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Archive for the ‘coca’ Category

Pichikatero journalism

PJ O’Rourke joked in his book ‘Holidays in Hell’ that a certain hotel in Albania was highly rated by journalists for the fact that the cocaine on sale in its nightclub was no better or worse than in London or New York, and that the reception staff were amenable to disguising bar tabs as laundry bills for those on expense accounts. If only he wrote for the Guardian – more unlikely things have happened, come on – he could have put the blow on his expense account as well. It looks like Jonathan Franklin has.

Franklin’s article in the Grauniad adopts a scandalised tone to expose the world of cocaine lounges in La Paz, painting a picture of small salons of depravity filled with moneyed Euro-American tourists paying to get high. The title of the piece is ‘The world’s first cocaine lounge’, which you could say was the first indication that the hyperbole of the article doesn’t quite live up to reality. World’s first? What, really? Has Mr Franklin ever been backstage at a music or film industry awards do? Has he ever been to some of the wilder parties in Bogotá, or even L.A? Not that I have, mind, but it doesn’t take a wild leap of the imagination to deduce that discreet nightclubs where a line or two is available alongside your drinks as a main feature of the place is hardly a global novelty.

But let’s not let that get in the way of a pleasant moral-high-ground buzz. There’s a whole wrap of misinformation to get through, so let’s start chopping.
(more…)

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Jimmy Carter, cocalero

According to Los Tiempos, former US president Jimmy Carter has declared himself to be proud of his friendship with Evo Morales and is looking forward to coming back to Bolivia in December for the elections…and the coca harvest. Carter invited Evo to come and harvest peanuts on his farm in Georgia, see, so Evo has invited him in turn to come to Chapare and cultivate coca. It’s all reciprocal like a big international mink’a (work party), except that Carter won’t be able to take any of the coca back to Georgia with him on account of it still being classified (ridiculously) by the UN as an illegal drug indistinguishable from cocaine.

Speaking of mutuality, Evo seemed impressed with Barack Obama, based on their encounter at the Summit of the Americas: ‘Obama came to attention because he’s seeking relations of mutual respect. He listened to all the Latin American presidents at the summit, whereas other US Presidents just talk and then go’. All very promising for US-Bolivian relations, especially when Hillary Clinton is on record recently as saying, ‘We want to see if we can figure out how to get an ambassador back and work with Morales in Bolivia’. Could the page be turning?

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Evo in the New York Times

Here.

(copied and pasted)

Let Me Chew My Coca Leaves

By EVO MORALES AYMA
Published: March 13, 2009

THIS week in Vienna, a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place that will help shape international antidrug efforts for the next 10 years. I attended the meeting to reaffirm Bolivia’s commitment to this struggle but also to call for the reversal of a mistake made 48 years ago.

In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed the coca leaf in the same category with cocaine — thus promoting the false notion that the coca leaf is a narcotic — and ordered that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this convention.” Bolivia signed the convention in 1976, during the brutal dictatorship of Col. Hugo Banzer, and the 25-year deadline expired in 2001.

So for the past eight years, the millions of us who maintain the traditional practice of chewing coca have been, according to the convention, criminals who violate international law. This is an unacceptable and absurd state of affairs for Bolivians and other Andean peoples.

Many plants have small quantities of various chemical compounds called alkaloids. One common alkaloid is caffeine, which is found in more than 50 varieties of plants, from coffee to cacao, and even in the flowers of orange and lemon trees. Excessive use of caffeine can cause nervousness, elevated pulse, insomnia and other unwanted effects.

Another common alkaloid is nicotine, found in the tobacco plant. Its consumption can lead to addiction, high blood pressure and cancer; smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States. Some alkaloids have important medicinal qualities. Quinine, for example, the first known treatment for malaria, was discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru in the bark of the cinchona tree.

The coca leaf also has alkaloids; the one that concerns antidrug officials is the cocaine alkaloid, which amounts to less than one-tenth of a percent of the leaf. But as the above examples show, that a plant, leaf or flower contains a minimal amount of alkaloids does not make it a narcotic. To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic. The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.

Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.

The custom of chewing coca leaves has existed in the Andean region of South America since at least 3000 B.C. It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.

Today, millions of people chew coca in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and northern Argentina and Chile. The coca leaf continues to have ritual, religious and cultural significance that transcends indigenous cultures and encompasses the mestizo population.

Mistakes are an unavoidable part of human history, but sometimes we have the opportunity to correct them. It is time for the international community to reverse its misguided policy toward the coca leaf.

A version of this article appeared in print on March 14, 2009, on page A21 of the New York edition.

(Hat tip: AT)

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