Home » Side Event: The coca leaf and United Nations drug control: repairing a historical mistake

Side Event: The coca leaf and United Nations drug control: repairing a historical mistake

Organized by Bolivia with the support of Colombia

Carlos Eduardo del Castillo, Ministro de Gobierno del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia: When we talk about repairing a historical mistake, we talk about rewriting history —decolonising history and give the coca leaf its place in the history of Bolivia and the world. Currently, the coca leaf i snot only used in our country by all classes and social groups. Until a few years back, what was demonised, it’s now normalised. Everyone is part of the coca leaf and the coca leaf is part of all of us. The coca leaf is a symbol of Bolivia and the identity of Bolivian culture. When we talk about a historical mistake, we mean the leaf cannot be understood as cocaine. President Arce was clear on this when he expressed that the coca leaf has a lot to offer to humanity and Bolivia can be one of the countries supporting its industrialisation, to help humanity discover the properties of our sacred leaf. Our previous government supported the constitutionalisation in the article 384 of our Constitution —the State of Bolivia protects the coca leaf, originary and ancestral of our heritage, renewable resource, and its natural state is not a drug. In the following years, we have abrogated the law imposed by foreign states. New lar 906 decriminalises producers of coca and makes it clear what our parliamentarians of the Constitutional Assembly had in mind: revaluing the coca leaf. WE started controlling production in the leaf’s ancestral regions and we have also studied how much we need in our territory to dedicate it for ancestral, nutritional and medicinal uses. What do we do with the rest? The diverted amount sent into illicit purposes. We’re working to achieve alternative development and support the industrialisation of the coca leaf, to release its potential in medicine and other key purposes. We recall Bolivia’s reservation on the coca leaf with regard to the Single Convention of 1961, acknowledging the traditional and ancestral coca leaf chewing. No longer will our peoples be classified as delinquents as a result of their millenary practices. Law 906 regulated the production, commercialisation of the coca leaf. We focus on dialogue, consensus building, and the participation of unions. Our purpose is to revalue the coca leaf to ensure that our producing communities can have a good life. Contrary to other countries in the region, that’s why we care about the coca leaf being valorised. UNODC acknowledges that in the Andean region, only Bolivia has stabilised its cultivation of the coca leaf. Unfortunately, during 2020, the government that acceded to power through a coup, didn’t manage to organise eradication as part of our mechanisms of social control; something our government has resumed. Our current government seeks to eradicate more than 10,000 hectares of illicit cultivation to stabilise the cultivation of the coca leaf. We know that any disruption in these efforts will lead to a plummeting of prices and derivation into illicit economies —which is why we’re invested in these activities. If the coca leaf price remains buoyant, I can access rights, take my kids to school…this is why we don’t criminalise producers but we are focused on creating the economic conditions for them to thrive. It is after the 1961 Single Convention that coca leaf cultivation increased significantly. Our path will never be violence, as it was in previous governments and the government that followed the coup of 2019. Many will say, what are you doing with drug trafficking? We also have clear numbers on this. If we talk about the imposed government of 2020, only 5.6 tons of cocaine base paste were seized. After our government came back to power, seizures increased dramatically. Bolivia is a transit country for drugs, which means that we have seized a number of aircrafts involved in the trafficking of substances in our country. We don’t need other countries to show us how we should do things. We need to regionalise the fight against trafficking. The whole of the southern cone must come together, within their sovereignty, to coordinate together in order to ensure good governance.

Néstor Osuna Patiño, Ministro de Justicia y del Derecho de Colombia (video): This is an important space for COlombia and we’re glad to share our need to change our drug policy towards a total peace, leaving behind the punitive approach focusing on weak links, like indigenous coca producers, consumers and peasantry. Petro’s government acknowledges the costs of the war on drugs . The coca plant is part of the Andean heritage of our region. The punitive impetus has confused the purpose of the coca leaf and its traditional and millenary uses. Coca is not cocaine. WE understand the importance of the coca leaf for our Indigenous peoples. We also understand why many of our peasant communities are dependent on the coca leaf to survive due to a lack of formal alternatives. In the new policy, we aim to regulate the coca leaf and its licit uses as a priority. We’re working on normative changes to ensure access that is medical, industrial, pharmaceutical, etc. We promote learning about these plants and their communities. Training is also very important in order to find markets. We celebrate Bolivia’s courageous move towards valuing the coca leaf and start a campaign to declassify the coca leaf from the 1961 Convention. We support this initiative because its part of a policy of total peace. Moving from a model of ‘the killing plant’, to a plant at the service of our people. Promoting multiple potential uses in food, medicine, industry, etc. Supporting overcoming vulnerabilities. And to consolidate peace. A botanical peace too. A peace with plants.

Andrés Flores, Bolivia MP: I’m here as an MP and a Yungas coca grower. I’m speaking as a grower. With the credentials of a coca grower. When I was young and my parents grew the leaf, we didn’t need any medicine; we had the coca leaf and we used it to heal and treat ourselves. I’m here as a representative of the state and can tell you we will defend our coca leaf, which is not cocaine. Coca is a medicinal leaf, particularly in rural areas where we don’t have transportation to get to big cities. When our siblings fall ill, thanks to the coca leaf they can be cured. In the past, when there was no doctor, healers would support the community’s health and we still exist in this situation and the coca leaf is an important part of our healing practices. It’s medicine in its natural state.

