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Dissertation on Coca Plant Culture Effecting Drug Policy

Info: 8992 words (36 pages) Dissertation
Published: 11th Nov 2021

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Tagged: Cultural StudiesSocial Policy


The role of coca leaves in Latin American culture precedes the production of cocaine as a popular drug. In certain Latin American countries such as Bolivia, it is the key ingredient to counter hunger, altitude sickness, pain, and much more, thus becoming a stable in some Latin American cultures. The cultivation of coca has been an ongoing topic of discussion among scholars, students, professors, and people interested in Latin America and/or drugs. Bolivian’s response to drug policy was less draconian than Colombia’s drug policy. Understanding why the two countries reacted differently then becomes an important question. Scholars have offered several arguments to explain the differences – culture, social organization and US intervention.

In this paper, I argue that the domestic policy differences between Bolivia and Colombia are explained through their cultural commitment to raising the coca plant. To Bolivians, it is ingrained into their culture that coca should not be an illegal drug thus explains why Bolivian’s domestic policies have been less draconian towards drugs. To Colombians, coca holds no cultural affinity, it is primarily used as economic profit. Because of the increase in cocaine production, among other factors, Colombia’s domestic policies are considered to be more draconian towards drugs.

To evaluate the relationship that Colombia and Bolivia have towards coca production in their cultural and historic roots, I perform a qualitative comparative case study of Latin America, specifically focusing on Colombia and Bolivia. This specific pairing provides variation and control, Bolivia is a small country compared to Colombia and relies on coca and cocaine to make up a significant part of the economy, while Colombia, being a bigger and more developed country, has different modes of income and is not as heavily reliant on cocaine production as its main source of production. The countries faced similar obstacles such as corruption and US intervention, as well as social and cultural organizations. To show how the two countries differed in their policy response, I used data on regional coca cultivation and coca leaf cultivation in Colombia and Bolivia from UNODC, EMCDDA and dw.org. Coca production from DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), percentages and statistics of indigenous people in Bolivia and Colombia from World Bank, information of Bolivia’s coca reduction and their cultural attachment to the coca leaf from WOLA (Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americans), and lastly, information from Brookings to understand how culture in the two countries played a role in different policy responses. I found through my case analysis that although culture played a significant role in explaining why Bolivia had a different attachment to the growing of coca than the Colombians do, there are other factors that could have been better to explain the differences. Through my extensive research on this topic, the findings that I collected showed that I could not fully support my hypothesis.

This study leads me to ask more questions about the responses both countries have. Policy makers, politicians, and scholars should consider this topic to be important to foreign policy and relationships between Latin America and the U.S. because they will could have a better understanding why these two countries; Bolivia and Colombia reacted differently. By understanding the different factors that come into play, and the results they had, they could change their approach to countries to better result in a better response. With the research provided, we can hopefully see that there are a lot more variables that can lead us closer to the situation. This paper will be structured into several sections: first, the literature review; followed by the research design; then the empirical analysis and lastly, the conclusion.


Understanding Domestic Policy Responses Through Three Schools of Thought

Research of domestic policy responses to coca production in Latin American countries, specifically in Bolivia and Colombia have significantly increased over the years. Scholars have looked at these two countries as a way to compare and understand the different outcomes. First, Bolivia and Colombia are part of the top three countries that produce coca for foreign consuming countries such as the United States. Second, these two countries hold contrasting views of coca/cocaine and different levels of production and policy choice allow for an interesting comparison.

