If the MAS government is a coca growers’ government, why are the Yungas coca growers against it?

15 April 2022
Article

Why the majority of Yungas coca growers oppose the policies on coca implemented by the MAS with and without Evo Morales.

Checkpoint on The Bolivia Death Road
Checkpoint on The Bolivia Death Road / Photo credit Matthew Straubmuller/CC BY 2.0.

Disclaimer: This article has not been translated by a professional translator, therefore the quality may differ from the Spanish original version found here.


It was not by accident that it should have been the Mexican government which rescued Evo Morales after his intemperate renunciation of the presidency of the Plurinational State of Bolivia in November 2019, since the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party) of Mexico was during 60 years what the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo, Movement towards Socialism) aspired – and still aspires – to be: the one party in the state, of which all social organizations form part. A model closer to home is the MNR (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, Nationalist Revolutionary Movement) in its first governments after 1952, although both indianists and leftists are accustomed to despise that period.

In its first period in office (2006-2009) and during most of its second (2010-2014), it was not necessary to juggle in order to procure that the leadership of social organizations lined up behind the MAS, and people willingly came out for mass meetings, openings of new public works and other events where Evo was present (at least until we got bored with seeing him so many times and all over the place). It was in the course of his third administration, from 2015 onwards, when his reelection was proposed on the basis of the dubious technicality that, although the new Constitution reformed by the MAS in 2009 only allows two consecutive presidential periods, that is only one consecutive reelection, his first period was under the Republic of Bolivia, supposedly a different country whose rules were irrelevant.1 At that time, and even in the referendum of the 21st of February 2016, when the proposal to allow indefinite re-election of the President and Vicepresident lost by a narrow margin, the yungueños continued to support the MAS. The schism began with the conflicts around the Law 906, the Coca Law, which was eventually promulgated on the 8th of March 2017.

In fact, since 2002 successive governments debated the division of the Law 1008, Law on Coca and Controlled Substances (1988), into two parts, separating the Coca Regime to give it the status of an independent law, Evo Morales, at the time leader of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba (the Chapare) and member of parliament, held meetings with Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (MNR) before the latter was forced to resign in 2003. In 2004 Carlos Mesa, in a typical expression of the erratic and improvised policies of his interim presidency, approved the long time demand of the Chapare coca growers for the legalization of a cato (40 by 40 metres) of coca per member of the peasants’ unions, up to a maximum of 3000 Ha. This limit was to have been revised after a year from the emission of the decree, but was not reconsidered until, early in 2017, the law finally entered into debate in the Plurinational Assembly (the new name for the parliament), after years during which it was more useful as a political football with which to distract the coca growers’ organizations into passing time preparing diverse drafts of a law on coca, in which the yungueños also took part presenting their own proposal in their region.

The version which resulted for the Yungas was ostentatiously presented to the national assembly by Franclin Gutiérrez, then president of ADEPCOCA (Asociación Departamental de Productores de Coca, Departmental Association of Coca Growers) in December 2016. The yungas’ lawyers who took part in preparing the draft law, and the yungas’ leadership in general, lacked information or contacts concerning general legislative procedures in order to have presented it in that month, since at the end of every year the legislative period closes and any proposal which has not entered into consideration is discarded. It has to be presented anew in the following year if there is will to carry on with it. And in addition, in order to figure in the agenda, a draft law or bill must be presented by a member of one of the two chambers, with the same value if this sponsor is a senator or a member of the lower house. But ADEPCOCA presented its proposal in the form of correspondence. They probably thought that the parliament proceeds in the same was as the agrarian unions, where every meeting always begins with roll call followed by reading the minutes of the previous meeting and correspondence. Thus they would have imagined that their project would have been read before that of the government which could be expected to feature in the body of the agenda (perhaps a sign of a vague idea of the proceeding, because it is certain that the projects to be debated are treated in order of arrival, whether or not they have been presented by the ruling party). But in the Plurinational Assembly, correspondence is not read as part of the agenda. The only draft law which entered into debate was that of the MAS.

