Coca: as always, we demonize without understanding

In the piece about Morales giving Rice a guitar with coca leaves on it, I noted that the U.S. government has no understanding of the cultural background of these countries.
This article by Niko Kyriakou really points out that gap.

The war against coca–the plant used to make cocaine–has become a defining issue for U.S. policy in South America, yet many Americans know little about the plant their country is fighting. […]
In Bolivia’s Andean neighbor Peru, a spokesman for second-place presidential candidate and retired Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala this week announced Humala’s support for a plan to feed a small amount of coca to school children as a way to improve their overall diet.
If the left-wing Humala wins Peru’s presidency in April, he plans to serve poor children bread made from flour containing five percent coca.
Giving children coca in the United States not only would be political suicide, it would be considered a criminal act. And that difference in stance reflects a vast gap between U.S. and South American experience of a substance with a known history stretching back to long before Christopher Columbus’s landfall, times when the Incas controlled much of the continent.
For thousands of years, coca has been a rich source of nutrients for poor South Americans.
Today, use of the leaf is so common that in Bolivia, for example, police carry out U.S.-funded coca eradication with wads of coca in their mouths, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
Coca leaves often are chewed or made into a tea rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin A, said Tree, adding that by contrast, coffee ”leeches all the vitamins out of your body.”
Coca also has health benefits as a salve for arthritis and gout, as toothpaste, and as a cure for altitude sickness.
Even the U.S. embassy in Bolivia recommends on its Web site that travelers consume coca tea to help alleviate altitude sickness.

But of course here in the states, the only message is “eradicate.” In Congress, the only word is “eradicate.” To the ignorant masses in Congress and elsewhere in this country, coca=cocaine, and the two as one are pure evil. No other message is allowed.

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