On Monday, we left for the Chapare region, with Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network. We learned about Bolivia’s drug policy, which has legalized the coca leaf and allowed for limited legal coca leaf production. After a five hour bus ride — happily, there were no mudslides that blocked the road! — we got into Villa Tunari in the early afternoon, had lunch and then relaxed before beginning our discussion with Kathy. She provided a history of the colonization in the region, U.S. intervention and drug production.
Coca has been grown for millennia in the Andes, and used to as a mild stimulant (like coffee), and to combat altitude sickness. About a third of Bolivians use coca in the traditional way, chewing (more like sucking really) on a wad of dried leaves held between the cheek and gum. Small bags of coca are common in meetings and homes.
Coca is also used to manufacture cocaine. The UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs equates the two, but Bolivian law clearly distinguishes between coca (legal) and cocaine (illegal). Bolivian farmers can legally grow a cato of coca, 1600 square meters. We visited on cato of coca, and got a chance to talk to coca farmers who explained their history of protest and struggle for more humane and responsive drug policies in Bolivia. Here we are climbing up to a small coca field.
The farmer, Don Fidelio, is a Quechua speaker who lives alone in a small wooden house.
Many families dry their coca leaves in the sun by side of the road, before packing them into 50 pound sacks for sale at the market.