The Bolivian government has confirmed its decision to renounce a major UN drug convention, after rejecting its classification of the coca leaf as an illicit substance.
On Tuesday, the Bolivian Senate approved a new law which sets out Bolivia’s rejection of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and on Thursday Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, Pablo Salon, conveyed his country’s decision to UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon.
The move follows the rejection of Bolivian president Evo Morales’ proposal that the UN remove the obligation on countries which have signed the treaty to ban traditional uses of the coca leaf.
The head of the Bolivian Senate, Rene Martinez, explained the government’s position that “the use of the coca leaf has nothing to do with drugs.”
However Martinez confirmed that the renunciation of the convention implies neither a desire to have the treaty abolished nor to withdraw from the 1961 Vienna Convention, but only for a revision which would remove coca leaves from the list of drugs banned by the UN.
The chewing of coca leaves is an ancient practice among the indigenous population of the Andean region. The plant can be used to counteract the effects of altitude as well as neutralizing hunger. It also has considerable religious and social value.
The coca leaf, however, is also a used in the production of cocaine. As InSight Crime has previously noted, large quantities of the coca plant are grown in Bolivia for use in the drug trade.