Newsbrief: Bolivian Intellectuals Issue Call for Debate on Coca Law 11/14/03

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A group of distinguished Bolivian intellectuals has called for an urgent national debate on coca and the country's coca laws. The call comes one month after former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was forced from office by a popular mobilization whose immediate spark was a plan to privatize and sell-off Bolivian natural gas supplies, but which was rooted in mass discontent over the government's US-backed forced coca eradication policies as well as its free-market orientation more generally. Sanchez de Lozada was replaced by political newcomer Carlos Mesa, but Mesa has so far given no indication of what he will do about coca. Coca growers led by Evo Morales, and indigenous peasants and workers led by Felipe Quispe, have notified the Mesa administration it has only weeks before they call the masses back to the streets if no action is taken on the coca issue.

Last week, Bolivian intellectuals Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Rafael Archondo, Walter Guzman, Juan Espinoza Del Villar, and Carolina Loureiro added to the pressure with an open call for a national dialogue on the coca question. "It is necessary that civil society speak in order to generate a broad demand for revision of Law 1008 [the coca eradication law], an end to forced eradication, and the realization of an independent study, without North American leadership, on the scope and potential of the legal market, in order to achieve the adoption of a sovereign policy by the Bolivian state," read their manifesto, which was published under the title "So That Anti-Coca Politics Does Not Destroy Bolivia."

Referring to the violent protests that led to Sanchez de Lozada's resignation, the intellectuals added that, "The events of the past month of October have placed the theme of the sovereignty of our natural resources on the table for discussion. This theme must include not only gas but also the coca leaf, which is in the sights of US corporations and the US government, which seek to provoke a logic of confrontations and social protests without a view toward their solution."

coca seedlings

"It is urgent that civil society pass from protest to proposal and speak actively on these themes. We propose a national debate on the coca leaf," wrote the intellectuals. That debate should, they wrote, include special attention to the question of the criminalization of "excess" coca, which has "converted the productive zones of the tropic of Cochabamba and vast region of the Yungas into zones of illegality." Noting that a "massive consumption of coca leaf" was apparent during the recent protests, the intellectuals wrote that "coca leaf, along with natural gas, has been converted into an emblem of dignity and national sovereignty." The signers of the manifesto also called for a spirited defense of "coca leaf as a legitimate product and a natural indigenous medicine, a gift from Bolivia to the world."

And they harshly criticized US-imposed forced eradication policies. "The anti-drug policies dictated to Bolivia by the US government have achieved nothing more than wounding and deaths of hundreds of Bolivians, the criminalization of entire regions, and a spiral of state violence, all incompatible with the postulates of democracy. It is necessary to say whether the human rights of the Bolivian people should or should not be defended by the state against the power of the US, which insists on its eradication policy without taking into account the cultural and economic importance the production and consumption of the coca leaf has for Bolivia."

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Issue #311, 11/14/03 DRCNet Interview: Larry Campbell, Mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | South Carolina: High School Drug Raid Sparks Incredulity, Outrage | DRCNet Honchos Challenge DC with CD -- Borden and Guard Refuse to Report for Jury Service in Protest of Drug Laws | Drug Policy Alliance 2003 Conference | BUSTED: Special Video Offer for DRCNet Members | Newsbrief: Canada Decriminalization Bill Dies Quiet Death | Newsbrief: Bolivian Intellectuals Issue Call for Debate on Coca Law | Newsbrief: FAMM Study Show States Embracing "Smart on Crime" Reforms | Newsbrief: Illinois Targets Ecstasy, Speed on Campus | Newsbrief: Texas Drug Task Force Prosecutor Plays "Let's Make a Deal" With Wealthy Defendants | This Week in History | DRCNet Temporarily Suspending Our Web-Based Write-to-Congress Service Due to Funding Shortfalls -- Your Help Can Bring It Back -- Keep Contacting Congress in the Meantime | Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions | The Reformer's Calendar

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