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Morales defends Bolivians right to chew coca leaves at UN anti-drugs meeting

Tuesday, March 13th 2012 - 00:58 UTC
Full article 13 comments
Coca leaf producers were not “drug dealers”, it’s a millennium old tradition says Morales Coca leaf producers were not “drug dealers”, it’s a millennium old tradition says Morales

Bolivian President Evo Morales defended Bolivians' right to chew coca leaves, the main ingredient of cocaine, on Monday, saying it was an ancient tradition and the world's No. 3 cocaine producer was working to fight drug trafficking.

Holding up a coca leaf to help underline his message at a United Nations anti-drugs meeting in Vienna, the populist leader, a former coca leaf farmer, said coca leaf producers were not “drug dealers” and it was not the same as cocaine.

The coca leaf was declared an illegal narcotic in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, along with cocaine, heroin, opium and morphine and a host of chemical drugs.

Bolivia has withdrawn from the convention but hopes to re-join with a reservation recognizing coca chewing. It is unclear, however, whether it will secure sufficient support among other countries to be able to do that.

“We know that some countries already conveyed to us their strong opposition,” Yury Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told a news conference.

Fedotov expressed concern that this kind of request from Bolivia, in the long run, could undermine international law in the area of drugs control and could have a “domino effect”.

Morales said that chewing coca leaves was an “ancestral right” for Bolivians.

“We are not drug addicts when we consume the coca leaf. The coca leaf is not cocaine, we have to get rid of this misconception,” he said in a speech that ended with applause from the hall.

“This is a millennia-old tradition in Bolivia and we would hope that you will understand that coca leaf producers are not drug dealers.”

After Morales' speech, thousands of Bolivian coca farmers rallied in city squares across the Andean country chewing coca leaves in support of the president.

”We want to tell the world that the coca leaf is (part of our) culture, our identity and that's why we are asking for it to be removed from the blacklist of drugs,” said Roberto Coraite, leader of Bolivia's largest agricultural workers confederation.

Bolivia, the biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia, has been trying to promote coca's health benefits and develop legal uses for coca leaves.

Bolivians have chewed the leaves for centuries as a mild stimulant that reduces hunger and altitude sickness, and Morales has asked the United Nations to decriminalize the traditional practice.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

Top Comments

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  • Stefan

    Opium was a pretty old tradition in China. Jesus, maybe Morales needs to stop chewing these leaves like some sort of fat Koala and focus more on what a joke Bolivia is on the world stage. Perhaps our good friend Evo wants to hand out coca leaves so that the native Bolivians won't notice him demolishing the rainforest to build his mega-highway. Who knows? They might not even hear the thundering tracks of Chavez' tanks as they roll on through on their way to help KFC expand his puppet territories.

    Mar 13th, 2012 - 02:39 am 0
  • Dr Carrizal

    Opium, ekshilly, wasn't ever a tradition in China. It was an addiction, and forced on them by the Brits as the only currency they would pay the Chinese for the silk, tea, etc, they took out of the country. Poor Chinese merchants had to sell it to their own people to get their money back, ahhh - it's a hard life...

    Mar 13th, 2012 - 10:31 am 0
  • Ozgood

    Surely the Bolivians do not abuse the substane but need it to keep going in the very high altitudes of Bolivia.

    Mar 13th, 2012 - 11:04 am 0
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