Even so, the government, in an attitude which was soon to change, was disposed to negotiate the content of the law with the yungueños. The main bone of contention was the question of how many hectares of coca fields were to be permitted and their geographical location, in addition to the symbolic topic of the denomination of the zones thus identified. The Law 1008 established 12,000 Ha as the limit for legal cultivation of coca, on the basis of the study carried out by William Carter and Mauricio Mamani at the end of the 1970s. The national level study carried out by CONALTID, the national entity in charge of coca and drug trafficking issues, published in 2013, on the demand for coca leaf for legal consumption (basically chewing, plus minor quantities included in ritual offerings, medical uses or ‘industrialized’ for teas, pomades, etc.) had established a total of about 14,000 Ha as sufficient for all this, but the MAS government had declared for some time that legal cultivation should reach 20,000 Ha, 13,000 Ha for the department of La Paz (distributed among the provinces of Nor and Sud Yungas, Inquisivi, Caranavi and Apolo en in the province of Franz Tamayo) and 7,000 Ha for the department of Cochabamba. While the Law 1008 divided the zones of cultivation between ‘traditional’, ‘excess in transition’ and ‘illegal’ (anywhere else in the country outside the specified zones), the Law 906 replaces this with ‘authorized zones’, where cultivation is legal although with certain limits, and the rest of the national territory where coca growing is illegal and fields can be directly eradicated. Within those authorized, there is an ‘original and ancestral’ zone, a zone which is ‘original and ancestral with registration’, and a ‘registered’ zone.

The yungueños objected that the denomination of authorized zones treated them in exactly the same way as the ‘excess’ zones, as they insisted in continuing to refer to the Chapare, which under the Law 1008 figured as ‘excess in transition’, that is, where coca should gradually be eliminated and replaced by products of ‘alternative development’. The justification for this classification is that Yungas coca is generally considered ideal for traditional use, principally chewing, while Chapare coca is considered inferior for this use and in practice is almost entirely used for processing cocaine, which was the reason why it should be replaced by other agricultural products. They argued that no extension should be legalized in Cochabamba, except perhaps a minimal area in the ‘traditional’ Yungas of Vandiola (where in previous centuries coca was grown but which is today isolated and depopulated and whose geographical limits are uncertain). The MAS considered that the Law 906 benefits the traditional, that is the ‘original and ancestral’ zone, in the Yungas, because this is the only area where there is no registration nor limits to cultivation, that is, they can plant as much coca as they like and cultivate it ‘for the rest of their lives’, as the yungueños repeat in their demands, but this means little because these densely populated zones long ago reached the limits of the agrarian frontier and there are no possibilities for expanding cultivation.

The yungueños mobilized on the 17th of February 2017, with the aim of besieging the Plaza Murillo, historic centre of the city of La Paz where the parliament building and the old Presidential Palace are located, a tactic which was successful when applied a few months earlier by the Red Ponchos.2 But this time the government did not give way to the protest and instead expelled them from the streets around the plaza in a late night police assault with the help of the Neptune car.3 They regrouped in the Coca Market in Villa Fatima and from there went out to march in the city, being repressed by the police with intense tear gas attacks and many arrests. People said that for decades they had not been repressed with such force and decision, although this was not yet perceived as a signal of a fundamental change of direction on the part of the government. With threats such as sending all the arrested to prison and eliminating ADEPCOCA from the law, the government got the coca growers to accept an increase in extensions to 14,300 Ha for La Paz – and to 7,700 Ha for the Chapare, who thus obtained a benefit without having moved a finger – in exchange for accepting the rest of the law without any modification. The grass roots criticised their leadership for having accepted this agreement and dispersed embittered and deceived.

The Minister for Rural Development and Land, at the time Cesar Cocarico, on whose office depends the Viceministry of Coca and Alternative Development, understood to the ‘power share’ exclusively assigned to Yungas in the administration, initiated a ‘socialization’ of the new law in the Yungas, although belatedly since ‘socializing’ a legislative topic usually refers to presenting a draft proposal and receiving opinions or comments which may then be included in the final version of the law, not a propaganda tour to briefly mention the benefits of the law before going on to a session on the grand achievements of the present administration, which is what he or the team from the Viceministry effectively did. Some parts of the Yungas simply refused to attend these mass meetings; others mounted road blocks to prevent their arrival, and in Arapata clashed with those in favour of the visit to the point that Cocarico had to be rescued by helicopter.

