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January 2011
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The coca leaf. The US is going to send a message to… that plant.

The coca leaf has been an important part of the culture of Andean indigenous people for thousands of years (at least 5,000 years, in fact). It improves metabolism at high altitude, relieves feelings of hunger and provides energy, and also serves as an integral part of religious and cultural ceremony.

In all that time, there has been no clinical evidence of toxicity and nobody has ever been admitted to drug treatment centers for being addicted to the coca leaf.

In 1950, the Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf was prepared by a United Nations commission that visited Bolivia and Peru briefly and, despite noting that it wasn’t addictive, made some rather strong, racist, and completely unsupported claims, including that chewing the coca leaf “induces in the individual undesirable changes of an intellectual and moral character,” “reduces the economic yield of productive work, and therefore maintains a low economic standard of life.”

Naturally, this was the information that was used for the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which included not just cocaine, but the coca leaf. Article 49, paragraph 2 (e) states that:

coca leaf chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention

It also allows a state joining the Convention to take 25 years to abolish coca leaf chewing. The convention was ratified in 1961 (50 years ago) and it was entered into force in Bolivia in 1976 (almost 35 years ago).

About a year and a half ago, I reported:

The Bolivian government has successfully commenced the formal process for amending the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) to eliminate the provision that would require all countries to prohibit coca leaf chewing within 25 years (for Bolivia, that was 2001).
Interesting amendment process. If no country objects within 18 months, then the amendment passes (a nice, if time consuming, way to do it – countries need not get on the record to approve it). Countries most likely to object: United States and Sweden. If that happens, then there’s a conference to consider it.

The proposal has a very nice argument as to why this provision should be removed from the Single Convention.

Seems quite reasonable. It’s unenforceable. It’s not been enforced. New understanding shows that the reason to include coca leaf chewing at the time was racist. Plus, a study in 1995 found chewing coca leaves to be therapeutic with no negative health effects. The provision should just quietly go away, and if nobody objects within 18 months, it does. Let’s see… 18 months from 30th July 2009 would be… 30th January 2011. Hey, that’s just a couple of weeks away and nobody so far…

Oh, wait.

The TNI/WOLA Drug Law Reform Project reports:

In two weeks time, on January 31, the deadline ends for countries to present objections to this change; without any objections the amendment would automatically enter into force. And at this very last moment, the United States formed a “friends of the convention” group and announced it would object. Several other countries – notably the Russian Federation, Japan, Colombia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Bulgaria, Denmark and Estonia – have announced to present a formal objection as well. […]

It seems that those who do not regularly chew coca have run mad. All recent efforts to establish support in international fora resulted in proof for the point made: a cultural heritage that harms no person, merits protection and a legal base. Outcomes of a WHO study on coca/cocaine in 1995, determined that the “use of coca leaves appears to have no negative health effects and has positive therapeutic, sacred and social functions for indigenous Andean populations.” Moreover, the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights approved in September 2007 – recently endorsed by the United States on December 16, 2010 –, promises to uphold and protect indigenous cultural practices.

The proposed amendment by Bolivia implies a mere symbolic change: no new country will be facing masses of coca chewing citizens. Not objecting to this amendment simply recognizes coca chewing is there to stay. Time has come to repair a historical error responsible for including the leaf amongst the most hazardous classified substances, causing severe consequences for the Andean region. It is a sad fact that our governments are representing us citizens in disregard of facts, led by mere ignorance and fear. Still there is a chance now to come to our senses.

Update: It appears that the news is potentially better than I thought after all… (Thanks, Gart – I missed that one).

According to the government of Bolivia, the only three countries that did file a formal objection to the amendment of Bolivia to abolish the ban on coca leaf chewing in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, withdrew their objections. […]

The United States has been lobbying with other countries to object to the Bolivian amendment but they have not filed a formal objection yet. According to Summaries of discussions of the EU Horizontal Working Party on Drugs, usually referred to as the “Horizontal Drug Group” (HDG) – the committee for drug policy falling under the European Council – the US prepared a “friends of the convention” group to oppose the abolition of the ban on coca leaf chewing because in their opinion the request would significantly weaken the Convention.

The main reason that the US has not filed a formal objection yet seems to be that they are not sufficiently sure about the support for their objection from other countries, and want to avoid the impression that the US is leading on this. It seems they are playing a diplomatic game, trying to spread the message that many countries are going to submit an objection, and waiting for some others to do so first, so they can be seen as rather ‘joining’ the opposition from others than taking the lead.

Let’s hope the US finds no support.

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25 comments to The coca leaf. The US is going to send a message to… that plant.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pete Guither. Pete Guither said: The coca leaf. The US is going to send a message to… that plant. http://bit.ly/elWCvR […]

  • Paul

    I find it heartening that the masters of the universe can’t make everything go their way.

  • strayan

    The UN sanctions the bombing of sovereign nations under the guise of ‘crop eradiction’.

    This is a sick world we live in.

    Just look at this shit:

    “Environmental conservation through illicit crop eradication and indigenous people’s practices in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

    The objective of the project is to help protect the environmental and cultural diversity of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta by implementing indigenous practices. ”

    http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/alternative-development/colombia-projects.html

    They are going to protect the ‘environment’ and indigenous ‘culture’ by bombing their land with pesticides.

    How fucked up is that.

  • strayan

    “Environmental conservation through illicit crop eradication”

    There you have it folks, conservation by eradication. Who knew it was possible?

    I wonder if we can apply the same logic to endangered animal species.

    Is there a name for people who want to totally eradicate a certain species of plant?

  • Paul

    Pete,

    Coca leaves are still being chewed.

    They can pass all the laws and resolutions they like, but they can’t stop people from using that plant anymore than they can stop the sun rising in the East.

    I don’t mean the powers that be can’t do a lot of harm–far from it. I just mean that in spite of all their efforts to control people, some people just keep doing as they please. And that is a Good Thing.

  • Gart

    Pete,

    It seems the countries that were expected to object to the amendment have withdrawn them:

    http://www.druglawreform.info/en/weblog/item/1063-diplomatic-games-to-oppose-lifting-unjust-ban-on-coca-chewing

    It is clear to me that the fanaticism and fundamentalism of the USA when it comes to pursuing the so-called “war on drugs” is simply a reflection of their miopic and skewed views about world affairs. It was there and it is now.

    The question is: what are US citizen doing to oppose such policies? What sort of pressure are they putting on their government, politicians and policy institutions to put an end to the barbaric policies incarnated in their “war on drugs”?

    In my blog http://www.stopthewarondrugs.org I’ve given a little twist to IDPC campaign calling for Impact Assessments on Drug Policy and am asking people to demand that Parliament debate the need for such assessments. The final objective of actions like this would be to force the Government to assess objectively the convenience of drug legalisation and leave the Government with no other option but to accept the scientific community recommendations.

    I’m wondering if US citizens could promote something similar, or any other mechanism to force the US Government to abandon their murderous and heinous drug enforcement policies and look for policies based on objective, scientific principles and not on prejudice and ideology.

    Gart Valenc

  • Ben

    Yeah, the US can’t be the only one to object, less they look even MORE ridiculous. They’ll probably pay some sub-Saharan African state a few million in aid to get them to object by proxy.

    • paita

      u bet they paid them off or threatened to take away some sorta aid if they don’t agree w/them like they did to to the W.H.O,,,,paita

  • (no use for a name)

    Be optimistic. The powermad tyrants quest to control everything means they will end up controlling nothing.

  • darkcycle

    I’d be surprised if the U.S. didn’t get it’s way, we were the ones who strong-armend the U.N. into the Single Convention in the first place. And the Obama administration is not interested in relaxing drug laws, that should be obvious. I for one would like to see Bolivia drop out of the treaty completely…it could set a precedent. The U.S. will eventually object, or one of our proxys. This is like a lawyer waiting for the very last day to file a lawsuit…and I think it’s intentional. I am interested to see what happens, though.

