4 March 2009, European Parliament, 15.00 – 18.30 hs.
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Debate on past experiences and future perspectives of EU policy with regards to the coca leaf and a possible market for legal coca products in Europe.
Summary of the debate
A crucial link in European – Latinamerican relationships
1. Giusto Catania->http://www.giustocatania.eu/], Member of the European Parliament, rapporteur on the European Union Strategy on Drugs (2005 – 2012) and on the [role of civil society in EU drug policy.
It is wrong to equal coca leaves to cocaine. Therefore, proposing a change in the international legislation on coca is a responsible approach. Also the European Parliament has called upon the European Commission to look into ways in which we can allow the commercialisation of traditional coca products. The European Union is currently financing a study which aims to establish the exact amount of coca leaves that is needed for the internal market (for leaves, tea, cookies, shampoo etc.). There is no reason not to open such market in Europe as well. I have asked an Italian cooperative supermarket chain to look into the possibilities to import coca products.
Importing coca products is a way to increase perspectives for rural economy in the Andean region, to ensure coca growers are not criminalised anymore, and also to fight against the production of cocaine. If coca leaves are grown for legal uses they do not end on the illegal market. This system will work much better than the current drug strategy, which has again proved a failure for the last 11 years. Legalising coca leaves would be a way to improve relationships between Europe and Latin America
2. Roberto Calzadilla, Bolivian ambassador to The Netherlands
Coca is not a drug, it is a food supplement, with a lot of benefitial effects on the body. Compare it with coffee: coffee stimulates the mind but also the heart rate. Coca leaves stimulate, but slow the heart rate down. There are no major physical or psychological effects of coca consumption that you would not get with other freely available substances. Coca has many uses that are not harmful, but medicinal and therapeutical.
UN Conventions have penalised the coca leaf at a time when Bolivian governments did not care about the traditions of the majority of its population, and therefore allowed for this to happen. In 1988 the Bolivian and Peruvian governments managed to include a recognition of traditional use of coca in the UN Treaty, but the legal status of the leaf remained unchallenged. Only now that coca has been recognised as a part of national heritage in the Bolivian constitution, this situation has changed.
In its latest annual reports the International Narcotics Control Board has called upon the Bolivian government to limit the use of coca leaves, to abolish the practice of chewing coca. As such the INCB ignores completely the cultural aspect of this phenomenon. Since its penalisation in 1961, there has appeared enough scientific evidence, and new research is on its way, that proves that coca consumption does not have any harmful effects.
The Bolivian government now proposes the declassification of coca – to remove it completely from the list is a complicated process, a lot of bureacracy is involved – so some traditional coca products can be made available to human kind. As we have reformed our state with the new Constitution, we will have to revise international commitments that have been made by previous governments, so it possible that we will make a reservation on the 1961 convention.
3. Christian Inchauste, Bolivian ambassador to Belgium and the European Union
We can only obtain the depenalisation of coca if we at the same time keep fighting against drug trafficking. The Bolivian government is meeting its obligations in this sense, president Evo Morales has just been in Russia and France to ask for cooperation in this fight.
4. Joep Oomen, coordinator of Encod
The reason to organise this meeting and to defend the cause of coca is because we believe this is essentially a question of racism. Criminalising coca started with the Spanish Church, that only changed its mind when it recognised the huge economic interests in coca trade. In 1950, the UN Expert Committee that concluded that coca chewing was a form of cocaine consumption did not have any expertise in culture, in ecology, in anthropology. This Committee blamed coca consumption for causing “malnutrition, bad moral and low productivity”. Anybody with a little bit of knowledge of the issue knows that this is not true. The committee condemned coca because it was set up to do so.
Then in 1988 a clause was included in the UN Conventions that Andean governments could use to allow the cultivation of coca leaves for domestic, traditional use. So the UN first condemned coca leaves for health reasons but then 30 years later allowed the only countries where these leaves were being consumed to continue to grow. This shows that coca prohibition is not based on scientific arguments: either coca consumption is bad, and then it is bad everywhere, or it is good, but then not only in Bolivia or Peru.
