vendredi, juin 14, 2024
Home World A brew of ancient coca is Bolivia's buzzy new beer. But it's...

A brew of ancient coca is Bolivia’s buzzy new beer. But it’s unclear if the world will buy in.

The reach of Álvarez’s beverages, along with other coca-infused products, remains limited to artisanal fairs in Bolivia and Peru, countries where the leaf is legal — so as long as it is not used to make cocaine. As for the rest of the world, a United Nations convention classifies coca leaf as a narcotic and imposes a blanket prohibition on drugs.

Bolivia’s government is reviving its decadeslong push not only to destigmatize the plant and make it legal to export but also to create a global market for coca liquor, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, baking flour and more. Its efforts received a major boost last fall when WHO announced it would launch a scientific review of the coca leaf, the first step in a lengthy process to decriminalize the leaf worldwide.

“The procedures have been initiated for the first time in history,” Juan Carlos Alurralde, general secretary of Bolivia’s vice presidency, told the AP. “The leaf will be seriously investigated.”

The last time that WHO undertook a study of the coca leaf was in 1992, but detailed findings were never made pubic.

Officials from Colombia and Bolivia unveiled the research proposal alongside WHO representatives in Vienna earlier this spring. They have until October, when a committee meeting on the study will kick off in Geneva, to submit research about coca’s medicinal and nutritional properties.

The study will also consider Bolivia’s efforts to commercialize coca, determining the maximum amount of the cocaine alkaloid that coca products could contain on the world market.

“Experts have to evaluate whether it results in dependency,” Alurralde said.

Nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of La Paz, where the high-altitude bush paints the hills of Trinidad Pampa green, coca growers, known as “cocaleros,” welcomed news of the WHO review. For them, chewing coca leaves is a daily habit likened to drinking coffee.

“It helps me to harvest without fatigue and support my family,” said farmer Juan de Dios Cocarico, stuffing a wad of coca into his mouth as he ripped leaves off the stalk.

Global decriminalization, cocaleros say, would bring more export revenues as an economic crisis looms due to the rapid depletion of Bolivia’s foreign-exchange reserves.

“This is a coca-growing town that lives off coca,” said Frido Duran, a leader of coca growers in Yungas, a region northeast of La Paz. “We are convinced that this (WHO) study will vindicate all that our grandparents taught us.”

Across Bolivia, the leaf sustains 70,000 cocaleros and generates some $279 million each year as the farmers sell the foliage in bulk to be chewed as a mild stimulant, incorporated into religious ceremonies or transformed into goods marketed as a modern-day miracle cure that relieves altitude sickness, boosts stamina and dulls hunger.

For Bolivia, cocaleros are largely subsistence farmers farmers who say they have few viable crop options.

For the United States and other Western countries that long have blocked Bolivia’s attempts to decriminalize the leaf, cocaleros are maligned as the cause of many of the world’s drug problems.

“With each iteration of U.S. policy the coca cultivators of Bolivia were forced into whatever policy guideline was good for U.S. bureaucracy,” said Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivia-based research group. “During the war on drugs, coca farmers were drug traffickers, then narco-terrorists.”

Bolivia’s focus on removing the leaf from the U.N. blacklist stems from its skepticism about coca-eradication schemes, which authorities say have brought little more than violence since then-U.S. President Richard Nixon launched his “war on drugs ” in 1971.

Unable to force cocaleros to sacrifice their meager livelihoods by planting substitute crops, Bolivian authorities started licensing farmers to grow coca instead.

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