Foreign Minister Choquehuanca is currently on a tour of Europe where he has at least received strong support from Spain for Bolivia’s position.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) have learned that the United States is moving to oppose, as soon as this week, Bolivia’s formal request to remove the obligation to ban the chewing of coca leaves— an indigenous practice dating back more than 2,000 years. TNI and WOLA strongly encourage countries to support Bolivia’s proposal, which is a legitimate request based on scientific evidence and respect for cultural and indigenous rights.
Originally the U.S. reportedly intended to submit their objection end last week, but the only two countries that had recently filed an objection (Colombia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) withdrew their notifications, just as Egypt had done a year ago. Other countries, under pressure, are still considering issuing a formal objection, including European countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Denmark. *“The U.S. clearly wants to avoid standing alone in this delicate matter, so pressure is high on other countries to join them,”* said Martin Jelsma, TNI Drugs and Democracy Program Coordinator. Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca is visiting Europe this week to try to convince several countries to reconsider their opposition to the amendment. *“Hopefully, these countries will have the courtesy to await the outcomes of such visit,”* he added.
*“The ancestral habit of chewing coca leaves carries positive therapeutic, social and sacred functions for the Andean-Amazonian indigenous populations,”* said Coletta Youngers, Senior Fellow at WOLA. *“Countries opposing the elimination of the international ban on coca chewing will surely strain their relations with Bolivia.”*
Correcting the historical error to ban consumption of the coca leaf in its natural form is not only relevant for Bolivia. Peru, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina also legally recognise the right to use coca. UNASUR expressed its support for the Bolivian proposal in the Presidential Declaration of Quito signed in August 2009, which requests the international community to respect the ancestral cultural manifestation of coca leaf chewing.
The U.S. government has just recently endorsed the 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 31 states that *“indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.”* In April 2010, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, an advisory body to the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), welcomed Bolivia’s proposal to lift the international prohibition on coca chewing.
*“This amendment is long overdue, and creates an opportunity for governments to finally repair the historical mistake made by the international community of condemning coca leaf chewing as a dangerous practice that needs to be abolished,” said Pien Metaal, Latin American Drug Law Reform project coordinator at TNI. “The fact that also several European countries object to this legitimate request is shameful.”*