VIENNA — Bolivian President Evo Morales took his campaign to decriminalise the coca leaf to a UN narcotics convention on Monday, waving a leaf and defending what he said was an ancient and harmless tradition.
Morales told the 55th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna that Bolivia had decided to "denounce" the 1961 UN Single Convention on Illicit Drugs to "correct an historical error" outlawing the chewing of the leaf.
Bolivia will re-accede if it includes a "reservation" allowing the traditional chewing of the coca leaf to continue, the former coca growers' union leader said, while pledging to vigorously combat cocaine trafficking.
When processed, the leaf can be turned into cocaine. But it is also an age-old keystone of indigenous Andean culture, chewed to fight altitude sickness, taken as a tea and used in religious ceremonies.
The United States has said it would oppose the Bolivian proposal, calling the 50-year-old convention "an important tool in the global struggle against narcotics trafficking." Ties are strained between the two countries.
Since 2009, Bolivia's constitution describes coca as a "cultural heritage, a renewable natural resource" and a key biodiversity element that helps maintain "Bolivian social cohesion."
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