The thesis of Jack Weatherford’s “Cocaine and the Economic Deterioration of Bolivia”, is that cocaine, particularly the results of its demand and production costs, has contributed to the economic, moral, and cultural decline of Bolivia. Additionally, the cocaine trade has increased the number of health concerns for Bolivians. This decline is rampant and pervasive with its true ramification s being hard to initially assess. This is because, Weatherford asserts, the deleterious effects mostly manifest in poor rural areas such as Pocona, a Quechua Indian settlement, where he focuses his study. Villages like Pocona are where most Bolivians live and few outsiders venture. Formerly, these villages, in mountainous areas, could depend upon trucks coming to transport crops like potatoes, corn and beans to market or trading the crops with neighboring villages for coca. But with the increasing demand for cocaine in the developed countries of North American and Europe, coca, processed to make cocaine, is no longer used in traditional ways.
That is to say that Bolivians no longer receive the economic benefits from the traditional use of coca. Now coca grown in the Chapare, lower elevation areas far from Pocona, has become the chief crop of an economy caught in a cash nexus with a nearly worthless currency. Men can make three times more money working in the fields on a coca plantation than if they worked farms in villages like Pocona. As a result, the work force that once made villages like Pocona marginally profitable, now work in the Chapare. The trucks that once came to the rural areas (Pocona) now go exclusively to the Chapare. This reduces places like Pocona to eating meals solely from the crops they grow. Young girls from Pocona and similar villages often become prostitutes on the Chapare and young men go there receive debilitating scars from their work in the initial processes of cocaine production. Such often permanently removes them from Bolivia’s workforce.
The young men are given what is called pasta, a highly addictive drug made from coca, to numb the physical pain involved in processing coca leaves with a volatile chemical cocktail. Many become addicted to pasta and begin to lose all of their earnings to fund their drug habits. Some sell their sisters into prostitution and return home to take anything of value from their destitute families. The direct result of such behavior is initially the creation of health crisis. Bolivia has a growing number of malnourished, diseased (mostly venereal) and/or permanently disabled people.
Yet, the negative results of cocaine production are not limited to health issues. Moral and cultural issues develop as fathers and sons migrate to the Chapare to earn more money – most never return home. They leave the survival of villages to dwindling groups of women and children who either become prostitutes, involved in coca processing, or hormigas (ants) who transport either cocaine or various chemicals used in cocaine production. The end result of dwindling villages, like Pocona, Weatherford points out, is the inevitable decimation of traditional Indian groups like the Quechua. Those not wiped out by Colonialism must now contend with the problems inherent in the switch from a thousands of years old bartering system to a capitalistic system; this in a country without sufficient infrastructure to police the latter.
In essence, Weatherford’s article is about a village in Bolivia, whose problems are applicable to the whole country. It illustrates how a single cash crop can further the destruction of a country’s economy and people. Finally it remarks upon the problems inherent to imposing capitalistic systems upon countries lacking the infrastructure to makes full uses of them. More important it highlights how the demands of developed countries are still holding developing countries hostage in terms of economic systems, long after the eradication of colonialism and mercantilism.
The thesis of Jack Weatherford’s “Cocaine and the Economic Deterioration of Bolivia” is that cocaine production has been a major contributor to declines in the economy, morality, health and use of traditional practices of Bolivia’s people. For Bolivians, life and its subsistence, is increasingly intertwined with cocaine production. As Bolivia’s people become increasingly dependent upon coca, the plant used to make cocaine, as a cash crop, they rap more the negative effects of a boom-and-bust economy (Weatherford, date). However, an in-depth exploration of Bolivia’s cocaine crisis is best explained utilizing the theory of social interactionism.
Until cocaine production began to take place on a wide scale in Bolivia, the coca plant was simply one crop among potatoes, corn, beans, papaya and many others. Bolivians usually either chew the coca leaves or make a warm drink, both generate physical effects upon the body similar to the one produced by coffee. And provided among vitamins A, C, and D, calcium for a country with lactose intolerant people and neither a dairy system nor readily available dental care. Now coca is used to make an addictive drug, in great demand in the developed world. Understandably, Bolivian attitudes toward coca have changed.
Coca, once a fairly innocuous plant treated with no more than average distinction, is increasingly seen as a necessary evil. Weatherford indicates how Bolivians feel about cocaine and the way it has taken over their lives. He quotes a Quechua Indian woman who asks why Americans, who she, like many other Bolivians, believes can make anything, do not make their own cocaine, so that the young males Bolivia can leave the coco plantations. Even though the young males can make more money on these plantations, the money never filters back into the Bolivian economy. And this Quechua Indian woman is well aware of why: the young men employed to process coca leaves into pasta, the base from which cocaine will be made, are harmed for life.
They are physically disabled by the corrosive chemical mixture used to break down the coca. Additionally, they are given cigarettes coated with the pasta so that they bear the pain of macerating, with hands and feet, the coca leaves. This leads to a pasta addiction on which they spend all their earnings. Some of the young men, now disabled, sell the pasta. And some even rob the family home they left to support, of its meager wealth – from food to sisters who can be prostituted. In addition to permanent disability and drug addiction, many contract venereal diseases from the prostitutes provided to workers on coca plantations. When they return home they carry diseases like syphilis and AIDS which are subsequently spread all over Bolivia.
Taking the entire above negative effects into consideration, is it any wonder that Bolivians, affected so directly and in such ways view coca with increasing ambivalence – and those outsiders desiring cocaine with extreme dislike. While cocaine means a few moments of pleasure for those in the developed world, it provides only lifelong pain to Bolivians. For them, the money to survive is increasingly dependant upon the cocaine trade. In essence, Bolivia is reduced to serving under the auspices of an economic system akin to colonialism and mercantilism.
Soon a native crop of Bolivia will have lost all of its traditional value. Relations between the everyday people of Bolivia and the developed world making such demands upon Bolivians, will worsen. And of most concern, many Native groups of Bolivia will be decimated; no longer enriching the world with either their cultural or biological heritage.