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  HOME | Bolivia

Evo’s campaign to legalize coca
La Paz.– Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Saturday an international campaign to legalize coca leaves for medicinal and traditional uses, although he made it clear that this does not mean the plant may be cultivated without restrictions.

Speaking from the Bolivian tropics, Morales added that he will eliminate illegal drug trafficking, which he said is not only foreign to the native culture of Bolivian Indians but is a blight imported from the United States and Europe.

The head of state made his an-nouncement in Sinahota, located in the heart of the coca-growing region of Chapare where he began as a union leader and went on to become president of all Bolivians.

According to the official news agency, Morales announced “an international campaign to take coca leaves off the United Nations’ poisons list.”

“This is legalization, but not as some people say when they talk of legalization, unrestricted coca growing,” the president said, and announced that a study is underway to establish a legal market for the product.

The Indian chief executive asked coca growers to accompany him in the process by respecting the agreement reached with the previous government, which establishes a “cato of coca” per family in the Chapare region.

A “cato” is an agricultural measurement equal to 1,600 square meters (1,900 square yards).

He said that the European Union will finance a study on Bolivia’s domestic consumption as a basis for deciding whether coca crops should be in-creased or reduced in size.

The coca leaf has been used since ancient times by indigenous peoples as medicine, food, and as an element in rituals, but since it is best known as the raw material of cocaine, its export continues to be banned.

Bolivian law establishes 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) as the maximum crop area, and for years police and army have eradicated whatever exceeds that amount.

The measure has often led to bloody confrontations, especially in Morales’ own Chapare region.

But in October 2004, then-President Carlos Mesa authorized coca growers in the region to cultivate a “cato of coca” each, bringing a measure of calm to the area.

Morales also confirmed that industrialization of the coca plant is one of his administration’s objectives, and that to meet the challenge he brought together the mayors from Chapare to work on ways to achieve that goal.

He spoke of the possibility of reaching an agreement to export coca to Argentina, saying that “at that country’s border, importing coca is not legal, but consuming it is.”

“We want to do our part in the war on drugs, making coca production more efficient, and making sure that the war on drugs is really against the drug trafficker and not against the coca grower, as it has been up to now,” Morales said.

He said that in this fight the slogan will be “zero cocaine,” and announced that the Office of Social Defense will be eliminated and replaced by an Office of Coca and Comprehensive Development, to be headed by the coca-growers’ leader, Felipe Caceres. EFE

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