a1 Professor of Anthropology at Towson State University.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries of the hemisphere and its rural people have among the lowest life expectancy, health-care standards and educational levels of all Latin Americans. It is the only country in South America with a ranking of ‘low’ on the Human Development Index for 1991 compiled by the United Nations, a measure combining the per capita product with such factors as longevity and access to education. At the same time, the most valuable export of the country, cocaine, depends on the coca supplied by peasant cultivators in the regions where it grows. The explosion of the international cocaine trade has had profound repercussions, both positive and negative, on the lives of the campesinos of the Bolivian Yungas, who happened to supply, since colonial times and before, the coca destined for traditional consumption within the country; it was their most reliable cash crop. The conversion of their ancient crop to an illicit commodity of high, concentrated value has created the opportunity for some to experience a marginally enhanced standard of living (at a time when other rural Bolivians were seeing their own abysmal standard depressed even further), but at the same time has increased the risks they would run if they entered the lucrative but illegal cocaine trade.