Bolivian President Evo Morales pushed for legalizing the chewing of coca leaves during a 53-country United Nations narcotics control meeting on Monday in Vienna. A former cocalero and coca grower’s union leader, Morales held up a coca leaf during his address and argued that growing and chewing the crop are staples of Bolivia’s Andean culture.
In 1961, Bolivia’s military government ratified the U.N. Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that declared the coca leaf an illegal narcotic, along with cocaine, heroin opium and others substances. The Morales administration withdrew from the convention last year and yesterday the president called its ratification a “historic error,” and said the “absurd prohibition of coca chewing” is not acceptable in Bolivia. “The coca leaf is not cocaine. We have to get rid of this misconception," he added.
Bolivia is willing to rejoin the convention only if member nations approve an amendment allowing traditional cultivation and consumption of coca leaves. But Yuri Fedotov, chief of UNODC, responded to Morales’ appeal by warning that “such kinds of initiatives in the long run may undermine” international consensus on drug control and “have a domino effect.”
Morales also used his time on the floor on Monday to call on developed nations to give Bolivia the tools to crack down on illegal cultivation intended for the manufacture of cocaine. Bolivia is the third-biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia and the president asked for helicopters and other technology to combat drug-trafficking. The U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said this month that Bolivia has “failed demonstrably to make sufficient efforts to meet its obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements" over the last year.
Bolivian President Evo Morales announced on Saturday the nationalization of three private electricity firms in a move the government says will leave it in control of 80 percent of the country’s electricity production. In his speech commemorating international workers’ day, Morales said, “once again, a first of May, and as always we’re recovering our privatized companies.” The government claims the nationalizations will guarantee labor stability and lead to a 20 percent reduction in electricity rates. The moves are part of the employment stability and energy reduction agenda.
Soon after the decree, police occupied the offices of three companies: Corani, Valle Hermoso and Guaracachi. Corani is half owned by a subsidiary of French company GDF Suez. Guaracachi's main partner is U.K.-based Rurelec, and Valle Hermoso is locally owned.
Last year, Mr. Morales announced the takeover of a British Petroleum (BP) subsidiary, He has also nationalized oil and gas reserves in an effort to redistribute wealth to Bolivia's indigenous majority. Critics say the spate of nationalizations will reduce investor confidence in Bolivia and threaten the prospects for sustained future growth.
Bolivian President Evo Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party secured modest victories in yesterday’s regional elections and won control of at least five of Bolivia’s nine departments, according to exit polls. Although official results will not be released for nearly three weeks, candidates from the MAS party have reportedly won clear statistical majorities in the traditional stronghold highland provinces of La Paz, Cochabamba, Oruro, and Potosí. The opposition, however, appears also to have maintained majorities in several key provinces. This means that the elections are unlikely to alter Bolivia’s political landscape.
Morales acknowledged some disappointments and challenged his opponents in resource-rich Eastern provinces like Santa Cruz to collaborate with the government, saying “the opposition should understand that this process of change is unstoppable.” Incumbent Santa Cruz Governor Ruben Costas framed his re-election win in starker terms, announcing that “the forces of democracy have defeated tyranny.”
Experts on Bolivian politics say yesterday’s results clearly prove that support for the Bolivian president’s policies remains high. However, the lack of any serious political opposition at the federal level poses its own challenges to Morales: “the real question now is whether the MAS will fragment—and whether Bolivia's politics will see battles within an all-powerful party that faces no clear or united opposition,” says the BBC’s Bolivia correspondent, Andres Schipani.
Bolivia’s National Electoral Court (CNE) agreed yesterday to host 127 observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) to monitor the national elections scheduled to take place on December 6. These observers will join 110 representatives from the European Union, more than 30 from The Carter Center and a number of individuals from other international groups. In total, more than 300 election observers will be on hand—making them the most heavily monitored elections in more than three decades of Bolivian democracy.
Ms. Renate Weber, chief of the EU delegation, signaled that the large number of observers was a reflection of the importance of these elections in which Bolivians will vote—under the new “plurinational” constitution—on the composition of the entire National Congress and in referendums on the question of autonomy for five of Bolivia’s nine departments and in 12 indigenous municipalities.
The stated purpose of the missions, which received an official invitation from the Bolivian government, is to strengthen Bolivia’s democratic system and ensure universal suffrage. The missions will produce press releases after the elections and/or briefings to their respective leaderships. According to recent polling, Bolivian President Evo Morales is a clear favorite to win re-election in December.