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Coca champion Evo Morales

Andrew Mueller, for the May 7 Independent, profiles Evo Morales and his popularity at home.

Morales continues, also, to champion the cause of the coca-growers. Coca - the plant from which cocaine is refined - plays a key role in many traditional practices. Previous governments, anxious to keep getting US aid, abetted America's quixotic coca eradication programmes, effectively deploying Bolivia's army to suppress its poorest people at the behest of a foreign power. Under a 1988 law, only 12,000 hectares were set aside for the legal production of coca. In 2004, Morales's agitation won another 3,200 hectares, but as president his ambitions go further.

Morales wants the United Nations to rescind a 1961 convention that declares coca an illegal narcotic, so that Bolivia might export coca-based soap, wine, shampoo and biscuits, among other products. In March 2006, in a gesture that demonstrated both coca's versatility and Morales's innate cheekiness, he presented the visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with a ukulele decorated with lacquered coca leaves.

Posted by Jon on May 8, 2006 at 08:05 AM in Bolivia, Coca Leaf, Cocaine | Permalink