Scholars have argued that there are multiple explanations to the production of coca that lead countries to have various domestic policy responses. These explanations can be categorized into 3 different schools of thought. The first school of thought focuses on culture in Colombia and Bolivia. Coca in its natural form is viewed as a more cultural aspect to the Bolivian culture whereas in Colombia, the coca leaf holds no cultural ties. Scholars have explored the historic and cultural significance of drug consumption and production in Bolivia to understand the reason behind a less draconian policy response compared to Colombia. (UNODC; Leons and Sanabria, 1998; Gumucio, 1995; Tate, 2015) The second school of thought focuses on social organization within Bolivia and Colombia. Bolivians are more organized in their resistance due to strong trade unions and organizations that put pressure on the government. They also elected a president who was a former coca farmer, thus the government became more relatable with a mutual understanding for coca cultivation. Whereas trade unions and organizations in Colombia were weak and unable to resist the movement towards illegalization, nor did the peasants have influence over the government. (Guttierrez, 2014; Francisco Thoumi, 1995; Leons and Sanabria, 1998; Youngers and Rosin, 2004) Lastly, the last school of thought focuses on U.S. intervention within Bolivia and Colombia. The U.S. intervened in multiple Latin American countries, including Bolivia and Colombia, as a way to reduce coca production. The pressure to eradicate coca production can be argued as being driven by the U.S. and motivated by the ambitions of American politicians. Both Bolivia and Colombia have been targets of U.S. intervention, the difference between the two countries is their response to US Aid. Although the U.S. was successful in Bolivia initially, it wasn’t until recently that Bolivia decided to reject their aid, whereas Colombia continued to accept the aid. (Lee and Clawson, 1993; Koops, 2009; Zunes, 2001; Solaun, 2002) While each school of thought provides convincing cases to the outcome, I believe the second school of thought, culture, is the best case to explain the reasoning behind the different domestic policies in Bolivia and Colombia.

A Scholar’s Reasoning: Strengths and Weaknesses


Based on the first school of thought, scholars have argued that culture plays a significant role in understanding the differences in domestic policy response. Many scholars expand on the idea that the history behind coca cultivation and coca production in Bolivia is primarily due to the role of coca in the Andean region. (Leons and Sanabria, 1998; Gumucio, 1995) Leons and Sanabria and Gumucio found the coca leaf to be deeply rooted within Bolivian society and culture, trekking back to the colonial period. (Leons and Sanabria, 1998) According to their findings, the majority of Bolivians see coca as a positive aspect, using it for medicinal purposes, social purposes and other beneficial purposes. Thus failing to understand the negative stigma that the U.S. forces upon the drug. Because of Bolivian’s cultural commitment to the plant and significant role in the economy, the majority of the population, including the president, were not interested in repressing coca, thus created alternative, less draconian policies such as “Coca Si, Cocaine No” and “Cato 2004” (Grisaffi, 2015)

In contrast, Colombia holds vastly different perspectives of coca and cocaine cultivation. Colombia, known to hold the top seat in coca/cocaine production, holds no cultural affinity towards the coca leaf (UNODC, Brookings). Their involvement seems to primarily be in the illicit market for cocaine trafficking, leaving production up to other countries such as Bolivia (UNODC, 2010). Scholars argued that Colombia’s involvement in the illicit drug industry harms the economy as violence and drug trade start melting into Colombia’s society and economy (Tate, 2015; Holmes and Gutierrez, 2006). Colombia’s failed attempt to fight drug cartels, organized crime, and the illicit market created a shift in relationships, thus result in Colombia’s domestic policies towards drugs more draconian.

Social Organization

Bolivia and Colombia’s social organization can be thought of as different sides of the spectrum. Scholars identify the social organization between the two countries through trade unions, NGOs and social resistance. (Thoumi, 1995; Guttierrez, 2014; Gootenberg, 1999) Colombian’s economy has prospered due to its increasing involvement in coca cultivation and production. The drug industry can be divided into two sections: the success in the illegal market, which is due to Colombian’s political economy and the illegal drug industry itself. Thoumi argues that due to the amount of illicit drug activity in Colombia, social organization in Colombia has been weak, resulting in a more draconian approach by the government. As he states in his findings, “The drug trade has in fact weakened the country’s economy by fostering violence and corruption, undermining legal activity, frightening off foreign investment, and all by destroying the social fabric” (Thoumi, 1995)

Based on other scholars’ findings, the Putumayo’s in Colombia used numerous avenues of political advocacy to create relationships and alliances with local residents, local government officials and NGO’s in order to have influence on policies. (Guittierrez, 2014) Instead of allowing them to have an opinion, they were isolated as illegitimate political actors and were not allowed to have any influence on policy decision or the political process. As Tate states, “The Putumayo’s characterized the state as an unresponsive traitor and the coca-farming local residents as aspiring citizens” (Tate, 2015) The goal of these NGOs, grassroots allies and social resistance organizations was a way for peasants to gain infrastructure, propose social investment and ultimately, put an end to forced eradication with an alternative development policy for peacekeeping and a less violent solution to coca production and cultivation. However, when that failed, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), started to target CMDR leaders by constructing marches, organizing big resistances and road blocks and even going so far to resort back to violence in order to demand the assistance promised to them by the government. (NYT, 2017)

