January 28, 2011
Civil Society Letter to Secretary of State Clinton Requests that U.S.
Government Withdraw its Objection to Bolivia’s Proposal
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Andean Information
Network (AIN), and more than [200 other concerned organizations and
individuals->doc1460] yesterday sent a [letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton->article2853], calling for the Obama administration to immediately withdraw its
objection to Bolivia’s proposed amendment to the 1961 United Nations
Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
If approved, Bolivia’s proposal would remove the 1961 Convention’s
stipulation that Andean countries ban their citizens from chewing coca
leaves. Coca chewing is central to the cultural identity of millions of
indigenous Andean people, and has been used for religious, social,
medicinal and nutritional purposes for many centuries.
Bolivia’s amendment would be approved automatically if no governments
register objections with the United Nations by next Monday, January 31.
Unfortunately, last week the Obama administration formally objected to
Paradoxically, the U.S. government publicly recognizes – in the words of
yesterday’s statement from the U.S. Embassy in La Paz – that “coca-chewing
is a traditional custom in Bolivian culture,” but nevertheless opposes
Bolivia’s proposed amendment “based on the importance of maintaining the
integrity of the 1961 Convention.”
The 1961 prohibition of coca chewing was based on a 1950 report that has
been thoroughly debunked by scientific studies. Research shows that
consumption of the coca leaf in its natural state is a benign practice
that provides positive medical, nutritional and social benefits. “If the
Obama administration is genuinely interested in the ‘integrity’ of the
1961 Convention, it will move promptly drop its invalid objection to
Bolivia’s proposed amendment,” asserts AIN Director Kathryn Ledebur.
By wielding its significant influence to maintain the prohibition on coca
chewing, the Obama administration would be perpetuating a historical
rejection of the rights of indigenous peoples to practice their cultural
heritage. Such a stance would starkly contradict President Obama’s
December 2010 announcement of U.S. support for the UN Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration states that, “Indigenous
peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their
cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural
U.S. opposition to Bolivia’s amendment would also leave the Obama
administration badly out of step with countries throughout Latin America.
“The Obama administration can still correct its mistake before it’s too
late,” said WOLA Senior Associate John Walsh. “Withdrawal of U.S.
opposition to Bolivia’s proposal would be welcomed in the region as a
tangible sign of U.S. support for indigenous rights and willingness to
work cooperatively with Andean nations as equals on drug control policy.”