LA PAZ – President Evo Morales’s government will support a private firm’s plan to produce a coca-based soft drink in line with its policy to foster new legal applications for the leaf that is the source of cocaine, a Bolivian official said Wednesday.
“At the beginning it is a private initiative to produce an energy drink from coca, but we are seeing how we can give it impetus, because the industrialization of coca interests us,” the deputy minister of rural development, Victor Hugo Vazquez, told Efe.
He said the government has yet to decide whether it will enter a joint venture with the company or if the beverage should bear the name suggested by coca growers: “Coca Colla.”
Bolivia, like neighboring Peru, permits legal cultivation of coca in limited quantities for use in cooking, folk medicine and Andean religious rites. In its unadulterated form, coca is a mild stimulant that wards off hunger and combats the effects of high altitude.
Morales began his political career as the leader of a coca growers union in the central region of Chapare and he remains the formal head of that organization.
Since taking office in January 2006, he has shifted the focus of Bolivia’s counter-narcotics effort from coca eradication to pursuit of the criminal outfits that turn the leaf into illegal drugs, and cocaine seizures have increased dramatically.
The leftist administration of Indian-majority Bolivia’s first indigenous president has also sought other legitimate uses for coca, as many peasants earn their meager livelihoods from cultivation of the leaf.
Currently, Deputy Minister Vazquez told Efe, Bolivian companies are using coca to make teas, syrups, toothpaste, liqueurs, candy and pastry.
Morales recently suggested that if all of the various coca-industrialization projects bear fruit, the area of land authorized for legal cultivation of the leaf may be expanded from 12,000 hectares (29,629 acres) to 20,000 hectares (49,382 acres). EFE