By Ruxandra Guidi for Aljazeera. Cochabamba, Bolivia – Small and landlocked Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America.
For centuries, its majority indigenous population has grown and chewed the coca leaf – much like other people around the world drink coffee or tea – to increase productivity and stave off hunger while working in the fields.
An estimated one-third of Bolivians today consume the leaf in its natural form.
Coca, of course, is also the main ingredient in cocaine. Because of growing demand, coca production expanded exponentially in the 1980s, much of it flowing into the international cocaine market. This set the stage for three decades of US-financed eradication programmes in Los Yungas and especially the Chapare, Bolivia’s two main growing regions.
Peasants became the main target of military and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) missions, yet the violence, killings, and political instability continued – and overall cocaine production fluctuated, but did not decrease.