Source: United Nations
28 January 2011
Press Conference by Bolivia on Amendment to Single Convention on
Bolivia would continue its campaign to remove from a United Nations
convention a ban on coca leaf chewing and take its case to the
Economic and Social Council, if necessary, Pablo Solón, the country’s
Permanent Representative said today at a Headquarters press
“Coca leaf chewing is a tradition and cultural practice that should be
respected,” Mr. Solón said, sporting a green coca leaf on his lapel.
His Government, in 2009, had requested the deletion of two references
in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that called for the
practice to be abolished within 25 years of the treaty taking effect
in December 1964.
“The international community has to recognize the big mistake that was
committed in 1961. If we want to recognize indigenous peoples’
rights, we have to correct that mistake,” he urged.
If no party to the Convention objected to the amendment by a 31
January 2011 deadline, the ban would be lifted, he explained. In the
case of one or more objections, the Economic and Social Council, under
the treaty’s article 47, must decide whether to hold an international
conference to discuss the matter.
While not a single country had rejected the proposal on the basis that
coca leaf chewing was addictive and harmful to one’s health, the
United States, United Kingdom and Sweden had formally objected to the
amendment, he said. Citing a January letter from the United States
Embassy in La Paz, he said the United States position was
contradictory: it expressed its willingness to work with Bolivian
authorities “in the framework of respect of these ancient practices”
and to support Bolivia’s struggle against drug trafficking, but, at
the same time, it rejected the amendment.
The amendment would not overturn any country’s ban of the practice or
encourage any nation to do so, he said. Nor would it remove coca leaf
from the Convention’s list of narcotic drugs under international
control. It would merely enable Bolivia and other Andean nations
where chewing is a centuries-old tradition among indigenous
populations to keep that practice legal. Bolivia is the third largest
producer of coca leaves in the world, next to Colombia and Peru.
He cited the findings of the “Cocaine Project”, a 1991 joint
initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United
Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, in which
scientists from 19 developing and developed countries worldwide had
concluded 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”.
Earlier in the week, Bolivians took to the streets in many cities
throughout Bolivia and gathered in front of the United States Embassy
in La Paz to celebrate the coca plant and demand the ban be lifted.
Asked about global sensitivity to the coca leaf chewing tradition, he
said the problem was that people often equated the age-old practice,
as well as the more recent application of alkaloids found in coca
leaves to produce pharmaceutical drugs, with drug addiction and drug
Rejection of the practice — prevalent mainly in Bolivia and Peru, as
well as in Ecuador, Colombia and northern parts of Argentina and Chile
was also part of a colonial mindset, he said, citing a 1951 report
that argues that chewing should be eradicated because it is a bad
habit that inhibits people’s socio-economic development.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Non-Aligned
Movement, however, had publicly supported preservation of the
indigenous practice, he said. Spain had also voiced its support
publicly for Bolivia’s proposal.
On a question about his country’s specific course of action after the
31 January deadline in the event of an objection to the amendment, he
said his delegation would bring up the matter during the next Economic
and Social Council meeting, scheduled for mid-February.
Asked about Bolivia’s engagement with the United States over its
objection to the amendment and whether the United States Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) would be allowed back into Bolivia if it
dropped that objection, he said Bolivia’s experience with that United
States agency has been “very bad”. Since expelling it in 2008,
Bolivia had done a better job of stamping out narcotic drug
To a question about his Government’s steps to prevent drug traffickers
from using coca leafs to produce cocaine, he said coca leaf
cultivation should be controlled and limited to what was needed for
traditional chewing. Towards that end, the Government was trying to
reduce the number of hectares of land used for coca leaf planting from
30,400 hectares at present to 12,000. Last year, it had eliminated