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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

17 November 2008

Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma said at Headquarters today that he planned to wage a campaign to remove coca from its listing under the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs, and that he would not allow United States federal drug agents to operate in his country.

At a press conference this afternoon following his address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Morales said coca leaf was not a poisonous substance in its natural state, its production would not promote drug addiction and Bolivia was not a drug-consuming culture. The real question was ending the diversion of coca to the production and trafficking of cocaine -– both of which were largely the result of high demand for the drug in the United States and other countries.

Rather than addressing that problem, he said, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the recently expelled United States Ambassador to Bolivia had focused more on supporting anti-Government groups and on conspiring to bring down the Morales Administration. DEA operatives were, in some cases, helping the drug trade. “I don’t think the DEA is the solution to combating drug trafficking. The DEA will not return whilst I am still President. But that doesn’t mean I’m breaking off relations with the United States.”

Stressing that his priority was to improve diplomatic and trade relations with the incoming President of the United States on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation, he said the election of Barack Obama, who, like himself, belonged to an ethnic group long subjected to racial discrimination, was an indication that the world was changing for the better.

Bolivia would fight cocaine trafficking with its own intelligence organization and armed forces, he said, noting that as much as 80 per cent of the millions of dollars in United States cooperation funds to fight the drug trade in the country had not benefited Bolivians. In fact, United States-funded programmes to replace the coca crop with cardamom and macadamia nuts, previously unknown to local farmers, was largely beneficial to United States-run plantations in Costa Rica, which supplied the seeds.

He went on to say that United States firms did a poor job of managing the logistics of anti-drug trafficking, a process that must be more transparent. Bolivia’s Defence Minister and other Government officials had reached out to counterparts in neighbouring South American countries and Europe to join the fight against drugs. For example, Bolivia was negotiating the purchase of helicopters from Brazil, France and the Russian Federation, possibly through emergency loans.

Asked how best to address the global financial crisis, he said he had expressed concern that large amounts of money were being invested in the financial sector rather than in support for other sectors, the unemployed and other victims of the crisis. The Bolivian State had chosen to regulate certain industries, such as oil, gas and sugar, to ensure that the revenue they generated benefited Bolivian citizens, not large corporations. That was the reason behind the introduction of export controls and the placing of the oil, sugar and other industries in the hands of small producers. The goal was for the State and producers to work as partners. Bolivia had also increased its international currency reserves from $1.7 billion at the start of the Morales Administration in January 2006 to almost $8 billion today.

Last year, the Government had raised its investment in the Productive Development Bank from $50 million to $100 million, he continued, noting that the institution issued loans at 6 per cent interest to boost the production of small, medium-sized and family-run businesses involved in carpentry, metal working, mechanics and dairy cooperatives.

He went on to say that he had recently met with officials of the Inter-American Development Bank to request a soft credit to invest $100 million to $200 million in productive sectors. Additionally, the Administration was using proceeds from the oil industry to slowly eradicate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. With the help of Cuban and Venezuelan officials, the Government had launched a national campaign to eliminate illiteracy by year’s end, particularly in rural areas. It had also instituted a “dignified” pension programme that granted a monthly stipend of 200 bolivianos (about $25) for all people aged 60 years and above.

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For information media • not an official record

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