Meese Visits Cocaine-Producing Region and Burns Coca-Leaf Paste
CHIMORE, Bolivia (AP) _ U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III vitisted an anti-drug training camp in the Bolivian jungles Tuesday and set afire two tons of cocaine paste seized by American-trained police.
″Bolivia’s anti-drug efforts are probably the most successful in South America,″ Meese said at the camp in the Chapare region where 80 percent of Bolivia’s coca leaf is grown. The coca leaf is turned into a paste and then further refined to produce cocaine.
Meese, accompanied by John Lawn, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, toured the Chimore camp where at least 45 U.S. soldiers and DEA agents are training Bolivian police.
Police and DEA agents have seized 4.6 tons of cocaine paste since January, along with 72 tons of lime and chemicals used for reducing coca leaves to the paste base. It was estimated the paste could have been processed into cocaine that would be worth at least $46 million in the U.S. drug market.
Meese set fire to a ten-foot pole doused with gasoline and it ignited logs set under barrels filled with paste. As the flames engulfed the barrels the paste began boiling and overflowing into the fire.
Meese and Lawn flew from the city of Santa Cruz on a light plane to an airstrip east of Chimore and boarded a helicopter for the 15-minute flight to the training camp.
Bolivian anti-drug police showed Meese the World War II-type carbines they have for weapons. One officer’s carbine was taped together.
″The use of these rifles points out a major problem, which is the critical need for weapons and ammunition by Bolivian police,″ said Meese. ″There is no way the police will be able to continue dealing with the increasing violence that is a reaction to the very real effect the police are having in the Chapare.″
Meese said that upon his return to Washington he would discuss with Congress and government agencies the possibility of providing better weapons to the police and increasing assistance for coca-leaf reduction and interdiction programs. Congress prohibits supplying weapons to foreign police forces.
Officials said an international cocaine surplus has contributed to a sharp drop in coca-leaf prices. The DEA said a 100-pound bag of coca leaf, which sold for $130 a year ago, is now selling for $20, and the break-even point is $25.
One result is farmers have destroyed 4,000 acres of coca plants in the last six months under an agreement with the Bolivian government. Farmers receive $2,000 dollars for every hectare they remove from production, with the United States providing $350 of that amount and the Bolivian government the remainder. There are 2.47 acres in a hectare.
It is estimated tht 300,000 Bolivian farmers rely on coca-leaf production as their main cash crop.
Officials told Meese that Bolivia was having trouble providing the compensation to farmers. ″If we do not follow through on our promises to the farmers we are in danger of losing the war against drugs,″ said Anibal Aguilar, undersecretary for alternative development.
Meese noted Bolivia is seeking greater financial and logistical support and indicated he would try to gain increased cooperation by European countries in the anti-drug fight.
His stop here was the last of a tour that included visits to the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. He will confer with President Victor Paz Estenssoro Wednesday.