The biggest cocaine factory bust this week

I am deeply skeptical when it comes to claims of success in the U.S. [international but U.S.-led] War on Drugs, and not because I think illegal drugs are a great thing (I don’t).  In this, I have lots of company.  Those publicly opposing the U.S. [U.S. Support for the] War on Drugs include Noam Chomsky, Walter Cronkite, Ron Paul (remember him?), and organizations such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and the ACLU.  Even the U.S. Drug Czar doesn’t really want to call it a “war.” Also see the article by Joe Conason at  This is by no means a complete list.  Opposition to the War on Drugs is growing along with the evidence that it is failing.  It simply does not achieve its own objective, which is the most damning kind of failure.

In addition to this “War” not reducing the supply or increasing the price of street drugs (its actual purpose), the collateral damage has been heavy, in the U.S., Colombia, Peru, and of course Bolivia.

Given all this, when I saw the BBC’s July 6, 2009 article stating:

Drug enforcement officials have raided what they call the biggest cocaine laboratory ever found in Bolivia.

The facility, said to have the capacity to produce up to 100kg (220lb) each day, was discovered in a rural area of the department of Santa Cruz.

I cynically wondered how many times such an announcement had been made.  Luckily, we live in the era of the Internet, so I don’t have to guess.  I typed <<“biggest cocaine factory” Bolivia>>, and some variations thereof, into Google and found:

March 27, 2009.  Fox News:  “Bolivia’s interior minister says police have uncovered one of the country’s biggest known cocaine processing factories.”  (Plane found with 300kg of cocaine)

May 31, 2007.   ABC:  “Bolivian police have found the largest cocaine factory ever discovered in the South American country, with a daily production capacity of 100 kilograms.”  (Note this is the same daily production as that reported in the July 7, 2009 story.  Also reported at WCBSTV.)

Oct 8, 1988.  LA Times:  “Police and U.S. drug agents raided and destroyed a huge jungle cocaine laboratory that produced at least $50 million worth of drugs each week, Bolivian and U.S. officials said Friday.”  (Produces 3.5 tons of cocaine a week — or about 508 kg/day, far more than any of the busts announced above.)

These aren’t all the articles on the drug war — just the ones I found with minimum effort that claimed to have made  huge drug busts.  My point here is not to take all this as straight data, but rather to point to the political purposes served by announcing such busts.  The details are left as an exercise to my very capable readers.


Pres. Morales on coca in the NYT

President Evo Morales published a piece in the New York Times yesterday calling on “the international community to reverse its misguided policy toward the coca leaf.”  I agree completely.

(Thanks to Miguel for sending the link for this.)

El Duderino and BoRev on the Atlantic on Morales

In my last post I critiqued Barclay’s article in the Atlantic.  I was mainly interested in the way that racial conflict was being invoked, and honestly, it was an off-the-cuff post.  I linked to two bloggers who write regularly about Bolivia.  Miguel suggested that instead of critiquing Barclay I should critique them instead.  Miguel has issued the challenge, and I accepted.  Here we go (with some trepidation, since the Bolivia ex-pat community is small, and I don’t know who either of them are.)

From El Duderino:

Barclay tells us all about how Evo is stirring up racial divisions (by being brown), inciting violence (by being brown), destroying the economy (by being brown), and acting like a petty-thug dictator like Mugabe (by being brown) except for some reason the vast majority of Bolivians keep supporting him and keep voting for him. Wonder why? Well Barclay doesn’t have one word from a single Evo supporter who make up a pathetic 60+ percent of the population.

I have to agree with Duderino here that  Barclay does not interview any Morales’ supporters.  And if her intent was for this to be a balanced piece, it would need to include that perspective.  However, I don’t think Barclay herself is being racist, as el Duderino accuses.  It is important to distinguish between the reporter and what is being reported.  I (like all anthropologists and journalists, I imagine) have conducted interviews where I completely disagree with the interviewee, and felt that nevertheless I needed to include that information in my work.  Of course we have choices about what to include and highlight from what people tell us, but I don’t think Barclay is writing about something that is marginal to Bolivian politics.  In short, I think el Duderino shoots the messenger.

Then el Duderino posts the last paragraph of Barclay’s article with his response:

Although the lowlands have prospered from farming and natural gas, the highland regions remain stuck in a poverty trap that Morales has shown little flair for unlocking. When he expelled the U.S. ambassador and the Drug Enforcement Administration in late 2008, he killed a trade agreement with the United States that was one of the few lifelines for Bolivia’s exports. Depressed oil and gas prices have since meant less revenue for Bolivia, and less support from Morales’s chief mentor and benefactor, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. The only growth industry, in fact, appears to be coca.” (Barclay)

Very insightful, I learned a lot in this paragraph. Apparently, based on nothing, we learn that Evo in fact has not governed over a period of economic growth. That in addition to being the President of Bolivia (able to expell US diplomats and the DEA), Evo is also the President of the United States who retaliatorly cancelled (against Congress’ wishes) Bolivia’s trade preferences. (Barcley’s cause-effect scheme here is extra retarted because she previously wrote a story on the US cancelling of Bolivia’s trade preferences). Also, Evo apparently has the power to lower global commodity prices… by expelling the DEA (huh?), and while she is at it, just tack on the totally unqualified and false statement that coca is Bolivia only growth industry.

