Conflicts & War

British academic enlists in struggle of Bolivian coca growers

By Gabriel Romano

La Paz, Sep 20 (EFE).- Alison Spedding, an anthropologist and fantasy author from the United Kingdom who has spent the last three decades growing coca in Bolivia, is deeply involved in the struggle for control of the association representing growers in La Paz province, Adepcoca.

Known as “the doctor” for her PhD from the London School of Economics, she joined other Adepcoca members in a march here Monday to demand the release of their jailed leader, Fredy Machicado.

“I am an Adepcoca member,” Spedding told Efe in British-accented English.

She arrived in Bolivia in the 1980s to conduct research for her doctoral dissertation on the social structure of coca-growing communities.

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.

Spedding, 60, told Efe that it was to fill in the gaps in her understanding of the production process that led her to acquire a plot of land and plant coca.

“As was compulsory, I had to join (Adepcoca) and fulfill the social function, which I have done since then. My oldest coca plot is 31 years old,” she said.

Alongside growing coca, Spedding teaches at San Andres University in La Paz and continues to write fiction in English and Spanish.

On Sept. 8, Machicado and a contingent of his supporters entered La Paz city after walking more than 100 km (60 mi) from the subtropical Los Yungas region.

The Yungas growers besieged and ultimately set fire to a “parallel” coca market run by Arnoldo Alanes, recognized a year ago by the national government as the leader of Adepcoca.

Machicado was arrested a few days later and remains in custody.

To resolve the conflict within Adepcoca, President Luis Arce’s government should “act according to the law,” Spedding said, adding that if Machicado is facing charges for the violence of Sept. 8, Alanes supporters who hurled Molotov cocktails and sticks of dynamite during the confrontation should likewise be prosecuted.

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 the Villa El Carmen district of La Paz.

Spedding said that the opening of a third market contributed to driving down the price of coca leaf to a “historic” low.

“This is because the government abandoned all organization and regulation of the coca trade according to the laws they themselves have promulgated,” she said. EFE grb/dr

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