Dirty Deals in Bolivia The continued war on ADEPCOCA


When Evo Morales fled the country in November 2019, the coca growers of the Yungas of La Paz rejoiced, believing that any government which replaced him would cease to persecute their organisation, the Departmental Association of Coca Producers (ADEPCOCA). A positive signal was that the transitional government named Franz Asturizaga as Vice Minister of Coca. Asturizaga had led the Self Defence Committee that had defended ADEPCOCA during the previousmonths, a post he took over from yungueños faithful to Evo and his party MAS. However, within a few months, Asturizaga was replaced by a bureaucrat with no links to Yungas; the new government argued that there was no regulation that stipulated that this post had to be occupied by someone from that region. In any case, this hardly mattered, because a few weeks later the Covid pandemic arrived and with it, a lockdown.


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Slopes and coca fields near Chulumani, Bolivia

Aurimaz, CC BY-SA 4.0 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Slopes and coca fields near Chulumani, Bolivia.

Coca leaves did not count as an essential consumer good (although many Bolivians feel it’s as essential as tea or coffee in other parts of the world) and all transport in and out of the Yungas was paralysed, except for those carrying basic food supplies. Although the rural communities never observed lockdown and went on working their coca fields as usual – indeed, they had to, they were not going to let the crops just shrivel and rot – monetary circulation came to a standstill for three months.

From July 2020, some relief came with a system of quotas. Each community could send a lorryload of coca (generally sixty five pound takis – or ‘bundles’– of leaves, this being the standard unit for wholesaling) to the market in the city of La Paz every two weeks. Two local community representatives escorted the lorries, took charge of sales and distributed the proceeds to the individual producers who remained in the countryside.

Some problems occurred. One community split into two opposing factions due to earlier political problems. A pitched battle ensued when one faction tried to disrupt a shipment of their rivals’ quota. However, most buried the hatchet and let everyone send one or two bundles, relieving the worst economic hardship. New national elections were held in October 2020, resulting in another majority win for the MAS (due to the disorganization and feeble campaigns of the opposition coalitions). It made little difference that Morales and García Linera were replaced by the technocrat Luís Arce Catacora and the Indianist mystic David Choquehuanca; the attack on Yungas resumed almost immediately.

Initially, the government maintained its central tactic, which was to support a rival ADEPCOCA with a parallel wholesale coca market, that took over the Legal Coca Market in March 2018, owned by ADEPCOCA in the suburb of Villa Fatima in La Paz, but was soon driven out by massive protests of grass roots coca growers. They then moved from one improvised location to another, ending up in another building belonging to ADEPCOCA, constructed to serve as a hospital for members of the organization but which has never functioned as such, in Calle 10, Villa el Carmen, a suburb neighbouring Villa Fatima, also quickly abandoned. In 2020, they resumed operations in a building of a transport syndicate, heading out of the city to Yungas, Qalajawira.

As before, the government obliged wholesalers to purchase coca at this site by setting up an office there to authorize transport of coca for sale in the rest of the country, and refusing to stamp documents if the coca in question had been purchased in Villa Fatima.

The government also provided a permanent contingent of police to prevent the majority ADEPCOCA from any further attempts to disrupt operations. The syndicate’s offices were completely inadequate for the quantities of coca that arrived daily in the city, and local residents had a bonanza renting out garages, shops, the ground floors of their houses and even buildings under construction; even so, most of the sales had to be carried out on half-constructed pavements, in the midst of rain, mud, and occasionally snow.

The Legal Coca Market was occupied only by those few producers who retailed coca by the pound to private consumers. This situation was inconvenient for all involved, and a growing current of opinion in Yungas, with the slogan ‘Neither Armin (Lluta, then president of the majority ADEPCOCA) nor Elena (Flores, president of the minority ADEPCOCA with government support)’, arguing that a new ‘unity election’ should be held to form a sole leadership.

