United States plans to continue ban on Bolivian cultural expression

Two years ago the Bolivian Government, under the leadership of Evo Morales Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, started the process of trying to change the racist 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that explicitly banned the centuries old practise of chewing coca leaf. The proposed amendment would remove the ban and bring the 1961 Convention in line with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Rather than accept that Bolivians being free to express their own culture the United States, the Russian Federation, Japan, France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Denmark are mobilising to block the Bolivian amendment by lodging a formal objection prior to the deadline at the end of this month.

The ban was originally based upon the findings of the UN 1950 Coca Leaf Enquiry Commission report formed. Analysts sharply criticised the report as arbitrary, imprecise, racist, and culturally insensitive. In a study in the 1990s, the World Health Organisation concluded that the traditional consumption of coca leaves has no negative health effects and fulfils positive therapeutic, sacred and social functions for indigenous Andean populations. However, U.S. diplomatic pressure blocked the study’s publication.

The UNODC and states with neo-colonial drug policies like the USA and Russia appear happy to allow religious use of cannabis in India a large powerful country and with an important geo-political role. Highlighting the continued hypocrisy of many governments and their leaders. Former cocaine user Barack Obama appears to have done little about the racist application of the drug laws in the United States and appears happy to allow the continued exporting of these similar racist attitudes around the globe. 

British member of parliament Jeremy Corbyn MP said:

“The US-led reaction to the Bolivian government’s efforts to end the criminalisation of indigenous use of the coca leaf speaks volumes about western anxiety over drug policy. At a time when drug prohibition has enriched and emboldened criminal cartels to such an extent that they are attempting to violently annex the state in parts of Mexico and Guatemala, the US is expending considerable effort in blocking the Bolivian government’s legitimate and democratic right to protect and preserve a harmless indigenous practice. The international community needs to get its priorities right and resist this culturally ignorant attempt to dictate to indigenous people in Bolivia.”




Yes, the coca leaf is an integral part of Bolivian culture. In some places it is comparable to the way we drink tea or caffeinated soft drinks in Britain. Taking a break in the afternoon and sharing leaves during a work meeting, as per my experience working in the country, is commonplace.

In other places, it is an essential product which maintains the health of those who work in the tough climatic conditions of the Andes, staving off disease and hunger. So it is absolutely correct that Evo Morales does what he can to differentiate the coca leaf from cocaine:


And yes, it is certainly incongruous of the US to hold such a policy stance, whilst simultaneously importing coca leaves from Peru and Bolivia to use in Coca-Cola. Arguably, the drink holds a position in Western culture comparable to that of the coca-leaf in parts of South America. 



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