While in Bolivia, social resistance was seen to be more organized, persistent, better coordinated and executed (Leons and Sanabria, 1998; Guttierrez, 2014). The people of Bolivia were seen to gather together as a form of social resistance through organized hunger strikes, marches, roadblocks and other means. People of higher authority status such as President Morales, were more receptive to coca and even participated as a member of a coca activist group to establish legalization over coca production. (Guttierrez, 2014) In addition, Guttierrez (2014) stresses the role and strength of trade unions in Bolivia. They established trade unions for people who wanted to produce coca, which helped organize and control society. By doing so, the trade unions became an enormous globalization instrument, which doesn’t exist in Colombia.

However, social organization cannot be the school of thought that best explains why Bolivia and Colombia have different domestic policies. The difference between the responses is not so much about whether their social organizations were powerful enough to resist the government, but rather that Bolivians seem to have a different attachment to the coca leaf and coca cultivation than Colombians. Thus, the best variable to explain the outcome would be culture.

U.S. Intervention

According to Youngers and Ledebur (2004), Latin America have always been seen as the core source of cocaine production to foreign countries. They argue that the drug war in Latin America resulted in more damage to the economy than offered solutions. The purpose of the U.S. drug control intervening in Latin American countries was to find a way to reduce the illegal drugs to zero (Youngers and Ledebur, 2004). Generally speaking, Latin American countries have held the position that cocaine consumption and other illicit drugs in the U.S. is mainly an American problem and not their creation. As long as there are American consumers, Latin America would continuously respond to the demand of the market. The authors found that because of the U.S. strong desire to end cocaine cultivation, they resorted to violence and forceful means, such as, aerial spraying and manual eradication (Youngers and Ledebur, 2004).

The U.S. had different responses from Bolivia and Colombia in terms of providing them with methods of decreasing coca cultivation. According to some scholars and news articles, after President Morales and the Bolivian government rejected USAID, illegal coca cultivation gradually decreased and became controlled. (TIME, 2008; Zunes, 2001) President Morales believed that Bolivia was capable of finding alternative and peaceful solutions to combat illegal drug production. Because the coca leaf holds traditional values in Bolivian society, the Bolivian government decided to reject the U.S. involvement in eradicating coca cultivation as it not only damaged their economy, but the U.S. military-led forced eradication reduced their population as well (TIME, 2008).

Unlike Bolivia, Colombia decided to accept USAID. Taken into account the difference in size of Bolivia and Colombia, Colombia has multiple exports and businesses to prosper their economy other than coca, taking US Aid would not make as significant a dent in coca production as it would in Bolivia, a country where the economy is formed around coca cultivation. Bruce Bagley analyzes the U.S. involvement on ‘War on Drugs’ in Latin America, touching upon Colombia. His findings lead him to identify several reasons that show the relationship between the illegal drug economy and the U.S. (Bagley, 2013). He concludes that Colombia’s increasing participation in the illegal drug market is one of the primary reasons for U.S. intervention. Because Colombia has failed multiple times to eradicate illegal coca production and trafficking and as a response, the U.S. stepped in with a military force approach (Bagley, 2013).

Similar to the social organization school of thought, I think U.S. intervention would not be an appropriate school of thought to determine the cause of different domestic policy within Bolivia and Colombia. The U.S. tried to intervene in both countries by offering similar solutions. The only difference is that Colombia decided to accept the aid while Bolivia realized that US Aid was not helping them and decided to push them out of the country. This was because Bolivia held more of a cultural tie to coca and were not interested in repressing the coca plant, unlike Colombia, who viewed coca as a way to gain economic profits. By doing so, allowed Bolivia to remain a non-heavy, non-mechanized agricultural based economy, rather than an industrialized agricultural sector like Colombia.

