Leading article: Coffee, coca and a clash of cultures

Share

The newly elected President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is trying to persuade the United Nations to reverse the ruling that it made in 1961 defining coca as a poisonous species because it contains the alkaloid needed to make cocaine. President Morales, a former coca farmer, who came to office on a campaign to allow peasants the right to tend the crop, has vowed to crack down on cocaine production in Bolivia, the third largest producer after Colombia and Peru. But Mr Morales - who styles himself as anti-cocaine but pro-coca - served coca wine, coca cake and coca cookies at his inaugural dinner and has announced that he wants to make legal crops for export. Bolivia has this week been arguing the case for legalising coca to the UN narcotics and crime agency in Vienna and hopes to change its status by 2008.

The United States is unimpressed. The war against coca is the defining issue of US policy in Latin America. It spends up to $1bn a year trying to combat drugs production in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Panama. It regards Mr Morales's idea that more coca can be grown in Bolivia without boosting cocaine production as "pie in the sky".

There is more at work here than a clash of cultures, though clash there undoubtedly is. In neighbouring Peru, one presidential candidate this week announced a plan to feed poor children bread made from flour containing 5 per cent coca to improve their diet. Since long before the time of the Incas indigenous communities have chewed the coca leaf, not just to boost strength and stave off hunger. The leaves are full of calcium, iron, and vitamin A, and have been a rich source of nutrients for poor South Americans.

More significantly they are a profitable crop - producing seven times as much cash per kilo as coffee, the plant which vies for space in the same fields. For the United States to spend the bulk of its aid to the region to destroy drug trafficking is not enough.(Nor does it work: a US State Department report this month found that despite billions of dollars spent on combating coca in Colombia, 90 per cent of cocaine imported into the US still comes from that country.) It needs to provide alternatives for poor farmers. If it cannot find ways to incentivise multinationals like Nestlé and Kraft to pay better prices for Latin America's coffee, which is superior to much of that grown elsewhere, then perhaps it needs to examine how it can help with Mr Morales's plans for the mass production of coca-based tea, yoghurt, bread, toothpaste, shampoo, soap and chewing gum. Otherwise the police carrying out US-funded coca eradication schemes will continue to do it with wads of coca in their mouths and a lack of enthusiasm in their hearts.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee