The coca leaf is commonly associated with Bolivia’s culture and indigenous minorities.
The leaf is commonly used to make tea, chewed to help alleviate altitude sickness in the country’s mountainous communities and is often depicted on post cards and key rings in souvenir outlets.
Coca leaf extract is also used to make Coca-Cola.
However, the leaves are also used in the creation of cocaine and have been the cause of controversy in diplomatic ties between Bolivia and the USA.
The USA put pressure on the Bolivian government to try and decrease the farming and trade of the coca leaf during the USA’s prolific War on Drugs.
However, the farming of the coca leaf has always been an integral part of the Bolivian economy and is the livelihood of many people, especially those living in the Yungas, a stretch of forest along the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains.
Throughout the 1980s, the government of Bolivia took measures to decrease the farming of the coca leaf to prevent it being traded abroad to make cocaine. Unintentionally this caused more people to become attracted to farming coca leaves due to the rocketing of its price.
Between the years 1987 to 2003 a number of protests and violent clashes between those working in the coca trade and anti-drugs police took place across Bolivia.
Some of the most violent of these clashes took place during the government of president Hugo Banzer from 1997 to 2001. Banzer adopted the Plan Dignity program of forced eradication when it came to the growing of the coca leaf. This caused a number of deadly conflicts between the military and coca growers.
Since 2006, the government of the first indigenous president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has scaled back the forced eradication of the coca leaf. The Obama administration has also stated that the War on Drugs has failed in its primary objectives and that other ways of combating the international drug trade are currently being investigated.
Though the coca leaf is used to make cocaine, it is a significant symbol of Bolivian culture and growing the leaves are a way of life for many people.