Bolivia to fight cocaine trade with its own funds
July 25, 2008 - Reuters

By Eduardo Garcia

LA PAZ, July 25 (Reuters) - Bolivia, the world's No. 3 cocaine producer, will fund an anti-narcotics unit for the first time next year as it seeks to reduce foreign involvement in fighting trafficking, an official said on Friday.

The Andean country will invest $16 million in the unit, which now depends heavily on aid from the United States and the European Union.

"One of Bolivia's responsibilities is to tackle drug trafficking, with our own ... resources, with our vision, with our hard work," Ilder Cejas, an anti-narcotics adviser working for the Interior Ministry, told Reuters.

Cejas said the United States -- which pledged about $25 million in anti-narcotics aid to Bolivia this year -- will be allowed to collaborate with funds and advisers, but only within programs designed by the government.

Leftist President Evo Morales, a former coca farmer who took office in 2006, is pursuing a "zero cocaine, but not zero coca" policy focused on battling the drug trade and promoting legitimate coca use.

The United States has called the policy permissive and warned that coca cultivation is on the rise. But the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia vowed to maintain support.

"We value the work of the (anti-narcotics unit) and the national police against drug trafficking ... . We want to continue collaborating," Ambassador Philip Goldberg was quoted as saying by daily La Razon on Friday.

According to a U.N. report, Bolivian coca cultivation grew by 5 percent in 2007 to 71,400 acres (28,900 hectares). That amount is still far less than during the early and mid-1990s.

Bolivia is the No. 3 cocaine producer after Colombia and Peru. But coca leaves are sold legally in street markets and coca tea is commonly served in cafes in the Andes as a way to ward off the effects of high altitude.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)