La Paz, Sep 8 (EFE).- A power struggle within the association representing coca growers in Bolivia’s La Paz province erupted into open violence Thursday as one of the rival factions attacked and set fire to a market in La Paz.
Members of a group within the Adepcoca association entered La Paz city on Thursday after walking more than 100 km (60 mi) from the subtropical Los Yungas region.
In Villa El Carmen, on the city’s north side, they besieged a “parallel” coca market run by Arnoldo Alanes, recognized a year ago by the national government as the leader of Adepcoca.
After nearly an hour hurling Molotov cocktails and sticks of dynamite at the police guarding the market, the Los Yungas contingent forced the gate and set the structure ablaze.
Some Alanes-aligned growers who tried to flee were beaten, along with a number of police officers.
The invaders from Los Yungas, led by Freddy Machicado, told Efe that they will demand direct talks with Bolivian President Luis Arce.
Machicado had told Efe previously that his supporters will not leave La Paz “empty-handed.”
Bolivia, like neighboring Peru, permits the cultivation of coca – the raw material of cocaine – in limited quantities for traditional use in folk medicine and Andean religious rites.
In its unadulterated form, coca is a mild stimulant that is valued in the Andes for its ability to counteract the effects of altitude sickness and ward off fatigue.
Former President Evo Morales, who began his political career as the leader of a coca-growers union, prevailed on the United Nations in 2013 to accept the reincorporation of Bolivia into the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, amended to remove a ban on chewing coca leaf.
Until September 2021, Bolivia had two legal markets for sale of coca leaf: one in La Paz’s Villa Fatima neighborhood and the other at Sacaba in the central province of Cochabamba.
But in line with the recognition of Alanes as head of Adepcoca, the Arce government authorized the opening of the “parallel” market in Villa El Carmen.
Bolivian authorities allow 22,000 hectares (54,320 acres) to be planted with coca. EFE lnm/dr