Thursday, March 12, 2009

Evo Morales Calls on Obama to Back Coca Campaign

Bolivia's Morales calls on Obama to back coca campaign
11 Mar 2009 15:26:16 GMT

By Sylvia Westall VIENNA, March 11 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama should recognise traditional uses of the coca leaf because not all production becomes cocaine, Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Wednesday.

Morales, a former coca farmer, also called on participants at a United Nations drug policy meeting in Vienna to lift a ban on coca for some uses.

"My top aim (in coming here) is to defend coca, to fight for coca," Morales told a news conference through a German translator.

Bolivia is the world's No. 3 cocaine producer after Colombia and Peru. Coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine, is used by millions of people in Bolivia and neighboring Peru to fight altitude sickness and stave off hunger. In its natural form, the leaf is also used in teas, in cooking and for religious ceremonies.

"We hope for support from President Obama for the decriminalization of coca," Morales said, adding that Bolivia is committed to the fight against cocaine and other drugs.

"The new U.S. president has similarities to me," Morales said, adding that he hoped Obama would help his years-long coca crusade because of what they have in common. "Before, nobody believed that an Indian could be president and nobody thought that a black man could be president of the United States," Morales said.

Morales, who has banned U.S. anti-drug agents from working in Bolivia, has said his country can fight cocaine trafficking on its own. He ordered the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to stop its work in Bolivia in November after accusing the agency of spying and conspiring to overthrow him.

A U.S. State Department report in February said Bolivian cocaine production increased rapidly last year due to greater cultivation and more efficient manufacturing methods. It said Bolivia had failed to live up to obligations under international agreements.

The U.N.'s crime agency chief said on Wednesday a 10-year anti-drug drive had partially backfired by making drug cartels so wealthy they can bribe their way through West Africa and Central America, and undermining security and development. [ID:nLB426950]
(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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