Chewing coca leaves has been a common practice among Andean indigenous populations through countless generations, dating back to pre-Colombus times.
But the United Nations considers the practice to be of an illegal nature, since the leaf, once processed in a laboratory, becomes one of the main components of the drug cocaine, an illegal substance in most of the world.
The government of Evo Morales started in 2009 a quest to convince the world, represented by the UN, that coca leaf does not present health risks, and that it’s ban is causing “Historical Damage” to Bolivian culture.
Bolivian Foreign Affairs Minister David Choquehuanca has started in Spain a tour that will encompass five European countries, and aims to persuade leaders to not object to Bolivia’s motion to have the United Nations decriminalize its national stimulant.
President Evo Morales, who is also the main leader of the Cocaleros of Chapre, said that chewing coca leaves is a century old cultural practice of native-andean populations in Bolivia, Perú, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia.
He also said that in the case of Bolivia, not only indigenous populations consume it; the practice has extended to the general population, and it has become specially popular among workers and students, who aside from cultural reasons, consume it to stay awake and energetic.
Bolivia is the world’s third coca leaf producer. The government not only protects, but sponsors the crop; authorities only investigate cargo that is being transported without official permits.
As a part of this campaign, the government backed the release of a coca leaf soda-pop called “Coca Brynco,” and presented it to the public in a ceremony held at the Ministry of Rural Development.
Other coca leaf products available in Bolivia include an energy drink, tooth paste, candy, pastries and other products of a religious/ceremonial practice character.
In a plea for support, Morales explained that the amendment that his country is requesting does not intend to provoke changes in the national legislation of any other country, as the country is only requesting the legalization of the chewable variety of coca leaf, and not the exclusion of coca from the world list of illegal substances.
The United Nations has said that the laws concerning chewing coca leaves will be amended, if no country objects to Bolivia’s petition before January 31.
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