Accepted paper:

Turning over new leaf? Drug policy as clientelism in plurinational Bolivia


Susan Brewer-Osorio (University of Arizona )

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes government approaches to coca production in Bolivia. The paper finds evidence of a 'carrot and stick' approach whereby drug policy is a political tool. The government eradicates in response to political opposition and sends development aid to reward electoral support.

Paper long abstract:

After decades of harsh drug laws, President Evo Morales (2005-) instrumented a policy shift towards a harm-reduction approach in Bolivia. Morales' drug policy reform decriminalized coca cultivation and empowered communities to monitor production levels, reducing cultivation in Bolivia by 34 percent. However, Morales upheld a 1988 law that differentiated legal, surplus and illicit coca production areas resulting in subnational policy variation. This paper takes advantage of Bolivia's distinct drug policy approach to analyze the factors that shape government approaches to drug crop production. Why do governments forcibly eradicate drug crops in some areas, while using positive incentives, such as development aid, to control cultivation in others? The main finding is that in Bolivia, drug policy is shaped by a 'carrot and stick' approach whereby the national government relies on forced eradication of coca in areas with an active political opposition and utilizes development aid in areas with a strong base of electoral support. The conclusion is that Bolivian drug policy is enforced selectively as a political tool to repress oppositions and to protect core constituencies, thereby resembling traditional clientelism. This finding is supported by empirical evidence from primary sources including interviews with Bolivian government and community leaders, analysis of a news archive, and United Nations coca cultivation survey data.

panel M1
Opening up the drug policy debate: grassroots perspectives