No better way to start off the new year than with a bit of good old-fashioned American hypocrisy.
The US has denied Bolivia’s request to the United Nations that it’s people be allowed their ancestral practice of chewing coca leaves. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, was petitioning to amend the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which currently makes criminals of those who maintain the coca tradition.
Not only is this stance hypocritical, as the US currently has exceptions to its own laws for native peoples within the US to use (otherwise illegal) psychoactive plants (ie. peyote) for religious purposes; it is blatantly denying the indigenous peoples of other countries their rights.
With many nations, including most of those in South America, having explicitly supported Bolivia’s proposal to the UN – it is the US that has blocked the way.
Maybe we should start by asking why the coca leaf was ever criminalized in the first place. Coca has been used ritually and medicinally by cultures of the Andes and Amazon for millennia. Archaeologists have found evidence that coca leaves were being chewed in Peru at least 8,000 years ago.
The coca leaf itself has many uses, whether cultural, medicinal or spiritual. As Morales rightly notes, coca leaf chewing “helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labour and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.” Not to mention the fact that the coca leaf only contains 1% of the alkaloid used to make cocaine.
The US justifies its stance on the grounds that coca is the raw material for making cocaine. This would seem to imply that American policy should take precedent over native Bolivian culture, even in Bolivia.
All this as President Obama finally signs the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is meant to protect ‘cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.’ The US stance on this is discriminatory, given that coca use is so deeply rooted in the indigenous culture of the Andes.
The irony is that not only does the US recognize the cultural rights of its own native populations to use certain psychoactive plants, but the US State Department even recommends coca for US travelers visiting Bolivia to avoid altitude sickness. Oops!