David Choquehuanca Céspedes, Vicepresidente, Bolivia: Sisters and brothers. All who feed from the milk of mother earth, water, are siblings. Which is why indigenous peoples seek harmony with nature. Because it’s not just humans, but also plants too. Animals too. We’re siblings. We’re all equal and different at the same time. All of us. With my brother, the Minister Castillo, we’re similar and different. With the Viceminister of Colombia, we’re similar but also different. We’re siblings. With a plant, we’re similar in relation to the cosmic and natural. But we’re different in terms of the specifically human. We’re siblings. The coca leaf is our mother. It’s sacred for us, Indigenous peoples resisting for 500 years to colonisation, to domination, to trickery, to lies. Today, not only humanity but also the planet as a whole is subjected to the chaos of the cosmos. Total disorder. Nothing is well. Uncertainty abounds. They call it a crisis. Multiple crises. This crisis is an opportunity for all of us —to change things. That’s why we talk about the 10th Pachacuti: time of change, of decolonisation. Let’s decolonise everything. Let’s decolonise our minds. Our minds have been infected by individualism, racism, greed, hatred, envy, division. We need to decolonise our thought, go back to being an integral human being. Build fraternity. Decolonise the thought but also decolonise our stomach. Leaving behind fast food, transgenic foods, synthetic foods…all of which cause deaths. Not only do we decolonise the stomach but also our international bodies. In this case, the sacred coca leaf. Brothers and sisters, in 1961, the Single Convention of 1961 made a historical mistake. An affront to the culture of our peoples. To the culture of life. The coca leaf is condemned to extermination in the next 25 years, said the 1961 Convention. The coca leaf answered: ‘I am the manifestation of the life in perfect balance. I’m health. I’m nutrition. I’m millenary. I’m indestructible, thus.’ From 1961, during 6 decades, the operators of the geopolitics of domination of the West have intervened to interdict the natural, ritual and traditional use of the leaf, implementing eradication programmes for offences it never committed. The colonial rhetoric and the neglectful norms that were imposed are against the basic principle of resilience in the convention. The colonial sense of the non resilient rhetoric of the convention showed incapacity to transcend, learn, and move the unified consciousness between Indigenous peoples and the coca leaf. Pôlicies of eradication against the coca leaf. The norms on use. The denial of its industrial uses have failed. This is because we need to push changes in narratives. This gathering here must be considered an opportunity to learn about the judicial, mediatised, architecture of the Convention. Six decades of the colonisation of the natural coca leaf. Six decades of violating indigenous peoples rights. The traditional, nutritional, ritual, therapeutic uses of the natural coca leaf. Six decades against the rights, commercialisation, industrialisation o the coca leaf. Six decades of fabricating a rhetoric of extermination against the natural coca leaf and its peoples. Of policies and mechanisms and norms against the basic sense of social and psychological resilience toward the extermination of the leaf. Manufacturing consent against the use of the coca and attempts to smear the heritage of the coca leaf. When mechanisms and norms are neglectful, not resilient, policies are lies. When the law is ineffective, justice is unjust and destroys itself. When the curtain of lies on the coca leaf falls, we can free the truth and achieve that humanity gets to know this truth. The civilisational crisis of the West has questioned the capitalist elites that socialise losses but privatise gains. Capitalising knowledge into great fortunes in a few hands. In times of returning to balance in the tenth Pachacutic, humanity must adopt the decolonisation of the coca leaf in three spaces: revealing the truth on the coca leaf, combating false information and misinformation and post truth on the coca leaf, on social media we must undermine the post truth about what the coca leaf is not. And the effects it does NOT generate on our bodies. It’s a strength assisting us and protecting us and encouraging us. Resilience = Resilio = Rebound. This is time to rebound against the campaign of discrimination and smears against the coca. To give it its right place. As a manifestation of life in perfect balance. In terms of justice, this is also about updating the texts of the 1961 Convention so that it gets decolonised and principles are built in order to focus on complementarity and balance with Indigenous peoples. Decolonise regulations in the conventions to make justice after six decades of colonisation. Legitimising traditional, therapeutic, ritual uses of the sacred coca leaf. Make justice on the legitimate rights on industrialisation in its natural state. The third front of this battle is about the political landscape, focused on the discernment on the realities of the leaf —against the fabrications on what the coca leaf is NOT. For all the above, Bolivia, with our President Arce, will request from the UN and the 1961 Convention to activate the process of the critical review of the coca leaf as a narcotic of List 1. We will notify the beginning of this process in light of current provable and objective evidence and methodologies to the WHO. The decolonisation of the natural coca leaf will not be just about complaints. The freedom of the coca leaf will not be a gift. It will be about resilient action. Going beyond adverse circumstances that lie, discriminate, make suffer. It will have a domino effect on these three fronts: informational, judicial and political. Brothers and sisters, to finish up, we ask states, international organisations, join us in this journey to liberate the coca leaf from drugs and turn it into medicine, nourishment for humanity. And I ask you all to support us. I will share the Jallalla with you all, part of the whipala, our code. It’s the codification of the rainbow —part of the jallala (for life, and all we have to do is about life itself, that’s our commitment). WE need to free ourselves from the dictatorship of money. Support us! Support our Minister brother against drug trafficking. Jallalla, let’s all participate. Positive energies to each other. Do not crush, says our coca leaf. We need to support. 

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