In parallel, the government went ahead with its strategy of absorbing social organizations converting them into branches of the party: in so far as the organizations began to distance themselves, if not assuming a direct opposition, it sought among the factions which always exist those which were disposed to break with the existing leadership and set up a parallel organization with the same name, which would then be recognized by the government and use to channel public works, investments and the access to salaried posts in public administration and/or candidatures (for the MAS) in local and national elections, where these candidates continue to the those with the best chances of winning, even in regions where the public in general no longer sympathizes with the MAS.

The first target, in 2015, was CONAMAQ,4 when a group of MAS supporters, alleging that the actual leadership had completed the period that corresponded to them but refused to permit a new election, managed to overtake the national offices of the organization in La Paz. After that, division progressed in the federations of urban residents, such as FEJUVE- El Alto and FEJUVE- La Paz, and in the CSUTCB, this last less surprising since it had already been through periods with two national executives, due to regional and personal rivalries. The way was prepared forgetting the political independence of these organizations. Up to the first decade of 2000, a requirement for postulating for superior leadership posts was to not be a member of any political party, this slid over to ‘not being a member of any traditional/ neoliberal political party’, that is, it was allowed to be a sympathizer or even a card carrying member of the MAS.

In the case of ADEPCOCA, the attack began forming, not a parallel organization, but a new organization among its affiliates, CONALPRODC (Confederación Nacional de Productores al Detalle con Carpeta, National Confederation of Retail Producers with File). I am not aware of other studies ‘from the inside’ of organizations where the MAS fomented divisions – I occupied a leadership post in my Agrarian Centre during the two years when the conflict was at its height – which, apart from external interference combined with personal interests of leaders in search of rewards, allow one to identify the structural fractures (between classes, regions or others) which provide the foundations. The ‘carpeteros’ or ‘file holders’, that is, those coca growers who have obtained the retail permit known as ‘carpeta al detalle’ (retail file), to retail coca to the consuming public in a certain site in the interior of the country, represent the climax and fracture of a long term structural class project, where peasant coca growers have taken over, firstly (with the Agrarian Reform of 1953) the totality of coca production (displacing the landlord class), then with the ADEPCOCA Market controlling the middleman positions wholesaling coca between the production zones and the city, and then, with these files, entering in coca distribution in the rest of the country. While bulking coca in the Yungas during the week, taking it to the city of La Paz on Sunday, selling it to wholesalers from the rest of the country on Monday and returning to the country on Tuesday or Wednesday is compatible with maintaining coca production, retailing in another department no longer permits one to continue simultaneously with working the coca field. Furthermore, these files were mainly taken up by return migrants from the cities and other departments, who were approved for them because their families were coca growers, members of their local peasant syndicate and associates of ADEPCOCA, although their children who applied for the file no longer were. This was the group which the MAS used as a wedge to impulse the division of ADEPCOCA, at the head of a small group with political ambitions which, first of all, named themselves as an Electoral Committee and then launched an election where they appeared as its new leaders.

The motives cited for forming CONALPRODC, in which the majority of grass roots members appeared in the lists without having participated when their local representatives handed over their names to this small group, were that ADEPCOCA limited its actions to the department of La Paz and did not help them when they were the object of confiscation of coca or other problems in the other 8 departments of Bolivia, and that in their communities, the file holders were obliged to go to all the assemblies, marches and other events because their file was ‘thanks to the community’. There were no reports on how CONALPRODC might have assisted those with difficulties in the interior, but barely 6 months after its formation in June 2017, it began its attack denouncing the charges without rendition of accounts levied for taking coca out of the ADEPCOCA Market, and each time ADEPCOCA called an assembly of its associates. CONALPRODC immediately convoked a meeting on the same day but in a different place with the sanction of a fine for those who did not attend and handing out a ticket to those who did turn up. This was easy to impose because they had an agreement with DIGCOIN, the government office which stamps the permits for wholesale transport of coca, to refuse to emit these if the applicant did not present the CONALPRODC ticket.