Although the government did not admit to public negotiation with the organization headed by Lluta, they gave the impression that they would recognize the committee named in such an election. Lluta agreed to resign and give way to a ‘unity’ leadership, without restrictions as to the candidates, understood as accepting candidates who had previously been associated with the parallel organizations fomented by MAS, side by side with those who had participated in the anti-government protests.

Lluta's good faith was soon shattered. Before the election could take place, Flores’ ADEPCOCA announced that they were going to hold their own election as her two year period in office would end on July 31st 2021. To this end, Flores announced that she would hold an assembly in Coripata to name an electoral committee. Lluta’s board, following their position of seeking conciliation (although others claimed it was motivated by cowardice) did not reject this act of provocation, but the grass roots producers declared that they would not allow this assembly to take place and sallied out to block the access route from La Paz to Coripata.

Checkpoint on The Bolivia Death Road

Matthew Straubmuller/CC BY 2.0.

Checkpoint on The Bolivia Death Road.

This threat in itself demonstrates that those who aimed to take part in that assembly were not local coca growers, but rather the so called ‘carpeteros’, supposedly producers with licenses to trade coca in the interior of the country, originally from Yungas but mainly residents in the city. Other sectors also turned out to block access to Coripata from Sud Yungas in case some provincial carpeteros should also wish to attend. The Flores supporters, as usual, had police escorts, and were able to pass a first road block. But when they arrived in Auquisamaña, the village immediately before Coripata, they encountered a mass of producers, who after an hour’s fight, with sticks, stones and petards, were able to drive off the police, and proceed into town. There they disrupted the few Flores supporters who had been able to meet and swear in an electoral committee.

Hours later, Flores was the first to announce that a policeman had died as a result of being shot in Auquisamaña. An official report followed, indicating that he had been wounded and died during his evacuation to La Paz. There were many doubtful elements in the case: there were no reports of firearms seen during the clash; photos of the supposed victim showed him dressed in a camouflaged uniform, though the police seen there had all worn the standard olive green anti-riot kit, and when Arce’s Minister of Government Eduardo del Castillo gave a press conference, he showed photos taken a year earlier in a completely different Yungas town. Nevertheless, on the back of this ‘evidence’ Daynor Choque, president of ADEPCOCA Regional Coripata, was arrested and imprisoned, accused of being the intellectual author of the murder, while Flores declared that she would hold elections for a new leadership in September.

ADEPCOCA elections have traditionally been by ‘acclamation’, that is by raised hands, in a mass concentration in the street outside the Villa Fatima market. There has never been any attempt to count the votes. In practice, the assembly only serves to ratify an election decided in advance, on the basis of a so called ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, whereby the presidency rotates every two years between Coripata and Chulumani, the two capitals of the traditional coca growing zone. The electoral committee of Flores’ ADEPCOCA announced that they were going to hold an election by secret vote in each provincial seat of the organization, a procedure apparently free of demagogic manipulation that would give rise to a president with a demonstrated majority of votes.

However, this transparency did not extend to the candidates; the favourite, Arnold Alanes from Chamaca – a region divided between communities classed as ‘traditional’ and others that are recent colonies – had been the head of the electoral committee that elected Flores by the traditional dubious acclamation, and Alanes´ electoral committee was headed by his own brother in law. The election began in the first week of September 2021. In some places it went off peacefully, in one the majority faction managed to get hold of some ballots and burnt them, and in Alanes’ home base of Chamaca a rival candidate was captured and beaten up by those of his own faction.

On the morning of election day, the media dismissed the circulating news that proof of having voted would be necessary to go to the bank for the next three months – as is the case in national elections. All this led the head of the electoral committee, shortly after midday, to declare the suspension of the election, but in some regions voting continued. The only region where a count was actually declared was in Asunta: the local candidate won with just over 2,000 votes, followed by Alanes with around 1,900, but the supposed winner shortly afterwards rejected the result, indicating that the ballot boxes had been loaded into a car and taken off to a distant community. He had not witnessed the count and did not believe the numbers. No other region  published how many votes had been cast or for whom. Nevertheless, Alanes proclaimed himself the winner on the basis of the total sum of all the regions.