    • Jake

      Could a country actually drop out of any one treaty (especially one as big as the single convention) and still be part of the UN? I thought singing up meant you had to accept all the treaties i.e. you can’t join but drop out of the Human Rights Convention (even if how you ‘enforce’ said treaties is dubious to say the least)?

      20. Reservation

      A reservation is a declaration made by a state by which it purports to exclude or alter the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in their application to that state. A reservation enables a state to accept a multilateral treaty as a whole by giving it the possibility not to apply certain provisions with which it does not want to comply. Reservations can be made when the treaty is signed, ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to. Reservations must not be incompatible with the object and the purpose of the treaty. Furthermore, a treaty might prohibit reservations or only allow for certain reservations to be made.

      [Arts.2 (1) (d) and 19-23, Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties 1969]

      http://treaties.un.org/Pages/Overview.aspx?path=overview/glossary/page1_en.xml

      Of course Evo Morales has only requested an amendment not a reservation… but its an interesting concept none the less as the convention is the single biggest barrier to reform that exists.

  • Maria

    Oh yeah it’s intentional, the longer they play at this the longer they can maintain the illusion that all this is a genuine dialogue between civilized nations intent on exploring the best interests of people. Or something. If they do find some puppets to object with them, is that another 18 months of “deliberation”?

  • darkcycle

    Don’t watch this video if you don’t have a strong stomach. It is tape of the recent drug raid killing in which the Storm Troopers shoot and kill a man for doing nothing more that picking up a golf club to defend his home. Sickening, wrong, and I haven’t watched it, so if it’s inappropriate, I’ll apologize up front:
    http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy/2011/jan/18/brutal_drug_raid_killing_caught

  • darkcycle

    And there’s this: Cambodia’s former rug Czar charged with taking bribes from traffickers:
    http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2011011746133/National-news/ex-drug-czar-charged-with-taking-bribes.html

  • darkcycle

    P.S., Sorry to be off topic. I just thought those were worth attention.

  • Jake

    Don’t know if it will surprise anyone here, but under DEA licence Coca-Cola still import hundreds of tons of Coca leaf to Stepan, who refine it to produce alkaloids for the medical industry and non-alkaloid extract for Coca-Cola flavouring. So… a killer plant that must be eradicated at the expense of the USA and producer countries… except for just enough to be produced by peasant farmers to feed a US company.

    This article from the late 80’s made me laugh: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE6D7123BF932A35754C0A96E948260

    “Dr. Plowman of the Field Museum noted that the Spanish tried, for religious and cultural reasons, to eradicate the coca plantations in the 16th century. They failed, he said, and finally gave up and adopted the practice of using coca themselves. Every attempt at eradication since has been equally unsuccessful.”

  • Ed Dunkle

    What darkcycle said. The US will object even if it’s the only country, but will probably bribe some third world countries into “joining” us. Also, Obama is scared silly of not getting re-elected in 2012. He might relax his pro-prohibition stance just slightly if he gets re-elected, but by then the GOP will probably be trying to impeach him.

    Meh.

  • darkcycle

    Obama’s not getting any second term. Highly placed democrats, and more importantly, some of the largest individual donors to Obama’s first election campaign are already looking around for a primary challenger. He’s a gonner in 2012.

  • DdC

    Coca, Bolivia, and Law 1008

    “Coca’s treatment as a narcotic as dangerous as heroin and cocaine in the UN convention is “absurd”. Coca is as vital to the Andes as the Eucharist is to Catholics, There’s no evidence of toxicity or addiction in 4,000 years of use.”
    ~ Wade Davis,
    “One River”, author and botanist

    Stop the War on Colombians!

    Toxic Drift: Monsanto and the Drug War in Colombia By Jeremy Bigwood

    They had said that by using satellite images they could hit very precisely targets without any chance of danger to surrounding crops” said Jim Farrell, Wellstone’s spokesperson, who was also there. However that turned out not to be the case. “On the very first flyover by the cropduster, the U.S. Senator, the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, the Lieutenant Colonel of the Colombian National Police, and other Embassy and congressional staffers were fully doused — drenched, in fact — with the sticky, possibly dangerous (herbicide) Roundup.”

    “Imagine what is happening when a high-level congressional delegation is not present,” Farrell noted, pointing out that careful preparation had gone into the botched flyover. Wellstone left Colombia completely unconvinced by the Embassy.

  • paita

    I guess humanity and science was not obama’s guide on this one unfortunately..Coca is not cocaine by any stretch of science.There lies the true liers,the laboratories and chemists in the u.s.a. that get all there money from some political figure in maryland.Do u guys ever notice that?All the lies come out of that state,why??The huge other issue here is the u.s.a. making this huge jump recently that the chemical equation or formula for benzoecgonine is now all of a sudden the same chemical formula for the American chemist as cocaine?Why and when did they get the authorozation to lie like that??Everyone who gets a random or any drug test thinks there being test for the actual drugs,there not!!!!That is why a woman in p.a. can have her baby taken for eating a poppy seed bagel and the so- called drug test is saying she is doing herion,thats absurd,but it happens everyday.The coca leaf is exactly the same thing as the poppy seed,exactly.These so called drug test are actually test for the original plant molecule ,which can only be seen with a high power’d microscope.They never test u for the true drug,ever,why???We even request over 25 laboratories in the u.s.a. to please actual test for the drug cocaine,which they say now is benzoecgonine,when we ask them politely,NO,we want are sample to be tested for actual white powder cocaine ,which is what everyone in the world thinks there being tested for,they,the labs REFUSE!!!!!nOW WHY IS THAT?? Are u telling me in this day and age they are not capable of testing for the real drugs,cocaine,herion,,etc???I dont think they want to be able to tell the difference.If they could tell the difference to the public between coca and real cocaine,how coould the d.e.a. the controll freaks in our own goverment put restriction on coca products,right?They can tell the difference,but they dont want to,so they lie.Any other company that would pull this bait and switch w/drug testing methology would be brought up on charges,but with are own goverment,ie,The America Pharmocopia,,,backing them up in this lie,there literally getting away w/murder.They are willing to destroy peoples lifes,farmers,,farmers childrens,hard workers,a entire countries economy,ie south america,over there greedy deceitful american scientist,also all the american drug companies,merke,stephen ,coca cola,,they can’t have any honest competition can they??They hold a true monopoly over the coca leaf,.Their lie of claiming the coca alkaliod,or their benzoecgonine,is now all of a sudden actually cocaine allows them to hold the purse strings on this product from mother nature.Think about it,if the truth got out,that coca has got to be made into cocaine via using solvents or even the same chemicals they use in America to extract it for test,thus in theory making cocaine to test for it,therefore proving everytime they test simple coca,not cocaine,just coca,there test results will read cocaine every time. Unless people put methle alchohol and acid in there teas,which they dont,could you imagen if the truth came out,thats yes in fact they are just drinking TEA,,If merke and all the others who benefit finicially greatly for the coca leaf were to allow others to mass produce,ie manufacture,coca tea,coca tootpaste,coca elexirs,that would cut there profits in half,instead of hauling in 60 billion in profit,awww sorry u only made 32 billion,and god forbid the poor farmers in South America,Bolivia,or anywhere else that is capable of growen coca for legal products,not cocaine,god forbid a country other then the united states should be able to feed there children and make a honest living right?Coca cola ,merke ,stephen should be ashamed of themselves for the lies they have put out their.South America was good enough to introduce the coca leaf to these corporations,and how do they repay that kindness,they screw-em,,no wonder why they hate us.The more these politicians do in our good name,the more we should be demanding that they not use our name america to do there un-ethical bidding.Coca is not cocaine,cocaine has got to be made.There is COCA ,,, COCA IN THE LEAF,,,,,not cocaine,cocaine is a chemical that has to be made by man.I mean can you imagen if someone could buy a box of tea for 10 bucks,and then inturn never have to take there depression pills for 100.00 a month,my goodness what would that do to all the depression pill companies???Americans need to wake up,there lieing to you again,its not like they haven’t done it to us before,hello!!!!!COCA IS COCA not cocaine!!!!!!!!paita