Bolivia's President-elect Evo Morales will reject U.S. economic and military aid if the United States requires continued coca-eradication efforts to get the money, a close aide to the former coca growers' leader said Tuesday. Morales also plans to withdraw Bolivia's military from anti-drug efforts and leave the job to police, said Juan Ramon Quintana, a member of the Morales' transition team.
Morales, who won Bolivia's presidency Dec. 18 with a decisive 54 percent of the vote, campaigned on promises to end the eradication of coca plantations. Coca eradication is a condition for aid from the United States, which gave Bolivia US$91 million (Ђ77 million) in 2005. The decision was made "mainly for reasons of sovereignty," said Quintana, who described Bolivia's Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking as "an appendix" of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"This poses a huge risk for the security of the state," he said. "All the national agencies and capabilities must be put back under the government control." Morales' team also announced that he will travel Friday to Cuba and then to several European nations in his first trip abroad since winning the election. He'll also visit Brazil, beginning on Jan. 13, before assuming office on Jan. 22, said his spokesman, Alex Contreras.
Bolivia's national police commander, Gen. David Aramayo, acknowledged that the United States offers "important support" in the coca-eradication campaign, but insisted that his force has been ultimately responsible for the drug unit. A U.S. embassy spokesman, who asked not to be identified by name, said the embassy would not comment on Quintana's announcement. Bolivia's armed forces have played a key role in the eradication of coca leaf, especially in the Chapare region where Morales came to national political prominence as a leader of the coca growers. Clashes between the military and growers have killed dozens of farmers since 1997. Coca is used to make cocaine, but it also has legal religious and medical uses. Indians also chew it to fight fatigue. Morales once wrote on his Web site, "Thanks to coca, we've made it through the endless suffering caused by the white man's infamous war on drugs." But he's also made a point of saying he'll crack down on cocaine trafficking while protecting the plant's traditional uses. Bolivian law currently allows 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of coca plantations, but official estimates put the actual size of the crop at some 27,700 hectares (68,000 acres), reports the AP. N.U.
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