"Yes to coca! No to cocaine!" Nope, this isn't Coca-Cola's new ad campaign. It's Bolivia's. Evo Morales, Bolivia's new prez, decided to take his country in a new direction.
Somehow mustering up the intelligence to make a distinction between the traditionally used medicinal plant coca and an American addictive drug, cocaine, he hijacked the War on Drugs and has given his people, and by extension ours, a chance to win it. Instead of prosecuting growers and forcing them to sell their products to guerilla fighters, Morales opened up the market to legal coca products such as teas, cookies and even sodas for export.
Expect "Yes to coca!" in a store near you.
Why the change?
Well, the War on Drugs just isn't working in Latin America. The DEA's main tactic, spraying the plants from the air, hasn't lowered the number of coca acres grown anywhere.
The $4 billion spent on this program in the last six years brought only environmental devastation and human health problems. Something needed to change, because spraying down coca plants wasn't working.
Even the U.S. recognized this and started encouraging farmers to plant other crops, such as coffee, instead.
It's a good idea in theory, but world trade trends have driven down the price of crops to the point where small family farms can't afford to grow them. The cost of driving food from the farm to the store is more than they make on the sale. If farmers grow coca instead they are guaranteed enough money to eat. Between starving or having your traditional holy plant abused, what would you do?
For more than 3,000 years natives have reverently cultivated coca. And rightly so. Although a 22-country study conducted by the World Health Organization was suppressed at the insistence of the U.S., a study by The American Journal of Epidemiology showed coca's usefulness in treating gastrointestinal ailments, as well as motion and altitude sickness.
They found it to be a fast acting antidepressant and helpful in combating hypoglycemia and diabetes.
Furthermore, chewing coca leaves delivers healthy doses of vitamins A, C, B and E, phosphorous, iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium and protein.
Coca leaves serve as the only source of these nutrients in many poor areas across South America. For someone with little to eat and no money for medicine, having a steady supply of coca leaves could mean the difference between malnutrition and health, death or life.
If the Bolivian president has his way, a steady supply of coca leaves could also mean a way out of poverty.
Although not initially as profitable as cocaine, legal coca products could become a huge business.
When coca was first discovered in the mid 1800s, the coca market exploded worldwide.
Coca steeped in wine, food and sugary syrup, known as Coca-Cola, invaded society at every turn. Even Pope John II drank coca tea during his visit to Bolivia, epitomizing the popularity of the plant.
Just a small reincarnation of that market would lift thousands of farmers out of poverty.
A resurgence of the coca market would do more than just slow poverty.
By providing a legal way to make money off coca leaves, the Bolivian president would also be diverting coca away from cocaine production. Why bother worrying about aerial spraying and violent guerilla's when you could just make a deal with a tea company?
They greet you nicely, buy the dried coca leaves and leave the legitimate money, thank you very much. By providing a legal outlet for coca crops Bolivia, and in turn the U.S. will be essentially enlisting the growers themselves to prevent cocaine production. They get legitimate money, and we land a big blow on the cocaine industry.
A win-win situation.
Furthermore, with grassroots support in Latin America the U.S. government could actually reduce the money and manpower spent towards that end.
Instead of paying billions of dollars on the ineffective drug control policy we currently have, we could start investing money into programs that empower the rest of the farmers to "Just Say No" to drugs producers.
This smaller government program would make the conservatives happy, and the social aspects put in place instead would make the liberals happy.
Yet another win-win situation.
And to think, this political unity was created over the fine, white power known as cocaine.
So I say again, coca tea, please!
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