Parliamentary question by Marco Cappato (NI) to the Commission and to the Council and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission

WRITTEN QUESTION P-0215/03 and P-0220/03
by Marco Cappato (NI) to the Commission and to the Council
(23 January 2003)

Subject: Drug-related escalation of violence in Bolivia

The situation in Bolivia vis-à-vis the demonstrations by indigenous groups that advocate the use of traditional produce such as coca leaf - currently strictly regulated by the Bolivian Government - should become of particular concern to the international community. In fact, over the last few days in Bolivia there has been a series of clashes between the police and army and the protesters, mainly farmers, who were demonstrating against the eradication of their traditional crop. According to Bolivian media outlets the situation is characterised by an escalation of violence that has led to at least 17 deaths, dozens wounded and hundreds arrested.
Is the Commission aware of the nature of such an escalation in the confrontation between the Government and indigenous groups on the eradication of coca, and what measures is the Commission enforcing or does it intend to enforce in its support to the Bolivian authorities in their crop eradication activities?
Does the Commission not believe that the time has come to address the failures, and disastrous consequences, that prohibition is provoking in producer and consumer countries alike and initiate at the upcoming ministerial segment of the UN Commission on Narcotics, scheduled for 16 and 17 April 2003, a process of revision of the three international Conventions on Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances in order to promote a more effective pragmatic approach to the drug question?

Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(24 February 2003)

The Commission has been monitoring closely the escalation in the confrontation between the Government of Bolivia and coca producers and other social sectors and noted with concern the incidents of violence associated with the road blocks which have been erected since 13 January 2003. The Commission is pleased to note that an agreement reached between Evo Morales and President Sánchez de Lozada on 26 January 2003 appears to have scaled down the confrontation and enabled the two sides to engage in a dialogue, including on the Government’s coca eradication policy and drug control enforcement practices.

On the basis of the principle of co-responsibility, the Commission has been supporting alternative development projects in Bolivia in line with the priorities for cooperation identified in its Country Strategy Paper. Three projects worth a total of € 30 million are currently underway with a fourth for € 13 million likely to be approved during 2003.

The approach adopted by the Commission starts from the fact that most of the people working in illegal coca plantations have left behind, temporary or permanently, poor living conditions and depressed local economies in the mining communities of the western Highlands and the high valleys of the Cochabamba region. Since the income which can be generated by growing coca is much higher than that which can be earned by working in the mining areas or by growing legal crops, it is essential to give farmers access to viable alternative sources of income.

The Commission is funding and plans to fund activities in the coca-producing areas of Chapare and Los Yungas which will create sustainable agricultural and other income-generating activities to encourage coca producers to give up growing coca. It is also providing local infrastructure such as health centres and schools. The Commission is also seeking to improve living conditions and support economic development in the labour-expulsion zones of the Highlands to reduce the pressures of extreme poverty which stimulate the migration of workers to the coca-producing areas. The Commission works with local authorities and has a dialogue with coca farmers, and its projects seen well received by the population.

The Commission is an active Permanent Observer of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), where it has defended a balanced approach between prevention and treatment and the fight against production and trafficking. Alternative development projects are an illustration of the latter by providing alternative livelihoods, they seek to decrease the dependence of farmers on drug cultivation.

There are no plans for the next session of the CND to engage in a process of revising the three United Nations Conventions. This matter has not been raised by Member States nor by the Commission in the periodic discussions of Union drug policy.