On Wednesday, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales signed into a law a bill passed by the country’s congress that nearly doubles the area of national territory open to coca leaf cultivation.
Law 906, or the General Law of Coca Leaf, envisions new legal commercial and industrial uses for the leaf. It replaces the far more restrictive Law 1008, passed during the Reagan-led drug war militarization of the Andes in 1988—when Bolivia’s transition to democracy after years of military dictatorship was still new.
“The hour has arrived to bury Law 1008, which sought to bury coca leaf in Bolivia,” the president’s office said in a statement. “This is an historic day.”
The signing ceremony at the presidential palace was witnessed by a delegation of coca-growers.
Law 906 designates 22,000 hectares open to coca cultivation, compared to 12,000 under Law 1008, which was officially known as the Regulatory Law for Coca and Controlled Substances.
Significantly, the new law substantially opens the Chapare region, on the eastern jungle frontier of the Cochabamba department, previously targeted for aggressive eradication efforts.
Traditionally, legal coca cultivation has been mostly confined to the Los Yungas region, on the slopes where the Altiplano drops toward the Amazon in the La Paz department, just north of the capital.
Under the new law, 14,300 hectares will be open to coca in La Paz and 7,700 in Cochabamba.
Bolivian daily La Razón reports that the law was developed with input from cocalero organizations, including Council of Peasant Federations of Los Yungas. However, there was dissent by some Yungas growers, who say their region produces the superior leaf and fear losing their market share to Chapare producers.
ADEPCOCA is demanding that the area under legal cultivation in Chapare remain confined to its current 3,200 hectares. Gutiérrez threatened to call a national referendum “to ask the Bolivian people which coca should be consumed, coca from Yungas or coca from Trópico,” meaning Chapare.