Coca growers want to reelect Morales

Two days after President Evo Morales announced he would step down as leader of a federation of coca growers, Bolivian farmers said they want to re-elect him. "There is a consensus to re-elect Evo Morales," said Justino Parra, one of the participants in a meeting of "cocaleros," or coca farmers, in the central city of Cochabamba.

The farmers came from the coca growing region of Chapare, 580 kilometers (360 miles) southeast of La Paz, where the leftist Morales rose to national prominence as a union leader before being elected Bolivia's first Indian president in December.

"For the first time, we will not plan how to resist a government that does not pay attention to our demands, or how to defend the coca leaf," said union member Julio Salazar. "Now the six (coca) federations are in the government, and the president of the republic is a coca grower."

"Now we will plan to defend the government," Salazar added. Morales announced his decision to step down in a speech Saturday before the opening session of the gathering. He also asked the coca growers to respect a 2004 agreement that limited cultivation of the leaf.

Morales has guaranteed the farmers they will be allowed to grow 1,600 square meters (0.4 acre) of coca per family in Chapare, as established by a deal struck under the government of former president Carlos Mesa.

Coca is the basic ingredient of cocaine, but also has legal, traditional medical and religious uses in Bolivia. The meeting will close Tuesday night with the election of a leadership for the six cocalero unions, reports the AP.

N.U.