In March 2018, a disputative assembly of ADEPCOCA in Coripata ratified Franclin Gutiérrez and his directory for another period of two years, but as soon as he left the site, the podium was taken over by an Ad Hoc Committee which was sworn in by an improvised group of the executives of the provincial peasant federations, at that time still lined up with the MAS. Two days later this Committee went to the Coca Market. According to them, they only wanted to ask Franclin to provide them with an office where they could carry out an audit of how the institution was managing the money it charged for using the Market, which was what they questioned, and he, in a cowardly fashion, escaped leaving them in possession of the Market. For others, this action was an intentional planned takeover by force. They remained in possession of the Market for a week, until the producers entered the city in a massive march which ended in clashes which left the interveners effectively besieged in the Market for another week, when they had to give in and return the building to Franclin, his directory and the majority of coca growers who supported them. Nevertheless, the divisions multiplied in Yungas. The executives who had supported the intervention were expelled from their posts, but some refused to accept this. In other cases a nominal federation in favour of the government was formed by a minority of grass roots members and communities. All the mayors in the provinces were part of the MAS, and they supported these parallel organizations with public works or projects, even at the base level of local communities as long as they did not participate in actions of protest, while those who continued to support ADEPCOCA could not even get the municipal tractors to come and work on their roads.

Yungas - Cocafeld/cocal/coca-field
Yungas - Cocafeld/cocal/coca-field / Photo credit kiki-bolivien/CC BY-ND 2.0.

At the same time, the government carried on with the ‘rationalization’ of coca plantations – the current euphemism for eradication – by military forces in the ‘red zones’, those which had remained outside of the ‘traditional cordon’ in the agreement signed between the government and Yungas coca growers in 2008. This divides the communities later to feature as registered from those which are illegal with respect to coca growing, and within the cordon, there is a ‘green zone’ where each peasant syndicate member is entitled to cultivate up to one hectare of coca, and a ‘yellow zone’ where the limit is a cato.6 Those who exceed these limits are also subject to the rationalization of those plantations which go beyond the permitted. In the ‘red zones’, all the coca fields are to be eradicated. Various growers resisted the elimination of their principal source of income without receiving anything in exchange, culminating in a confused ‘ambush’ in August 2018, where an army lieutenant died in unclear circumstances; the army responded shooting at coca growers who were blockading a bridge, causing the death of two men who were not mobilised but just working in coca fields – and one of whom was not even a coca grower as such, but a migrant worker from the province of Muñecas. Franclin Gutiérrez was not even close to the site of the violence, but was cited by judicial authorities and handed himself in – he said, to avoid that the police who had surrounded the Market would lead to another intervention – the 27th of August 2018. This sealed the rejection of the MAS government on behalf of the majority of Yungas coca growers. The government renewed the directory of COFECAY (Consejo de Federaciones Cocaleras de los Yungas, Council of Yungas Coca Growers’ Federations, which supposedly imitates the Coordinator of the Six Federations of the Chapare in offering a united leadership) in an election which file holders were obliged to attend, and the ‘organics’ responded by electing their own COFECAY.

The grass roots insisted that while Franclin remained in prison, he had to continue as president of ADEPCOCA and refused to allow his vicepresident, Gregorio Chamizo, to take his place. In consequence, Chamizo went over to the government and CONALDPRODC, while continuing to insist that he was the vicepresident of ADEPCOCA and in charge of the organization. The plan was, firstly, to set up parallels in those Regionals (local divisions) of ADEPCOCA where they did not yet exist, and once these covered a majority of the 17 Regionals, call a new election. This was not successful, as for example in Chulumani the attempt to form a parallel Regional was violently rejected, but another element of the strategy was to open a parallel Coca Market in La Paz and oblige the file holders to trade there and not in Villa Fatima, so as to strangle ADEPCOCA depriving it of income. This is illegal according to the Law 906, which only recognises one legal coca market in the city, but Minister Cocarico justified his resolution in favour arguing that it was not a ‘market’ but only a ‘collection centre’, on the same level as the coca trading venues that operate in each town in the Chapare. This market wandered from one more or less accessible and suitable hired venue to another, but all with the common fundamental aspect: both file holders and retailers, that is retailers who are not coca growers, in order to receive the stamp authorizing them to transport coca anywhere else in the country had to have bought the coca in the parallel market currently functioning.

