Transnational Institute (TNI) with Reuters & Associated Press, Friday, December 16, 2011

"We convinced some of its members, but there are also some technicians who do not yet understand"

The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, yesterday asked inspectors of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of the United Nations to support his petition to decriminalize coca leaf chewing or "akulliku" but acknowledged that he failed to convince everyone. The Board pointed out this year  that Bolivia “addresses the coca-chewing issue in a manner that is not in line with that country’s obligations under the international drug control treaties.”

Morales made the announcement after meeting for over an hour in La Paz with four members of the INCB – including its president Hamid Ghodse. They are on an official visit to the country to address the issue of Bolivia’s decision to denounce the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and re-accede with a reservation on the coca leaf, and assess compliance of the country with the commitments in the fight against drug trafficking.

The INCB is an independent quasi-judicial oversight body established in 1968 by the 1961 Single Convention to monitor the implementation of the UN international drug control conventions. The Board reports annually on compliance with those conventions by UN member states.

Morales is appealing to the INCB in his battle to get coca leaves off the illegal substances list. Bolivia is set to pull out of the United Nations drug control conventions next month if the issue isn't resolved. He reiterated his criticism of the 1961 UN Single Convention which Bolivia denounced in July this year and asked to decriminalize "akulliku", an ancestral practice among the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.

"We appealed, first, with an amendment to the Vienna Convention to repair the historical error of banning the chewing of the coca leaf," Morales declared at a news conference. "They have denied our appeal. Meeting with international procedures we have requested the decriminalisation of the practice. I have asked the INCB to help us repair this historical error."

"I think we convinced some of its members, but there are also some technicians who do not yet understand," the president admitted. According to Morales, the mission told him that the INCB must enforce the UN Convention, which prohibits "akulliku" and calls the coca leaf a drug. He said that he replied that if in 50 years Bolivia could not abolish the coca leaf and its use by many Bolivians, the country would "never" be able to fulfil this provision.

Bolivia's withdrawal from the 1961 UN Single Convention drug will be effective on January 1, 2012, but the government says it will immediately seek re-admission, but with a reservation on the ban of chewing coca.

The INCB criticized this decision and called on the international community not to accept "any approach whereby Governments use the mechanism of denunciation and re-accession with reservation, in order to free themselves from the obligation to implement certain treaty provisions.” Such an approach would undermine the integrity of the global drug control system, according to the INCB.

Morales's meeting with the mission of the INCB was tense and the president did not shake hands with the INCB inspectors before the cameras as is usual, according to cameramen and photographers who covered the meeting.

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert