UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Bolivia's President Evo Morales has assumed the chairmanship of the Group of 77 nations and said he would use his new international platform to have coca leaf, which can be refined into cocaine, removed from the list of internationally banned drugs.
Morales also said he would use the G-77 post to promote peace and harmony with nature, and to do away with monarchies and economic hierarchies, and to promote social spending rather than the hoarding of wealth.
Bolivia was chosen head of the G-77, which actually groups 133 developing nations, by consensus, and Morales was at the United nations on Wednesday to take over the chairmanship from outgoing Fiji.
At a news conference, Morales took pride in saying that "Last year, we achieved recognition of traditional consumption of the coca leaf," a mild stimulant chewed to relieve altitude sickness and to elevate the mood in Andean nations.
Bolivia had pulled out of the Vienna Convention anti-drug treaty in 2011, but last year it was allowed to rejoin with the reservation that it would not prosecute coca leaf chewing. Bolivia regards its readmission as an international concession of the legality of the traditional social use of coca leaf.
"Our next task will be to remove the coca leaf from the list of prohibited substances," he told reporters, speaking through a translator.
Bolivia allows the "family plot for cultivation. This goes side by side with combatting drug trafficking," he said. "Cocaine, of course, uses the coca leaf, and that is illegal."
Morales, who took office in January 2006, remains head of a coca growers union and his core constituency is in the coca-growing Chapare region.
A European Union-financed study released last November found that 58 percent of Bolivia's coca crop is devoted to traditional uses, meaning the rest is processed into cocaine.
Bolivia is the world's No. 3 coca producer, following Peru and Colombia. The United Nations says Bolivian government eradication efforts have diminished the size of the country's coca crop for two consecutive years.
More than 40,000 Bolivians depend on coca cultivation for their livelihood and it contributes 1.5 percent, or $332 million, to Bolivia's economy, according to U.N. figures.