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Bolivian Coca Growers Eject Eradicators

BOLIVIA / 10 JAN 2012 BY EDWARD FOX EN

Bolivian coca farmers have expelled a group of soldiers working on the eradication of the crop north of the capital La Paz, claiming the military committed abuses against their community.

Roughly 400 local coca growers from the town of La Asunta removed 20 soldiers peacefully from the area. The soldiers were there working as part of an initiative by the Bolivian President Evo Morales to eradicate coca crops grown outside the legal limit.

A leader from one of the local unions told radio that the military's presence was not justified as all the coca within the area was legal and no excess exists, according to Reuters. Bolivia's interior minister, Wilfredo Chavez, rebuked the unions -- who are not aligned with Morales -- saying that their actions amounted to "abuse and criminal activity."

InSight Crime Analysis

In Bolivia some 12,000 hectares of coca can legally be grown for traditional uses of the plant, such as chewing the leaves. However, the country is currently thought to have some 30,900 hectares under cultivation. Morales has committed to attacking the excess, claiming in November that 10,000 hectares would be eradicated by the end of the year.

However, Morales has to tread a fine line between alienating his support base among indigenous coca-growers and allowing the production of coca that will be funneled into cocaine production. The recent clashes in La Asunta suggest the balance has not been reached in this area. It is located in the Yungas region, the biggest coca-growing area of the country, which alone cultivated 22,500 hectares of the crop in 2010.

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