The coca-cocaine issue has gained momentum by the ascending of a peasant leader to the presidency in Bolivia, who announced making a case for the de-scheduling of the coca leaf from it's current classification as a dangerous narcotic drug in the international drug control conventions. Time has come to clarify longstanding confusion on the distinction between the coca leaf and its principal derivate cocaine.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) released a new short film in their excellent series on the proceedings of the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). In "Coca Leaf: The Heritage of the Andes" Felipe Cáceres, the Vice Minister of Social Defence of Bolivia is interviewed. He explains the traditional use of the coca leaf and rejects the controversial statements of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in its 2007 annual report calling on the Bolivian and Peruvian governments to eliminate the use of coca leaf contrary to the 1961 Single Convention and to abolish coca chewing and coca tea.
The international legal status of the coca leaf and of its traditional uses in the Andes has long been ambiguous and contested. While the International Narcotics Control Board in 1994 stated its intention to remove those ambiguities, it has instead moved towards a more intolerant criticism of policies carried out by countries like Bolivia in their renewed promotion of coca.
On July 30th the Bolivian proposal to amend the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs by deleting the obligation to abolish the chewingof coca leaf was on the ECOSOC agenda (UN Social and Economic Council). After informal negotiations, the 54 members of ECOSOC decided unanimously to pass the amendment proposal on to the Parties of the Convention for their consideration. They now have 18 months to express any objections or comments on the Bolivian request.
A myriad of documents and records of meetings published by the UN, reveal a previously unwritten history of events leading to the 1998 UNGASS meeting. These show the extent to which the hardliners have gone to maintain the status quo through rhetoric, denial, manipulation, selective presentation, misrepresentation and suppression of evidence, selective use of experts, threats to funding, and purging "defeatists" from the UN system.
The "international community" presented an apparent unanimity in its endorsement of prohibitive drug control at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in 1998. The reality is that there is a longstanding conflict within the UN system between nations wanting to maintain the prohibition regime and those hoping for a more pragmatic approach.