Why Culture is the Best Approach to Understanding Different Domestic Policies

Based on various scholar’s thoughts, culture seems to be the best explanation in understanding different domestic policies with Bolivia and Colombia.  Although social organization and US intervention can account for some variation in different domestic policy response, I found that culture offers a better understanding in the choices behind domestic policies in Bolivia and Colombia. Scholars argued that in Bolivia, the majority of the population regularly chews coca as a social and traditional way of life. Because of the coca-culture in Bolivia, the people in Bolivia chose to defend the legalization of coca. Thus, the government implemented various policies such as “Coca Si, Cocaine No” and “Cato 2004,” resulting in a less draconian approach to drugs. As mentioned previously, Colombia, who has no association with the culture of coca, views the production and cultivation process with an economic perspective. Because Colombia is not tied to the cultural and historic aspect of the coca leaf, and the government cannot relate the meaning of coca like in Bolivia, Colombia’s response to drugs become more draconian.


A Brief Background and Research Question

Colombia and Bolivia are considered to be part of the top three countries in the world that produce, consume and export cocaine – a narcotic that originates from the coca leaf and is seen as an illegal substance from countries such as the United States (UNODC). In Bolivia’s case, coca is heavily embedded into their society and culture. From a cultural aspect, the role of coca is seen to have a positive connotation and is used proudly by the Bolivians in their daily life for medicinal, leisure and social purposes. (Leons and Sanabria, 1997) In Colombia’s case, coca has little to no cultural attachment, but rather sees coca as an economic benefit. Due to the demand of cocaine production and profits coca producers make in Colombia, farmers tend to expand their fields, which overall causes a more draconian response from the government.

Based on the context of my research, the main question I will be asking throughout this paper is: What explains the different domestic policy response of Latin American countries such as Colombia and Bolivia to drug production and trafficking? By addressing this question, I will examine my hypothesis: the domestic policy differences between Bolivia and Colombia are best explained through their cultural commitment to raising the coca plant. In order to support my hypothesis, I will analyze what coca means in Bolivian culture and what it does not mean in Colombian culture and how it results in different domestic policy responses.

I will perform a qualitative comparative case study of Latin America, specifically focusing on Colombia and Bolivia. The case study will provide different variations in my dependent variable, the explanation behind the different domestic policies in Bolivia and Colombia can be explained through their different attachment in raising the coca plant.


I have selected the cases of Colombia and Bolivia for a qualitative comparative analysis due to their difference in approach to coca and their similarity of being part of the top three biggest cocaine producing countries. By choosing these cases, I am able to control specific factors that scholars argued in their work, such as U.S. intervention and corruption. Colombia and Bolivia have both been targets of U.S. intervention, and although the U.S. had previously been successful in trying to eradicate coca production in Bolivia, it was not until recently that Bolivia denied their help and made their domestic policy less draconian. While in Colombia, they continued to accept U.S. aid. Similarly, both countries have dealt with corruption within their state. For Colombia, it was through the means of drug cartels, criminal justice systems and other authority figures such as the police and military. In Bolivia, corruption came in the form of political, bureaucratic and organized crime, the judiciary and other means (Wickberg, 2012). While continuing my research, I have found that the role of coca in Bolivia and Colombia subsumes within the cultural commitment to the coca leaf. Thus, I am able to provide my case study with variations and control.


For my operationalization, I will determine how policy choices are influenced by cultural commitment through three indicators: coca and coca leaf cultivation, indigenous people population and manual eradication. To help support my hypothesis, I looked into the overall percentage of indigenous people in Latin America. According to World Bank, Bolivia has one of the highest percentage of indigenous people in Latin America, which could explain why the coca-culture in Bolivia is considered to be a core element in their economy.

(Table 1)

Indigenous People in Latin America (2010)

Country: Indigenous people Proportion of the total population
Bolivia 4.12 41.0%
Colombia 1.53 3.3%

Source: Worldbank.org[1]

As shown above in Table 1, the table gives the percentage of indigenous people (in millions) in Bolivia and Colombia. As mentioned previously, Bolivia has used the coca leaf for traditional consumptions since the Spaniards (Léons and Sanabria, 1997). Since then, coca made up a substantial part of Bolivian’s economy and have participated in the illicit market for producing cocaine. Unlike Colombia, who uses coca for illicit purposes and has no traditional, historical and cultural affinities with coca and the coca leaf. Among the differences in countries, the table shows that Bolivia has a higher percentage of indigenous people than Colombia in 2010. Along with the size of their economy, this can also indicate that Bolivia’s dependence on the coca economy is significantly bigger than in Colombia, which would not be surprising that Bolivia would have a different attachment to the growing of coca than the Colombians do.

