LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Friday that he will campaign this year to persuade the United Nations to decriminalize trade in coca leaf, the raw material of cocaine.
Morales, who remains leader of the group representing coca growers in central Bolivia’s Chapare region, has already secured a UN finding that chewing coca leaf – a practice of Andean peasants since time immemorial – is not illicit.
“This is the second battle that must be waged. We are ready,” he told a gathering of coca traders in Yacuiba, a village on the border with Argentina.
Bolivia, like neighboring Peru, permits the cultivation of coca in limited quantities for traditional use in folk medicine and Andean religious rites.
In its unadulterated form, coca is a mild stimulant that is valued in the Andes for its ability to counteract the effects of altitude sickness.
The Bolivian government has worked to develop additional legal uses of coca leaf.
In March 2013, the United Nations accepted the reincorporation of Bolivia into the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, amended to remove the previous ban on chewing coca leaf.
But the United Nations maintained the prohibition on international trade in coca leaf due to its potential use in producing cocaine.
Morales said Friday that during recent trips to Europe, he had been offered coca-based liqueurs.
“Despite the criminalization of coca leaf at this time they continue bringing coca to Europe,” he told the gathering in Yacuiba.
At the same time, the president said his administration would persist in an anti-drug strategy that has delivered impressive results without help from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Bolivian authorities confiscated more than 20 tons of cocaine in 2015 and destroyed 11,025 hectares (27,222 acres) of illegal coca leaf.
Morales expelled the DEA in 2008 after learning that aircraft belonging to the U.S. agency were being used to transport leaders of a secession movement in eastern Bolivia.