Of course Evo has the right to expel US diplomats.  But surely he was fully aware of what the consequences of that might be — likely, that it would affect trade relations with the U.S.  To imply that Evo didn’t know that — as el Duderino implies when he sarcastically suggests that Barclay thinks Evo is the President of the US — is insulting to Evo.  And while Evo is not responsible for the global market, those economic forces do affect politics in that country and the way that Evo is constrained as President (and everyone works under constraints of some kind).  In short, it matters.

As for coca — I agree with Barclay here.  Coca is one of the few truly successful commodities produced in Bolivia, and has been for a long time.  I believe we should end the War on Drugs because I don’t think that fight is either ethical or effective (even by the standards of its supporters), and I think the negatives of the Drug War far outweigh any positives.  But one cannot claim that coca is not profitable or a growth industry.

On to BoRev:

[Barclay] asks the big questions: Why do the brown people hate us when we only want best for them? Is the Bolivian economy struggling because of the global economic crisis, or there something more Indigenous afoot? And why do they insist on calling it ‘Bolivia’ when God already gave it a beautiful name, ‘Rhodesia’?

These questions are not the ones that frame Barclay’s article, obviously.  She is considering Evo’s opposition, much of which is organized along racial and geographical lines and express their differences in those terms.  Again, shooting the messenger.

BoRev also fails to notice that the photojournalistic piece accompanying Barclay’s article was specifically put there to be a different perspective.  He suggests instead that it might be the work of Aymara hackers.  I kind of wish it were — we would love to write about them here!

So, to keep up the grading metaphor, if Barclay gets a B+, I’ll give el Duderino a B- and BoRev a C-.  I don’t fail students who show up, and clearly both el Duderino and BoRev are obviously deeply engaged with Bolivian politics.  And while I may not agree with them, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be listening — albeit critically.

How has 007 not been discussed?

Ok, I’ll do it!!

Last weekend Miguel and I went to see Quantum of Solace on a rare evening out (we had willing grandparents to watch Masher and we were not too terribly exhausted). QoS is set partially in Haiti and Bolivia. No filming took place in either country, though, which leads to some jarring scenes (outdoor cocktail party in warm and humid La Paz, anyone?) The climax takes place in the “Bolivian” desert – the dispute is not over oil or gold or silver but water.

The Bolivian desert was once Bolivia – yep, you guessed it, filmed near…Antofagasta! I haven’t seen much about Bolivians being riled up about this, but some Chileans, including the mayor of a town where filming took place, were quite offended that Chileans were being called Bolivian and worried about being equated with “Indians.” (link here)

So I am torn. On the one hand, the portrayal of Bolivia is laughable – it is more of a backdrop than a major player (the main villain isn’t Bolivian, but the corrupt official who agrees to his schemes is). On the other, certain stereotypes are not invoked – cocaine is rarely mentioned, for instance. The research for the plot clearly hit on important issues in Bolivia – water scarcity, concern over appropriate use of natural resources, fear of untapped mineral wealth enriching outsiders. So it is a mixed bag…I am glad that some of the points of contention in Bolivia were highlighted, but much else could have been done to add nuance and so forth. But that isn’t really what 007 is about, now is it?

Other reactions?

DEA operations in Bolivia suspended indefinitely

On Saturday Evo announced that DEA operations in Bolivia were to be suspended indefinitely because they are suspected of being spies and supporting the attempted “coup” in September, though it is unclear if DEA personnel would be expelled (articles here and here). There is a short article by BBC News on this, but I could not find much else in any of the major papers, probably because the election is dominating news coverage.

Extending the ATPDEA

I’m posting a link from Blog from Bolivia about the negative consequences an end to the US-Bolivia trade agreement, ATPDEA (Andean Trade Preference Act), would have on workers in El Alto factories.

Bush wants to end the trade pact because of the disagreements he has with the Evo government, but Congress passed the extension about a month ago. Now hearings are being held in Washington to decide what to do, since Bush is determined to cut the trade agreement.

It’s a difficult situation. Do we really want Bolivia to be depenent on the US? This agreement is linked to coca erradication programs and the “war on drugs”. Bush hasn’t threatened to take away the agreement from Colombia who hasn’t been particularly successful with getting their “drug problem” under control. It does seem to be retaliation for Evo’s decision to remove the US Ambassador. Perhaps Bolivia could establish agreements with other “friendly” countries, like Brazil or Venezuela? Watching the video on the Blog for Bolivia link, however, does make you feel for those workers. It is always the poorest who face the greatest consequences for these high-level decisions.

Anyway, if you think the ATPDEA should be extended please sign the petition on Blog for Bolivia and share this video with other people you know.

Responses to U.N. on coca leaf

Predictably, there have been a number of responses to the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board’s report that we reported on earlier.  It is also unsurprising that all of them agree that this report was ridiculous and uninformed at best, and downright offensive at worst.

The AP is reporting that the Bolivian government intends to invest in promoting legal products made from coca leaf.  Open Veins accuses the U.N. of relying on racist science of the 1950s.  Jim Schultz gives a short history of use of the leaf, commenting that the U.N. attempt to ban coca is “roughly akin to banning corn because it might be used to make moonshine.” Sabino Mendoza, an Aymara man in constituent assembly, is quoted in the Financial Times asking why the U.N. doesn’t ban Coca-cola, which is flavored with coca leaf, if they are so interested in getting rid of it altogether.

I have not seen a single report supporting the U.N. decision (please post a link in the comments if you have).  That should tell the U.N. something.  It is time to reconsider how we think about coca, and time to end the War on Drugs.