The International Narcotics Control Board is operating without any democratic control whatsoever, it does not have a clear mandate, its words do not represent more than the opinions of those 13 individuals who compose it. Last year and this year they made a statement calling upon the Bolivian government to abolish coca consumption, stating that “the use of coca leaves before the alkaloids are extracted should be prohibited”. With this statement the INCB reveals the truth on what it is they are there to defend: the only ones making use of coca leaves after extracting the alkaloids are the Western pharmaceutical companies that use coca leaves for making medicines, and Coca Cola.
We should look at ways to help the coca leaf to be released from its house arrest, so that Andean people can have the right to use coca leaves and extend its benefitial purposes to the world.
48 years of prohibition
1. Terry Nelson, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, United States of America
As a police officer, I spent almost 30 years in the fight against drugs trafficking. We were following a UN Convention from 1961 that was meant to obtain a drug free world. We still don’t have a drug free world today.
LEAP believes we should initiate a different approach, we should have a legal regulation of all drugs and not leave them in the hands of criminal organisations. We do not condone drug use, but we believe in a system of education and control. The money that you save on trying to arrest and incarcerate people, that money can be used for research, treatment and education. The war on drugs is up against a 500 billion dollar a year business, drugs money corrupt governments, police.
Since 2000 we spent 5 billion dollars in Plan Colombia, still the cocaine production is expanding, around 700 tons of cocaine is coming out every year from Colombia. Like Einstein said: to continue doing the same and expect a different result is insane. What we are doing is insane.
The staff in the US embassy in Bolivia take a cup of coca tea in the evening and the next morning they make plans on how to erradicate coca. This is hypocrit.
Since 1994 in the US we arrested 15 million people for drug offenses, 1,5 million of them were minors. Their life is ruined. Most arrests are related to drug use, and 48 % to marijuana, a harmless drug that never killed anybody. As we were too busy on the drug war, we could only arrest 12 procent of all burglaries and 15 procent of car thefts.
Is the price worth it? No. It is much cheaper to treat people. All that will happen if we legalise drugs is that we take it out of the criminal environment. We approach it as a social problem. We won’t have the Taliban or other armed groups deal in it anymore.
2. Adriana Rodriguez, researcher, Colombia
Three decades of erradication and substitution have not done away with cocaine production in Colombia, still the figures tell us that production is increasing, we have gone from 700 to almost 1000 tons a year. The policies aiming to reduce supply have not worked, trafficking has increased, coca growers have no alternatives, so the cycle will continue: poverty leads to illicit cultivation, which leads to deforestation.
From 1990 onwards Colombia has been one of the main cocaine producer countries, at the moment 55 % of coca production is in Colombia. Since 2000 the most ambitious plan ever has been executed to erradicate it, with a very strong military approach, in the name of the fight against (drug) terrorism it has been a cover up for anti-guerrilla warfare. There is a huge increase in areas that were fumigated, in spite of that Colombia has still the largest production area. The increase in the past ten years has been almost twice, but while the price for coca leaves has remained stable, the price for cocaine has increased 25 %.
According to the UNODC drug control leads to more pressure on trafficking and production. In Colombia, this leads to more deforestation, a multiplication of routes, more small groups being formed that do drug trafficking, marginalisation of growers (some 80.000 families).
Over the past 6 years 170.000 has of forest have been used to grow coca. This is tropical forest, and we can see that with the practice of fumigations, the growing activity is just deplaced from one area to the other. In the elaboration process for cocaine chemicals are used, like potassium, ammonia and gasoline. For 1 kilo of cocaine 15 liters of chemicals are used, 93 liters of water are polluted.
The fumigations in Colombia could be considered as the world’s most disastrous chemical warfare ever. Since 2002 8 million litres of various chemcials have been fumigated. Monsanto is producing these products and says they should be used with care, not sprayed into the environment, nevertheless this is being done in Colombia. No public hearings, no rulings of court, no public protest have been able to stop these fumigations, that ruin crucial ecosystems (the Amazon, high mountain areas).