This ‘result’ was not accepted by other candidates, and two weeks later Flores’ ADEPCOCA held an assembly in the football field in Chuquiaguillo, another suburb up from Villa Fatima, a place they used to meet because they could not use the Legal Market. There they attempted to hold an election by acclamation, but supporters of Alanes and of his closest rival, Fernando Calle, started to fight, and their police guard – supposedly there to protect them from possible attacks by the majority – resorted to tear gas to put an end to the riot. The disputants dispersed; the Calle faction later returned and elected him, but meanwhile Alanes and his supporters, with another supporting police contingent, set off for Villa Fatima. This was on a Sunday, the day that there is least movement in the market, and with help from the police they were able to charge in and take over the building. The next day, the Minister Eduardo del Castillo turned up in the market to officially recognize Alanes as the ‘legal and legitimate’ President of ADEPCOCA, although it has never been clear how and when he was effectively elected, and Alanes himself has never offered figures of how many votes he really received.

The rest of the Yungas responded with fury. A new Self Defence Committee was established and set up headquarters in the aforementioned ‘hospital’ in Calle 10, from which, assisted by grass roots producers who turned out in rotating groups from their communities, they held daily marches down to Villa Fatima, which invariably resulted in confrontations with the police guard, dynamite thrown by protestors, tear gassing, and arrest of marchers. All the shops and offices had to shut down each time the march came by. Local residents had to submit to being searched by the police (in case they had dynamite in their bags) and sometimes got tear gas bombs through their windows, as the police shot the bombs off any which way.

After two weeks of this violence, the Self Defence Committee finally designed a strategy, sending the Sud Yungas provincial contingent off by an avenue that skirts Villa Fatima up on the hillside, while Nor Yungas and Inquisivi, the other two coca growing provinces, went down the main avenue as usual to distract the police. They summoned all of the coca growers to come to the city that day. No one took an exact count, but estimates suggest there were at least 20,000 and probably more. There were rumours that the government would send 2,000 police from all over the country to confront them, although in the end only 200 were assigned.

On the same day, 20th October 2021, Alanes held an assembly in the square just down from the Market. About 500 people turned out and a fair number (judging by their regional dress) were not from Yungas. The event began, but it was evident from the shouts and explosions that there was a huge river of people descending the hillside behind the Market and the police could not contain them. Alanes left, claiming that he had to go and look for some papers he had forgotten, and his supporters retreated, along with the police who could no longer resist the flood of producers pouring in from two directions. The producers kicked in the doors of the Market and recaptured it, easily overcoming the few Alanes supporters and police inside.

It might be thought that this would be sufficient to convince the government to stop favouring a group in such an evidently minority position. Alanes disappeared from view for a few months. ADEPCOCA held an election in November 2021, won – by acclamation, of course – by Freddy Machicado, representing Chamaca, a region that had never before held the presidency, breaking the monopoly of the traditional zone. His vice president was from Inquisivi, which likewise had been excluded by the Coripata-Chulumani pact. Many expected that Machicado, being from Chamaca, like Alanes, would be better positioned to destroy the latter’s supposed legitimacy. However, his board opted to avoid political disputes in favour of a technocratic option, naming two professional administrators to handle the finances of ADEPCOCA. The institution manages a flow of millions of Bolivianos each year, and the defective ‘economic reports’ of how much they have really received and what they did with it have been a permanent bone of contention. The proposal to establish a formal administration had been widely circulated and supported, but the accountancy protocols applied by the administrators were incomprehensible for most of the grass roots, while their assistant personal were widely accused by grass root members of nepotism.

Coca market

Pien Metaal

Coca market

In 2022, Alanes reappeared and continued his efforts to establish an alternative coca market. Law 906 of 2008 only recognizes one legal coca market in La Paz, but does not mention where it is situated, only that it belongs to ADEPCOCA, which provided Alanes with a legal loophole to claim that his market was the real legal one. He secured the use of a peasant market in the city of El Alto, but when some of his supporters took their coca there, they found no buyers and had to load it back on the buses and go down to Villa Fatima. He then announced that he had purchased a hangar in Urujara, next to the control point on the highway arriving from Yungas, and was going to build a five storey building there. To demonstrate the benefits of joining his ADEPCOCA, he even showed off what he claimed was a scale model to the press. But the real owner of the site, a Chinese businessman, appeared and announced that he had not sold the site and was cancelling the rental contract. Finally, Alanes transferred operations to a former private school in Calle 1 of Villa El Carmen, right next to the Yungas bus terminal, which he again claimed to have purchased.

The majority ADEPCOCA resumed their protest marches and skirmishes with dynamite. They were repressed with tear gas. They aimed to expel Alanes, but once again the government provided a  police cordon to protect the illegal market, apart from declaring that it was not illegal because it did not have a permit as a market but only as a point of sale, similar to any individual coca retailer.

Together with the peasant federations of the three provinces, ADEPCOCA organized a massive march that set off from the capitals of Nor and Sud Yungas and reached the outskirts of the city on the 7th of September 2022. On the 8th they entered in the same pincer movement as the year before, but this time directed to Calle 1, overwhelming  successive police cordons in the avenues and surrounding the former school, which Alanes had repainted with a huge ADEPCOCA logo. They were met with Molotov cocktails and dynamite thrown from the roof terrace, which only infuriated the marchers more, until they finally stormed the building, sacked its contents and beat up several of the men found inside, demanding to know where Alanes had got to, before handing them over to the police. Two women were also captured and had their outer clothing removed to shame them, but were not beaten like the men. It was expected that the males would be held in custody and charged with using explosives, but they were released almost immediately. The marchers also discovered dynamite, prepared with fuses, firearms and a sort of home made cannon1, which they also removed before nightfall, when someone lit a fire on the ground floor of the building. According to the marchers, this was done by an infiltrator, as they had only lit a fire outside on the road before breaking down the door, but it was attributed to them. Testimonies later emerged that Alanes had been able to escape over the roof to the next building, where he disguised himself and was able to sneak out a back door under the cover of darkness.

These events turned out to be the point of inflexion where the government changed its tactics from direct confrontation and police repression, to judicial persecution. Orders of arrest were issued for all the members of the ADEPCOCA administration, peasant federation leaders, the Self Defense Committee, and any other grass roots member, man or woman, who had been spotted heading a march or using a megaphone. They were all accused of the same list of crimes, as if ‘one size fits all’: criminal association, illegal possession and handling of explosives, public instigation to commit crimes, destruction of state property, interrupting free passage (with marches and road blocks),  mistreatment, bodily harm, grievous bodily harm (to the people harassed and beaten up in the assault on the illegal market), aggravated robbery (of coca and other objects sacked from the market) and so on, although the leaders themselves had not taken part in the attack and the violence was committed by base members out of control.

In all cases, the accusing party was the Ministry of Government. Plain clothes police circulated constantly between the Villa Fatima market and the Yungas bus terminal, picking off the cited members one by one, starting with the president Freddy Machicado. Those arrested were not taken to the central police station but instead taken up to El Alto to make it more difficult for others to find them.

Cesar Apaza

Alison Spedding Pallet

Cesar Apaza

The most notorious case is Cesar Apaza, former Executive Secretary of the Chulumani peasant federation from 2018 to 2021 and subsequently head of the Self Defense Committee. He was brutally beaten up before being committed on remand to San Pedro prison, and thence transferred to the high security Chonchocoro prison in the Altiplano on the outskirts of El Alto. There he suffered a stroke, in all probability a consequence of the beating, and was hospitalized for two weeks, but, still in a paralysed condition, was then taken back to prison to continue awaiting trial.

