Saturday, March 14, 2009

Interview: Jose Sagaz on coca

With the war on drugs much in the news over the last couple of days I thought this would be a good opportunity to have a chat with my friend Jose Sagaz on coca and Bolivia.

i) Why do people in Bolivia chew coca? Are they drug addicts?

Basically is part of our culture and tradition as it is the English culture to drink tea, chewing coca is much older tradition and has much deeper role in the society. About if we are drug addicts because we chew coca the answer is no, and I should emphasis that coca is not cocaine.
ii) President Morales quite often talks about the cultural significance of coca, could you explain a little bit more about that?
In the Aymara and Quechua culture we use coca in our sacred ceremonies, we chew the leafs to suppress hunger and for altitude sickness. The coca leave is rich in minerals and vitamins, much needed in our diet.
iii) There has been talk of an increase in cocaine production from Latin America, primarily from Peru and Bolivia. Is the MAS government's position on coca responsible for this?
Yes there was an increase of coca crops and that was a 5% in Bolivia* and 26% in Colombia. The MAS government had been punish by the USA administration, cancelling the trade preferences agreement with the potential result of loosing 20,000 jobs and around $150 million, while Uribes’ government is the second biggest recipient of help from USA after Israel.
iv) In your opinion, why has the US led war on drugs been unable to reduce drug production?
The bottom line is that the US government used the war on drugs as a pretext for repression, violence and to control countries. That is why Bolivia has been punished, because they act as a sovereign country and Colombia with state crimes and terror has been rewarded.
v) How do you think the issue of drugs production should be dealt with?
We should learn from the past strategies that didn’t work which are bullying, killing poor peasants, using the “Drug Wars” to eliminate political opponents, violating humans rights, interfering in affairs of other countries, making illegal chewing coca, not recognizing traditions and customs of indigenous people with policies like “coca cero”.

I strongly believe that each country should fight against drugs. Bolivia is doing it through social control that is the coca growers themselves unionize, which will control and make sure only legal plantations of coca exists, that means the production is controlled and there is not overproduction. The US should reduce the demand of cocaine; US politicians shouldn’t use the illegal trade of cocaine to finance cover-up operations.
*The Election, Economy, War, and Peace (November 25, 2008 By Noam Chomsky)

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