In June 2019, when ADEPCOCA called an assembly in Villa Fatima, Chamizo with CONALPRODC called another in the Plaza Villaroel where they named an Electoral Committee to elect a parallel directory of ADEPCOCA. This took place the 31st of July of the same year, when – in a managed election by ‘acclamation’, that is those present lifted their hands without any precise count or control of who voted or how many times, but the same was habitual in ‘organic’ ADEPCOCA – Elena Flores, afro descendent and file holder who did not have a coca field nor was a union member in her community of origin, was named president. That afternoon, her followers took over the ‘coca growers’ Hospital’, constructed to that end by ADEPCOCA but which had never functioned, in Calle 10 of Villa el Carmen and proceeded to install their parallel market there.

Another motive for the government’s viciousness with Gutiérrez was that in 2018 he made an ill-timed announcement, which had not been consulted with his grass roots, that he aimed to present his candidacy for the Presidency in the national elections to come in 2019, which was seen as a threat to the MAS who then sought how to put him out of the running. However, various other men and women leaders in the Yungas did not learn from his example, but now that the elections were round the corner, resigned their posts in ADEPCOCA, COFECAY and other organizations, in order to campaign as candidates for the lower house or even the Senate, with Comunidad Ciudadana (Citizen Community) at the head of Carlos Mesa for the Presidency, or with other minority parties with minimal possibilities, thus weakening the leadership.

In September 2019, Flores’ ADEPCOCA began to issue its own producers’ cards, the basic document required to pass highway controls and use the legal market with wholesale quantities of coca. Obviously these cards, and not those emitted by Gutiérrez, were demanded from the file holders, and other people obtained them believing that the government would shortly declare Flores’ cards to be the only ones valid in any instance. It was easy for anyone to take out one of these cards since, unlike the ‘organics’, applicants did not have to figure in any list of community affiliates nor present a signed approbation from their community. But this was on the verge of the questioned national elections of 20th October 2021 y the posterior conflicts which resulted in Evo Morales’ renunciation and his flight from the country.

The Yungas coca growers only participated in a peripheral fashion in the mobilisations inappropriately known as ‘las pititas’ (‘the little cords’) since they were concentrated in vigilance of their Market to defend it against possible interventions or attacks by the other group, but celebrating jubilantly Evo’s dismissal. Ironically, in the published voting figures all the Yungas voted MAS, except for Chulumani which went for Comunidad Ciudadana. Having resigned from an organizational post to be a candidate, far from gathering votes on the basis of a known trajectory of opposition, apparently was seen more as a show of opportunism unworthy of support, and the opposition parties lacked coherent proposals of what if anything they would do once in office, preferring to continue protesting the ’21-F’ (the 2016 re-election referendum) as if that was a plan for government.

At the time these results meant nothing, as the election was never recognised and the old parliament carried on under the transition government. The new administration changed all the Ministers and Vice ministers, and for a while the Vice ministry for Coca was occupied by Franz Asturizaga, recognising his months of unpaid and sleepless labour as the president of the self-defence of ADEPCOCA. He was then removed from office and replaced by a political nominee without any connection with the Yungas (in the end, any ‘power share’ is a deal of the moment, without any legal basis for questioning if it should be simply ignored). He did manage to get DIGCOIN to return to its post stamping permits in the main door of ADEPCOCA, with which commercial activity returned to normal, the only thing which really interests most associates. But they hardly had time to enjoy it, because with the arrival of the pandemic and quarantine, all entries and exits of people and products in the Yungas were limited from months to products of basic need, foodstuffs, fruit and vegetables, and coca did not figure in this list. The local economy was totally paralysed. From July 2020 coca began to be traded again, firstly on the basis of quotas assigned per community and Agrarian Centre, where every week two people from one community had to travel with a lorry loaded with a hundred or more takis (fifty pound bundles of coca, the current unit for wholesale trading) and oversee their sale in the Market, this to avoid large conglomerations of people. In the communities themselves, from November 2019 there was a wave of fines, some quite reasonable but others extremely heavy, applied to those – basically file holders and their families and friends, or members of communities conditioned in exchange for public works – who had supported CONADPRODC and Elena ‘Virus’ (as the ‘organics’ nicknamed her), and several were struck off the producers’ lists for refusing to pay; during the epoch of the quotas there were accusations that MAS supporters were not given access to the quotas that corresponded to them, or that attempts were made to block them when they had to travel with coca. Little by little the restrictions let up, and in November 2020 new elections were held, with an undoubted victory for the MAS, although not as overwhelming as in the past, leaving them without the two-thirds ‘steamroller’ of representatives they formally had in the lower house.

