There is nothing clandestine about Julián Rojas’s coca plot, which is tucked deep within acres of banana groves. It has been mapped with satellite imagery, cataloged in a government database, cross-referenced with his personal information and checked and rechecked by the local coca growers’ union. The same goes for the plots worked by Mr. Rojas’s neighbors and thousands of other farmers in this torrid region east of the Andes who are licensed by the Bolivian government to grow coca, the plant used to make cocaine.
President Evo Morales, who first came to prominence as a leader of coca growers, kicked out the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2009. That ouster, together with events like the arrest last year of the former head of the Bolivian anti-narcotics police on trafficking charges, led Washington to conclude that Bolivia was not meeting its global obligations to fight narcotics.
But despite the rift with the United States, Bolivia, the world’s third-largest cocaine producer, has advanced its own unorthodox approach toward controlling the growing of coca, which veers markedly from the wider war on drugs and includes high-tech monitoring of thousands of legal coca patches intended to produce coca leaf for traditional uses.
To the surprise of many, this experiment has now led to a significant drop in coca plantings in Mr. Morales’s Bolivia, an accomplishment that has largely occurred without the murders and other violence that have become the bloody byproduct of American-led measures to control trafficking in Colombia, Mexico and other parts of the region.