Bolivian President Evo Morales ate a coca leaf in front of delegates at the Vienna meeting of the UN Commission for Narcotic Drugs (CND) March 12, to press his demand that the crop be removed from the UN’s list of prohibited drugs. “We’re for the coca leaf but against cocaine,” Morales said. “The coca leaf should no longer be vilified and criminalized!”
Calling the ban of the leaf a “major historical mistake,” Morales said: “Coca leaf consumption goes back to the year 3000 BC. How are you going to end its consumption in 25 years, knowing that it is not harmful?” This was a reference to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which established a list of internationally prohibited drugs and called for the chewing of the coca leaf to be abolished within 25 years.
In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Morales called for removing coca leaf from the Single Convention treaty. “Chewing coca leaves is a thousand-year-old practice of the indigenous communities in the Andes mountains that can’t and shouldn’t be prohibited,” Morales wrote, according to a copy of the letter e-mailed to Bloomberg news service by Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry. The coca policies “established by the UN in 1961 constitute a threat to the rights of indigenous communities.”
Morales, a former coca grower, crafted a new constitution for Bolivia which voters approved in January—for the first time protecting coca leaf as a cultural heritage of the country’s indigenous peoples and a “factor in social cohesion.”
At the CND, UN member states agreed to continue policies of prohibition and eradication for another ten years, although with a greater emphasis on prevention and “harm reduction.” The new document replaces a 1998 UN plan to significantly reduce drug abuse and trafficking within 10 years.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime acknowledged in a report issued on the eve of the summit that the worldwide drug trade had swelled to more than $300 billion annually and that anti-drug policies had indirectly created “a criminal market of macroeconomic size.” (Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP, AP, March 12)