I also used graphs and tables taken from UNODC to determine the difference in the amount of coca leaf and coca cultivation in Bolivia compared to Colombia. As well as to show statistics of manual eradication within Bolivia and Colombia in the form of hectares.

Based on various data from EMCDAA and dw.org, Bolivia’s coca cultivation gradually decreased from 2011 to 2013. While in Colombia, the coca cultivation decreased from 2011 to 2012, but increased significantly from 2013 to 2014.[2] The difference in the data can relate back to the argument that due to Bolivia’s cultural history with coca compared to no cultural history in Colombia, the coca cultivation in Bolivia decreased while coca cultivation in Colombia increased. This is because coca production in Colombia is seen as an economic profit so farmers try to expand their fields to produce more quantities, which will result in more income, but ultimately leads to a more draconian outcome. While in Bolivia, coca is seen as a social and cultural aspect. President Morales, a former coca farmer, implemented two different types of policies – Cato 2004 and Coca Si, Cocaine No – which allowed farmers to cultivate up to a Cato of coca, approximately 1600sqm, as well as decriminalized coca production in Bolivia (Grisaffi, 2015). Because of these two policies, Bolivia’s response to domestic policy has been less draconian.

Data Sources

I used data from several reliable sources to show the cases that created the differences in Bolivia and Colombia’s policy response. UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) is a global leader organization that analyzes and data reports on illicit drugs and international crime on a global scale, given to them by governments (UNODC). UNODC, EMCDDA and dw.org provided me with different data sets to show regional coca cultivation and coca leaf cultivation in Bolivia and Colombia. The data from these sources will help support my independent variable in explaining the differences in policy responses. I used World Bank to show the percentage of indigenous people in Latin America, specifically in Bolivia and Colombia, which play a role in understanding how coca plays into culture. I also used WOLA (Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas) to help examine the reason behind Bolivia’s coca reduction and if it was due to their cultural attachment to the coca leaf. WOLA is a research and advocacy organization that promotes policies in order to protect human rights in the Americas (WOLA.org) Lastly, I used information from Bookings to show coca crop cultivation and manual eradication in Colombia, an effect that lead to different domestic responses. Brookings is a nonprofit public policy organization that produces annual reports and analysis of foreign policy, public policy issues, economics, governance and more (Brookings) These data sources allowed me to get a glimpse of the different effects related to my independent variable and how all of these indicators ultimately lead to different domestic policies.


I will approach my hypothesis and findings through qualitative research methods. I find this method to be appropriate as it focuses on understanding the different indicators and how culture can be considered as an answer to my hypothesis. By understanding the difference in how Bolivia and Colombia address the coca leaf, historically, socially and culturally and the difference in how they use coca is essential to understanding the different domestic policies. I will gather several types of research from a vast selection of sources. The sources will include: various types of news articles and scholarly articles as mentioned in my literature review. The research material will not only develop a better understanding of the background of coca in Bolivia and Colombia, but will also compare the different factors that can be used in order to determine the outcome, different domestic policies. Another source will include data sets: I will analyze data sets to determine and understand how the indicators I chose to affect domestic policy choice. From the data I received, I will assess whether policy responses differed depending on the amount of cultural attachment the two countries have towards the coca plant. The sources that I use are valid and reliable, because I will be using scholarly articles, reliable news articles and data sets provided by NGO’s, government organizations and anthropologists who have been in the field.

In the two cases, Bolivia and Colombia, I will examine the variables that will allow me to find links between the role of the government and the country’s relationship to coca. Will I be able to see a substantive difference in the type of domestic policy responses based on the level of cultural attachment?

Overall, this research design will provide me with several methods to answer my hypothesis. The research is important because it will examine how domestic policy responses differ in Bolivia and Colombia through control and variation. By understanding different levels of cultural commitment to the coca leaf, will allow a better understanding on how it influences the different responses. Out of my sources, I am relying on news articles and scholarly articles, which can be subject to change in the future, if scholars decide to pursue this topic further through different means. The section that follows will provide an empirical analysis to confirm my findings.