But the plan to take control of social organizations did not change. The former head of the government COFECAY, Rolando Canceno, was named Vice minister of Coca. He authorized the parallel market in another site, the seat of a transport union in the suburb of Qalajawira on the highway to Yungas; it was completely inadequate for the huge flow of coca, so most of the transactions had to take place on the muddy pavements or in buildings under construction rented from local residents. Although he did not go so far as to declare that only Flores’ cards were valid to take coca out of Yungas, there were constant complaints that in the Rinconada control point, certain functionaries – apparently identifying associates who, for their advanced age, humble appearance, or came from sectors notoriously divided sectors, could be intimidated – demanded those cards and if they did not have them, confiscated their coca. Franclin Gutiérrez was liberated in November 2019 and many thought that since he had overrun his period in office, new elections should be held right away, but he and his directory remained in their posts until November 2020; the general opinion was that they did so in order to recover the money that they had spent in prison (not only Gutiérrez was detained, but also his right hand man, Sergio Pampa) or to make up for the time spent taking care of the Market when there was no income, so they wanted another year while it was functioning regularly.

After the 2020 national elections, Elena Flores made a weak attempt to take over the Market by force, which was easily repelled, and then presented a constitutional demand on the doubtful basis that she was the legal president of ADEPCOCA and the recently elected Armin Lluta was obliged to hand the institution over to her. She was unable to impose this, but the demand was sufficient to open a new court case against Lluta. A widespread current of opinion was ‘neither Elena, nor Armin’, arguing that both should resign and ADEPCOCA should hold a sole election accepting candidates from both sides. Lluta was sufficiently responsible and unselfish to agree with this and offer his resignation, which was eventually accepted by the grass roots in October 2021 leading to a new election in December of that year, but Flores’ group ignored it and in July 2021 organized an election which their own Electoral Committee suspended halfway through the ballot due to clashes; the results of the votes counted were never made public, but a winner was proclaimed, Arnold Alanes, who had previously been the president of the Electoral Committee which proclaimed Flores as the winner. Not everyone on that side agreed with this result which was not at all clear, and in September they held an assembly where they fought with Alanes’ followers; these last then set off for Villa Fatima with a police escort. The few people present in the Market – it was at the weekend when there is minimal commercial movement – did not realize what their intentions were and they were able to enter directly and take over the building. The Minister of the Interior went to the Market and expressed his recognition of Alanes as president of ADEPCOCA, although one of the motives for holding a united election was that the government was supposedly ready to recognize the person who won it, leaving behind the parallel organizations. The ‘true coca growers’ reacted setting up their headquarters in the Hospital in Calle 10, whence they marched out every day towards the Market to be received with teargas by the police cordon that protected it. After a fortnight of violent clashes they finally discovered tactics which took advantage of their numerical superiority and on the 4th of October 2021 they ‘recovered’ the Market. That same day, Alanes was holding an assembly in the nearby Plaza del Maestro, but when he saw the river of thousands flooding towards the Market, he and the five hundred people who accompanied him abandoned the place without offering resistance. Once again commercial activity returned to normal, and at the beginning of 2022 the market in Qalajawira, as well as another which Alanes opened higher up in Urujara, ceased to function, although Alanes declared that he would open another in a rented ex high school beside the terminal where buses leave for Yungas, and was supported by a part of the coca retailers in Santa Cruz, although at the time of writing (March 2022) there is no sign of movement in the venue.

