Bolivia Uses G77 Post to Put Coca Legalization on International Agenda

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As Bolivia assumed the presidency of the United Nations Group of 77 (G-77), President Evo Morales used this opportunity to push his pro-coca agenda, likely hoping to capitalize on the international attention surrounding moves towards drug reform elsewhere in the region.

On January 8, Morales marked the beginning of Bolivia’s one year term chairing the United Nations (UN) coalition of developing nations with a speech promoting the use of coca leaf and calling for its removal from the UN list of banned drugs.

Morales also highlighted Bolivia’s success in obtaining recognition of the legitimate use of coca leaf within the country from the UN after it rejoined the UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which it had left in protest over coca’s banned status.

In a press conference following the speech, Morales also spoke about the country’s successes following the “nationalization” of Bolivia’s counter-narcotics efforts, referring to the severing of ties with US anti-drug bodies.

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While Morales’ speech was in large part an affirmation of a longstanding agenda, it was also a statement of intent, showing he plans to use Bolivia’s position at the head of the G77 to reignite debate over coca use.

Morales is no doubt aware that this is an ideal moment to do so. The eyes of the world are currently turned to the marijuana legalization reforms underway in Uruguay and in Colorado and Washington in the United States, which have placed the issue of drug policy firmly on the international agenda.

SEE ALSO: Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

While Bolivia has already obtained international consent to the use of coca leaf within its territory, if it is to create a sustainable “coca-yes, cocaine-no” policy then it will also need coca use to be recognized as legitimate internationally. Currently, Bolivia produces an estimated 25,000 hectares of coca a year, while, according to a recent study, its legal market can be supplied by closer to 14,000 hectares. Until now, attempts by Morales to bolster the domestic market for legal coca-derived products have been largely unsuccessful.

If Bolivia is to stop coca being diverted into cocaine production without devastating the livelihoods of coca farmers — an important political base for Morales — then access to international markets for legal coca products will be essential.

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