September 19, 2004

On the Coca Problem.

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Through a round of my blogroll, I found an article that posed a very interesting question on the issue of the eradication policies of the coca leaf in Bolivia. The question is part of an article written by Eduardo Ávila, author of Barrio Flores.

"If this leaf is so sacred (and has been for centuries), then why is it allowed to be used for the manufacturing of an illicit product?" (here is the entire article)

Many of the people against the government's eradication policies, specially the coca growers, argue that the coca leaf is an ancient, sacred and medicinal leaf used by the Aymaras and Quechuas for thousands of years.

Evo Morales, the charismatic leader of the political party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) and leader of the coca growers union, started his political carrier representing this union. He has to say this about the coca issue.

"Nosotros, Aymaras y Quechuas, naciones originarias de los Andes, hemos sobrevivido los azotes del hombre blanco hasta el día de hoy gracias a nuestra hoja de coca. Desde el momento en que llegaron a nuestras tierras, los blancos han querido controlar nuestra hoja para su enriquecimiento personal. Siendo la coca uno de nuestros mayores tesoros, han abusado de ella aquí y ahora abusan de ella por el mundo entero. Como no han podido controlarla, están decididos a destruirla." (you can find more of what Morales says here)

Here is the translation in English.

"We Aymaras and Quechuas, original nations of the Andes, have survived the white man's scourges until today thanks to our coca leaf. From the moment they arrived to out land, the white men wanted to control our leaf for their own enrichment. Being coca one of our treasures, they have abused it here and now they abuse it throughout the entire world. Since they have not been able to control it, they are decided on destroying it."

However, Eduardo's question throws the ball back to the cocalero camp and asks: why not defend the sacred coca against its use in the production of Cocaine? If it is really a "sacred" leaf, isn't is being violated by being sold to drug traffickers?

What the government is trying to stop with its eradication policies is the sale of the coca leaf, by the coca growers, to drug traffickers, who, everybody knows, use the leaf to make cocaine paste.

If the entire block of coca growers would refuse to sale coca to these people (wishful thinking), on the grounds that the coca leaf is to only be used for traditional uses, it would directly address the problem and thus eliminate the need for the government to intervene.

Of course, the problem is not that simple, but it is still a good argument.