The European Union plans to give around $33.4 million to Bolivia in anti-drug and alternative development assistance, a pledge that likely reflects the strategic importance of Bolivia to drug trafficking in Europe.
European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs said the money would be used to incentivize the production of alternative crops to coca as part of a wider anti-drug effort, reported Europa Press. Piebalgs expects the funds to directly benefit some 80,000 farming families and to indirectly benefit another 400,000 people.
Piebalgs travelled to Bolivia on August 19 with the objective of strengthening anti-drug cooperation with the Bolivian government. While there, the commissioner plans to visit the country's two principal coca-growing regions, Cochabamba and Los Yungas de La Paz, reported Prensa Latina.
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Between 2007 and 2013, the EU budgeted around $313 million in aid to Bolivia, with around one third of the money dedicated specifically to anti-drug efforts. Among EU-funded efforts hailed as a success by the Bolivian government was a self-policing program that encouraged coca growers to monitor their own crops to stay within legal limits.
The EU has a vested interest in Bolivian anti-narcotics efforts. Unlike Colombian cocaine, which mostly ends up on the US market, the majority of Bolivian cocaine is trafficked to Brazil and Argentina, and what is not sold on those countries' domestic markets is sent to Europe.
The EU support contrasts with the attitude of the US, which has frequently clashed with Bolivian officials over drug policy and recently announced it would close its anti-drug office. Nonetheless, it is questionable whether the EU really can fill the gap left by the US as the support offered is mostly focussed on "soft" power, which, while a critical part of tackling the drug trade, leaves the issue of Bolivia's ill-equipped security forces unaddressed. The country that has had the most success in tackling large scale organized crime groups -- Colombia -- has relied heavily on US support in equipping and training its security forces.
One possibile regional partner in this area is Brazil, the biggest cocaine market in Latin America and a regional economic power. The two countries have already united drug efforts in the past, although cooperation on anti-narcotics operations has at times been strained.