Discussing Coca in Bolivia and Colombia: There is More to Coca Than Just the Culture

This case analysis suggests that the domestic policy differences between Bolivia and Colombia are best explained through their cultural commitment to raising the coca plant. In Bolivia, the coca leaf is heavily integrated in the Bolivian culture and society through everyday means such as medicine, food, social purposes and tea. For Bolivians, consumption seems to be the most common way to use the coca leaf. Coca is not just limited to Bolivia, but also appears in other Andean countries such as Colombia and Peru who use the coca leaf for similar practices as well. However, the coca culture in Colombia holds no real tradition of consumption or production of the coca leaf. So the differences between the two would be that Bolivians had a different attachment to the growing of coca leaves than the Colombians do.

While it seems that coca production and culture play a substantive role in Bolivia than in Colombia, it is also important to note there are other factors such as social organization and U.S. intervention that seem to also offer strong suggestions to explain Bolivia and Colombia’s response to drugs. However, the differences in how the two countries react to drugs is due to their cultural commitment to the coca plant.

Is the Coca Culture the Same in Bolivia as it is in Colombia?

The coca-culture in Bolivia versus Colombia are vastly different. Coca in the Andes Region is known to be associated with cocaine, a drug that is processed to the point of no resemblance to the actual nature of the coca leaf (Biondich and Joslin, 2016). Through centuries, coca has been used by one third of the Bolivian population in its natural form – through tea, chewing coca leaf or other means (Guidi, 2015). Thus becoming deeply rooted in Bolivian culture and society. The effects of the coca leaf provide multiple benefits to workers: it suppresses hunger, fatigue, pain, altitude sickness and allows workers to go long hours by giving them an extra boost of energy. Hence, providing the local workers with sense of tradition in consumption with no harmful effects if unprocessed unlike processed cocaine. (Leons and Sanabria,1998) To show the difference of the natural state of the coca leaf and the processing of cocaine, the actual process of producing cocaine using the coca leaf is between 0.1% and 0.8%. (Rhodium, 1993)

Because of Bolivia’s cultural ties to coca, Bolivia is able to differentiate between the use of producing coca as a drug for illegal means and using coca in its leaf form for culturally tied consumption such as medicine, chewing, and tea (UNODC, 2014) Unlike in Colombia where there are no cultural affinities for coca cultivation, but rather cocaine processing is seen as an economic benefit to cocaine production (UNODC, 2014). According to UNODC’s World Drug Report, Colombia is considered to be one of the three largest coca producers and international supplier of cocaine (UNODC, 2010) In Colombia, coca cultivation was seen as a secure cash crop due to its secure market in the illegal drug market, showing that Colombia has no cultural ties compared to Bolivia. Because of this, farmers took up coca in replacement of producing agricultural goods because it constituted as a secure source of income for poor farmers. In addition to having a stable method of income, coca production also provided economic incentives for farmers to cultivate coca leaves as it was heavily involved in the illegal environment. (UNODC, 2014; Holmes, Gutiérrez & Curtin, 2006).

How Production Plays into Culture in Bolivia and Colombia

Due to the “Coca Si, Cocaine No” policy, coca production in Bolivia has shifted to a less draconian approach unlike in Colombia. Bolivia is known to be the third largest producer of cocaine in the world. Based on the findings of Ledebur and Youngers (2006), coca farmers in Bolivia have come to an agreement with the government on the policy that will allow specific hectares of regulated coca cultivation to happen. Because of Bolivian’s approach to social control, coca farmers are allowed to cultivate up to 1600 square meters of coca (Caicedo, 2015). By doing so, encourages these farmers to self-police themselves. By having social control, allows authorities at a local level to intervene when a farmer “over-produces” while results in more community participation and community respect. Because of this, Bolivia was able to participate in a “harm reduction approach”. President Morales “Coca yes, Cocaine No” policy allowed workers to have clear guidelines between the coca leaf in its natural form and cocaine in its processed form; as a drug (Grisaffi, 2016).

In Colombia, the production process varies a bit. Colombia is considered to be the main supplier of cocaine, specifically towards the United States. Similarly, it is also peasant farmers who grow coca. The only difference is that these farmers grow coca illegally and is considered to be the only source of their income. Because Colombia has no coca-culture compared to Bolivia, the main consumers tend to be drug traffickers and drug cartels who buy the coca leaves to turn into cocaine. Based on field research provided by Brookings, the insurgent group, FARC is estimated to control around 70% of the Colombia’s coca fields (Brookings, 2016). By having this control, also allows them to provide protection to these farmers and allow market access. As a result, farmers see the production of cocaine in Colombia to be linked to more economic interests than cultural.