CONALPRODC itself has also entered the process of division, partly due to the actual faction fighting within the MAS, where some support their ex president Freddy Velasquez who is a proportional representative for the department of La Paz, and others favour Gladys Quispe, who is the member of parliament for Yungas, in addition to the eternal complaints about the ‘economic report’, that the ex leadership have not rendered accounts of the income – the same complaint with which they began their attack on ‘organic’ ADEPCOCA. Divisions also continue with greater or lesser vigour in some Federations and Regionals in the Yungas, and a rapid solution is not in view – unless the government leaves off once and for all recognizing, supporting and offering benefits of clientship (access to projects, posts for ex leaders of parallel organizations that line up with the government) organizations supported by a minority and often conditioned, either openly as when file holders had to go not only to CONALPRODC events but also to Evo’s official visits in Yungas on pain of being fined or suspended, or indirectly, as when the General Secretary of a community who wanted to ‘leave a public work’ for his people, saw it as opportune to cease to support mobilizations so as to achieve acceptance by municipal authorities.

Before Flores left office, in July 2021 she tried to hold an assembly in Coripata, which was blocked by the local population resulting in the death of a policeman, once again in a situation not at all clear, but sufficient to imprison the president of the Coripata Regional, Daynor Choque, who has to date not been brought to trial. There are other conjunctural factors, such as the recent fall in the price of coca,7 which for many is caused by overproduction due to the ‘authorization’ of zones of production over and above the legal demand, while others attribute it to the entry of Peruvian coca due to the scarce or null control carried out by the government on the frontier (in practice, the government is notoriously incapable of suppressing contraband of any type of merchandise, from tinned sardines to undocumented motor vehicles). During the pandemic the rationalization campaign was suspended in Yungas, but it 2022 it was announced that it would be reinitiated, which is likely to bring a new wave of conflicts.

I think this summary of events is sufficient to make it clear why the majority of Yungas coca growers oppose the policies on coca implemented by the MAS with and without Evo Morales. More than anything, they reject government interference in their organizations, which has provoked division on every level, even within families. While there are structural motives, such as the class separation of the file holders who then leant themselves to actions aimed at destabilizing the majority organizations, which explain how and on part of whom these fractures have emerged, it is certain that without government promotion they would not have reached open division.

The Chapare has never moved away from the MAS, and has received much greater benefits, from Senate seats for ex leaders of the sector to the lion’s part of all the funds for alternative development and others. A sole example: citrus production was promoted in the Chapare as one alternative to coca. The result has been that the yungueños have abandoned their orange groves because Chapare fruit has inundated the market, leaving coca as the only possibility to earn money. Seen from the Yungas, this is because the government has political and party aims – staying in power at any cost – linked to regional sympathies due to the trajectory of their principal leader, who according to some continues to direct policy from behind the throne. It was never a coca growers’ government, but rather a Chapare government and only conjuncturally of coca growers.

Notes:

1 The new Constitution changed the country’s name to the Plurinational State of Bolivia.
2 A peasant organization from the Altiplano which is known for supporting the MAS.
3 A riot control vehicle which disperses demonstrators with fierce spouts of cold wáter, much more efficient in the freezing nights of La Paz.
4 Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (National Council of Native Communities and Native Towns of Qullasuyu), an indianist organization which aims to replace the agrarian union or syndicate organization, seen as a European intrusion, with original authorities. Qullasuyu is the name of the quarter of the Inca empire which included what is now Bolivia.
5 Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (Sole Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia), the national organization which represents the agrarian syndicates or unions which are the grass roots organization of the majority of rural communities, one of the largest organizations in Bolivia and which includes great regional and ethnic diversity.
6 ‘Cato’ is a traditional measure of land which varies according to the region. In the Yungas it is 50 by 50 metres, or 2500 square metres, versus 40 by 40 metres, 1600 square metres, in the Chapare.
7 The price of coca fluctuates from week to week and even from day to day, as well as varying according to the quality of the leaves, but while in 2021 the farm gate price reached 35 to 40 Bolivianos per pound, in the early months of 2022 it has not overcome a maximum of 25 to 28 Bolivianos per pound (a dollar is equivalent to approximately 7 Bolivianos).