While the UN Environmental Programme calls for protection of ecosystems, yet the UN Office on Drugs and Crime calls for continuing this “ecocide”. Fumigations also destroy communities, provoke displacement of people; 51 % of indigenous people are affected by this policy, for instance the Nuqaq in the Guaviare. Their leader killed himself when he saw he was unable to protect his people against the drug circle: production, erradication and fumigation.
Meanwhile 65 % of the paramilitary groups fighting along with the government are involved in drug trafficking, which continues as ever. Several MPs are investigated for being linked with the drug industry. There is rather a fragmentation from big cartels into small groups, also the guerrilla is involved in setting up new routes, and the conflict has expanded to other countries: see what is happening in Mexico.
Questions from the audience
To ambassador Calzadilla: did Bolivia request for support in the fight against drug trafficking from Russia and the European Union? And what are sustainable solutions for regions that produce coca leaves for the drug industry?
Ambassador Calzadilla: In december 2008 a cooperation programme was signed with the EU, to support integral development. The money is being used among others to make a study on the needs for the legal market in coca leaves. The EU has a non prohibitionist approach, we want to step up this support.
People use coca leaves, there is an assured market for coca leaves in Bolivia, like in Argentina, there are Asian countries that have asked us for the possibilities to open a market there. We should ensure that surplus coca does not go into cocaine, so we need good prices for all agricultural products. As president Evo Morales is very familiar with these problems, such as fluctuating prices etc., obviously the Bolivian government wishes to develop opportunities for the entire rural sector.
To Adriana Rodriguez: Colombia has had 30 years of violence affecting the country; now Afghanistan is in a similar situation, now it seems the US wants to export Plan Colombia to Afghanistan.
Adriana Rodriguez: We can learn from the Colombian example that we should not link security and antidrug policies. Activists across the world should oppose this chemical warfare which is enriching Monsanto and does not lead to any succes.
To Terry Nelson: if in 30 years you haven’t seen any success in the war on drugs, why is it waged? Are there any dirty tricks going on behind?
Terry Nelson: in 30 years my team interrupted approx. 200.000 kilos of cocaine from reaching the market. We did not see any difference in the price. So of course drug trafficking continues unhindered despite of our actions. Drug money corrupts everybody, from the bottom to the top. I don’t know anyone personally but I know from intelligence reports that many police officers are corrupted.
Towards new solutions
1. Felix Barra, president of the Confederation of Farmers in Los Yungas, Bolivia
I am a coca grower and a coca consumer. I was also vice-minister on coca and alternative develoopment in the government of Evo Morales.
In Bolivia, the policy of alternative development has been a failure, not only because there have been no results whatsoever, but also because this has been a violation of human rights and of the environment. Alternative development has caused 200 to 300 deaths, because former governments could not dialogue with the farmers. The current cooperation with the EU is proving that with dialogue it is possible to make progress.
We welcome any form of unconditional cooperation, we are a souvereign country, and we are ready to cooperate with the EU. Bolivian citizens are now protected under the law to consume coca legally. A coca grower is governing the country and we are showing the whole world that dialogue will lead to success when it comes to the fight against drug trafficking. We are implementing a system of social control to limit coca production, thanks to the EU cooperation we are introduing computerised registers. The chemicals that are used in the process to make cocaine, they come from elsewhere, from outside Bolivia.
Please don’t confuse coca with cocaine; people who criminalise coca leaves don’t know what they are doing. If you look at scientific studies, of the WHO, see what they say: coca has no negative effects. Unfortunately coca growers are not allowed to export coca tea, the only company that actually benefits from coca leaves is Coca Cola. When we look at the perspectives for legal coca markets we have to look first at the UN convention, which has penalisation of coca as a pillar. In this decision scientific information has been ignored, people have said you go mad when you chew coca, well I have chewed all my life and I am not mad.
I think it is vital that you support the exclusion of coca from the UN list, countries can help us opening markets for coca products, but in an honest way, as the neoliberal system has always crushed farmers in the countryside. If we open up markets for coca products, i am convinced that we can obtain a decrease in cocaine production. The government proposes now integral development with coca. Of course we should also promote other crops, but here EU countries should also open markets for these products.