When comparing the two countries in terms of production differences, the coca leaf in Bolivia is grown for traditional uses while in Colombia, the entire being of the coca leaf is used solely for cocaine production. According to the UN, this has enabled Colombia to have a significant increase in producing drugs. While in Bolivia, due to the government’s involvement in drug policy and difference in culture, farmers in Bolivia are able to use coca leaves for traditional, commercial or/and industrial uses. Based on a UNODC report, coca production in Colombia has increased significantly with an increase of 52% starting from 96,000 (ha) in 2015 to 146,000 (ha) in 2016. (UNODC, 2015).

The Bolivian Government Response to Drug Policy: Legalizing Coca

For centuries, the indigenous people of Bolivia have been growing and consuming coca leaf. Historically, the Bolivian culture developed due to the suppression and elimination of indigenous culture introduced by the Spaniards. (Léons and Sanabria, 1998). Scholarly authors state that due to the cultural role coca has among Bolivian society, the government’s response to illegalizing coca seems to be more lenient than in Colombia. Since being elected, President Morales sought to educate other countries as a means to explain Bolivia’s reasoning behind the coca leaf and the cultural importance it holds to Bolivian culture (Koops, 2009). However, the United States have associated the coca leaf and cocaine production damaging to people thus the association of coca cultivation and production becomes detrimental to the cultural aspect and medicinal aspect to the people in Bolivia. Scholars have argued that because of this mindset, the United States started to insist on forced eradication policies. Gumcio argues that by allowing forced eradication, indigenous cultures and the working class in Bolivia started to embrace their cultural connection to coca leaves more strongly than before (Gumcio, 1995). By having a stronger cultural connection to coca, the Bolivian government and President Morales fought against U.S. aid stating that instead of forcefully eradicating coca cultivation, similar to what the U.S. did to Colombia, the Bolivian government would only eradicate unauthorized coca fields by finding a solution through negotiations or alternative crops. Because President Morales is a fellow coca farmer, he was able to create new opportunities that allowed him to form domestic policies that took into consideration the economic and cultural aspect of coca in Bolivia.

Scholars argued that in Bolivia, the majority of the population regularly chews coca, as a response to the drug policy and coca-culture in Bolivia, President Morales implemented “Coca Si, Cocaine No 2006”. The purpose of this policy was to decriminalize coca production while going after drug traffickers and producers by rejecting the proposition of a militarized War on Drugs. By decriminalizing coca production, it would also encourage farmers to stay off the illegal market. The results showed that it not only was effective but it also allowed coca farmers to shift back to their original reason for growing coca: as a way of subsistence (Guidi, 2015). According to UNODC, because of Coca Si, Cocaine, No, coca production in Bolivia decreased. Bolivian coca farmers realized that because of this response to drug policy, they were able to go back to their cultural roots of growing coca as a way of living and not to become cocaine traffickers.

In Colombia, the government responds to drug policy in a more draconian way. Colombia comes up with two policies to try to prevent cocaine production: the first is through forced eradication by aerial spray of herbicides. The second is to convince coca farmers to abandon their coca production through alternative means (Lee & Clawson, 1993, Vargas, 2005). According to some scholarly authors, these policies seem to have more of a negative effect, economically, socially and politically. Instead of reducing coca cultivation, some coca farmers increase their amount of coca production as a response to the policy. (Moreno-Sanchez, Kraybill & Thompson, 2003) Because of the shift in responses to the policy, coca farmers end up moving their cultivation to other locations. Which shows that the two policy choices Colombia initiated has little effect in decreasing or eliminating coca production and cultivation.

Through researching about the different domestic policies Colombia and Bolivia provide, I have found that the findings that I have collected showed that I cannot fully support my hypothesis. Although coca has been part of the history in both countries for centuries; which formulates another question; are they different because their social organization allows them to put more pressure on their government rather than the cultural commitments that hold them. Because coca is held at a higher standard to the culture of Bolivia, the government have been able to have a more positive, less draconian approach than in Colombia as Colombia has no cultural ties to coca production itself. This can probably explain why Bolivia is less draconian in their drug policy than Colombia. Coca has always been considered as a staple in the Bolivian lifestyle for decades, so while culture still provides a reasonable suggestion in understanding the different responses, I have found in my research that the coca leaf is losing parts of the traditional cultural value that it held dearly for decades. Thus, given the importance of coca, this study leads to more questions to try to understand the different approaches.


