UN says Bolivia coca acreage down to 12-year low



LA PAZ, Bolivia -- The area under coca cultivation in Bolivia in 2013 dropped to its lowest in 12 years, decreasing 9 percent from 2012, the United Nations reported Monday.

That doesn't necessarily mean Bolivia is producing less cocaine. The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime does not measure potential cocaine production in Bolivia, the No. 3 coca producer, or in Peru, which the U.S. government says has been the world's top cocaine producer since 2011.

The United Nations said Bolivia's coca crop was down to 29 square miles (23,000 hectares) last year. That is 11.5 square miles (3,000 hectares) more than Bolivia's government says is needed to meet demand for the traditional uses of coca leaf. It is a mild stimulant used in religious rituals and is chewed and taken in tea to fight off fatigue and altitude sickness.

Last week, the U.N. said Peru's coca crop was down 17.5 percent last year — to 192 square miles (49,800 hectares).

Both countries practice manual eradication. Bolivia has powerful coca-growers unions, of which President Evo Morales is a leader, that help decide which crops are destroyed and which are legal.

Experts say less-productive fields tend to be destroyed, while cocaine-processing becomes more efficient.

Coca cultivation figures for Colombia are to be announced Thursday. The U.N. says Colombia had 185 square miles (48,000 hectares) in 2012.

The U.N., meanwhile, says Bolivian authorities seized 20.4 metric tons of cocaine last year, down 37 percent from 2012. It placed the value of Bolivia's coca crop at $283 million last year, nearly 1 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Bolivia, in addition to being a cocaine producer, is also a major transit country for Peruvian cocaine destined for Brazil, Argentina and Europe.

The U.S. government cut off all remaining counterdrug aid to Bolivia last year, deeming inadequate Morales' counter-narcotics cooperation.