Venezuela Lends Bolivia Money to Build 2 Coca Processing Plants

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Venezuela has loaned Bolivia about $250,000 to build two coca processing plants that will transform cocaine's raw ingredient into an invigorating but legal tea.

Jorge Alvarado, trade attache at the Bolivian Embassy in Caracas, told The Associated Press Thursday that Venezuela has extended between $200,000 to $250,000 in credits to Bolivian producers to build two plants in Chapare and Las Yungas.

Coca is the base ingredient for cocaine, but the leaves also have medicinal properties and other traditional uses. Bolivian President Evo Morales is seeking to process and commercialize coca into legal products such as coca tea, coca flour, coca-flavored liquor and coca toothpaste.

Alvarado said construction would begin within 15 days on the plants, which are expected to begin producing coca tea and "trimate" -- a blend of aniseed, chamomile and coca -- by September or October.

The plants will probably export their products to Venezuela, he added.

President Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Morales, has signed dozens of agreements with Bolivia and has spoken of plans to help it industrialize coca.

His government has pledged some $145 million in loans and financial aid to the Andean country and also promised to buy $100 million in Bolivian treasury bonds since Morales took office in January 2006.

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