Monday, March 30, 2009
The president of Bolivia speaks out in a New York Times op-ed vs. yet another ridiculous effect of the global drug war we can add to the list--the criminalization of coca chewing since 1961. Coca chewing has been an indigenous South American cultural convention for thousands of years. The cocaine alkaloid in it makes up about 1/10 of a percent of a leaf!
As the president states: "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..."
The plant has had huge ritual, religious and cultural significance to South Americans dating back from the Maya. Representations of the coca leaf have been found in the earliest sites archeologists have uncovered in the continent, and the Maya valued coca so highly they made it a symbol of kingship. This is equivalent to taking the right to use peyote away from North American indigenous peoples.
Also,you can't help but marvel at the gall of Western civilization's control of the continent--first, the Spaniards take control of coca growing away from native peoples and make a mint selling it back to them, not to mention instituting a system of seasonal forced labor on the coca plan that literally worked many of the indigenous workers to death. Then, when it suited their political agenda, the West criminalized coca. I know that's a rather simplistic interpretation of historical trends, but that's definitely how it first struck me.