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Former Miss Bolivia appointed by Bolivian President Evo Morales to encourage “coca” farmers not to grow drugs.

Jessica Jordan has been handpicked by Bolivian President Evo Morales to encourage farmers not to grow drugs.

Latin America’s drug war has long been a byword for ugliness: a macho, brutal world where grim-faced soldiers battled ruthless narco-traffickers in jungles and slums.

In such a world, Jessica Anne Jordan Burton cuts a somewhat incongruous figure. The 26-year-old British-born former model and beauty queen has become a controversial figurehead in Bolivia‘s increasingly fraught campaign against cocaine barons.

It is far from clear that this is a battle she is winning, but there is no doubting her courage. President Evo Morales, a socialist Aymara Indian, has appointed the former Miss Bolivia, who has not held previous public office, to be his viceroy in Beni, a remote and volatile drug-infested province.

“Drugs are a problem. Trafficking is a problem. Corruption is a problem. Poverty is a problem. So I feel I have a mission,” Jordan told the Observer last week, after a few weeks in the job. “I am taking this post very seriously and I love it. I feel I am in my place.”

She accepted the possibility of assassination that came with the job. “My life is always at risk. There’s only one life and I think we have to work the best we can to leave something behind.”

Jordan, born in Bath, Somerset, to a British engineer and Bolivian mother, moved to Bolivia as a young girl after her parents divorced. She said she would crack down on illegal logging and gold mining as well as drugs. “I’d like to change the image of Beni as a pirate, trafficking area. It is time for this region to grow as we always dreamed.”

The appointment, which astonished Bolivia, has turned the spotlight on the country’s faltering effort to rein in drug traffickers amid grim tidings from the rest of the region. The official death toll from Mexico’s four-year crackdown has jumped to 28,000, prompting talk of once unthinkable measures such as legalising marijuana. Despite a US-backed military campaign, Colombia remains the world’s biggest producer of cocaine. Remnants of the Shining Path guerrillas in Peru ramped up production of coca leaves, cocaine’s raw ingredient, to 119,000 tonnes last year.

The picture in Bolivia is also bleak. UN and US officials estimate that 30,000 hectares of illegal coca is now being cultivated. Authorities have seized more than 18 tonnes of cocaine this year but that is believed to be a small fraction of what is being shipped to Brazil and Europe, reportedly making cocaine Bolivia’s third main revenue source after gas and mining.

“There are a lot of very experienced foreign drug traffickers and producers based here now,” said Bolivia’s anti-drugs chief, Felipe Cáceres. “With the Colombians bringing down their methods, producers can produce much more [cocaine] paste with less coca. They have much more sophisticated methods.”

Local gangs had forged ties with Mexico’s Zeta cartel and two Brazilian networks, First Capital Command and Comando Vermelho…READ MORE HERE