2. Eduard Casas Bertet, platform MAMACOCA, Spain
Baldomero Caceres, a psychology professor in Lima, is 70 years old. When he was a boy his mother could buy pills of cocaine for him in the pharmacy, there was no problem with that all. First when cocaine was prohibited authorities handed the control over to drug traffickers, and the problems started.
I can understand the reservations against cocaine, but the same arguments have been used against coca, in order to eradicate cocaine they need to erradicate coca. This discussion is not about coca or cocaine, it is about the idea, about ways to manage this issue in a way that is far less harmful, anything else is a war, it is a war that can only be won if you take this business out of the hands of the drug traffickers.
You have to look at the control of the legal and the illegal: if there is legal coca only for some people, that means segregation. It may be good for indigenous people, but it should also be good for the rest of the world.
In Barcelona our platform Mamacoca promotes coca as a food supplement with a great medicinal value. We organised an event with coca experts in Barcelona, we invited doctors such as Jorge Hurtado who apply coca in treatment of cocaine users. We feel the public image of coca should change ; then politicans will follow. We have to explain that coca prohibition has a very weak basis, the UN should base their policies on rational arguments not on moralism. The UN is still a product of the political imbalance based on US hegemony, they abuse their power, we should not believe in what they are doing.
But there is one problem: we can not say that coca is good and cocaine is bad, you get stuck on that way of thinking. There is no good and bad, you have to manage the good and bad in everything; the same in the dichotomy between traditional and modern, both tradition and modern can be negative and positive, stressing this dichotomy does not help us in this situation.
3. Beatriz Negrety Condori, researcher, Bolivia
Coca growers have been fighting for the removal of the coca leaf from the UN list, even before Evo Morales was in power. In Vienna the discussion will go on, the governments will not be able to solve it easily. So maybe we can help finding concrete answers. If we open up markets for coca derivatives, we contribute to the design of new policies to improve the perspectives for people living in coca producing regions.
We have to start explaining the culture of coca leaves. In Argentina it is considered already that you do not have to have Andean roots to consume coca, here in the European Parliament coca tea was drunk, in 2004 and 2006, and today again. We want people to know the truth on coca leaves, which has been recognised as one of the richest agricultural products in terms of nutritional value.
First we need to create an official instrument to make fair trade, without intermediaries, with coca products. Encod and coca producer organisations have been working hard on a proposal for an international agreement to ensure consumers in Europe can buy coca products directly from producers. the final aim is to carry out advertisement campaigns with true information on the social, economical and political context, the impact of international penalisation of coca on the lives of producers, and promote healthy coca products to show coca is not the same as cocaine, a coca grower is not a drug smuggler.
According to this agreement, growers will be involved in the elaboration of benefitial products, that will be distributed directly from producer to consumer, cutting down the role of intermediaries. Products will carry an ecological label, no chemicals will be used in growing or processing the leaves. The products will be made of leaves that are bought on the legal market, so they would reduce the supply to the illegal market. Another aim is to promote environmental eco-tourism to coca growing areas, to develop alternative income strategies.
The next step would be to ensure distribution to customers in Europe, people could demand the final product through a website and it would be sent to them directly through the post. Coca tea would be a pilot product, no more than 20 bags at the time. So what we need now is people who say they are willing to buy coca tea, to provide their adress, so that producers can send to them. This will be an act of civil disobedience to obtain the first step to challenge international penalisation of coca.
Were there to be a negative reaction of authorities in the EU, we have lawyers who are working for the human right to practice one’s culture and have access to health, which is more important than the UN conventions.
The basis of this agreement is that each country should be souvereign to manage its own policies on psychoactive substances. Among citizens we need to establish sustainable relationships based on the fact that fair trade creates benefits at both sides. Still coca products are prohibited, we therefore now have the opportunity to set up a new and more human trade system involving consumers and producers.
Questions from the audience
To the panel: Coca leaves have been demonised, campaigns have been carried out against it, but there is no ban on the chemicals that are used to produce cocaine.
