To Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
January 24, 2011
Dear Secretary Clinton:
We write to ask the Obama administration withdraw its objection to Bolivia’s proposed amendment to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Bolivia’s amendment would remove the requirement in Article 49 that Bolivia and other Andean countries ban their people from chewing coca leaves for religious, social, medicinal and nutritional purposes. Coca chewing is central to the cultural identity of millions of indigenous Andean people, and has been for many centuries. Rejecting Bolivia’s amendment conflicts with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states: “indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.”
The US objection registered with the United Nations on January 19, 2011 must be withdrawn by the end of this same month, or the action will block the amendment and exacerbate the injury to indigenous peoples that originated in the 1961 Convention.
The UN based the inclusion of this coca chewing ban in the Convention on a 1950 report which was founded not on scientific research but on interviews with non-indigenous Bolivians and Peruvians about their views on how coca chewing affected indigenous people. At the time, indigenous people continued to live in a system of de facto slavery because of their race. Since the writing of the UN Convention, the 1950 report has been thoroughly debunked by numerous scientific studies which show the chewing of the coca leaf in its natural state to be a benign practice, with medical, nutritional and social benefits.
Bolivia proposed the amendment to the 1961 Convention almost two years ago. The amendment would merely remove the language requiring sovereign countries to ban coca chewing within their own borders; it would not legalize the coca leaf internationally nor would it remove the requirement that countries cooperate to prevent and penalize the complex process of converting the natural coca leaf into concentrated cocaine.
The wording of the last-minute US objection filed with the UN confuses the issue by failing to recognize that Bolivia’s amendment is about removing the requirement to ban coca chewing in countries where it is already practiced, not a broader legalization of the coca leaf. The US must act immediately to withdraw this erroneous, politically–motivated objection to right historic wrong that has stigmatized and harmed indigenous Andean peoples for over 50 years.