Chapare lies in the heart of Bolivia, where the western highlands shade off into the eastern, low-lying rain forests. The region is famed for the production of coca. Traditionally the leaves were chewed, but they are also the most important ingredient in the production of cocaine. The latter fact means that growing coca is controversial, but also financially attractive. For decades poverty-stricken farmers and their families, generally from the highlands, have been migrating to Chapare to benefit from the high price of coca
Its damp, tropical climate makes Chapare ideally suited for growing coca. For years the Bolivian army, in cooperation with the Americans, used heavy-handed methods to try to suppress its production, but times have changed. In 2006 President Evo Morales, himself once the leader of the coca farmers, made coca the national symbol. He called a halt to the repression and permitted families to cultivate small fields for personal uses, such as chewing, tea and medicines. He is lobbying for the legalization of the leaves, which for centuries have been used for traditional purposes, but are forbidden outside Bolivia.
This story is part of Via Panam, Kadir van Lohuizen’s project about migration in the Americas.