By Kathryn Ledebur, Linda Farthing and Thomas Grisaffi

Bolivia has seen widespread public protests in recent months against the interim government, led by Jeanine Añez, which has twice postponed elections due to coronavirus. Her government has repeatedly violated its mandate by passing new laws and persecuting its political opponents, including coca growers in the Chapare region east of Cochabamba, who we collaborate with on research projects.

Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of cocaine, a drug manufactured from coca leaves, which is central to Andean culture. Under the previous government of Evo Morales, coca growers benefited from a programme that allowed them to cultivate a plot of coca up to 2,500 square metres, and actively engaged farmers to self-police to respect these limits.

This policy, which emphasised community participation and respect for human rights, was lauded and funded by the European Union. Internationally recognised in the mainstream press as best practice in this area, Bolivia’s community coca control programme has long served as an example for cooperation in other parts of the world.

But this approach was recently reversed. One former EU official in the country confidentially told us that this represents a “significant setback”. Yet the EU has been helping to make this happen.