In May 2023, the People’s Defender (Ombudsman) finally declared that Apaza’s lesions were indeed due to having been tortured and subjected to degrading treatment at the hands of the police, but instead of recommending that he be released from preventive detention and allowed house arrest, merely declared that he should be assigned professional medical attention in Chonchocoro.2

Bolivian justice is notorious for making excessive use of preventive detention, usually justified on the grounds that the accused is likely to flee the country or will try to manipulate evidence or intimidate witnesses, but Apaza still suffers paralysis of one side of his body and is unable to move from his bed without assistance. It is difficult to imagine how he could run away or intimidate anybody.

The second in command of the Self Defense Committee, Rosalba Vargas, was put under house arrest in Yungas but without the right to go out to work, which is a ridiculous abuse when the accused is a peasant farmer who cannot work from home. Meanwhile various political authorities accused of corruption – who are members of the MAS, who could carry out their work on line from their homes - were put under house arrest with the right to go out to work every day.

During all this time, from 2021 onwards, ADEPCOCA sent repeated requests to the government for meetings to resolve the conflict with Alanes, but according to their public declarations, these were never answered. However, reports filtered out that, after the 8th of September 2022, they had in fact been holding secret meetings and had reached a deal whereby the other members of the administration would not be arrested so long as they avoided any other acts of protest and allowed Alanes’ market to go on functioning. He, meanwhile, attempted to revive the constitutional demand previously presented by Elena Flores to be recognized as the legal president of ADEPCOCA and, consequently, merited a legal order for the Legal Coca Market to be handed over to him.

The under-the-table deals between the government and Alanes’ ADEPCOCA came to light on 28th April 2023, when the Minister del Castillo who had recognized Alanes, ordered the acts of repression and the legal persecution of ADEPCOCA leadership, which was greeted with applause in an assembly in Villa Fátima, where the only regional representatives who were allowed to use the microphone were those who had supported the clandestine negotiations.  At the same time, one member of the organisation was briefly imprisoned and then released following a request for an expedited trial. In Bolivian law, this corresponds to the accused admitting guilt, in exchange for an express trial and a reduced sentence. Alanes crowed victory, declaring the man in question, Gabriel Mamani, had admitted to the entire list of fifteen crimes and this meant that all the others accused of the same list were guilty too. In fact, the deal with Mamani was that he only had to admit to bodily harm and grievous bodily harm, but many grass roots members also think that his confession implies guilt on the part of all others charged with the rest of the crimes.

At the time of writing, Freddy Machicado is said to be negotiating a similar deal where he will confess to some of the accusations in exchange for being let out on bail, while yet another constitutional demand3 has appeared, this time in the name of José López, owner of the former school now a ‘point of sale’ for coca, claiming damages for close to a quarter of a million Bolivianos (about 35 thousand US$). As in Urujara, it turns out that Alanes never actually bought the building but was only renting it, supposedly with a promise to purchase; it was to have been valued with a view to finalizing the sale on 15th September 2022, that is, a week after it was taken over and wrecked.

Alanes claims that the ADEPCOCA leadership will have to either auction off or hand over the Legal Coca Market to pay these damages. Given that he has made so many false statements in the past4, many grass root coca growers consider that this is not to be believed, while others argue that the Market is the property of the institution, not of the individuals who happen to be occupying the leadership and so could not be confiscated even if the legal procedure rules favourably.

However, the strategy of legal persecution has had worse repercussions in the Yungas. Arguably, it has been more successful for the government than direct confrontation and repression, in that it has caused a general crisis in leadership at all levels of the peasant organization. Very few people now dare to stand for election in the peasant federations and at the level of the agrarian Centrals and Subcentrals, unless they are MAS sympathisers and prepared to obey government orders, because they fear that if they oppose policies designed for Yungas, they will be accused of trumped up charges and imprisoned, given that the judicial system is totally lacking in independence.

