Bolivia's Morales Vows Referendum on Coca Production

Bolivia's presidential front-runner said Tuesday he would not allow unlimited production of coca, the crop used to produce cocaine, but would call a referendum to ask how it should be controlled.

"There won't be the free cultivation of the coca leaf," Evo Morales said at news conference, where he also called on the U.S. government to enter into an agreement to "truly" fight drug trafficking.

Morales, a leftist coca grower who campaigned against a U.S.-backed coca eradication effort, gave few details about what voters would be asked to decide, but said, "It's important to listen to the people."

The government currently restricts coca production and has tried to carry out an aggressive, U.S.-funded effort to limit the crop.

He said the referendum would be carried out in coca-growing areas among growers known as "cocaleros."

He said his drug policy will be "zero cocaine and zero drug trafficking, but not zero coca or zero cocaleros," Morales said.

Morales also said the government would study whether to increase the amount of coca legally grown for traditional consumption. Current laws permit coca cultivation in 29,000 acres of the Yungas valley and a small amount in the Chapare region.

For thousands of years, people in the Andes have chewed coca to stave off hunger, made it into tea or used it as medicine. Most is grown on small family plots.

With 30 percent of the vote counted from Sunday's election, Morales had 48 percent, while conservative rival Jorge Quiroga had 35 percent, according to the National Electoral Court. Quiroga has conceded defeat.

Three independent vote counts sponsored by Bolivian news media showed Morales at or above the clear majority he would need to win outright. If he falls short, Bolivia's congress would decide the winner, but Tuesday's comments from the current administration of President Eduardo Rodriguez indicated officials consider the issue settled.