NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 30, 2008

Indigenous people in Bolivia and Peru have been growing, chewing and drinking tea made from coca plants for thousands of years, says Reason.  Coca is used habitually in these poor countries to stave off hunger, pain, thirst and fatigue; as a mild stimulant; and in religious rituals.  The United Nations now says this has to stop -- in order to facilitate the developed world\'s war on processed cocaine. 


  • The UN\'s drug enforcement agency, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), recommended this March that Bolivia and Peru criminalize the chewing of coca leaves and the boiling of the leaves to make tea.
  • Previously, the United Nations aimed to eradicate all global coca crops in 1961.
  • When this proved impossible, the United Nations adopted a new policy in 1988 that tolerated the plant when it was grown for leaf chewing and tea drinking.
  • The INCB now wants to return to its original goal and fully eliminate all coca plants.

The move has triggered widespread protests in both countries, which trail only Colombia in annual coca production. 

Although the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, claims the only use for coca leaves is cocaine, in fact some 115 tons of decocainized leaves are imported each year by an Illinois-base chemical firm that sends them to the Coca-Cola Company to flavor its famous soft drink, says Reason.

Bolivia\'s leftist president, Evo Morales, has long presented himself as a champion of the coca farmers; he promised to protect the plant in the face of mounting effects by the United States and the United Nations to prohibit it in all of its forms.  For example:

  • The United States has spent more than $5 billion in its failed Latin American coca eradication efforts and intends to keep up the pressure.
  • When Morales announced he would attempt to raise the quota on the amount of coca each citizen of Bolivia is permitted to grow for personal use, the United States responded by cutting aid to Bolivia by 25 percent.

Source: Radley Balko, "Coca Zero," Reason, July 2008.


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