EU and Bolivia at odds over new coca leaf law

Bolivia's new law is intended to, in part, help satisfy the country's domestic demand for coca leaves, which many Bolivians chew on a daily basis. [Shutterstock]

Bolivian President Evo Morales is confident of defusing tensions with the EU after his country passed a law increasing the amount of coca plant that can be legally cultivated. EURACTIV Spain reports.

At a press conference in the Bolivian capital of La Paz yesterday (13 March), Morales said he has “great confidence in the EU” and insisted his government wants to “move forward with the great relationship” Bolivia has always had when cooperating with the bloc.

The president added that “I am very hopeful that we will overcome (this moment)”.

Last week, Morales passed a law that increases the amount of coca that can be grown from 12,000 to 22,000 hectares worth. The motive behind the move is that part of the production is planned for export either in its natural state or as legal by-products.

Morales’ government insists 18,000 hectares are needed to produce enough for Bolivians’ habit of chewing coca leaves. But a 2013 government study, funded by the EU, showed that only 14,705 hectares of plantations are needed to satisfy the country’s legal demand.

In addition, a 1961 UN anti-drug convention states that plants and their by-products cannot be exported if they still contain alkaloids, a crucial ingredient for cocaine production.

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On Friday (10 March), the EU’s representative in Bolivia, Spaniard León de la Torre Krais, voiced his concerns about the increase in legal areas of cultivation.

The European diplomat said that the new legal framework meant the European Union now “needs to refocus” cooperation efforts designed to tackle drug trafficking.

Morales said Monday that he understands “perfectly” that the EU has the “right” to comment on the law but also insisted that his country has the “sovereign right” to define its own laws.

The Bolivian president also explained that his ministers had met with the EU’s representatives in La Paz during the initial stages of planning the law and that they had been invited to come discuss the issue “at any time”.

He added that he intends to participate in a European Parliament meeting on the issue later this year.

“Much will depend on the explanation we provide for this new general law on the coca leaf,” Morales explained.

His Interior Minister, Carlos Romero, is currently in Vienna where he is presenting the government’s explanation of the new law and its strategy for combatting the illegal drug trade to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Bolivia is the third largest producer of coca and cocaine in the world, after Colombia and Peru.

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