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Bolivian Health Minister Vows to Press Legalization of Coca


June 1993

Bolivian Health Minister Carlos Dabdoub vowed to press for legalization of coca leaf tea and other raw coca preparations during the annual meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva this May (Andean Commission of Jurists, "Coca Leaf Defended At WHO Meeting," Drug Trafficking Update 37, May 1993).

Dabdoub said he does not seek cocaine legalization, but legalization of coca tea, infusions, and other coca by-products for medicinal and beverage use. Coca tea is legal in Bolivia, where it may be purchased at markets much as regular tea may be purchased in the United States. International legalization of coca would require revision of the 1961 Vienna Agreement, which classified the leaf as a narcotic, and accorded it legal status similar to refined cocaine.

By legalizing coca, campesinos who depend on coca growing for a living could remain legally employed, while the problem of excess coca used for cocaine could be approached by providing employment alternatives, Dabdoub contended.

On April 17 and 18, coca leaf growers and consumers from Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru met in Cuzco, Peru at Machu Picchu, considered to be "the origin and root of the plant and the heart of the Andean universe," according to the Drug Trafficking Update 37 report. Participants held a ceremony declaring coca a "symbol of all of our struggles against the exploitation of our human and natural resources by the irrational greed of major capital and financial oligarchies, including drug trafficking."

The Machu Picchu meeting issued a declaration, stating in part that:

"The West, represented by the United States ... is trying to carry out a definitive genocide and ethnocide against Andean people by eliminating and eradicating our coca leaf.

"They cannot do so. The eradication of the coca leaf would mean death for Andean people. Coca is everything for us, our material survival, our myths, our cosmic vision of the world, the joy we find in life, the voice of our ancestors, and perpetual dialogue with Pachamama, our reason for existing and being in the world ...

"To carry out their goal the United States blames the Andean coca producing nations for the spiritual diseases that are wracking the nation, confusing coca with cocaine. Our peoples did not invent, nor do they use cocaine. It was the industrialized West that created the drug ...

"... [T]he sacred coca plant ... will outlive all of the destructive forces, surviving forever. The coca leaf is destined to cure the Western disease.

"For this reason we hope that the United Nations will soon lift the condemning veto against the leaf and rectify a scientific, cultural, and human error."