Coca Substitution and Community Response in the Yungas of La Paz, Bolivia, 1920-1988
DeLorenzo, Christopher Scott
Langer, Erick D
This dissertation considers the development of efforts to substitute the coca leaf with alternative crops in the Yungas of La Paz, one of Bolivia’s two main coca regions. On the one hand, coca substitution, also known as alternative development, has largely failed in the Yungas. On the other hand, the Yungas have not seen the sort of massive, sustained social movement against coca eradication and substitution that has occurred in Bolivia’s other major coca zone, the Chapare of Cochabamba, home of former Bolivian President Evo Morales. This dissertation addresses both the poor results of alternative development in the Yungas and the lack of fierce and enduring resistance to it there. It demonstrates how the United States and the United Nations missed a key opportunity to promote significant substitution efforts during the mid-twentieth century, and how the US and Bolivian governments subsequently formulated and executed a plan to pacify the Yungas by sparing it from forced coca eradication and substitution while seeking to eliminate coca in the Chapare.By the beginning of the Bolivian Revolution in 1952, in the face of anti-coca science and stagnant prices for the leaf, many powerful landowners in the Yungas had come to support coca substitution. After the land reform of the 1950s, newly landed smallholders replaced some of their coca with other crops. However, only a few international development projects emerged to promote alternative crops during the 1950s and 1960s. With the coca and cocaine boom that began in the mid-1970s, the window for wholesale coca substitution in the Yungas closed, and farmers there became stalwart defenders of the coca leaf. This season of resistance prompted the US embassy in La Paz to develop a strategy in conjunction with Bolivia’s military dictatorship to deem Yungas coca “traditional” and legal, calming protest there, while militarizing the Chapare and gradually eradicating its coca fields. The Bolivian government carried out this plan during the 1980s, particularly with the passage of a landmark coca and controlled substances law in 1988.
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