Coca Leaf: The Heritage of the Andes

Thursday, April 10, 2008
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) released a new short film in their excellent series on the proceedings of the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). In "Coca Leaf: The Heritage of the Andes" Felipe Cáceres, the Vice Minister of Social Defence of Bolivia is interviewed. He explains the traditional use of the coca leaf and rejects the controversial statements of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in its 2007 annual report calling on the Bolivian and Peruvian governments to eliminate the use of coca leaf contrary to the 1961 Single Convention and to abolish coca chewing and coca tea.

The governments of Peru and Bolivia rejected the INCBs controversial statements, saying that coca leaf is a sacred symbol for indigenous people, which should be protected as a cultural heritage of the Andes. According to a suppressed WHO report (but published on TNIs website) the traditional use of coca leaf has no significant health risks but it has many nutritional and medicinal benefits.

At the CND, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bolivia, Hugo Fernandez, protested against the request of the INCB and announced that Bolivia would seek to remove the coca leaf from the list of the 1961 Single Convention, where it is listed among narcotic substances like cocaine and heroin.

TNI also protested against the demand of the INCB. In a press release, TNI  remarked that the demand of the INCB that countries should “establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the possession and purchase of coca leaf for personal consumption”, would mean the prosecution of several million people in the Andean-Amazon region.

The inclusion of the coca leaf in Schedule I of narcotic drugs of the 1961 Convention was based on an ECOSOC study done back in 1950, inspired by colonial and racist sentiments rather than science. It is time the Board asks the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Organisation for guidance on this matter instead of casting its own narrow-minded judgement and retreating to the obsolete thinking of the 1961 Convention.

TNIs Ricardo Soberón supported the announcement of Bolivia to un-schedule the coca leaf in an intervention at the plenary.

The HCLU calls upon the viewers who are upset about the demonisation of the coca leaf by the INCB to write them an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and a CC to the HCLU at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

For more information about un-scheduling the coca leaf: Coca yes, cocaine no? Legal options for the coca leaf, TNI Drugs & Conflict Debate Papers 13, May 2006.