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U.S. Strongly Opposed to Bolivia's "Commercialization" of Coca Plant

USInfo.state.gov,  November  9, 2006

Department of State's Christy McCampbell equates processed coca with cocaine

Washington -- The United States firmly opposes Bolivia's "commercializing" of the country's coca crop by allowing the prime ingredient for cocaine to be sold for use on the consumer market for such coca-based goods as medicine, toothpaste, shampoo, liquors and food, says Christy McCampbell, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.

In a November 7 interview with the Washington File, McCampbell said Bolivia is "doing some work on eradicating" illegal drugs, and "doing good work" on the interdiction of those drugs.  But she added that the United States does not support "any kind of commercialization of coca and never will" because "if you grow coca that means there's more cocaine on the streets.  You need only one specific thing to make cocaine and that's the coca leaf."

McCampbell, who will lead a State Department delegation to an anti-drug meeting November 29-December 1 of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, said the United States respects the Bolivian people's cultural and religious traditions for using coca and has accepted what is called the "cato" (a measurement) exemption in which the Bolivian president allows certain small areas of the country to be used for legal coca growing.  A cato equals about one-sixth of a hectare, McCampbell said.

That cato exemption, she said, amounts to allowing less than 12,000 hectares in the country for growing coca for traditional use, such as in teas and for indigenous rituals.  She added that the United States and Bolivia are in negotiations over eliminating the exemption "but this is not set in stone yet.  We're still trying to have a meeting of the minds where both countries can work together" on the issue.

The United States, she said, "respects" Bolivian cultural traditions regarding coca use.  "We recognize" that tradition, "and that there are certain areas that [the Bolivians] are allowed to grow" coca.

McCampbell said the United States believes that coca, when processed, "equals cocaine and we cannot condone more cocaine on the streets.  This traditional use [of coca] that we've agreed to with the Bolivians is a very, very small portion."

The official said that having just visited a number of countries in Latin America, "I can tell you" that Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Colombia "are very concerned" about Bolivia's growing of coca.  Bolivia, she said, was once the world's Number 1 coca-producing nation, but U.S.-Bolivian counterdrug cooperation helped drop Bolivia to the third-ranking coca-growing country, which she said was a significant improvement.

Reiterating comments she made during a September 18 briefing, McCampbell said the United States has established "benchmarks" or obligations that Bolivia must meet over the next six months to continue receiving U.S. counterdrug assistance.  Those benchmarks, she indicated, include Bolivia continuing to eradicate a certain amount of hectares of illegal coca, particularly in its coca-producing Chapare and Yungas regions.  The United States is working with Bolivia on "setting numbers" for the hectares of coca that must be eradicated.  Bolivia, she said, already has met the 2006 goals for eradicating 5,000 hectares of coca.

Another benchmark, she said, would be tight Bolivian controls on the sale of legal coca leaf for traditional use, and strengthened controls on chemicals used to make cocaine.

McCampbell said that because Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, had been in office for only about nine months the United States believed it was premature to reach any conclusion about Bolivian efforts to comply with its counterdrug obligations.

During that briefing, McCampbell said Bolivia was one of 20 countries that have been put on a "majors list" of being either producing or trafficking countries of illegal drugs.  The United States, she said, seeks for Bolivia "to have every opportunity to collaborate bilaterally and in the region to reduce the availability of cocaine and the raw materials necessary for cocaine trafficking."

A country's presence on the list is not necessarily an adverse reflection on its government's counternarcotics efforts or on its level of cooperation with the United States.  However, a country that shows a lack of interest or blatant refusal to adhere to the obligations of counternarcotics conventions and international agreements can be determined to have "failed demonstrably" and be subject to U.S. aid sanctions.  A country also can be determined to have "failed demonstrably" but still be given a waiver against sanctions if there is a vital U.S. national interest for continuing aid.

The Santa Cruz meeting of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) will gather delegates from the 34 OAS member nations to examine a wide range of issues related to the fight against illegal drugs in the Western Hemisphere.  McCampbell said the United States has played an integral role for many years in CICAD, which meets twice yearly to discuss the region's mutual concerns about drugs.

On a related anti-drug issue, McCampbell said the United States and the international community support the Colombian government's Shared Responsibility plan that encourages countries that are suppliers of cocaine to consumer nations to work together in battling the global problem.  The initiative is aimed particularly at Europe where the demand for cocaine is particularly high.  (See related article.)

The use of cocaine is "everybody's problem -- Europe's, Latin America, and the United States, said McCampbell, adding, "I cannot tell you anyone who wants to have drug trafficking in their country."

Additional information about CICAD is available on the OAS Web site.

For more on U.S. policy toward Bolivia, see Andean Region.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)