The Minister For Social Defence

January 29th, 2006 | researchmaterial

Bolivia’s new left-wing government has put a coca grower in charge of the fight against drug trafficking.

Felipe Caceres was appointed deputy minister for social defence by President Evo Morales – who was once a coca grower himself.

Mr Caceres is a former mayor of a town in the coca-growing region of Chapare, and owns a small coca farm there.

Coca is used to make cocaine, but also has widespread ceremonial and medical uses in Bolivia.

Mr Caceres told the BBC he opposes US-backed efforts to eradicate crops across the country. He said coca was an integral part of Bolivia’s indigenous culture and was the only means of survival for many people. Many people in rural areas use the leaves in tea, or chew them to ward off hunger and altitude sickness.

Mr Caceres said he was convinced he would help lead a successful fight within President Morales’ government to end drug-trafficking in Bolivia. “What we say is no to drugs, but yes to the coca leaf,” he said, adding he would not stop production on his own plantation.

President Morales, who was elected last month as the nation’s first indigenous leader, wants to increase the production of coca for use in medicines, toothpaste and soft drinks.

He has promised to fight corruption, introduce a new tax on the wealthy, and renationalise energy companies.


One Response to “The Minister For Social Defence”

  1. I think it’s hard for people who have not lived in the Andean cultural region to realize how normal a product coca is, as it is marketed in the region, anyway. It is used in religious and hospitality rituals, chewed in the highlands as a cure to fatigue and altitude sickness, and consumed as a legal, ubiquitously available tea– which can be purchased in mass produced teabags as well as in loose leaves. The leaves do not have a strong effect (weaker, in fact, than caffeine). What Mr. Morales and Mr. Caceres are suggesting is the renormalization and stimulation of industries surrounding an important agricultural product. Following on a history of United States DEA planes carpet-bombing the mixed fields in which food and coca are grown for peasant domestic consumption, in one of the most misguided enforcement efforts in history, it is very sensible to engage someone who knows the difference between coca and cocaine as a minister for social defense.

    In general, cocaine production does not occur in poor countries like Bolivia; if growers are illicitly farming coca for the production of cocaine, generally the leaves are partially processed into “pasta cruda” and illegally exported via private transports to cocaine-producing countries. Cocaine must be addressed at the site of consumption, if drug enforcement officials are serious, rather than the diffuse sites of production. Or at least at the sites of production of the actual drug.