Release of the Friends of the Coca Leaf
15 January 2013
On January 11th, 2013, Bolivia rejoined the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, with a reservation to the articles that oblige the signing parties to abolish the traditional consumption of the coca leaf. Despite the opposition of the the International Narcotics Control Board and 15, especially Western countries, the United Nations had to accept the return of Bolivia under the new conditions.
This shows that the rules of the game in decision-making within the UN has changed. Twenty years ago it would have been unthinkable that the UN would adopt anything against the will of the collective formed by the U.S.A, Canada, the UK, Germany, Russia, France, Italy and Japan. But the days when the North could buy the votes of African and South American countries have gone.
However honesty compels us to say that apart from this, there is little reason to celebrate the reaccession of Bolivia. To say that this represents a triumph of the South is rather premature.
Firstly the reaccession means that the status of the coca leaf can be legal only within the Bolivian territory. That means nothing will change in practice. Consumers in Bolivia will continue to buy their coca leaf as usual, as the fact that according to the United Nations they were performing an illegal act had never worried them in the first place. And consumers outside of Bolivia continue to do everything to obtain that the leaves pass the borders without the authorities of their countries impeding it.
It would have been different if the Convention had been amended so that the coca leaf had been removed from it. Then it would have been possible to obtain the decriminalization of the leaf and its traditional derivatives in other countries and, consequently, the opening of a fair and healthy trade in these products.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the Convention to which Bolivia has just reaccessed is racist in its essence. The international ban on the coca leaf, which is based on this convention, has never been founded on science. There is not one scientific evidence to question the conclusion of hundreds of scientific studies that consumption of the sheet is only benefitial to human health.
Let us not forget that for decades, while it was prohibited to grow coca leaves for traditional consumption, export was legal for the manufacturing of Coca Cola, made in the USA. This is the truth that the Western countries would like to hide by voting against the reaccession of Bolivia: the coca leaf was added to the list of controlled substances for highly questionable reasons only.
Officially, the decision was taken because it had been recommended by a Commission of Inquiry of the UN who had visited the Andean region in 1949 and 1950. The president of this Commission, US citizen Howard Fonda, told Peruvian press in 1949, even before the enquiry had started “We believe that the daily, inveterate use of coca leaves by chewing … not only is thoroughly noxious and therefore detrimental, but also is the cause of racial degeneration in many centers of population, and of the decadence that visibly shows in numerous Indians – and even in some mestizos – in certain zones of Peru and Bolivia. Our studies will confirm the certainty of our assertions and we hope we can present a rational plan of action … to attain the absolute and sure abolition of this pernicious habit.. ”
In fact it is a shame that the new Bolivia remains signatory to an international convention that still takes one of the recommendations of this Commission for granted.
In order to the true value of the reaccession it is crucial to know the response of Bolivian authorities to the initiatives taken by citizens to construct a legal option to distribute organically grown coca leaves to consumers outside of Bolivia. As the “Friends of the Coca Leaf” have done, European citizens must take our responsibility and intervene in the situation of the coca leaf in a positive way.
Since the massive demand for cocaine has surged in Western countries, governments have been unable to reduce the problem. They have spent billions of euros in military operations that have led to violent confrontations with Andean peasants who try to survive growing coca. Either with forced eradication, or with so-called ‘alternative development’, they have been unable to reduce the supply of cocaine to Europe and improve the living standards of the peasants. Therefore, the latter are still forced to sell most of their harvest to the illegal market.
We create an option that gives the peasant producer of the coca leaf a legal alternative to drug traffickers, while delivering the European consumer the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the coca leaf in a legal and healthy way. During 2011 we have publically and transparently organised the shipment of more than 100 packages containing 150 grams of coca leaf each by some producers from Bolivia to dozens of consumers in Europe. None of the recipients nor the association has been persecuted by the authorities.
Several European officials have begun to tolerate traditional consumption of coca leaf (in Holland, Belgium and Spain coca leaves, tea or other products can be found in stores) so the coca leaf is escaping its prison built by racist institutions.
The global trend is towards a reform of drug laws – just analyze recent events in the U.S., Latin America and Europe – and therefore, the days when the Convention on Narcotic Drugs had any legitimacy are numbered. In order to be prepared for that day – when the international ban on coca leaf will come to an end – Bolivia should elaborate a national and international strategy in favor of a sustainable and fair trade with the coca leaf and its derivatives, as a real alternative to the illicit economy. To allow for small quantities for personal use to be carried abroad is the first step in that strategy.
On March 12th, 2013, the fourth Andean Meeting on the Coca leaf will take place in La Paz. We hope to participate to share concerns and perspectives with the producers and consumers of the coca leaf in the Andean region.
On behalf of the Association ‘Friends of the Coca Leaf’