Turning Over a New Leaf: A Subnational Analysis of ‘Coca Yes, Cocaine No’ in Bolivia

Abstract: International pressure to suppress cocaine trafficking sustained decades of harsh drug laws in Bolivia against cocaleros (coca producers), thus affecting coca production for traditional consumption and for manufacturing illicit cocaine. These harsh drug laws caused social unrest in cocalero communities outside traditional coca zones. President Evo Morales, leader of the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement toward Socialism, MAS) party, implemented ‘Coca Yes, Cocaine No’ (CYCN), a harm-reduction strategy that authorised ‘non-traditional’ farmers to cultivate legal coca and self-police production. This article compares CYCN outcomes in Bolivia's traditional and non-traditional coca regions and finds that strong cocalero organisations were vital to CYCN success in non-traditional areas. In contrast, organised resistance in traditional zones restricted CYCN success and added to regime instability in the lead-up to Morales’ forced resignation in 2019. Hence, while Morales harnessed state power to change drug policy, he was constrained by the rural grassroots organisations that brought him to power.