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Bolivia cuts coca cultivation: What about cocaine?

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Juan Karita/AP

(Read caption) Coca leaf vendors sell to clients at a coca market in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Sept. 17. Coca leaves are the basis for cocaine, but they also are a sacred plant among Andes natives. They have been used as a mild stimulant for centuries, and Bolivia allows limited growing of coca for traditional uses.

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Former coca farmer and Bolivian President Evo Morales often clashes with the United States over drug policy, and in 2008 ordered the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) out of Bolivia. At the center of the problem has been the coca leaf: It has long held religious and cultural significance for indigenous Andean peoples, but it is also the raw material used to produce cocaine.

Now, as Bolivia tries to balance respect for coca's traditional uses with the need to limit cultivation and cocaine production, two reports show significant decreases in coca crops between 2010 and 2011.

Cultivation of the coca leaf in Bolivia fell roughly 12 percent – from just under 120 square miles to 105 square miles – between 2010 and 2011, according to an annual report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today. That's the first reduction Bolivia has seen since 2005.

The UN report comes close on the heels of a US Presidential Memorandum on Bolivia published last week in which the US found that Bolivia “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements."

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