Terry Nelson: you can never control those chemicals, impossible
Felix Barra: in Bolivia we do not produce any of these chemicals, in this government we are ensuring stricter controls against the import of these chemicals. If we know where they come from, then we can do something about it. The coca growers and the government fight drug trafficking, former neoliberal governments did not: tons and tons of cocaine were then leaving the country.
To the panel: maybe with president Obama the US policy will change – but will the EU also speak with a different voice in the UN?
Eduard Casas: In Spain we have tried to obtain authorization, but the former christian-democrat government has installed a policy that bans the sale of any illicit plant, including coca, so we first need to change that policy.
Beatriz Negrety: Precisely therefore we have to act as citizens, we have to make provocative actions. If during 50 years we have had this situation, and all the arguments have been presented to depenalise coca, but quite the opposite happens, then what we have to do is to raise the issue, we have to show a model that respects both consumers and producers. Encod is trying to do just that, to bring together citizens, producers as well as consumers, European and Latinamerican citizens, to show what coca and its culture really is about.
Ambassador Calzadilla: Since 1998 Bolivian people have lived through another 10 years UN strategy of criminalisation, we have seen people killed etc., we know very well this is a failure. People in Europe now start to realise that drug is not only an issue of security, of the state of law. We have to change this focus, we need another ten years of a more human approach, we are coming to a new phase. Compared to countries like the US, where the only view is security, the Bolivian case is an important example: we are moving towards a system of social control, in which we support legal alternatives, and also other products that create an alternative, but then there are no markets..still a lot of work needs to be done.
Questions and conclusions
To Joep Oomen: which coca products are legally available on the European market, are there countries with more interest in this than others?
Joep Oomen: At the moment, nothing that is been produced in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru is legal, the only products are Coca Cola and medicines made by pharmaceutical companies. If markets were opened many products could be imported, in Bolivia these products are made by small enterprises, in Peru industrialisation has made more progress, modern products are available such as coca tablets, in Colombia small companies are working along with indigenous people. Most of these products can be ordered from websites. Especially coca tea will be a product that is most likely to sell well in Europe.
When we campaigned on this in the 1990 we heard from many European civil servants that they agreed with us personally, but politically it was too dangerous for them to express that. In Belgium we tried through fair trade shops to ask for permission from the Health Ministry to import coca products with a percentage of under 0,1 % of cocaine – under the UN Convention they are submitted to a less strict regime, so we could use that particular clause – but the response we got from the health ministry was that this could only apply for industralised products. So chemical products with cocaine were considered less dangerous than natural coca products. The problem is that governments follow the treaties, the treaties are very narrow and there are burocracies that block any progress.
To Felix Barra: Does there exist a bilateral treaty between Bolivia and Venezuela to commercialise coca products?
Felix Barra: No. Under the UN Convention we cannot establish such treaties.
To the panel: is Dutch coca wine marketed, does Europe have a different approach in the UN when it comes to coca?
Joep Oomen: In Holland a coca liquor is made, they use the left overs of coca leaves that are used to make cocaine for medicinal use, the company then sells the residu to a company that makes liquor. This is the same process as used by Coca Cola. Now chemists in Peru have told me it is impossible to take 100% of cocaine out, for that you have to use such toxic chemicals that the residu can not be used for human consumption, so these chemists say there is cocaine in Coca Cola, as in the liquor as well. Of course this needs to be proven, but these people say it.
Giusto Catania: I can confirm that. A chemist I know has told me it is impossible for Coca Cola to make its product without cocaine, this chemist took out 100 % of cocaine from coca leaves and then tried to make a drink out of it for human consumption, which was impossible because of the chemicals used.
Concerning the European Union, well the European Commission has financed a study, but we don’t know how far the Bolivian government actually got with this study, whether they are still planning it, when it will be finished. The Bolivian government has told me they are eager to complete this study soon, so that has to be seen as a positive contribution from the EU.
Vicente Miguel Garcés Ramón, member of European Parliament
I am the ex president of CERAI Valencia. CERAI acted as one of the organisers of the First Global Forum of Producers of Crops Declared to be Illicit, held in Barcelona in January 2009. I would like to conclude this event by presenting you the conclusions of this forum.
Photos: courtesy Iris Uffen