Saturday, September 18, 2004

Bolivia's $1B bid to cut coca crop

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) -- Bolivia's government hopes to spend $1 billion to help cut coca leaf cultivation in the next five years, but will depend on international aid for the vast majority of funds, officials said on Friday.

South America's poorest nation plans to use the money to create new jobs and pay communities to voluntarily destroy excess coca plants in areas where limited production is allowed for traditional or medicinal uses.

Bolivia has enjoyed moderate success in wiping out the raw material used to make cocaine, but illegal growing remains widespread. The government said its plan was an alternative to the usual, highly unpopular forced destruction of crops.

"We're looking at this with a different vision," said Foreign Minister Juan Ignacio Siles.

More than $850 million in international aid will be needed to execute the program, officials said.

President Carlos Mesa's administration has received about $100 million in such aid since he took office in October of last year.

Mesa replaced President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who was toppled by bloody street protests brought on in part by his anti-coca policies.

Government data show Bolivia has destroyed nearly 120,000 hectares of coca crops in the last 18 years along with warehouses full of seedlings.

One report said it had wiped out the equivalent of two years' worth of world cocaine production.

Copyright 2004 Reuters.