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Bolivia and Colombia are located in South America. One of the major economic activities in these two countries is the cultivation of coca. The coca plant has thin leaves which are oval and opaque. Hence, it resembles a blackthorn bush. Coca is a major cash crop in both Colombia and Bolivia. These countries have been the major suppliers of coca since 1980.
The coca plant is used as a raw material in the manufacture of cocaine and soft drinks like coca-cola. Coca is also used as a medicine and for religious, as well as, cultural purposes. The United States of America is a major market for cocaine which is manufactured in Bolivia and Colombia.
The cultivation of coca has adversely affected the Bolivian and Colombian populations. Consequently, the Colombian and Bolivian governments have collaborated with the United States of America in an attempt to impede the cultivation of coca. This paper examines the geographical and political impacts of coca eradication in Colombia and Bolivia. It also analyzes the regional and agricultural changes that are associated with coca eradication.
Geographical Impacts of Coca Eradication
In 2000, the Colombian government signed Plan Colombia in collaboration with the United States of America. This was an initiative to eradicate the cultivation of coca. The signing of Plan Colombia led to adoption of aerial spraying of the coca plantations using glyphosate herbicide which kills the coca plants. Aerial spraying of coca plantations is conducted using airplanes or helicopters. When glyphosate is sprayed on a target plant, it is absorbed into the plant’s leaves.
Once the glyphosate herbicide has been absorbed into a plant’s leaves, it hinders the production of protein in the plant. Consequently, the plant’s growth is inhibited. Initially, glyphosate was considered to be less harmful to the environment because it is water soluble. However, according to a recent research which was carried out by the United States Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, aerial spraying of glyphosate has the potential of causing instant negative and long term environmental effects.
First, indiscriminate spraying of coca plantations has led to the destruction of some food crops like yucca and the loss of soil fertility (Jackiewicz and Bosco 123-124). Once a field is sprayed, its chances of yielding crops are reduced. Aerial spraying of glyphosate has also led to the damage of plants which are used for medicinal purposes by the local population. Second, spraying of glyphosate herbicide on coca plantations has caused contamination in water bodies like rivers.
This has led to the death of aquatic animals. Concisely, once the chemical is released into a water body, it inhibits the growth of water plants and causes the death of different species of aquatic animals. Consumption of water from the contaminated rivers has led to the death of both wild and domestic animals. Third, aerial spraying of coca plantations has caused air pollution. Consequently, a number of people have been reported to have respiratory problems, dizziness, skin infections and burning eyes.
Aerial spraying of coca plantation has also contributed to further deforestation. Most of the peasant coca farmers have moved deeper into the Amazon rainforest in order to acquire new land for coca cultivation (Jackiewicz and Bosco 116-118). In this process of migration, most parts of the Amazon rainforest have been cleared and burnt.
Political Impacts of Coca Eradication
Most Bolivians and Colombians have been against coca eradication. They consider coca growing as part of their culture and a means to economic survival. Due to this reason, the process of coca eradication has been greatly opposed by the indigenous populations of Bolivia and Colombia.
Protests against coca eradication have posed a major threat to Bolivia’s political stability. For example, Evo Morales who was the coca union leader almost took over the government in 2002 because he promised the Bolivian population that he would allow coca cultivation in his regime.
In Colombia, a number of cartels have been formed due to the high income from coca. Medellin was one of the major cartels which strongly opposed the coca eradication process. The cartel was headed by Pablo Escobar who was highly recognized by the indigenous population.
Pablo Escobar sought political power within Colombia, but he never succeeded. His defeat resulted into a war between the Colombian government and the Medellin cartel. This led to a state of political instability in Colombia which was characterized by “extreme violence in the form of assassinations and indiscriminate bomb attacks” (Fukumi 137-138). The war between the Colombian government and the coca cartels created a serious political and economic crisis in the country.
Regional and Agricultural Changes due to Coca Eradication
New set of crops have been introduced in Bolivia and Colombia because of coca eradication. The initiative is meant to enable the farmers whose coca plantations are destroyed through aerial spraying to be in a position to earn a living by growing licit crops. Some of the new crops which have been introduced include pineapples and passion fruits.
However, many farmers lack the skills to cultivate the new set of crops. Additionally, these crops take quite a long time before they are harvested as compared to coca. For instance, pineapples and passion fruits take not less than two and eight years respectively to bare fruits.
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As a result, most farmers have been negatively affected by the substitution of crops. Majority of the farmers lack the means of survival. This has led to an increase in malnutrition in the country. “The rapid pace of the Bolivian government’s eradication campaign has created gaps between eradication and alternative development assistance that can leave peasant farmers without livelihoods” (Shutz and Draper 237-239).
The Bolivian peasant farmers have made attempts to request USAID to allow them to cultivate a variety of crops in addition to some coca. However, these attempts have not achieved their objectives. One of USAID’s requirements is that the farmers must completely destroy their coca plantations in order to receive any form of assistance from it.
Despite the fact that farmers have embraced the licit crops, they are still facing transportation challenges. Most of the markets are distant. Therefore, farmers have to incur a lot of expenses in transporting their produce to the markets where legal agricultural products are sold. As a result of this challenge, returns from legal agricultural products have become unpredictable.
The price of coffee which is one of Colombia’s major agricultural products has remained unpredictable. This volatility can be attributed to low consumption and oversupply of coffee in the international market which has led to low coffee prices. Therefore, Colombia’s revenue from coffee has reduced by 50% as from 1992. Consequently, most of Colombian farmers have migrated from coffee plantations to regions which are more stable economically.
However, coca eradication has led to some developments in Colombia and Bolivia. For instance, infrastructure has been improved in the region as an attempt to enable farmers to have access to markets. Most of the projects have been funded by USAID and the World Bank.
Through the funding by USAID, “a 40 mile paved road connecting parts of Chapare to a regional market in Santa Cruz, as well as, expanding Santa Cruz airport, significantly improved access to markets” (Preston 157). Therefore, development of infrastructure has improved communication and coordination in the region.
There have been attempts by leaders from Bolivia and Colombia to help in the process of coca eradication. For instance, in 1998 president Hugo Banzer introduced Plan Dignidad (Plan Dignity). In this plan, he aimed at totally eliminating coca. This plan succeeded to some extent in Chapare which has major coca plantations in Bolivia.
Presently, leaders from Colombia and Bolivia continue to fight the cultivation of coca in collaboration with international bodies and nations such as the United States of America. The leaders are trying to develop alternative ways of eradicating coca.
From the above discussion, the process of coca eradication has posed adverse impacts on Bolivia and Colombia. These impacts have been witnessed in almost all sectors of the two economies. Therefore, the Bolivian and Colombian governments should adopt alternative ways or methods of eradicating coca plantations in order to avert the increase in political, as well as, economic instability.
Fukumi, Sayaka. Cocaine Trafficking in Latin America. New York: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. Print.
Jackiewicz, Edward and Fernando Bosco. Placing Latin America: Contemporary Themes in Geography. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012. Print.
Preston, David. Latin American Development: Geographical Perspectives. New York: Longman, 2000. Print.
Shutz, Jim and Melissa Draper. Dignity and Defiance: Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globolization. Carlifornia: University of California, 2008. Print.