Bolivia government backtracks on coca production law

Coca growers from the Yungas region block a road near the town of Santa Barbara (11 October 2010) The government said there was no longer a reason for coca growers to protest

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The Bolivian government has said it has annulled a new coca production law which cut by two-thirds the number of coca leaves which growers could sell.

The law triggered widespread protests by coca growers, who protested by blocking the main road to the city of La Paz from the Amazon region.

But the repeal of the law seems to have been insufficient to end the dispute.

The head of the main coca growers' association has said it will continue to protest over several other issues.

'Mistake'

Last month, a new coca production law was approved that said growers could sell only a little more than 2kg (5 lbs) of coca leaves per month, down from almost 7kg (15 lbs), and that sales would be controlled by the central government instead of local communities.

Officials said it was designed to stop the sale of leaves to drug traffickers.

Start Quote

These are not guarantees for us and are not enough to lift the road blocks”

End Quote Ramiro Sanchez President, Adepcoca

But on Monday, the Minister of Government, Sacha Llorenti Solis, told a news conference that the law would be repealed because not all coca growers had been consulted.

"Because of this, and recognising this mistake, we have gone back and annulled the law, and make clear that any changes will be made in consultation, by consensus and in co-ordination with social organisations," he said.

Mr Llorenti also urged growers to stop blocking roads in the coca-producing Yungas region, saying there was no longer a reason to protest.

Since early on Monday, the main coca growers' organisation, Adepcoca, has been blockading the route from La Paz with, it says, 4,000 people.

But speaking by telephone from one of the road blocks, Adepcoca president Ramiro Sanchez told the BBC they would not end their protest.

"These are not guarantees for us and are not enough to lift the road blocks. That's why they need to come down here. We can't engage in dialogue up there," he added, referring to Bolivia's administrative capital.

Mr Sanchez said their protest would continue because, despite the repeal of the coca law, there were still eight other outstanding points they wanted to discuss with the government, such as the construction of a coca industrialisation plant and the improvement of roads.

It is not the first time there has friction between coca growers - traditionally supporters of the governing Movement to Socialism (MAS) party - and President Evo Morales, a coca grower himself.

In May, two people died after police were sent to end another road block.

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