Letter Evo Morales to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

In response to the 2007 annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which called on countries to 'abolish or prohibit coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of coca tea', President Evo Morales of Bolivia sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon to express profound concern and discontent with the INCB in relation to the coca leaf, the practice of chewing it and the other traditional uses that have 3,000 years of history and are fully legally recognised in Bolivia.

La Paz, March 8, 2008

His Excellency, D. Ban Ki-Moon
UN General Secretary
New York, USA

Dear Secretary General,

I am writing to you in order to express my profound concern and my government’s discontent at the statements contained in the Report corresponding to 2007 management, presented yesterday in Vienna, Austria, by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), in which they urge my country to adopt measures to abolish or prohibit the use of coca leaf in its traditional, ancestral and medicinal forms, ignoring the observations already presented by Bolivia on the subject.

If I may, I would like to bring to your attention the following criteria, which are contrary to the concepts expressed in the aforementioned report:

1. The report makes only partial mention of the International Conventions in force on the subject, ignoring the developments made in International Law concerning traditional uses of coca leaf. For example, the United Nations Convention Against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, approved in 1988, recognises the historic aspect of coca leaf when it states in article 14: “The measures adopted should respect fundamental human rights and should duly take into account licit traditional uses, where there is historic evidence, and also protect the environment.”

Respect for the traditional and cultural uses of coca leaf has been recognised in a number of international instruments, such as the recently approved UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which indicates in article 11 that:

“Indigenous people have the right to practice and revitalise their traditions and cultural customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their culture, such as archaeological and historic sites, utensils, designs, ceremonies, technologies…” Article 24 states that “…they have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, traditionalcultural expressions and the manifestations of their science… including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines…”

It must also be noted that on ratifying the 1988 UN Convention Against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Bolivia made the following Reservation:

“That coca leaf is not in itself a narcotic or psychotropic substance;

That its use and consumption do not cause physical or psychic alterations greater than those resulting from the consumption of other freely and universally used plants and products;

That coca leaf has wide medicinal applications as supported by the practice of traditional medicine defended by the World Health Organisation and confirmed by science;

That it can be used for industrial purposes;

That coca leaf is generally used and consumed in Bolivia, which means that if it were to accept the orders mentioned above, a large part of the Bolivian population would have to be considered criminal and punished as such, which would make the rules inapplicable in practice;

That it should be noted that coca leaf becomes a drug when it is transformed in chemical processes that use equipment and materials that do not come from Bolivia;

That the Republic of Bolivia will take all the pertinent legal measures to control cultivation, use, consumption and illicit acquisition, in order to prevent coca leaf being diverted into the manufacture of narcotics.”

A set of international instruments also exists, such as the Human Rights Conventions, the ILO Convention 169 and the UNESCO declaration in favour of the Kallawaya people’s cosmovision as immaterial heritage; these support the Bolivian policy in defence of the ancestral use of coca leaf.

2. The arguments expressed in the Board’s report not only reflect ignorance of the values and properties of the sacred coca leaf, they also denote a colonialist and segregationist attitude lacking in scientific basis on the part of the INCB. Bolivian cultural practice and legal system recognise the ancestral nature of the lawful use of coca leaf.

Within this framework, with the support of the European Union, the “Integral Study of the Coca Leaf” is going ahead. This will include a series of qualiquantitative studies into the consumption, commercialisation and production of coca leaf. This is a worthy demonstration of the international community’s recognition of the ancestral uses taking place in Bolivia.

3. The report has the impudence to recommend eradicating the consumption of coca leaf and discourage the practice of chewing the leaf. In Bolivia it is understood that eradicating this ancestral practice would be like eliminating our culture. This would aggrieve the millions of Bolivians who have maintained this valuable tradition throughout history.

Consequently, and considering that it is the will of the Bolivian Government to promote the traditional uses and medicinal and nutritional properties of the coca leaf, we have turned to international bodies, in order to scientifically clarify any doubts that may still remain. In this we count on the commitment of technical support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) as part of a programme entitled “The contribution of traditional medicine to public health: the coca leaf” having formulated 13 research protocols on a variety of applications: osteoporosis, altitude sickness, obesity, analgesics gastro-intestinal problems, physical invigoration and others.

4. In terms of the mission of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), undertaken between the 10th and the 12th of September 2007, the report does not record the magnitude, depth and detail of the information, objectives, principles and fundamentals described by national authorities with respect to the vision of the new Bolivian policy on the issue and makes even less reference to the achievements made.

The report does not recognise, though many international actors did, the many efforts deployed across the country in the fight against the trafficking of narcotics. Bolivia reaffirms its commitment to the fight against drugs trafficking, but at the same time ratifies its will to re-evaluate the traditional uses and benefits of the sacred coca leaf, based on social consensus for the rationalisation of production, the elemental and fundamental respect for human rights and sustainable and integral development.

As you know, measures to control production and regulate commercialisation of coca leaf are currently being applied within a framework of national sovereignty and dignity and of social consensus and peace.

As an example of the greater efficiency of the police forces, in 2007 there were 10,800 operations, 4,076 factories were destroyed, and 4,268 people apprehended. These operations allowed the seizure of 17.83 MT of cocaine and 423 MT of marijuana.

In terms of the rationalisation and eradication of surplus coca crops, according to a policy of consensus and respect for human rights, a total of 6,268 HAS. were reduced.

Mr. Secretary General, a reading of the paragraphs of the report that mention Bolivia, one notes a biased and one-sided vision of the problem based on cultural prejudices and legal stereotypes. The coca leaf means life for Bolivia and is part of the culture of living well. Since ancestral times it has formed part of our daily life, as demonstrated in cultural practices, traditional medicine and national habits. Because of this, any attempt to prohibit it would be a direct affront to the Bolivian people.

Bolivia does not accept unilateral certifications nor impositions from foreign governments. I therefore express in the name of my government, my full and strong rejection of the report presented by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) as it lacks the basis to make the recommendations included in it.

I would also like to request that you, Mr. Secretary General, make a representation in the name of the government and people of Bolivia, on the report presented by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in the most ample spirit of respect for the millions of Bolivians who, while we reject the illicit trafficking of drugs, reaffirm our right to let out cultural values prevail through the traditional consumption of the sacred coca leaf.

With this aim, I reiterate to you my assurance of my most distinguished regards.

Evo Morales Ayma
Constitutional President of Bolivia

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