19 January 2011
Before next 31 January the governments of the UN member states will have to make clear if they have any objections to the request of the Bolivian government to modify the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. In the article 49, paragraphs 1 c) and 2 e), this Convention establishes that “the chewing of coca leaves must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this Convention”.
The aim of the Bolivian proposal is to eliminate the obligation to ban coca chewing in order to allow this habit, whereas it does not cause any harm, altered state or addiction among people.
The coca leaf has been an integrated part of Bolivian society for thousands of years. As a food supplement, as a natural medicine, as an element of meetings and celebrations, the coca leaf is present in the daily life of the majority of the population. In the new Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, that entered into force in February 2009, the coca leaf has been declared as “cultural heritage of the nation and its biodiversity”.
According to the Single Convention of 1961, the only ones who can make legal use of the coca leaves are the pharmaceutical companies that apply coca to produce legal cocaine, an anesthesic product, and Coca Cola, that continues to use the leaves to produce the flavouring agent which gives its special taste to the soft drink.
The only countries that had presented objections to the request of the Bolivian government, Egypt, Macedonia and Colombia, have redrawn these objections. However, it is known that the United States are looking for support from other governments to stop the Bolivian amendment.
According to reports that have come out of the meetings of the “Horizontal Drug Group” – the EU committee that deals with drug policy – the United States are preparing to form a group of nations that as “friends of the Convention” would oppose the proposal of the Bolivian government.
Some EU member states, among others the United Kingdom, Sweden and Belgium, have suggested they would be willing to support the position of the US, among others because “if the Bolivian request would be accepted, this would create a precedent and threaten the 1961 Convention as well as the political credibility of the EU with regards to the fight against drugs and against drugs trafficking“.
To present an objection to the Bolivian proposal would imply a flagrant violation of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, that established the right of indigenous peoples to “maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression.”
There does not exist any serious scientifical document that has produced any evidence of any negative effect of coca leaf consumption to the physical or mental health of human beings. On the contrary, there is a large amount of reports by Andean and international experts who maintain that this consumption has only benefitial effects on body functions and the wellbeing of the consumer.
The eventual European opposition to the Bolivian proposal is directed by motives that are unrelated to the coca issue. The true reasons are to be found in the fear of what might happen with the Single Convention once it has been officially recognised that it contains errors.
If the UN would be obliged to admit that the international prohibition of plants like coca, cannabis or opium has been based on mistakes, then the principle basis for drugs policy in almost all countries of the world would simply disappear.
The fight is between the legitimacy of an ancestral culture and the credibility of the governments that dominate the world. It is David against Goliath. Hopefully the Bolivian government prepares its strategy well in case objections are presented to its demand. The UN offers the possibility of organising a conference to present the proposal in detail, but this will very likely result in a loss of time.
It would be better if Bolivia, invoking the fact that the Bolivian state has been renewed in 2009 with the approval of a new Constitution, would decide to reconsider all the international commitments that the former state had taken upon itself, among others the 1961 Single Convention.
If the world does not accept the coca leaf, Bolivia will not have any other option than to renounce the Single Convention and eventually sign again but only after making reservations to all of its articles that are in contradiction to the Political Constitution of the Plurinational State, which says in its article 384:
The state protects the original and ancestral coca leaf as national cultural heritage, renewable natural ressources of Bolivian biodiversity, and as a factor of social cohesion; in its natural state it is not a drug. The revalorisation, production, commercialisation and industrialisation will be regulated by law.