More Balloon Effect: Bolivia

A few days ago I noted the increase in coca cultivation in Peru, which is a classic example of the balloon effect, i.e., as the US has put the squeeze on Colombia, drug cultivation and production has bulged out elsewhere.  Indeed, Colombia was where the balloon bulged in the 1990s when the squeeze was put on Peru and Bolivia.  For example, while Colombia has been the largest cultivator country for coca, it used to be Peru.  The early stages of the war on cultivation was fought in Bolivia and Peru in the 1980s into the 1990s and when cultivation was cut in those places going into the mid-to-late 1990s, this was hailed as a great success in the war on drugs.  Of course, as I have noted before, cultivation simply shift into Colombia.  See the following post:  Drug War 101 (With an Emphasis on Coca Cultivation).

Now we see that Bolivia is seeing increases in coca and cocaine production there as well.  The BBC reports:  Cocaine production rise spells trouble for Bolivia:

Jose Carlos Campero, a leading political economist, says cocaine trafficking is already a major problem and will continue to be so for the next decade.

“We’ve seen a 70% growth in the cocaine industry in recent years. That means that, today, the coca-cocaine circuit is the third largest source of revenue for the country, right after the exports of traditional products such as hydrocarbons and mining.”

Of course, part of the situation in Bolivia is a result of President Evo Morales’ approach to the drug war:

Like many in the indigenous Indian community, Mr Morales grew coca for traditional uses – such as tea, medicine and indigenous rituals – and, as president, he has allowed cultivation for such purposes.

He is also a critic of Washington. He has summed up his attitude several times in public, saying: “Long live the coca leaf, death to the Yankees.”

Two years ago, he expelled the US anti-drugs agents invited in by previous presidents and made local security forces entirely responsible for all rooting out the cocaine business.

It is a policy of “zero cocaine but not zero coca”. But Bolivian police are struggling to contain the spread of cocaine production in what is a strikingly poor country.

Morales’ policy moves have certainly made the atmosphere easier for increased illicit cultivation.  However, it should be noted that 1) legal cultivation has existed for some time in Bolivia and 2) even with a US presence there had been a great deal of illicit cultivation there.

The underlying issue is that we appear to be seeing pressure in Colombia translating into shifts in cultivation in production back to neighboring states.  If one has a limited time horizon, one might be tempted to say that this is evidence of the success of Plan Colombia.  However, if one has been paying attention for the long haul, it appears that what we have in same story over and over again:  we spend reams of cash, disrupt countless lives and pretty much maintain a slightly re-arranged status quo.  The likelihood remains that the basic supply of cocaine will remain stable as will the street price.

So, as I tend to do when on this topic, I have to ask:  are really getting our money’s worth with this policy?

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter