The Cochabamba region, long the heartland of Bolivian coca-leaf production, now appears to be emerging as a cannabis cultivation zone.
The government’s Special Force for the Struggle Against Narco-Trafficking (FELCN) have seized eight metric tons of marijuana across the region this October. Several campesinos were arrested, and crops burned in the fields at various locations.
Bolivian newspaper La Razón named the municipalities of Omereque and Mizque as the site of major raids. Both lie on the edge of the rainforest—just where the Cochabamba plateau drops down into the Amazon. This transition zone is the country’s key coca production area, but now more and more cocaleros (coca leaf growers) are apparently turning to cannabis.
According to official reports cited by Prensa Latina, from January to August the FELCN seized 114 tons of drugs in 7, 874 raids across the country. Vice Minister for Social Defense and Controlled Substances Felipe Cáceres said that troops from the armed forces took part in the operations as well as the FELCN, an entity of the National Police. A breakdown of the kinds of drugs seized was not provided.
This year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) praised Bolivia’s progress in reducing illegal coca crops, which decreased from 31,000 hectares in 2010 to 20,200 in 2015. Government Minister Carlos Romero boasted of a “sustained, permanent, progressive and eradication and upward process.” He also pointed out that his country now has the smallest area under coca cultivation in the Andean region.
Pressure on coca fear may be prompting campesinos to switch to cannabis—although that is now obviously starting to come under pressure now too. As with similar developments recently reported from Colombia’s coca zones, campesinos may also be turning to cannabis because it affords them greater independence from the regional cartels—who are interested in the far more lucrative cocaine trade.