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Anthropologists Advocate for Coca Chewing Amendment

The AAA Blog is delighted to introduce our member, Doug Hertzler. Doug Hertzler is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Mennonite University and serves on the board of the Andean Information Network based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He is currently the coordinator of the Bolivia Working Group, a coalition of advocacy organizations in Washington, DC. Dr. Hertzler is guest blogging to share with readers the work of anthropologists that advocate for coca chewing. Thank you Dr. Hertzler!

Last month over 100 anthropologists signed a letter by organizations calling for the Obama administration to withdraw its blockade of Bolivia’s amendment that would end the obligation of Andean countries to ban coca chewing as stipulated by the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

The requirement that Andean countries abolish coca chewing was included in the 1961 Convention based on a 1950 commission lead by Howard Fonda who believed that coca chewing was responsible for “racial degeneration.” Since then, numerous studies by anthropologists have shown coca chewing or acullico to be a benign practice with nutritional and medicinal benefits that is central to the religion and cultural identities of indigenous peoples.

Unfortunately, the United States has also pressured Canada and several European countries to join the blockade by arguing that Bolivia’s amendment would affect the integrity of the convention, even though the amendment would only remove the coca chewing prohibition in Article 49. The amendment would not have legalized the coca leaf internationally or have removed the coca leaf from the Convention’s list of substances subject to international control.

Possible next steps include a campaign for UN conference on the issue, given that the inclusion of the ban on coca chewing would seem to actually undermine the seriousness and integrity of the Convention, as well as conflict with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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