March 14, 2009

Evo and Coca

MABB © ®

Going through my daily doses of news, I found myself reading Evo Morales' op-ed in the New York Times. This short, yet well exposed argument for the decriminalization of the coca leaf gives the reason(s) why the leaf should be taken out of the narcotics list.

I think Morales argues eloquently and thus has a powerful impact. He concludes:
The coca leaf also has alkaloids; the one that concerns antidrug officials is the cocaine alkaloid, which amounts to less than one-tenth of a percent of the leaf. But as the above examples show, that a plant, leaf or flower contains a minimal amount of alkaloids does not make it a narcotic. To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic. The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.
He also talks about the significance of the leaf for his culture:

Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.

The custom of chewing coca leaves has existed in the Andean region of South America since at least 3000 B.C. It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor 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.

Today, millions of people chew coca in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and northern Argentina and Chile. The coca leaf continues to have ritual, religious and cultural significance that transcends indigenous cultures and encompasses the mestizo population.
I just thought, this was a nicely written op-ed. One that, in short, effectively lays out the argument. I wonder who helped Morales write this?


Gringo said...

I would agree that the coca leaf whole is not a narcotic. A YPF manager, and a grandfather,a very responsible sort, introduced me to chewing coca leaves at my residence when I was working in northern Argentina. What the YPF supervisor on one of the rigs I worked on- not the same person who introduced me to coca leaves- was chewing was coca, not tobacco.This occurred several years after Argentina outlawed the coca leaf. The old timers were not going to change their lifelong habits just because of a change of law.

The coca leaves made my mouth numb, thing more. Just like novacaine at the dentist's office.Gee, I wonder why.

While it is a sensibly written article, anything coming from Evo I tend to mistrust. (Need I list the reasons?) IMHO, in his time as a cocalero, he was involved to some degree with those who converted the leaf to a more potent substance.

Were Evo more inclined to assist in anti-cocaine efforts,he would have more credibility with me. At the same time, the user countries need to do more to reduce demand, such as putting more people into treatment programs.

mabb said...

How long did you have the leaves in your mouth.

Because, I chewed coca leaves before, never more than 10-15 min., and never had a numb mouth.

dv said...

So when was there a scarcity of coca in Bolivia? And have they determined that 20,000 hectares meets demand?

A narcotic is a soothing or numbing agent. which seems to be what you described:
"It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness."

Mar said...

I remember the ¨coca is not cocaine¨campaign made by the ex president jaime paz zamora, not only the U.S. Govenment did not respond to this, but they also removed jaime´s Visa to the United States.

How things change eh? wink wink.

Usually you must use a catalyzer to enhance coca effect, it is called ¨cecina¨ and it is a compound of different ashes, sugars and maybe sodium carbonate.

Gringo said...

How long did you have the leaves in your mouth? Because, I chewed coca leaves before, never more than 10-15 min., and never had a numb mouth.

I got a numb mouth within a very short time. A minute ? Saber...I chewed it with some white-colored catalyzers that Mar mentions. I recall bicarbonato, which correlates with Mar. That was the difference. Those YPF old timers were hard-core coca chewers, which is why they included the catalyzers!
Evo's editorial is in one sense grandstanding, unless Evo could find someone in Bolivia who was busted for chewing coca leaves. I see the editorial as a cover for the pasta and cocaine producers.

mabb said...

Yes, did know that paste was called lejia and just found out it is made from Quinoa stems ashes, sugar, flour, and some flavor such as fruits. It is supposed to dehydrate the leaf.

This site talks about the chemical transformation and what happens when the two are combined.

Anonymous said...

He just can't help himself with his half truths. He talks about Banzer's "brutal dictatorship" but obviates that Banzer was democratically elected afterwards and came as close to "coca zero" as any other Bolivian government.

dv said...

What politicians doesn't live on half truths?

As far as treatment goes yes more needs to be put into the right type of treatment programs. The only ones that work are the long term treatment programs.

Even when considering the longer term programs seems that the average of all types of programs for all drugs hovers below 50% for those who successfully complete the program. This number doesn't take into account the many people who drop out of voluntary treatments, who can be said to have failed. So yes, much more effort needs to go to rehabilitation, but I don't think that we can stop trying to remove as much supply as possible.

Anonymous said...

Well, some politicians' half truths equal to blatant lies, and Morales is campaigning in foreign lands as a "noble savage," which means he cannot lie.

Gringo said...

DV: agreed. That the street price of cocaine has declined over the decades , indicating more supply than demand, shows that there is also a supply component to the cocaine issue.

BTW, Chris Prentice, in his book,The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure: A Holistic Approach to Total Recovery,claims that a program he developed has a success rate of ~85%, compared with the usual 50% rate.

I just hope that yerba mate, known in some circles as mateína, remains legal in the US. ( As far as I know, the only psychoactive component in yerba mate is caffeine.)

Frank_IBC said...

The reason folks chew the coca leaf is for the cocaine in it, not for any other unnamed "alkaloids".

That said, chewing the leaf has much less danger of destructive addiction because the dosage is much lower than powdered cocaine and the cocaine is absorbed into the blood much slower so that there is no "rush".

Chewing coca leaf with lejia does not change the chemical nature of the cocaine, it simply allows it to be absorbed from the leaf slightly faster than without it.

Anonymous said...

Evo did not wtrite that oped, a ghost writer did.

He's too stupid, probably from years of cocaine use.... not coca chewing

Gringo said...

Any further information on the murder and bribery scandal involving Evo’s ally and former YPFB head Santos Ramirez ?

mabb said...

It is still under investigation, but the guy sits already in jail. I think he's already been judged guilty.

Anonymous said...

I think legalization is the only way to erradicate the violence and corruption of coca trading.
Demand will never lower because American and European societies are so hopeless that the people need drugs to be productive. The problem is no weak individuals but the way societies are organized and that will not change soon.