LA PAZ – Bolivia and the European Union on Friday signed a cooperation agreement by way of which the Andean nation will receive some 575 million euros ($687 million) in aid over the next two years.
The pact was signed by Bolivian President Evo Morales and the EU commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, during an event in the central province of Cochabamba.
The tropical province of Cochabamba will be one of the regions to benefit from the aid, which aligns with the parties’ ongoing collaboration in the fight against drug trafficking.
Morales said that while in the past aid from the United States had been “totally conditional” and even a “kind of extortion,” EU assistance was not contingent on “the privatization of our natural resources.”
The president and the commissioner visited several enterprises supported by EU aid, including a banana packaging plant, fish farms and plantations growing alternative crops to coca leaf.
Mimica highlighted the importance of diversifying the region’s agricultural production in order to decrease the dependence on coca crops – the raw material of cocaine – and called the new accord evidence of the EU’s commitment to being a “development partner” to Bolivia.
Bolivia, like neighboring Peru, allows cultivation of coca leaf in limited amounts for traditional Andean religious rites, beverages and folk remedies.
Unadulterated coca is a mild stimulant comparable to caffeine and has been used in the Andes for centuries to treat the symptoms of altitude sickness.