This is a jungle swamp in northern Bolivia.
I am following two men who are taking me to their hidden cocaine factory. Bolivia is one
of the worlds biggest producers of cocaine paste. A new indigenous government here is
proclaiming a dramatic and successful strategy in the fight against the cocaine trade. I
have come to speak to the people involved and see for myself if indeed the cocaine war
is being won in Bolivia. These are the coca leaves that we step on.
And then the juice we get we mix it. Only after one hour. This is it, the paste.
Roberto told me that there no longer existed the huge Colombian run factories of the 90s
but businesses were smaller now and run by local individuals. I asked if the new government
had made things easier or harder.. Now. There is more control. Before the local
landowners rented places like this. But they wont anymore. Now we have to do it without
their knowledge. That’s why nobody must see our route here. I left Roberto crushing coca leaves for the liquid that would soon travel to Miami, New
York and London. Yet it is the alternative cultivation and the traditional use of the
coca leaves, such as coca tea, and mate, that is at the heart of the new Bolivian governments
policy. The Coca leaf to the Bolivian government is
a cultural issue and part of our identity. Therefore we are obliged to dignify the coca
leaf, because the coca leaf in its natural state is not a narcotic. And the coca leaf
producers are not drug traffickers. Now with our new government, we are trying
to legalise the coca leaf. For us the coca leaf is sacred. We need it
to buy clothes and other things. Without coca there is sadness in our lives. Its everything
for us. The new president of Bolivia Evo Morales used
to be a coca farmer. His promise to legalize traditional coca growing has ensured massive
popular support. The power base of the new government are the tens of thousands of militant
coca farmers. But his slogan of Coca Yes and Cocaine no has also sceptism and worry.
If we have this very permissive policy of let the cocaleros grow the leaf, we are going
to have another problem. No every cocalero has the right to grow their own cato, the
communities and the families are making cocaine. We don’t have cartels, we don’t have terrorists,
but we have this traffic that is very difficult to fight with.
The United States are now pressuring Bolivia to avoid expanding coca leaf production. But
according to the UN, the jungles of Bolivia are officially producing fewer tonnes of cocaine
paste.Those being tasked in finding the jungle cocaine factories, are the Bolivian Counter
Narcotic Commandoes, known as the FELCN. These commandoes have a fearsome reputation.
They also have a terrible human rights record against the cocalero farmers and Indigenous
population. Someone has dumped coca around here? You know
where? But have you heard something about it eh?
Maybe someone from this area knows, but we are not from here.
The irony for many of these soldiers is that their new president and commander in chief,
was once a cocalero farmer and seen as enemy. Many of the soldiers told me they were sceptical
of the policy of allowing more coca to be grown but they were given strict instructions
not give their opinions to the press. Later that day I accompanied the commandoes
as they discovered
a jungle cocaine factory. So this is what they have found the Bolivian
commandos, a medium size cocaine base factory, the workers were not here when we got here.
Despite threats from the United States, which has reduced official aid, Bolivia is at a
genuine cross roads in fighting cocaine production. From what I saw, tiny rural production farms
still exist across the Bolivian jungles. But the bold nationwide plans of exploiting legal
uses for coca, seem to be bearing fruit – both in reducing national cocaine production, and
giving farmers a realistic and economic alternative.