WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
4 Nov 2013 | Commentary | News

Bolivia is not a Narco-state

A narco-state does not exist in Bolivia,” ran a recent headline in a leading Santa Cruz newspaper, El Deber. The author? The equivalent of the European Union Ambassador to Bolivia, Tim Torlot.  Apparently Mary Anastasia O’Grady had not read the interview. In her recent Wall Street Journal column, “Bolivia’s Descent into Rogue Status,” O’Grady confects a string of absurd accusations about how Bolivia has become a “hub for organized crime and a safe haven for terrorists.” These include references to “the Tehran connection,” a “repressive narco-state,” and “African extremists . . .joining the fray.” Alleged evidence for the latter is that a “partially burned body of a mutilated black man was found near the Brazilian border.” In fact, all of the accusations are based on innuendo and hearsay.

The alleged terrorist connection merits no further analysis. Suffice it to say that Bolivia is barely mentioned in the U.S. Department of State’s latest Country Reports on Terrorism. Bolivia does face a very real problem with drug trafficking. As reported coca cultivation and estimated cocaine production have decreased in Colombia, Peru has emerged as the region’s main drug trafficking concern. Cheap coca paste is flowing across the border from Peru into Bolivia, where it is either transited directly through to Brazil and Argentina or manufactured into cocaine and then sent on.

In other words, Bolivia is now bearing the cost of the results of drug policies implemented in Colombia, which has shifted coca production to Peru, and in Peru, which is eradicating thousands of hectares of coca each year but fails miserably at interdicting either coca paste or cocaine. And as long as demand for cocaine remains robust, supply will be readily available. Ultimate success is reducing the flow of cocaine out of the Andean region depends not on any one country’s efforts, but on significantly reducing worldwide demand for it.

O’Grady states that “United Nations data show that cocaine production is up in Bolivia since 2006.”  But in fact the United Nations has not published estimated cocaine production statistics since 2009 and the U.S. government reported an 18 percent decrease in estimated cocaine production in Bolivia from 2011 to 2012. For two years in a row, net coca cultivation has declined, earning Bolivia high praise from European and UNODC officials. Since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration left Bolivia, illicit drug seizures have increased significantly. UNODC also recently praised the Bolivian government’s efforts against money laundering.

When asked to define a narco-state, Ambassador Torlot replied, “It is a state where the government is in the hands of drug traffickers and does not do anything against them. That is not the case in Bolivia.”

U.S-Bolivian relations remain strained for reasons too numerous to recount here. Regardless of the criticisms one might have of U.S. policy toward Bolivia or Bolivia’s policy toward the United States, it is in the interests of both countries—as each country has expressed at different times in the past—to maintain open channels of communication and, ultimately, to exchange ambassadors once again, as was underscored by the U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Bolivia, Larry Memmott, in a Nov. 3 interview. What will move both countries in that direction is fact-based public discourse.

Thanks to Kathryn Ledebur, Director of the Andean Information Network, for assistance with this commentary.

Photo: Sucre, Bolivia, courtesy RaMaOrLi