For decades the coca growers here, Lopez Vasquez among them, resisted US-backed forced eradication in a long simmering protest that defined US-Bolivian relations and often turned violent. Growers in the Chapare scored a victory in 2004 when they were granted the right to grow a small plot of coca per family. But a turning point came with the 2006 election of Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower from the Chapare and still the head of its unions, who promised an end to the old US-Bolivian paradigm. Within three years of his presidency, Mr. Morales kicked out the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as the US ambassador, accusing both of fomenting opposition. Last year Bolivia became the first country ever to withdraw from the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs for the charter's failure to recognize the traditional use of the coca leaf.
Now the Chapare is once again a nexus – but this time for a new government experiment markedly different from former US drug policy. Today, farmers unions partner with government agencies to control coca production, reducing the amount of the leaf cultivated across Bolivia, as well as the quantities destined for illegal uses. This cooperation is new, and the very acceptance of coca crops in the Chapare defies US wishes.
The US, in fact, has voiced deep skepticism about Bolivia's commitment to the international fight against narcotics, condemning La Paz in a 2012 report for "failing demonstrably" in its antinarcotic obligations.
For the residents of the Chapare, however, the "nationalization" of Bolivia's drug fight means the preservation of a lifestyle and a basic income without the threat of constant conflict.