Bolivian coca farmers are stepping on capital and burning up a contested market

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LA PAZ, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Thousands of coca growers entered the Bolivian capital of La Paz on Thursday and set fire to what they said was a new illegal market for the leaf.

The producers, who marched for five days from the Yungas region north of La Paz, broke through police lines and attacked with dynamite, firecrackers and Molotov cocktails. No one was seriously injured.

The market was established in October 2021 in addition to two existing wholesale coca markets licensed under Bolivian law in La Paz and Cochabamba. In these markets, the quantities of coca and the buyers are regulated.

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The country’s politicized coca sector is at odds in the legal La Paz market.

Agustin Mamani, one of the march leaders, said marchers numbered more than 10,000. No official crowd estimate was available.

Esar Apaza, the indigenous leader of a group calling for the closure of the new coca market, blamed the government of President Luis Arce for allowing it to open.

“The government and its ministers are responsible for this,” Apaza said.

The coca leaf has long been cultivated in the Andes for its nutritional and medicinal benefits, as well as being the raw material for cocaine.

Coca growers said they would not return to their areas until the government resolved the dispute.

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Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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