Latin America: INCB Calls on Peru, Bolivia to Ban Coca Chewing

In its 2007 Annual Report, released Wednesday, the International Narcotics Control Board called on the governments of Bolivia and Peru to ban coca chewing, as well as its sale or export. The indigenous people of the Andes have chewed coca for thousands of years, and the call is likely to fall on deaf ears in the Andes.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-leaves-drying-by-highway.jpg
coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare region of Bolivia
The INCB is a 23-member independent commission that works with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), its Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and other international organizations to monitor implementation of the series of international treaties that form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime. While its remit includes ensuring adequate supplies of drugs are available for medical and scientific uses (see related story here), it spends much of its resources trying to prevent any deviations from the global prohibitionist drug policy status quo. For instance, this year, the INCB once again criticized Canada for allowing harm reduction measures such as the Vancouver safe injection site and the distribution of "safe crack use kits."

In its review of coca and cocaine production in South America, the board noted that despite multi-billion dollar eradication efforts in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- responsible for 50%, 33%, and 17% of coca production, respectively -- cocaine production had remained stable at between 800 and 1,000 tons a year for the past decade. The way to get at cocaine production is to eliminate coca production, the board suggested.

"The Board requests the Government of Bolivia and Peru to take measures to prohibit the sale, use and attempts to export coca leaf for purposes which are not in line with the international drug control treaties," the group said. "The Board is concerned by the negative impact of increased coca leaf production and cocaine manufacture in the region."

It urged governments "to establish as a criminal offense" using coca leaf to make tea, flour, or other products. That would undercut efforts in all three countries to develop and expand markets for coca products.

Reaction from Bolivia, where former coca leader President Evo Morales has called for the removal of the coca plant from the list of substances banned by the international drug treaties, was swift and negative. "In Bolivia, there will never be a policy of zero coca,'' said Hilder Sejas, spokesman for the vice ministry of social defense. "To do so would walk over the rights of millions of Bolivians for whom coca is a symbol of our cultural identity," he told Bloomberg News Service Wednesday.

Treating coca as if it were a dangerous drug was "absurd," said Wade Davis, an author and botanist who studied coca in Colombia. "Coca is as vital to the Andes as the Eucharist is to Catholics," he told the news service. "There is no evidence of toxicity or addiction in 4,000 years of use."

The INCB call to ban coca use was also met by a sharp attack from the Transnational Institute, whose Drugs and Democracy Project seeks to develop and implement pragmatic, harm reduction approaches to global drug issues. "The Board is displaying both arrogance and blindness by demanding that countries impose criminal sanctions on distribution and possession for traditional uses of the coca leaf, which is a key feature of Andean-Amazon indigenous cultures," said Pien Metaal, a TNI researcher specializing in coca issues. "Isn't it time for this UN treaty body to get in touch with reality and show some more cultural sensitivity?"

Not only does the INCB proposal violate the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, it "would mean the prosecution of several million people in the Andean-Amazon region," TNI said. "It targets not just consumers, but also peasants who grow coca."

"The Board's position makes no sense," said Metaal. "It would criminalize entire peoples for a popular tradition and custom that has no harm and is even beneficial."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Nothing New in Peru

Attempts to ban Peruvian coca chewing are nothing new. The INCB needs to prepare itself for a very long battle.

Opposition to the coca shrub dates back to the First Council of Lima in 1552. Clergymen of that era speculated that prohibiting the coca plant (according to them, an invention of the devil) would make it easier to tame and civilize the local indigenous population. Peruvian inquisition records indicate that coca prohibition was still producing drug trials by the end of the 17th century.

Despite an almost continuous effort to eradicate the plant by the Catholic Church and various foreign and domestic governments, 456 years later, Peruvians still chew coca.

Giordano

Decision goes back to 1950 report

It is worth reading the 1950 report that informed the decision to put coca on the narcotics drugs list. It shows that opinions hadn't changed much from the 1522 council as it talks of mentally deficient indigenous peoples and talks of coca destroying "moral character." The report is on TNI's UNGASS site along with lots more background on the struggle of cocaleros at http://www.ungassondrugs.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcateg...

Nick

Commitment!

Giordano, I salute you for your stamina and your commitment to the cause.
We know it's all about our basic personal freedoms, in the final analysis.
And the breathtaking arrogance of this group of cretins is matched only by their mind-numbing STUPIDITY!

The drug war is a war against nature.

The drug war is just another example of mankind's continuing effort to battle ,control,and destroy nature and the natural world.The motives are the usual,ignorance,fear,and greed.For thousands of years,instead of cooperating with nature,we have sought to harness,ban and outright kill the very provider of our being.When will we learn that nature,ie ,creation, is good ,after all it is creation ! I for one believe in a God,this God is a creator,he created all things, cocca plants,marijuana,egret fungi included.God did not create so that govermet could ban.As creatures of Gods creativity,we have a right to explore,use ,and cultivate all aspects of Gods creation.I am disgusted by so called relegious persons and groups who advocate the destruction of nature,and natural drive,via man-made law.Truly spiritual people should speak out against the drug war,speak out against all forms of violence against nature,including pollution,habitat destruction,and the various forms of commercialisation of nature.In modern times it is the commercialisation of nature that is at the heart of the drug wars.Pharmacutical companies certainly do not want the average person to have cheap,convienete,acsess to life saving or life enriching natural substances! We are forever forced to pay for what nature could and does provide freely.The drug war will continue,the suffering will go on.The greedy will continue to profit,the young will die.The prisons will flurish,and freedom will flounder. Untill we end the war on nature,we will not end the war on drugs.

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