What is the Harm in Cocoa Leaves!

What is the Harm in Cocoa Leaves!

By Hwaa Irfan

At some point, with a little country like Bolivia claiming sovereignty over its own resources, against the global control of the UN’s Agenda 21, there was bound to be obstacles placed to prevent domestic sovereignty.

Bolivia has  had a longstanding battle with the UN-US categorizing one of its natural resources as an illegal drug, a natural resource that the U.S. makes billions from annual from its fruit. The natural resource is the cocoa leaf, which under certain conditions has a narcotic effect.

After re-constitutionalizing the country under the Laws of Mother Earth, and the Law of Productive, former farmer and union leader, President Evo Morales has finally taken the decision to withdraw from the UN  1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a decision which has been presented to the international elite’s man in the UN, Ban Ki-moon…

The Cocoa Leaf (Erythroxylon coca)

Cocoa has been grown in Bolivia since pre-Columbian times. It is both sacred and medicinal. In its natural form, the cocoa leaf is not a narcotic, but with processing it becomes the raw material for cocaine. The original Coca Cola drink was based on the cocoa leaf, but now the cocoa leaf is only used as an essential flavouring. Traditionally it has been used to protect, to bless, and for medicinal purposes: digestive disorders, improve metabolism, and vertigo. There are no psychological effects because the alkaloids in natural cocoa leaves are digested slowly.

Chewing cocoa leaves in Bolivia is a common practice because with labour intensive work in the case of farmers, miners, and labourers, it acts as a stimulant to keep the chewer awake and alert.  A cup of tea from the leaf is given to tourists in hotels as it helps to relieve altitude sickness, and science has confirmed its traditional application in the leaf’s ability to alleviate hunger, fatigue and sleepiness. Research at the Bolivian Institute of High Altitude Biology found that cocoa leaves had the ability to lower production of adrenaline and hence the greater need for oxygen.

Cocoa leaf contains 14 alkaloids, more vitamin A than fruit, and more calcium than milk. It is also rich in phosphorus, potassium, iron, vitamins B2 and E, carbohydrates, fibre, and proteins. The leaf has been found to be a tonic for the heart and the cardio-vascular system in general, and regulates sugar levels in cases of diabetes. Studies have found that chewing 100 grams of cocoa leaf is enough to satisfy the nutritional needs of an adult for 24 hours.

Only 0.08% of the cocoa leaf is in cocaine. Cocoa lead is sold legally in Bolivia, but cannot be exported without special permission. One such permission is given by the U.S. allowing for the exportation of cocoa leaf to U.S.-based company Stepan Chemicals, which extracts certain chemicals, and then sells it to Coca Cola as flavouring. As to what happens with the residue…!

In the 1990s the joint ‘Cocaine Project’ by WHO and UN  Interregional Crime and Justice Research Found that the traditional consumption of coca leaves has no negative health effects and fulfills positive therapeutic, sacred and social functions for indigenous Andean populations. However, U.S. diplomatic pressure blocked the study’s publication.

The Ban

During the colonial adventures  of the Catholic Churches’ Doctrine of Discovery, the Church saw the chewing of cocoa leaf as an obstacle that prevented them from “capturing the souls” of the indigenous, and decreed in 1569 the eradication of the plant. However, as the Spaniards advanced the Catholic colonial empire, and as Spaniards exploited the crop commercially, planting of the crop increased. The Spaniards distributed the leaf because they  found  slave labor improved with consumption of the leaf especially in the silver mines. So from condemnation to approval, King Philip II of Spain declared the cocoa leaf as being in the best welfare of the Andean natives, while the Catholic Church established a 10% tax on the crop!

The crop became a necessity of colonial exploitation out of which grew the land-owning class that dominates South American economies, including Brazil as a means of improving the productivity of the slave-labour force in  mineral rich mines  and on agricultural lands. A Decree of August 4, 1940 made the sale of cocoa leaf mandatory, as the miners would not work without it. The Catholic Church may have been right about not being able to capture their souls, as  to the indigenous the chewing of the cocoa leaf became an act of defiance. The act of chewing provided group identity under exploitative conditions. It’s religio-cultural value is as protection against witchcraft, curses, and bad luck, and is used in ceremonies to give thanks for the blessings of Mother Earth (Pacha Mama).

As always, over-reaching itself, the machinations of a certain global medical consensus has on countless occasions nullified the virtue of a plant on the basis of limited/distorted perceptions, or lack of informed knowledge unless it was to their benefit.  A clear example are GM crops, and biotechnology – throwing the baby out with the bath water, and only reclaiming the water!

Given the abuses of nature, and the international drugs trade, Bolivia should accept only domestic use, as what truly matters is the indigenous use of the leaf.

