For Bolivia’s indigenous majority, the coca leaf has deep historical, religious and cultural value. Coca leaves are chewed or consumed as a tea – mate de coca – served widely throughout Bolivia and Peru. The Coca-Cola Company purchases Peruvian coca leaves, which are used as a flavoring agent in the world’s most popular soft drink. More recently developed coca-based products include baking flour, toothpaste, shampoo, wine and various medicinal products. Yet the coca leaf has often been vilified in international debates and treaties. Presently, there is an international campaign to remove the coca leaf from Schedule 1 of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where coca is listed as a dangerous drug along with cocaine and heroin. Bolivia and Peru have long protested the lack of differentiation between the coca leaf and cocaine in the 1961 Convention and Bolivia’s election of President Evo Morales has given new impetus to efforts to change the convention.
An internationally known activist and academic, Silvia Rivera is one of Bolivia’s most effective advocates for promoting the coca leaf and its importance to indigenous cultures in the Andes. A sociologist by training, Ms. Rivera graduated from the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz, Bolivia, and is the author of many books, including Las Fronteras de la Coca. Presently, she is serving as an advisor to the Bolivian Government on coca and coca-related issues.
Ms. Rivera will make her remarks in English.
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