Bolivia coca farmers battle for control of market

Bolivia’s coca farmers are battling for control of their main market in the highland city of La Paz.

A fire broke out near where protesters and police clashed on Monday, with both sides blaming each other.

Farmers from the nearby Yungas region are at odds over the leadership of the body that runs the huge market for coca.

It’s the raw ingredient for cocaine, but many in the Andes chew it to ward off the effects of high altitude or brew into teas.

There're two factions of farmers in this fight, one around the government-backed head of the coca management body Adepcoca, Arnold Alanes.

The other side supports government critic Armin Lluta who says the ruling party and former president Evo Morales is trying to seize greater control of the trade.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the Yungas region produces and trades some $200 million of coca a year in the local market, most of it through illicit channels.

A coca grower said that conditions were tough for farmers who have stoked unrest.

"How much do we harvest from a coca plot? In cold weather we don't harvest much. It's not enough for our family.”

Alanes told a group of coca growers on Tuesday that he had been elected by farmers themselves and said he’s trying to stamp out corruption in the market.

Some protest leaders have called for his replacement.

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