It was a 1950 UN report of the Commission of Enquiry of the Cocoa Leaf that led to the ban although the report itself stated:

 “the observations of the commission show that coca-leaf chewing is not an addiction (toxicomania) but a habit.”

It was in 2008, that the International Narcotics Board prohibited the traditional use of cocoa leaf chewing. As far as Mamami, a cocoa farmer was concerned at the time; the INCB took this stance as an act of revenge against Morales, because he was a cocoa farmer. Considering the act of embargo of Cuba was because of the exploitative millions the Bush dynasty lost when Fidel Castro nationalized Cuban industries, the mentioned reason behind the cocoa leaf ban is highly probable. Morales responded in writing to the ban stating:

“Bolivia does not accept unilateral certifications or impositions from foreign governments.”

However, Bolivia was heavily tested by the production of cocoa leaf prior to the presidency of Morales, as it was essentially a cash crop that provided income for the poor. The illegal production of cocoa leaves, i.e. cocaine, took its toll on the environment, as the process requires lime, sodium carbonate, sulphuric .acid and kerosene. The Bolivian environmental group LIDEMA found that 30,000 tons of chemicals were disgarded into nearby rivers and streams in order to turn 127,000 tonnes of cocoa into the final project. But this was then exported to Columbia from the U.S., and the U.S. exported 59% of 6,000 metric tons of the chemicals needed to make cocaine.

The UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is a contradiction in itself obviously allowing for U.S. interests as under Article #26:

- 2. The Parties shall so far as possible enforce the uprooting of all coca bushes which grow wild. They shall destroy the coca bushes if illegally cultivated.

Article #27

Art. 27. -1. The Parties may permit the use of coca leaves for the preparation of a flavoring agent, which shall not contain any alkaloids, and, to the extent necessary for such use, may permit the production, import, export, trade in and possession of such leaves.

- 2. The Parties shall furnish separately estimates (article 19) and statistical information (article 20) in respect of coca leaves for preparation of the flavoring agent, except to the extent that the same coca leaves are used for the extraction of alkaloids and the flavoring agent, and so explained in the estimates and statistical information.

By 1988, Bolivian passed controversial Law #1008, which aimed to control and eradicate the planting of cocoa using the army to raid illegal plantations. The use of chemicals in the form of pesticides to kill crops was forbidden in order to protect the environment, and to allow for gradual substitution of with cash crops like coffee, rice, maize, with future growth limiting future growth to 12,000 legal hectares.  This program was funded by the U.S.

Morales called off the eradication program noting the resistance by Bolivians, and the cultural importance. Morales then built state-run factories for the legal production of cocoa products. Condemned by the U.S. which at the time of the impending global economic crisis was forcing countries around the world to take GM crops, the problem of cocoa leaf was to be addressed domestically.

By 2009, with the new constitution in the pipelines, the plant in its traditional use fell under protection.

January 31 2011, represented the deadline by which UN states could object to Bolivia’s proposal to amend the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which would remove cocoa leaf from the list.

While the enforced ban remains in place, the hypocritical practice of the Doctrine of Discovery is reflected in the U.S. State Department’s website which recommends drinking cocoa tea for altitude sickness, with the U.S. embassy in Le Paz serving its visitors with the tea. At the same time the UN maintains this ban, the UN Declaration of Indigenous People’s allows for the maintenance and upkeep of indigenous knowledge, traditions and expressions.

The lack of synchronicity between global laws serve to favor only one group, and that group has no allegiance to peoples, natural resources, and the natural laws that govern them beyond the allegiance to its self. As the growing non-acceptance of running the world in such a way increases at varying levels, surely the rightful balance of reciprocity will find its way!


Claure, B. “Coca Leaf Defended by Growers, Scientists… and Taxi Drivers.” http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=41708

Forsberg, A. “The Wonders of the Cocoa Leaf.” http://www.accionandina.org/documentos/Wonders-of-the-Coca-Leaf.pdf

International Drug Policy Consortium. “Support Bolivia Proposal on Cocoa Leaf” http://www.idpc.net/sites/default/files/library/IDPC%20Advocacy%20note%20-%20Support%20Bolivia%20Proposal%20on%20coca%20leaf_0.pdf

Minority Rights Group International, “Bolivia: UN Convention To Stem Coca Leaf Use Remains Deeply Rooted.”  http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4dfb653e2b.html

Muniz , A. “Bolivia: Cocoa.” http://www1.american.edu/TED/bolcoca.htm

“The Cocoa Leaf: Storm in an Andean Teacup.” http://www.economist.com/node/17967082

Yapp, R. “Bolivia Renounces UN Anti-Drug Convention Over Coca Leaf Controversy.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/bolivia/8610233/Bolivia-renounces-UN-anti-drug-convention-over-coca-leaf-controversy.html
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