Bolivia Seeks US Aid to Strengthen Its Economy
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA
THE Bolivian government is taking a package of new proposals on alternative developments to the Cartagena ``cocaine summit'' today. Since President Jaime Paz Zamora announced at the United Nations in September that Bolivia's main priority was to swap ``coca for development,'' government economists have worked on a long-term strategy to replace the cocaine economy.
Instead of finding alternative crops like coffee or citrus fruits to substitute for coca, the new plan involves a series of economic measures to strengthen the formal economy.
``Our problem is substituting jobs, substituting income, and substituting exports,'' says Samuel Doria Medina, traveling to Cartagena as special adviser to the Bolivian president. ``No other agricultural product gives the same income as coca - that's why coca substitution hasn't worked. [Our plan] is a change of emphasis.''
According to the government, $600 million of the $1.5 billion generated by the coca and cocaine economy every year stays in the country - a figure roughly equivalent to legal exports. And about 300,000 Bolivians live off coca growing and the early stages of cocaine processing.
Efforts to tempt peasants away from growing coca have usually been unsuccessful. Although a small proportion of the country's 60,000 coca growers have received $2,000 for every hectare (2.5 acres) they eradicate, the amount of land under coca cultivation increased from 85,000 acres in 1985 to 120,000 in 1988 - and rose another 10,000 acres last year.
Mr. Doria Medina says Bolivia's new package of measures designed to attract peasants into or keep them in the formal economy ``has already been accepted by the US government.'' They include a special social emergency fund to provide short-term employment to peasants who give up coca growing, balance-of-payments support to replace the dollars earned from cocaine, and foreign investment and aid to help boost the formal sectors of the economy.
The condition for implementing these new initiatives is that ``we do not get ourselves more into debt in the process,'' Doria Medina warns. Thus, Bolivia, South America's poorest country, is seeking more resources from the international community, and especially the United States and Europe.
Present levels of US aid to Bolivia for the antidrug fight in fiscal year 1989 amount to $62 million, although this could rise to a total package of $150 million, says Robert Gelbard, US ambassador to La Paz.
Wire reports yesterday quoted US administration officials saying that negotiations on a US-Bolivian extradition treaty had run into delays and thus would not be completed in time for today's drug summit in Colombia.