Bolivia intends to reapply to the UN Convention on Narcotic
Drugs, but with a reservation that it does not recognize the ban on
chewing the coca leaf, a practice with a long national tradition.
The Bolivian government's policy of "Coca Yes, Cocaine No" is
unfolding in surprising ways, as the Andean nation is withdrawing
from a United Nations convention that bans chewing the coca leaf and
simultaneously planning a new deal with the United States and Brazil
to monitor coca cultivation.
Bolivia has presented a denunciation to the UN that seals its
resignation from the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on
Narcotic Drugs, which bans chewing the coca leaf. The denunciation
responds to "the need to guarantee respect for the human rights of
indigenous peoples, and all who chew coca as a traditional cultural
practice," said Bolivia's foreign minister David Choquehuanca of the
country's unprecedented resignation from the convention.
The small, thick coca leaf, which can be processed into cocaine,
is also an everyday part of Bolivian life. Sodas made using the
leaf, packets of coca tea, and salves to treat arthritis can be
purchased in shops and supermarkets around the country. Laborers
including farmers and miners chew the leaf because it staves off
hunger and thirst, and upper-class urban dwellers drink coca-leaf
tea to calm upset stomachs. But the coca leaf is more than a pick-
me-up and a natural remedy in Bolivia, where it also plays a key
role in the religious ceremonies of many of the country's indigenous
people, who constitute more than 60 percent of the population.
Bolivia's resignation from the convention becomes effective Jan.
1, 2012. Government officials say the country will apply to rejoin
the convention even before the resignation becomes effective with
the reservation that it does not recognize language that bans
chewing the coca leaf. A month after applying to rejoin Bolivia will
again be a party to the convention, but all parties have until the
end of 2012 to object to the reservation. If less than one-third of
the parties object to Bolivia's reservation regarding chewing the
leaf, the reservation is accepted.
The International Narcotics Control Board, which monitors
government compliance with drug treaties, released a statement
expressing regret at Bolivia's denunciation of the convention. The
Control Board encouraged the international community to reject moves
by any country to leave the convention and return with reservations,
saying this "would undermine the integrity of the global drug
The modern history of coca control efforts in Bolivia is complex.
During the 1990s, successive US administrations tried to eradicate
coca totally in the Chapare region of Bolivia but accepted growth of
almost 30,000 acres in other areas. …