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Bolivia Destroys Coca Fields

April 13, 1998

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Defying local protesters, hundreds of Bolivian police and soldiers began cutting illegal coca plants Monday in one the world’s largest cocaine producing regions.

Vice Minister of the Interior Rafael Canedo, who is responsible for the eradication of coca fields, said the government plans to destroy 25,000 acres this year, or about a quarter of the country’s coca leaf crop.

The security forces moved into several communities and began destroying the plants with machetes. Farmers have opposed the eradication and have called for road blocks and protests against the operation.

Army and police took over the region last week and lifted roadblocks after a week of violence that left five people dead. They have maintained a highly visible presence since then.

There were no reports of any confrontations Monday.

Coca leaf farmers had used rocks and fallen trees to stop traffic on the main road linking the eastern and western regions of Bolivia. They are demanding an end to the eradication effort and other plans to wipe out cocaine trafficking. They also want more alternative development programs in the region.

President Hugo Banzer said his government will not reverse its decision to try and end cocaine trafficking in Bolivia during his five-year term.

Soldiers encountered some resistance when they first arrived last week, but were able to clear the roads of hundreds of buses and trucks that had been stranded for nearly a week in Chapare, a lush tropical region in central Bolivia that produces a quarter of the world’s cocaine.

At least 300,000 people depend on coca leaf cultivation for their livelihood.

Canedo says all the coca fields that are being destroyed are considered illegal. Under Bolivian law, any coca field more than five years old is considered legal and the owners are eligible for $2,500 in compensation for their destruction.

Coca leaf is grown in the Andean foothills of Bolivia and Peru. Most of it is processed into cocaine. Coca leaf has been used for centuries in Andean countries as a tea and for medicinal and religious purposes.

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