Bolivian President Evo Morales believes that in 2012 the United Nations will finally agree that chewing of coca leaves is a legal ancient tradition of all people living in the Andes. Bolivia signed an agreement with the United Nations in 1961 that gave the country 25 years to eradicate the growing of coca. “I am convinced that next year we will win this international ‘fight’ for the recognition of chewing coca leaves as a tradition of peoples in Latin America, living in the Andes,” Morales said in an interview
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca is on a European tour in a bid to drum up support for taking coca off a UN treaty on banned drugs. Spanish foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez told Mr Choquehuanca in Madrid that she "understood" Bolivia's demand and would try to mediate with other European countries thought to be considering an objection. Spain has already given its support to the Bolivian campaign. The US sent a letter to the United Nations saying it was opposed to the move.
Bolivians chewed coca leaves in demonstrations around the country Wednesday to push for a change in a 1961 UN convention to remove a ban on a practice that has been part of indigenous cultures here for millennia. Protesters gathered outside the US embassy in La Paz to chew the leaf as part of a day of demonstrations around the country celebrating the coca plant and demanding that the UN Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs be amended.
Today is the deadline for countries to submit objections to Bolivia’s proposed amendment to remove the ban on coca leaf chewing in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. As far as we know, six countries have formally notified the UN that they reject Bolivia’s amendment: the United States (January 19), Sweden (Jan 20), the United Kingdom (Jan 21), Canada (Jan 26), Denmark (Jan 28) and Germany (Jan 28). Some other European countries may add their objections today.
Thomas Grisaffi, Fellow in the Department of Social Anthropology
19 July 2011
On June 22nd under instruction from President Evo Morales (an ex-coca grower and leader of Bolivia’s powerful coca federation), Bolivia’s congress voted to withdraw from the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The government’s decision to step out of the most important international legal framework for drug control generated unease in international government and policy circles. Opposition parties in Bolivia responded to the news by claiming that the government had caved into pressure from drug traffickers. Meanwhile The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime classified the decision as ‘worrying’. Contrary to these voices the Bolivian government has very good reasons to abandon the convention.
In 2009, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, sent a letter to the General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, in which the Government of Bolivia proposed to amend article 49 paragraphs 1 c) and 2 e) of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. From Bolivia´s point of view, the international community holds in its hands a historic opportunity to correct a misconception regarding coca leaf chewing by eliminating both paragraphs of the Single Convention.
After the closure of the January 31, 2011, deadline to file objections to the Bolivian amendment to remove the ban on coca leaf chewing in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 18 objections were submitted. Although not required, four countries explicitly submitted their support: Spain, Ecuador, Venezuela and Costa Rica. Egypt, Macedonia and Colombia withdrew their objections.
The constraint on fresh thinking was on shameful display this week. A UN convention, reaffirmed in 2009, imposes a blanket prohibition on drugs. This includes even the traditional use of coca leaves by Andean Indians for chewing and tea. This ban has never been enforced and in 2009 Bolivia asked the UN to lift it—though not restrictions on coca cultivation for cocaine. With a deadline of the end of this month, America has lodged an objection and Britain looks poised to follow (see article). Traditional uses of coca are not addictive and are as much part of Andean culture as a cuppa is in Britain or beer in Texas. One reason for objecting seems to be that approval might open up a wider debate about legalising drugs.
TNI has been closely involved with the Global Commission on Drug Policy which presented its report in New York on June 2. Some years ago we published a report, entitled Cracks in the Vienna Consensus in which we argued that cracks were appearing in the supposedly universal model under the UN treaty system. In reality, the global system is based on a highly fragile consensus of Vienna, where the UN drug control system is headquartered, and the painstaking negotiations every year to keep up the appearance of unity have become the symbol of paralysis and frustration.
Bolivia has denounced the International Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which bans the traditional practice of chewing coca leaf. Adam talks with Martin Jelsma, who coordinates the Drugs and Democracy Program at the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute.
Bolivia initially proposed an amendment to article 49, deleting the therein contained obligation that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished”. The article allowed countries only a temporary exemption, but coca chewing had to be phased out in any case within 25 years which expired end 1989 (the 1961 Convention entered into force in December 1964). By the closure of the January 31, 2011, deadline to file objections to the Bolivian amendment, 18 objections were submitted (though the one from Ukraine seemingly did not arrive in time).
On 29 June 2011, the Bolivian government denounced the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, indicating its intention to re-accede with a reservation allowing for the traditional use of the coca leaf. This decision was triggered by Bolivia’s need to balance its obligations under the international drug control system with its constitutional and other international legal commitments. The move follows the rejection of Bolivia’s proposal to amend the Single Convention by deleting the obligation to abolish coca leaf chewing (Article 49) earlier this year.
The Bolivian government formally notified the UN Secretary General of its withdrawal from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) yesterday. The withdrawal will enter into effect on 1 January 2012. At that time, Bolivia will re-accede to the Convention with a reservation on the coca leaf and its traditional uses.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) regrets the decision by the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to denounce the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol. On 29 June 2011, in an unprecedented step, the Government of Bolivia denounced the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, to which the State of Bolivia had previously acceded. The Government also announced its intention to re-accede to this Convention but with a reservation regarding specific treaty provisions.
Today the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report. I’ve been following the Board for many, many years now, have often criticized its narrow interpretation of the treaties, have questioned the validity of its usually negative comments about any policy changes in the direction of harm reduction or decriminalization, and have warned repeatedly about its tendency to overstep its clearly defined mandate.
Policy makers, practitioners, academics, and representatives from NGOs and governmental organisations met in Lisbon, and discussed the Portuguese decriminalisation model, cannabis policy reform, and the agenda and global initiatives at the 54th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.