This is part of a long term strategy that the MAS has been carrying out ever since Evo Morales secured his third term in 2015. Under the new Constitution which his government approved in 2009, a president is only allowed two consecutive terms. But Morales and MAS argued that his first term was under the previous constitution and therefore did not count, so in 2015 he was starting his second term. The equally submissive constitutional court then declared that indefinite re-election is a human right, discarding Morales’ own constitution.

However, as occurs with any government that prolongs its time in office, the MAS was gradually losing support with the ‘social organizations’ it claimed to represent. When MAS lost control of an organization, they adopted the strategy of setting up a parallel organization staffed by government party militants, as with Elena Flores’ parallel ADEPCOCA. The same has occurred with the peasant federations and agrarian Centrals in a large part of Yungas, and with the Regionals of ADEPCOCA, provoking many local conflicts which ranged from beatings, destruction of property, harvesting the coca fields of members of the rival organization, and even deaths. Municipal authorities and government agencies collaborated with the divisions by recognizing the minority parallel organizations and channelling development projects and public works through them, ignoring those who continued to support the majority organizations.

After Morales resigned, most authorities ceased to manipulate projects in such a direct way, but still recognize the parallel organizations, although most of these have few or no grass roots support and the same leaders remain in office for years having long since overrun their terms. The divisions were particularly active in the municipality of La Asunta, where they had already appeared before 2015 when leaders favoured coca eradication campaigns (see below).

At times division occurred within the same community. In other cases a whole agrarian Central was associated with one or another band, as happened with La Calzada, fiercely anti government, versus the neighbouring town of Santa Rosa, unconditional supporters of MAS. In March 2023 Evo Morales, now without any position in government but exercising influence as President of the MAS party organization, honoured Santa Rosa with a personal visit. He planned to travek on to the municipal capital of La Asunta to meet his supporters there, but when he travelled from Santa Rosa to the main road,  people from Calzada, together with the anti government peasant federation of Asunta, had blocked the highway and refused to let him pass. He was forced to do an about turn and stage an unplanned visit to Irupana, a MAS-supporting municipality.  The car he was travelling in turned out to have been stolen in Santa Cruz and was recovered by the police, though not returned to its owner, and instead was handed over to the governing political party.5   

In addition to its murky links with the government, the actual ADEPCOCA leadership shows signs of promoting divisions at the regional level, in cases where this had been overcome with much effort because of the resentment created by previous conflicts, for instance, in Regional Arapata. In April 2023, this Regional elected a new board of directors, but the departmental leadership did not turn up to swear them in. They were sworn in by the same electoral committee that had organized the election, by acclamation, supposedly because they did not have funds to print ballot papers for a secret vote. ADEPCOCA argued that this was not a legitimate procedure6, did not recognize the newly elected board or directors when they presented themselves in Villa Fatima and a few weeks later, swore in a new electoral committee of notorious MAS sympathisers to carry out another election.

The Villa Fatima leadership wanted to ratify the regional president, who supported their deals with the government, but the grass roots elected a new administration which, like most of the coca producers, considers that the leaders have buckled under the government just to keep themselves out of prison and have not obtained any concessions in return: in particular, the demand to close Alanes’ illegal market, and if not absolution, at least allow for house arrest for Cesar Apaza and other detainees. Those who were en route to swear in their preferred candidate claimed that there were ‘problems’ in Coroico, they could not risk getting involved in and turned back before arriving. It remains to be seen what the consequence of these actions will be.

Pruning coca

Erik Cleves Kristensen/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Pruning coca

