Bolivia 'green brigade' to keep coca out of parks

AFP, LA PAZ — Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Monday he is creating a "green brigade" to prevent anyone from using national parks to grow coca -- the raw material for cocaine, also important in Andean culture.

"I want to warn any fellow in national parks" against the cultivation of coca, the president said in a speech broadcast on radio and television, noting that Bolivia's anti-narcotics laws make it illegal to use ecological reserves for the crop.

The president added that he has already discussed the plan with the country's armed forces.

Since 2009, Bolivia's constitution describes coca as a "cultural heritage, a renewable natural resource" and a key biodiversity element that helps maintain "Bolivian social cohesion."

When processed, the leaf can be turned into cocaine. But it is also an age-old keystone of indigenous Andean culture, chewed to fight altitude sickness, taken as a tea and used in religious ceremonies.

Morales, the country's first elected indigenous president, is a former coca grower and leader of the country's coca grower association. He defended the plant at the United Nations narcotics conference earlier this year.

His address Monday, marking Bolivia's national holiday, also praised his country's war on drugs, which he said has been waged "without much cooperation" since 2008, when Bolivia expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The government says it eradicated last year some 11,000 hectares (27,180 acres) of surplus coca and nearly 6,000 in the first half of this year.

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