BIF News Briefing, November 2013
1. Coca report
2. Tenth anniversary of 'Black October'
3. Conflict over reallocation of parliamentary seats
4. Diplomatic and economic news
5. John Murphy
1. Coca report
A long-awaited report was published last week on coca consumption in Bolivia, after significant delays. The report presented the findings of a large-scale research project financed by the EU, and was originally due to be presented in 2010. It shows that around 30% of Bolivians regularly consume coca leaves for medicinal, religious, work-related and social purposes, and that the acreage required to supply Bolivia’s domestic consumption of coca leaf is around 14,705 Ha – in excess of the 12,000 Ha permitted by Law 1008, the controversial law which regulates coca cultivation in Bolivia, but less than the 25,000 Ha currently under cultivation. The study also found that more coca is consumed in urban areas than in the countryside, and that more coca is used in the eastern lowlands than in the western Altiplano (33% compared to 29%).  This probably reflects large-scale migration of people from the highlands to the east.
Although consumption of coca leaves has gone up by 15% in the last seven years, coca cultivation has decreased steadily in Bolivia for the last 24 months, at a higher rate than in other coca-producing countries like neighbouring Peru. However, difficulties have dogged the ministry for coca. Luis Cutipa, who was in charge of the directorate for industrialisation of coca (DIGCOIN) has been accused of channelling coca leaves into drug production and arraigned on corruption charges. Former vice-minister for coca Dionisio Núñez was recently charged over irregularities in payments but released on bail.
On November 4th, confrontations between coca growers and an eradication task force in Apolo, La Paz left four operatives dead, an unusually violent incident which drew public attention, while the USA ‘decertified’ Bolivia for the sixth year running, claiming that it was failing to comply with obligations to combat drug trafficking. The decertification is widely viewed as a political move, given that the US’s own figures show that cocaine production has been reduced by 12% in Bolivia in the last two years, and other coca- and cocaine-producing countries such as Peru and Colombia have faced no such admonition.
2. Tenth anniversary of Black October
Bolivians across the country, but particularly in the city of El Alto, marked the tenth anniversary of the ‘Black October’ uprisings, during which at least 67 people were killed and hundreds injured by the army, in repression of protests over gas sales. The uprising of October 2003 against the government of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada over plans to sell Bolivia’s natural gas to the USA via Chile led to a decisive change of political consensus away from neoliberalism.  This followed orders by President Sánchez de Lozada  for the army to fire on protestors and then, when deaths at the hands of the troops intensified the protests rather than quelling them, he resigned and fled the country. The 17th of October 2003, when Carlos Mesa assumed the presidency and pledged a number of measures including a referendum on gas nationalisation, was a turning point for Bolivia and this was reflected in public commemoration and evaluation of whether the ‘October agenda’, demands issued by social movements at that time, had been achieved.  The government marked a ‘Day of National Dignity’, while the families of those killed in the confrontations held a small march, ‘Ten Years of Impunity'. The federation of neighbourhood organisations in El Alto, which had played a pivotal role in the conflict, protested a lack of improvement in living standards in El Alto in the interim.
Along with former defence minister Carlos Sánchez Berzain, Sánchez de Lozada still resides in the USA, whose government refused a request for his extradition in 2012.  The Bolivian government is currently preparing another extradition request to be issued at the end of this year. A petition signed by a number of international organisations and individuals was presented to Secretary of State John Kerry to support the request, arguing against impunity. Since Sánchez de Lozada has US citizenship and strong allies in Washington, it is unlikely that he will be extradited.
3. Conflicts over redistribution of parliamentary seats
Stoppages, strikes and other scattered protests took place in several departments in September and October over the reallocation of electoral districts following the publication of the 2012 census figures.  The census results, which showed higher rates of population growth in some regions than others, led to a reduction in the number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies for Beni, Chuquisaca and Potosí, who lost one seat each, whereas Santa Cruz gained three. The stoppages were ineffective and did not succeed in gaining wider traction: the reforms to voting districts passed into law on October 7th.
4. Diplomatic and economic news
Bolivia will be the chair of the G77+ China group of countries within the UN for 2014, starting in January.  The secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, visited Bolivia last week to discuss coca, crime and other issues. Opposition leaders pressed Insulza for comment on the legal decision to allow Evo Morales to run for a third term; he responded that the OAS has no facility to pronounce on internal legal matters in member countries and that it would respect the decision of the Bolivian Constitutional Court.
Economic growth for the previous quarter stood at 6.85%, making Bolivia the second fastest-growing country in South America: inflation is also relatively high, at 6.45% for the first ten months of the year.  The annualised figure will show growth of around 8.5%.  Growth outstripped the predictions of both the Bolivian government and the IMF. Credit rating agencies Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s have given Bolivia a solid ‘BB-’ rating, predicting continued stability and steady growth.  The economy is predicted to keep growing by over 5% next year.
5.John Murphy
The Bolivia Information Forum is sad to report the death of our Treasurer, John Murphy, who passed away on November 1st. John contributed hard work, expertise and good humour to the Forum for several years before becoming ill. He is very much missed, and we send condolences to his wife and children. 
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