Curricular Materials - The War on Drugs, as Seen from Bolivia
What does the US “War on Drugs” look like from abroad?
The United States’ War on Drugs looks very different from a Bolivian perspective than from a North American vantage point. Significantly, US efforts to curb illicit drug use, specifically attempts to eradicate the coca leaf, have help propel a coca-grower named Evo Morales to prominence; Morales now serves as the western hemisphere’s first indigenous national president. The resources provided here explore the history of the coca leaf, its importance in Bolivian culture, and recent United States efforts to eradicate the coca plant. They explain how something seemingly as straight-forward as “war against drugs” can have complex international ramifications.
These materials were created in 2009 by Daniel Cohen, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at NYU.
CurriculumBackground Essay: In this informative essay, Cohen reviews the difference between the coca plant and the narcotic cocaine. He also provides an overview of the U.S. War on Drugs and coca-eradication efforts, as well as the Bolivian reaction.
Evo Morales Op-Ed, “Let me Chew My Coca Leaf”: In this opinion piece for the New York Times, Bolivian President Evo Morales discusses the importance of the coca plant for the Bolivian people and the effect its criminalization has had on his nation.
Chart Illustrating US Incarceration Rates against Drug Prices: This chart addresses the domestic side of the War on Drugs and analyzes whether increasing incarceration of drug offenders has made illegal drugs less widely available.
Supplementary ResourcesCoca Museum: The Museo de Coca’s website contains useful information on this history of the coca plant, its traditional uses, the production of cocaine, and the problems associated with cocaine and cocaine addiction. Additional resources are also listed.
Drug Policy: The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) provides rich detail on the international impact of the U.S. War on Drugs.
Coca Si, Cocaina No: A short magazine piece written by Cohen on efforts to produce alternative coca products.
Coca Yes, Cocaine No?: This 24-page pamphlet from the Transnational Institute provides a background discussion of coca’s legal prohibition in historical and contemporary context.
Cocalero: this highly-recommended film is available on Netflix and Netflix Streaming and chronicles the rise of President Evo Morales out of the coca-growers movement.