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BOLIVIA / PERU
Coca’s industrial revolution
4/1/2009
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Campaign for the coca plant’s value.

Bolivia and Peru, whose native peoples have traditionally used coca leaves for millennia, are pushing for this plant to be reexamined, not as simply the raw ingredient in cocaine, but as a crop with valuable qualities.

In March, Bolivian President Evo Morales defended the coca´s virtues before the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, seeking that the leaf be eliminated from a UN list of prohibited substances, where it has remained for almost 50 years.

“I´ve come to ask you to correct a historic error on coca leaves in the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961,” Morales said, brandishing coca leaves for the audience to see. “This is not cocaine. I am a producer of these coca leaves and I’m not a drug-trafficker for being a producer.”

He then put the coca leaves in his mouth and said: “I´m a consumer of coca, which in Peru is called chaccheo, in Bolivia pijcheo, in northern Argentina coqueo and in some parts of Colombia mambeo, and in international law, chewing.”

Last year, the United Nations International Narcotics Board called on Bolivia and Peru to eliminate coca leaf chewing and other non-therapeutic uses of coca.

According to the board, the only licit uses of coca in the 1961 convention are medical, scientific, or a form in which all of the plant´s alkaloids have been removed.

The Bolivian president said that coca symbolized Andean peoples´ identity, that it is a medicine in its natural state, that it is healthful and not addictive.

On March 12, a Peruvian Congressional commission approved a bill presented by the opposition Nationalist Party, authorizing coca to be sold as flour and a flavoring agent for human consumption.

Unlike in Bolivia, Peru´s government and many analysts say that the industrialization of coca would encourage drug-trafficking,

“It´s a nonsense bill,” said Fernando Rospigliosi, a political analyst and former interior minister.

Rómulo Pizarro, president of Peru´s anti-drug agency, Devida, said: “To what market will the hundreds of tons of coca go? What kind of control will there be to avoid other places from growing more and that production is not diverted to drug-trafficking?”

Nationalist lawmaker Nancy Obregón defended the initiative, saying the National Coca Company, Enaco, has been producing and commercializing coca flour for years.

“The difference is, by approving this law, the commercialization would be done by the farmers and companies … and the raw material supply for the drug traffickers will be cut off,” she said.

Coca is also used to make tea, a digestive, energy drinks, creams, cookies and even beverages such as beer and soda.

Juan Luis Hurtado, head of La Coca Loca Company, a Peruvian startup that sells coca-based products, including cakes and other pastries, says the law would break Enaco´s monopoly and allow any company to purchase coca flour directly from producers.

“The producer, business owners and consumers would win and we would avoid coca from going to drug-trafficking,” he said.
—Latinamerica Press.


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