The Role of Coca in Bolivia and Colombia: More Complicated Than You Think

What causes the different outcomes in domestic drug policy responses between Bolivia and Colombia? Scholars suggest multiple reasons, some focused more on the social organization stating that social organization in Bolivia may be more powerful than in Colombia hence the reason in which organizations put more pressure on the government to legalize coca. Some suggested culture or U.S. intervention are the reason. The one that appeared most appealing was culture. It was not so much on their social organizations whether one society was able to resist or not, but rather that Bolivians had a different attachment to the growing of coca than the Colombians do. Thus, cultural commitment to coca production seemed to be the most convincing factor to explain the different domestic policy responses.

I evaluated my arguments by examining two cases, Bolivia and Colombia. I found articles that support the claim that domestic policy response differs due to different cultural ties and historic significance of drug consumption. Bolivia has a deep cultural affiliation with coca while Colombia does not. Because the culture in Bolivia is different from Colombia, cocaine meant more than just an economic profit.

The findings led me to reconsider if culture and production were truly appropriate in discussing the outcomes which result in rethinking my initial statement. I have a few questions regarding my independent variable. While my independent variable led me to believe that coca culture in Bolivia is the result of domestic policy difference than in Colombia, my focus on only culture might have been unwise. Even though I found good sources primarily through UNODC and DEM, I believe that my research has led me to understand how important coca is to the culture in Bolivia and the explanations to why the difference in coca-culture led to possible outcomes.  However, as I was looking at the possible variables that correlate with my dependent variable, I began to wonder if my initial argument would be the best to explaining my dependent variable. If cultural differences cannot fully explain the implementations of domestic policies in Bolivia and Colombia, what variable can offer a better suggestion? Thus, I began to believe that perhaps it was my excitement of trying to understand how culture can be a reason in the differences of a country’s policy outcome. My findings enabled me to think about other cases as an alternative possibility to the answer. By researching about the differences in how culture plays in society, I also found other cases that could possibly be one of the solutions that would better explain and lead us closer to an answer.

Perhaps my findings regarding cultural commitment and ties to coca and cocaine would have been different if I had chosen a better pairing. By choosing this variable, I realize that it would have been better to use a different variable such as social organization to describe the domestic policy differences as social organization allows the citizens of Bolivia to put more pressure on their government, hence explaining why Bolivia is less draconian in their drug policy choices than Colombia. However, the research still provides interesting opinions. While it cannot confirm that culture and production is the main explanation for different domestic drug policy, it not only discussed how deeply rooted coca is in Bolivian culture than Colombian culture, but it also showed how culture explained the differences in domestic policy responses. If I had to perform this research again, I would have provided more variations in retrieving data. One suggestion would be to find interviews, surveys and other forms of data than just graphs and tables as it would allow me to have more of an overview and understanding to the subject.

My qualitative analysis changed from the direction I expected it to go. It left me with more questions that could possibly help other scholars or people of interest who would want to pursue this topic further. My analysis differed from my research design, I came to the realization that the variable I initially used might not be the best variable that could explain the results I wanted. But there are some suggestions that I could give that would help carry on the research if this topic is perused any further.

Although my research may have answered one question, it leaves me questioning the other possibilities and if those questions could have offered a better explanation. My research enabled me to think about other cases as an alternative possibility to the answer. By researching about the difference in how culture plays in society within Bolivia and Colombia, I also found other cases that could possible be one of the solutions that would better explain and lead us closer to an answer. My findings indicated that there could be several cases that I have not touched yet that could lead people towards the same direction, hence narrowing the possibilities to determine why Bolivia and Colombia have different responses.

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[2] I combined data from two sources: EMCDDA and dw.org to explain the coca cultivation in Bolivia and Colombia from 2011-2014. Parts of the data that I collect from the two sources does not show the stats for Bolivia in 2014. It is important to note that these sources took the data from UNODC. EMCDDA, http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/2373/downloads/EDMR2016%20Background%20paper_Schulze-Kraft_Evolution%20of%20estimated%20coca%20cultivation%20and%20cocaine%20production.pdf and dw.org, http://www.dw.com/en/colombias-cocaine-who-will-take-charge-now/a-36915853

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