Military Sowed Conflict for Bolivia’s Coca Conundrum: traditional production vs drug trafficking

The EU is funding a $1.3m anti-drugs centre in Yapacani, a city on the edge of Bolivia’s Chapare region. Chapare is a major production area for coca, the raw material used in cocaine. Whilst the anti-drug centre will focus its work against traffickers, indigenous people worry that their involvement in coca production for traditional purposes will see them targeted.

Chewing coca is part of Bolivia's cultural heritage
Chewing coca is part of Bolivia’s cultural heritage

Coca production and consumption has been a feature of Andean life for thousands of years, with the plant used both as a medicine and as a stimulant against altitude sickness. Whilst limited coca production is permitted for some indigenous groups in Bolivia, the line between legal and illicit harvesting has become increasingly blurred, particularly as some farmers have become involved (forcibly or otherwise) with drug cartels.

The inauspicious-looking coca plant
The inauspicious-looking coca plant

The involvement of indigenous populations in the cocaine industry became embedded in Bolivia during the period of military rule between 1964 and 1982:

With military collusion, a trade in coca leaf was developed by drug cartels which paid poor Indian peasants to grow the traditional leaf for processing into cocaine in Colombia…Many desperate ex-miners and landless peasants migrated to the eastern lowlands, especially the Chapare region near Cochabamba, to grow coca leaf for the drug trade (Williamson, 2009, p. 604)

The economic devastation caused by military rule left many Bolivian peasants and itinerants with no option but to involve themselves in the drug trade. This subsequently precipitated the intervention of American-backed president Hugo Banzer in a brutal ‘cocaine war’ to eradicate coca production sites. (Patton, 2002, p.3)

Whilst the intention to eradicate Bolivia’s link with the cocaine trade was understandable:

Eradication hit the peasant growers very hard because compensation for the loss of their crops was inadequate and alternatives fetched much lower prices. (Williamson, 2009, p. 605)

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s current president and former leader of the coca-producing federation, has tried to allow increased indigenous production whilst simultaneously limiting the influence of the drug cartels. Such a goal, unfortunately, is almost impossible, as drug gangs and indigenous coca-producers have become inextricably linked in the cocaine supply chain.

Evo Morales has blamed drug use in the West for causing Bolivia's coca conundrum
Evo Morales has blamed drug use in the West for causing Bolivia’s coca conundrum

To eradicate coca production altogether would alienate the indigenous base on which Morales rests his legitimacy. To allow it to flourish inadvertently increases the power of the cartels.

It is an unenviable situation, one caused by Morales’ predecessors and Western habits, where the president is torn between choosing one of two evils or allowing the destabilising status quo to persist.


Patton J, ‘Counterdevelopment and the Bolivian Coca War’, The Fletcher Journal of Development Studies (Volume XVII, 2002)

Williamson E, The Penguin History of Latin America (St Ives, 2009)


London is not England: the question of equality in the UK

“London is not only England, but to a very large extent Scotland and Wales as well…it is merely to recognize the centralization of the interests of a comparatively small and densely populated country about an urban agglomeration which contains one-fourth of its entire population, and which is at the same time its political, social, intellectual, financial and industrial capital”. (Scarborough, 1934)

London in the 1930s - a bustle familiar to today
London in the 1930s – a bustle familiar to today

Harold Scarborough made the above statement in relation to the superior standard of the London press compared with the rest of Britain yet his general point remains relevant 80 years on. London is so essential to the economic and political status of the UK that even considering to try and disseminate national influence to provincial cities may seem pointless.

This is not to say that areas outside London are unproductive or in any way worthless. It is simply that, even as a capital city and seat of government, London hoards a disproportionate amount of national power.

As such, many people are criticising the High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) project, which proposes to develop a new rail link between London and Birmingham by 2026 and then on to Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds by 2032. With the costs anticipated to go beyond £50bn, and large swathes of rural heartland set to be obliterated from the map, such criticism is understandable.

What even those not affected directly by HS2 argue is that the improved commuter times and rail links will not actually rebalance the economic and political influence of the country, or create jobs further north, which is what the government hopes will happen.

Protests against HS2 flare-up periodically
Protests against HS2 flare-up periodically

Whilst businesses are unlikely to relocate further north simply because of infrastructural improvements, there could still be an indirect net gain for the provincial cities. Particularly, workers will have the potential to live further away from London and yet still commute to the capital easily. Therefore the economic catchment area of London will expand, raising the values of properties further north and hopefully leading to reinvestment by businessmen in their local communities.

The likelihood of political and trade conferences being held further north – something already being addressed by the main political parties – would also increase.

