Coca Sí, Cocaína No | Los Yungas, Bolivia

Tatiana Perez, right, and her mother pick coca in the hills surrounding Chicaloma, Bolivia. In the distance, a patchwork of "cocales" - or plots of land used for growing coca - covers the mountains.

Tatiana Perez, right, and her mother pick coca in the hills surrounding Chicaloma, Bolivia. In the distance, a patchwork of "cocales" - or plots of land used for growing coca - covers the mountains.

This project is an exploration of President Evo Morales’ “Coca Sí, Cocaína No” program that sought to draw a distinction between the cultivation of coca, and the production and trafficking of cocaine. While based in Bolivia for a year and a half between 2007-2008, we set out to examine what effect the initiative was having on coca-growing communities, both as a drug-fighting strategy and as a catalyst for economic growth. But perhaps more importantly, we also set out to create a human portrait of some of the coca farming communities in Bolivia’s Yungas region, so that we might better understand who was being affected by the United States’ War on Drugs. We wanted to show the faces on the other end of our country’s insatiable appetite for illegal substances, like cocaine.

Though President Morales' “zero cocaine” program continues to work against illegal cocaine production and trafficking, it has also sought to promote the use of coca for legal and traditional purposes. Bolivia’s indigenous Andean peoples have been chewing and using the plant for centuries for ceremonial purposes, to stave off hunger, boost energy, minimize the effects of altitude, and treat an assortment of ailments. Morales’ program has helped create new opportunities for legal coca use, including markets for new products such as cookies, liquors, shampoos, and natural remedies. Coca's use is so widespread, that the leaf is one of the most common cultural symbols of the nation, and many Bolivians view an attack on coca as an attack on their heritage.

Since we began our project in early 2008, Morales’ program has achieved marked success, and in 2011 the U.S. government reported that coca cultivation had decreased overall by 13%. Challenges certainly remain—more cocaine paste is now trafficked into Bolivia from Peru, and cocaine production in the country is now higher than in years past. But Morales—himself a former cocalero—continues to walk a fine line in promoting the traditional uses of the coca leaf while also proving to the international community that his country is committed to the fight against illegal drug trafficking.

 

 

This project was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

 

Photo Essays:

NACLA Report on the Americas - Summer Issue 2014 (photo essay)

 

Radio Stories:

PRI's/BBC's The World - "¡Coca Sí!" (pt. 1 of two part series)

PRI's/BBC's The World - "¡Cocaína No!" (pt. 2, with audio slideshow)

World Vision Report - "Legal Coca Farming (with audio slideshow)

 

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Dispatches - "¡Coca Sí, Cocaína No!" (unavailable)

 

Print Stories: 

Virginia Quarterly Review - "Coca Sí, Cocaína No" (print feature with photos)

Guernica - "Growing Controversy" (print feature with photos)

 

Audio Slideshows:

The Walrus - "Coca Sí, Cocaína No" (unavailable)