Indigenous Bolivians Oppose Continuing Criminalization of their Culture

The following alert (with some small modifications) was originally released by the Andean Information Network

On January 26, coca growers and their constituents gathered in cities across Bolivia to hold peaceful demonstrations in support of Bolivia’s proposed amendment to the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The amendment seeks to decriminalize the traditional practice of coca leaf chewing.

Please find below a letter to Hillary Clinton asking that the US withdraw its objection to Bolivia’s proposed amendment to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The proposed amendment would allow the traditional non-narcotic use of coca leaves and put an end to one aspect of the criminalization of the cultures of native people. This is a time sensitive issue as the US must withdraw its objections before January 31st, so please send your reply TODAY!

As this letter explains, Bolivia’s amendment would remove the requirement in Article 49 that Bolivia and other Andean countries ban their people from chewing coca leaves for religious, social, medicinal and nutritional purposes. Rejecting Bolivia’s amendment conflicts with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states: “indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.”

For more background see this IDPC advocacy letter.

PLEASE COPY & PASTE THE LETTER BELOW HERE OR CALL 202-647-4000 TODAY!

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

We write to ask the Obama administration to withdraw its objection to Bolivia’s proposed amendment to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Bolivia’s amendment would remove the requirement in Article 49 that Bolivia and other Andean countries forbid their people from chewing coca leaves for religious, social, medicinal and nutritional purposes. Coca chewing is central to the cultural identity of millions of indigenous Andean people, and has been for many centuries. Rejecting Bolivia’s amendment conflicts with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states: “indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.”[1]

The US objection registered with the United Nations on January 19, 2011, must be withdrawn by the end of this same month, or the action will block the amendment and exacerbate the injury to indigenous peoples that originated in the 1961 Convention.[2]

The UN based the inclusion of this coca chewing ban in the Convention on a 1950 report that was founded not on scientific research but on interviews with non-indigenous Bolivians and Peruvians about their views on how coca chewing affected indigenous people. At the time, indigenous people continued to live in a system of de facto slavery because of their race.[3] Since the writing of the UN Convention, the1950 report has been thoroughly debunked by numerous scientific studies which show the chewing of the coca leaf in its natural state to be a benign practice, with medical, nutritional and social benefits.[4]

Bolivia proposed the amendment to the 1961 Convention almost two years ago. The amendment would merely remove the language requiring sovereign countries to ban coca chewing within their own borders; it would not legalize the coca leaf internationally nor would it remove the requirement that countries cooperate to prevent and penalize the complex process of converting the natural coca leaf into concentrated cocaine.

The wording of the last-minute US objection filed with the UN confuses the issue by failing to recognize that Bolivia’s amendment is about removing the requirement to ban coca chewing in countries where it is already practiced, not a broader legalization of the coca leaf. The US must act immediately to withdraw this erroneous, politically-motivated objection to right historic wrong that has stigmatized and harmed indigenous Andean peoples for over 50 years.

Sincerely,
YOUR NAME

[1] Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Adopted by General Assembly
Resolution 61/295 on 13 September 2007,- http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/drip.html
[2] The U.S. Moves to Block Bolivia’s Request to Eliminate U.N. Ban on Coca Leaf Chewing, WOLA/TNI
http://www.wola.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=viewp&id=1221&Itemid=8
[3]Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Coca Leaf, May 1950, http://www.ungassondrugs.org/images/stories/cocainquiry-e.pdf
[4] For example, Coca Chewing and Diet, R. Burchard, Current Anthropology, Vol 33, No. 1, Feb. 1992.
http://www.jstor.org/pss/2743705, and Duke, J.A.; Aulik, D. & Plowman, T. 1975. Nutritional Value of Coca. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University Vol. 24: 113-119.