President-elect Evo Morales traveled to the heart of Bolivia coca-growing region to reinforce a campaign theme: he will not permit the widespread destruction of the country's coca crop. The pledge from the leftist leader drew enthusiastic applause from thousands of coca growers Wednesday night many of whom help Morales win this month's vote by the largest margin in recent Bolivian history.
"We are winning the green battle: the coca leaf is beating the North American dollar," said Morales, a frequent critic of U.S. policy in the region. "I guarantee you, there will be no zero coca."
The 46-year-old Aymara Indian who won the Dec. 18 balloting with a decisive 54 percent of the vote, campaigned on promises to stand up to the U.S. on the eradication of coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine. He repeated his promise to allow coca cultivation, an activity that helps sustain nearly 30,000 families in the area.
Morales says his goal is to crack down on drug trafficking while promoting legal markets for coca leaf. The president-elect has said farmers in Chapare should be allowed to plant 3.7 acres per family of coca leaf.
That proposal has been rejected by the United States, which says much of the coca produced in Bolivia as in the other major producing nations of Peru and Colombia is refined into cocaine and eventually makes its way into the U.S, reports the AP. I.L.