What must never be forgotten, however, is the already existing cultural and intellectual importance of Britain’s outlying counties. Home to a variety of reputed academic institutions and think-tanks, patronised by a plethora of diverse cultures, locations outside London are essential to the make-up of the UK. To overstate the ‘North-South Divide’ is damaging.

As Scarborough noted in 1934:

Among the provincial newspapers the Manchester Guardian stands head and shoulders above the rest as a national, and indeed an international force…it is, in the best sense of the terms, an intelligent, liberal, reasonable and urbane newspaper, read as carefully by its opponents as by its adherents.

Whilst sceptics might point to the fact that the Manchester Guardian is now a left-leaning, London-headquartered newspaper, it is an example of the historic intellectual and cultural contribution of the provincial cities (just look at Oxbridge for another). Whilst the decline of British manufacturing has diluted their economic contribution, that is not a reason to slander their efforts or precipitate jealous questions about London’s privileges.

The influence of the Oxbridge colleges on London politics cannot be overestimated
The influence of the Oxbridge colleges on London politics cannot be overestimated

The capital may lead but it is only as good as its constituent parts; and many of these parts originate in the so-called provinces.


Scarborough H, ‘The British Press’, Foreign Affairs (April 1934)

From Guinea to the Peloponnesian War: tracing the devastation of the Ebola virus

Panic has hit the Guinean capital of Conakry after fears grew that the lethal Ebola virus may have spread from the remote rainforest region in the south of the country, where at least 59 people have died. Whilst tests on suspected case victims in the capital have come back negative for Ebola, citizens are on high hygiene alert in a bid to stave off the advance of the disease.

A little-understood virus with no definitive cure, Ebola has only really been documented since the 1970s, with nearly all suspected cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst bats are thought to be the carriers of the virus, further research awaits.

Some Fruit Bats at are thought to be a reservoir species of the Ebola virus
Some Fruit Bats at are thought to be a reservoir species of the Ebola virus

Surprisingly, a suggestion for an historic incidence of the Ebola virus is the Plague of Athens, which killed approximately one-third of the Greek capital’s population during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).

Thucydides describes the plague in detail in his remarkable The History of the Peloponnesian War:

A plague so great as this, and so dreadful a calamity, in human memory could not be parallelled. The physicians at first could administer no relief, through utter ignorance; nay, they died the fastest, the closer their attendance on the sick, and all human art was totally unavailing. Whatever supplications were offered in the temples, whatever recourse to oracles and religious rites, all were insignificant; at last, expedients of this nature they totally relinquished, overpowered by calamity. (Thucydides, 1818, p.153)

The Plague of Athens led many to question their belief in the Gods
The Plague of Athens led many to question their belief in the Gods

The disease clearly spread quickly to those working in close proximity of the infected (a not unusual occurrence with highly-contagious viruses) and doctors were completely baffled. More interestingly:

It broke out first, as it is said, in that part of Ethiopia which borders upon Egypt; it afterwards spread into Egypt and Libya, and from thence it on a sudden fell on the city of the Athenians. (Ibid, p.153)

Even in an age of restricted international movement the plague had been traced as far south as Ethiopia. It is certainly possible that its origin was even further south. Additionally, the description of the symptoms are strikingly similar to those exhibited by people suffering from the Ebola virus:

But those who enjoyed the most perfect health were suddenly, without any apparent cause, seized at first with headaches extremely violent, with inflammations, and fiery redness in the eyes. Within – the throat and tongue began instantly to be as red as blood; the breath was drawn with difficulty and had a noisome smell…When once settled in the stomach, it excited vomitings, in which was thrown up all that matter physicians call discharges of bile, attended with excessive torture. (Ibid, p. 154)

It is easy to why some people have postulated the idea that the Plague of Athens was actually a case of Ebola virus (or at least something remarkably similar). The high fatality rate quickly devastated the city, descriptions of the symptoms are consistent with internal hemorrhaging and the swift transmission of the disease to caregivers is typical of a Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) such as Ebola.

That the plague spread from Athens to ravage much of the Eastern Mediterranean shows its potency. In a globalised world with rapid transit routes, the grave fear remains that such a virus can spread internationally in a matter of days.

In densely-packed capital cities, the Ebola virus could spread rapidly
In densely-packed capital cities, the Ebola virus could spread rapidly

The Plague of Athens may have been critical in contributing to the defeat of the Delian League during the Peloponnesian War. Whilst no such political stakes are at play in Guinea, for the people of Conakry and neighbouring settlements, their fears are unlikely to be alleviated quickly.


Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War (Philadelphia, 1818)