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Coca reduction agreement between Brazil, Bolivia, U.S., canceled at last minute

The Sala de Honor -- Hall of Honor -- at the Bolivian Foreign Ministry stands empty at 7 pm Friday when representatives from Brazil, Bolivia and the U.S., were to sign a trilateral agreement on coca crop reduction. Photo by William W. Cummings

LA PAZ — The flags of Brazil, Bolivia and the U.S. hung limply behind three empty seats Friday night in the Bolivian Foreign Ministry’s Hall of Honor. The room had been prepared for the public signing of a trilateral agreement establishing a new, cooperative system for monitoring and reducing coca cultivation in Bolivia. Yet, as the announced time of the signing came and went, the room remained unoccupied.

Various explanations have been offered since the abrupt cancellation as to why the signing of the agreement was postponed for the fifth time since March, and the second time in 24 hours.

Officials had said the previous postponements were due to logistical and scheduling problems. Felipe Cáceres, Bolivia’s top drug official, continued this theme Friday evening, saying the signing was postponed because he had to attend the closing ceremonies of the South American Council on the Global Drug Problem.

Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde, on the other hand, told El Deber the postponement was due to issues with the agreement itself and that the signing would be delayed until he received further orders. “The document is being revised,” he said. “It still is not as we would like it.”

Minister of Government Wilfredo Chávez, who was to sign the agreement for Bolivia, also felt the document had to be rewritten. According to the Associated Press, Chávez said Sunday that the Bolivian government needed clearer control over the counter-narcotics efforts outlined in the agreement.

“The draft of the agreement must be improved so that it is understood that the Bolivian state is at the head of the drug war. It is under the total and absolute control of the Bolivian state, and there can not be a single word or concept that can be misunderstood,” the minster of government said.

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Morales: DEA will not return to Bolivia

Left to Right: Bolivian President Evo Morales, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala during a meeting of the Andean Community of Nations in Bogotá on Nov. 8, 2011. Photo courtesy of Javier Casella, SIG.

LA PAZ — Bolivian President Evo Morales stated unequivocally Tuesday that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will not return to Bolivia, despite the new agreement that calls for greater cooperation in the fight against drug traffickers.

“The DEA will not return because of issues of sovereignty,” Morales said during a meeting of leaders of the Andean states in Bogota. He called Monday’s agreement one of “mutual respect,” and said, “For the first time, since the founding of Bolivia, the U.S. will respect Bolivian rule, including Bolivian laws and the constitution.”

Bolivian law permits the cultivation of coca for traditional uses, while the U.S. deems all coca cultivation illegal. Morales himself was a coca grower and a leader of the coca-farmers’ fight against DEA eradication programs.

“I was personally a victim of the DEA,” Morales said. “Armed, uniformed Americans commanded the police, commanded the armed forces. They repressed us. That is over.”

Morales expelled the DEA, and U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, in September 2008 after accusing them of conspiring to overthrow his administration.

During a press conference Tuesday in La Paz, Vice President Álvaro García Linera said he stood by the the decision to expel Goldberg and the DEA because it, “saved our country from a coup d’état.”

“In no article of the agreement does it say the DEA will return,” García Linera said. “We do not need it. We do not need a foreign police agency of political character in our country.”

García Linera, while admitting some difficulties, said the Bolivian police, intelligence agencies and armed forces were improving their fight against drug traffickers without the help of the DEA.

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Bolivia and U.S. sign agreement, restore diplomatic relations

Bolivian Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde and U.S. Under Secretary for Global Affairs Maria Otero sign the “Framework Agreement” in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 7, 2011. Photo courtesy of the Bolivian Foreign Ministry.

LA PAZ — Bolivia and the United States signed an agreement Monday reestablishing diplomatic relations, three years after President Evo Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Bolivian Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde and U.S. Under Secretary for Global Affairs Maria Otero signed the “Framework Agreement” in Washington, D.C. The agreement, “establishes a framework by which the two governments will pursue relations on the basis of mutual respect and shared responsibility,” the two governments announced in a joint statement.

The agreement’s objectives include economic development, improved trade relations and “effective action against illicit narcotics production and trafficking.” It is unclear if the “shared responsibility” and “enhanced law enforcement cooperation” called for in the agreement will include the return of the DEA to Bolivia.

Armando Loaiza, who served as Bolivia’s foreign minister during the first year of the Morales administration, said in an interview on Bolivian television that it would be difficult to imagine a serious effort to stop drug traffickers that would not include the DEA. “There isn’t a more powerful and effective organization in the counter-narcotics fight than the DEA,” he said.

Morales expelled the DEA and Ambassador Goldberg in 2008, saying they were inciting the opposition in an effort to overthrow the government. “We don’t want people here who conspire against our unity. We don’t want people who threaten our democracy,” Morales announced at the time.

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Morales pledges to eradicate 10k hectares of coca by year’s end

LA PAZ — Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Monday that his government will eradicate 10,000 hectares of coca before the calendar year is up, although his claims that this would represent a new record are belied by United Nations data.

Bolivian President Evo Morales announces from the Presidential Palace that his government will eradicate 10,000 hectares of coca in 2011. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of the President.

According to Prensa Latina and Tarija’s El País, Morales, “announced that the Plurinational State will break in 2011 all records for the elimination of surplus coca leaf.” Perhaps the distinction lies in the definition of “surplus coca,” but, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011 World Drug Report, Bolivia has eradicated more than 10,000 hectares of coca four times since 1996, including a high of 15,353 hectares in 1999.

Morales, who said more than 8,000 hectares of coca have already been eradicated this year, stressed that an agreement with the producers made the eradication possible. It is taking place, “without a single shot being fired that resulted in death or injury, unlike what occurred during the neoliberal governments,” he said

Morales is a former coca grower, and current head of the coca-growers’ union. His political career largely began as a leader of the cocaleros fight against the United States-backed coca eradication programs. He expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg in 2008 and suspended DEA activity in Bolivia the same year. He has insisted that his country can continue to produce coca for traditional uses while fighting the production and distribution of processed cocaine.

“You can not talk about free coca cultivation, nor zero coca for tradition and culture.” Morales said Monday.

Morales said the eradication was an important act in the fight against narcotraffickers. “This contribution and this conscious, voluntary reduction has a great impact on the international community,” Morales said.

The eradication of 10,000 hectares of coca would be a new record for the Morales administration, if not for Bolivian history, and would be double the amount eradicated during his first year in office. Since Morales took office, coca cultivation has increased roughly 12 percent, from 27,500 hectares in 2006 to 30,900 in 2010.

This post can also be seen on InSight Crime