous US-backed anti-drugs strategy, which focused on the forced eradication of coca leaf and the criminalisation of coca growers. That approach resulted in two decades of violence, and neither reduced coca production nor restricted the flow of drugs reaching the US. Bolivia’s new policy, often referred to as ‘coca yes cocaine no’, draws on the coca growers’ own distinction between coca leaf and cocaine. The strategy legalized the cultivation of a small amount of coca leaf in specific zones, encourages the coca unions to self-police to ensure growers do not exceed this limit, and envisions the industrialization and export of coca-based products.

The overriding aim of the policy is to reduce harmsto coca grower communities. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the Chapare coca-growing region Thomas Grisaffi provides a bottom up account of the new coca policy.