The present leadership’s two year term comes to an end in November 2023, although some claim that they will not leave office while Machicado, who remains officially president, is in prison, as to do otherwise would be to betray him. Machicado’s contacts with the government have not been made public, and many grass root growers suspect that he made some kind of agreement to keep silent in return for letting his case sleep. There is much discontent with the administrations’ double dealings, but not at a level sufficient to unseat them before the November elections, despite the repeated complaints of having made so many sacrifices in repeated mass protests in exchange. This pessimistic vision does not take into account that – in contrast with the situation when the Qalajawira illegal market absorbed almost all the coca trade – Alanes’ market is merely symbolic, while Villa Fatima is operating at full capacity, since the government has ceased to make the authorization to trade conditional on purchasing from the parallel organization’s market. In the end, the only thing that really interests most coca growers is the possibility to sell their coca in peace and in a comfortable setting. But the other problem is that the actual prices for coca are barely more than half what they were before 2019, when the farm gate price was around forty to forty-five Bolivianos (5 to 6 US $) to the pound; now it hovers around twenty-five (3.50 US$). In Yungas, this is generally attributed to a supposed overproduction7, blamed on Law 906 for having legalized coca growing in various regions where until 2017 it was illegal, hence the demand for this law to be abrogated and replaced with another which establishes severe limits on the areas where coca is allowed, and imposes total eradication of plantations everywhere else. This demand has never even been considered by the government.

Law 906 replaced the section on coca in Law 1008, promulgated in 1988 (the larger part of that law, which deals with controlled substances, that is illegal drugs, remains unchanged). From 2002, successive governments began negotiations with a view to changing the law on coca, which is such a troubled topic on the national and international level that it took fifteen years to finally win new legislation. It is likely that it will take at least as long before any new reform will be considered, even if a government which does not have the MAS’ historical compromise with protecting coca production in the Chapare – which is mainly used for cocaine8 – gets into office.

Moreover, the newly legalized areas of production, in the provinces of La Paz such as Larecaja and Caranavi, do not produce significant quantities of leaves; much more significant quantities come from the colonization zones in Yungas, above all La Asunta. There is no doubt that much of this – as well as coca from the traditional zone – is also used for cocaine, with the only difference with respect to the Chapare being that this industrialization is carried on in the interior of the country, with coca that arrives there by legal channels, and not in the same areas where it is produced.

This is a latent conflict within Yungas; Law 906 ratifies the agreement signed by ADEPCOCA with the government in 2008, which declares various parts of Sud Yungas and Inquisivi to be ‘red zones’, subject to complete eradication. Ever since intermittent campaigns of destruction of plantations continue to be carried out, subject to much political manipulation and episodes of violent confrontation. Outside the traditional zone, where there are no legal limits on the size of plantations, the fields remain limited in practice because there is no longer any space to extend the agricultural frontier. There are also ‘green zones’ where each producer is only permitted up to a hectare, and ‘yellow zones’ where they are permitted up to a quarter of a hectare each (slightly less than in Chapare). Plantations which go over these limits are also liable to be eradicated.

In addition, the 2008 agreement includes a list of all the communities and the number of producers in each one who were legally registered with ADEPCOCA at the time. Since then, many more have joined the association, from the traditional and other zones, and new communities have appeared, either through colonization or because established communities divided into two or more within the same territory. If the letter of the agreement is strictly interpreted, all this new coca that appeared since 2008 ought also to be eradicated.

In 2012, the then president of ADEPCOCA, Ernesto Cordero, openly affiliated with the MAS, recognized ‘new’ communities not on the 2008 list in exchange for copious payments, 40,000, 50,000 Bolivianos (5,5 tot 6,5 thousand US$) or more for each ‘new’ community. Apart from the unknown destiny of all of this cash (assumed by many Yungas inhabitants to have gone into the pockets of Cordero and who knows which other members of the then leadership) the legal status of the then recognized new communities on the ADEPCOCA computerized register has never been made clear. Within the traditional zone, producers privately support the elimination of the red zones within Yungas, although on the public level they only demand eradication of the aforementioned newly legalized zones and production within national parks, which has always been illegal; however, this is a potential source of conflict, not only with the government but within the organization itself, which may flare up at any time if the government should decide to intensify eradication campaigns.

All in all, then, the actual situation (June 2023) is what Bolivian media habitually describe as a ‘tense calm’: no large scale protests or conflicts are on the immediate horizon, but a generally gloomy atmosphere, and a highly uncertain future. Although the coca war is currently at a low intensity, it is not likely to end any time soon.

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