Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The INCB vs. Coca ... and the World

The US "War on Drugs" has various regions in it’s sights but what some people might not know is that it also targets whole nations. The US obsession with blaming other countries for feeding their own massive consumer market for illicit drugs seems to have no boundaries where nothing is safe including traditions and culture. Traditional medicines and food substances that have been used for thousands of years like khat, coca leaves and opium poppies, have no leeway in the relentless "War on Drugs" whether the target country agrees or not. The secret weapon is the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and I mean really secret. The INCB do not have an oversight committee or have to publish minutes of their meetings. In fact they do not face any scrutiny what-so-ever and can merrily make any decisions in secret that the US dictate, all under the cover of the United Nations.
The tragic irony is that it is the board's inhumane, unjust and irrational policing of the UN drug control system that has created or exacerbated most of the problems outlined in its report. The board is complicit in gifting the illegal drug market to terror groups, paramilitaries and organized criminals, contributing to the political and economic destabilization of producer and transit countries and putting millions at risk of contracting blood-borne viruses. The INCB and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime pose a greater threat to global well-being than drugs themselves. -Danny Kushlick of Transform on the INCB. March 2009
The question is, how long will the world be bullied and made to participate in a strategy that has failed dismally and controlled by the outdated, agenda driven and secretive INCB?
Drug Use Of Innocent Coca Leaf Creates Rift With US The Irish Times March 2009 UN censure of Bolivia over the product highlights a misunderstanding of a plant employed in South American cultures for thousands of years, writes PHILIP THOMPSON in La Paz IN ITS annual report released two weeks ago, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reminded Bolivia that “allow the cultivation and consumption of coca leaf . . . in particular coca leaf chewing . . . is contrary to the provisions of the 1961 Convention on Drug Control”. The castigation comes at a time when Bolivia’s relations with international drug control efforts and particularly the US are at an all-time low. The description of the INCB’s words as “unjust” by Bolivia’s foreign minister highlights the difference of opinion between his country and the West over the controversial leaf. Located at almost 4km above sea-level, La Paz is the world’s highest capital. A common sight on its busy and colourful streets are groups of women sitting by the pavement over huge cloth sacks filled with small green leaves. They are coca sellers and their clients are not hard to spot. The tell-tale bulge in the left cheek signals a wad of leaves slowly dissolving and providing energy, a palliative to hunger and thirst and a host of vitamins and minerals. Though cocaine (a powerful drug which can be chemically extracted from the plant) has given the plant a bad reputation, the consumption of the coca leaf is in fact beneficial to the health. Its mild alkaloids also provide a vital barrier against altitude sickness and fatigue to impoverished farm labourers working at up to 3km above sea-level. The Bolivian government estimates that as many as 1.2 million kilos of the leaf are consumed through traditional uses every month. Villa Fatima, La Paz’s largest coca market, provides an idea of the scale. In a faded green warehouse, colourfully dressed men and women preside over thousands of enormous 23kg sacks. The coca has been shipped in from the Yungas, Bolivia’s traditional coca-growing region and is considered the country’s best. A government-designed market, there are no middlemen here giving the cocaleros (coca growers) an opportunity to maximise their income and avoid selling the leaves to intermediaries who might process them into cocaine. The vendors are delighted to promote their wares and hand out samples to buyers and the public. The fresh green leaves dissolve when clenched between the back teeth, releasing a bitter – though not unpleasant – flavour which is accompanied by a slight numbing of the gums. Criminalisation of the plant is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was categorised as a drug along with marijuana and opium in a 1961 UN convention on drugs. However, Bolivia saw few consequences until Reagan’s administration, as part of its war on drugs in the late 1980s, pressured the Bolivian government to restrict coca production. The subsequent US-sponsored crop-eradication programmes led to violent conflicts with Bolivian coca growers who felt they were being unfairly labelled as drug producers. Their argument was – and still is – that they are producing a traditional crop that is occasionally processed into cocaine for the US market by dug traffickers. The campaign against eradication culminated in the 2005 election as president of Evo Morales, a union leader and former coca grower from the highlands. Though generally accepted as being more moderate, Morales was perceived as part of the Latin American hard left, along with Chavez and Castro. His defence of coca production would inevitably lead him into conflict with US drug policy. Morales’s approach to drug control is summed up in the phrase “no to zero coca, but yes to zero cocaine”. He has cracked down on illegal drugs and plans to redirect the entire coca crop into a new legal industry producing coca-based products such as tea, medicines and cosmetics. If successful, this will create a growing market for coca allowing him to enlarge the area under cultivation and thereby improve the income of coca growers. However, the US government fears that any increase in production will inevitably make its way on to the illegal market. Consequently, US government organisations such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and USaid have avoided co-operation with Morales and the coca unions on drug policy within Bolivia. This has made it more difficult for both parties to achieve their objectives. In recent months, US-Bolivian relations dropped to a new low, following the US ambassador’s expulsion from Bolivia in September, accused of interfering with internal politics. Perhaps in retaliation, the US state department marked Bolivia on its “drug blacklist” for not having “co-operated with the US in important efforts to combat drug trafficking”. Bolivia is now in the same category as Afghanistan and Burma – one a failed state, the other a totalitarian regime. Yet Columbia, a US ally whose coca crop had grown by 20,000 hectares (up to 120,000 hectares in total), received no mention. It appears a little paradoxical, considering Bolivia’s total coca crop sits at just 22,000 hectares. Joining in this apparent tit for tat argument, Morales has now suspended the activities of the US’s DEA in Bolivia, essentially opting out of the US war on drugs. On the domestic front, Bolivia is going through a very sensitive period. A controversial new constitution has just been passed in a national referendum giving greater rights to the indigenous majority. There has been widespread opposition among Bolivia’s wealthy eastern provinces and it remains to be seen whether they will accept it. Further attempts by the US government to interfere in Morales’ coca strategy will only increase the old sentiment that the US treats Latin America like its own backyard. Some observers suggest that co-operating with a popular president who has the trust of coca growers and is attempting to develop a legal industry for the crop could be a unique opportunity for the US. The alternative is seen as isolating a potential partner and hampering the economic development of South America’s poorest nation. Both of these outcomes might well lead to an increase in the amount of cocaine ending up on US streets. It would be easy to blame the coca-cocaine fiasco entirely on the US. But much of the trouble concerning Bolivia originates in unwillingness on the part of the international community to accept coca as a licit substance that is an essential part of Andean culture. The recent censure by the INCB is just one example of this. As David Choquehuanca, Bolivia’s foreign minister said, “They need to open their eyes to the reality . . . the rules should reflect that reality, not run contrary to it.” The reality he is talking about is the fact that the majority of Bolivians chew coca, drink it in their tea or use it in religious ceremonies. As Maria Carmen, a lady in her 70s on the streets of La Paz, says, (a wad of leaves bulging in her cheek): “For us, coca is life!”.
Related Articles: The Inquisition of the INCB Closed to reason: time for accountability for the International Narcotic Control Board The INCB is out of control and needs to be stopped Bolivian peasants suffer in drug war, speaker says

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