Bolivian president Evo Morales, a former coca-leaf farmer, came to power promising to defend the right of Bolivians to produce coca for traditional uses. He kicked out the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2009, and began the country's own system of regulating coca-leaf production. Morales' move brought heavy criticism from Washington, and led the US government to conclude that Bolivia was failing to meet its commitment to fight the production of cocaine. But a new WOLA report suggests that the country's unorthodox measures are working
The UK says in its objection to Bolivia's reaccession to the 1961 UN Single Convention with a reservation that allows for the traditional chewing of coca, that it 'respects the cultural importance of the coca leaf in Bolivia'. It also recognises the status of traditional uses of coca under the Bolivian Constitution. These words reflect that change in views one would have expected since the 1960s. But in what way does the UK in fact 'respect' the cultural importance of coca when going on to try to see through the destruction of the manifestation of that culture? (See also: Objections to Bolivia's reservation to allow coca chewing in the UN conventions)
Evo Morales’ global crusade to decriminalize the coca leaf, launched in 2006 after the coca growers’ union leader was first elected president of Bolivia, has finally attained a partial, if largely, symbolic victory. A year ago, Bolivia temporarily withdrew from the 1961 U.N. convention on narcotic drugs because it classifies coca leaf, the raw material of cocaine, as an illicit drug. It has now rejoined, with one important caveat: The centuries-old Andean practice of chewing or otherwise ingesting coca leaves, a mild stimulant in its natural form, will now be universally recognized as legal within Bolivia.
A major international row with wide-ranging implications for global drugs policy has erupted over the right of Bolivia's indigenous Indian tribes to chew coca leaves, the principal ingredient in cocaine.
Tradition is disposable. Evidence is marginal. Economic arguments are not important. This, in a nutshell, is what Sweden said to the UN to oppose traditional uses of coca in Bolivia. It is opposite of what it says to the EU to defend the use and sales of snus at home. Sweden may have gained a small amount of favour from the US, and it may have further promoted its reputation for being tough on drugs, but it did so by contradicting itself, providing clear ammunition to those who would seek to enforce the ban on snus and ensure that the export ban is not lifted.
Last week, the United Nations voted on an appeal by Bolivia to amend the international treaty that prohibits the chewing of coca leaf. Bolivia won a partial victory — a tiny sign that the world may be ever so slowly coming to its senses on the insanely harsh treatment of this humble, mostly harmless plant and the people, mostly South American natives, who enjoy it in its raw form. (Ricardo Cortés is the author of A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola)