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Bolivia: UN Decriminalizes Coca Leaf

UN decriminalizes traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivia, a major coup for the Morales administration; U.S. proposes James Nealon as Ambassador to Bolivia; Jesus Ardiles, Houdini of Huatajata, escapes from shackles and chains below the surface of Lake Tititicaca

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UN decriminalizes coca leaf

Traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivian culture will no longer be considered illegal drug activity, the UN said Friday. The decision to decriminalize will allow Bolivia to return to compliance with the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which had previously defined all uses of coca as drug use.

In particular, the UN recognizes ‘acullico’, or coca-chewing, as a traditional practice in Andean culture since pre-Columbian times. Acullico entails chewing a wad of coca leaves along with llycta, an alkaline substance that activates the stimulating properties of the leaves. Coca leaves act as a stimulant, alleviate hunger, thirst, and tiredness, and are also used as medicine. Coca leaves are also often consumed in teas, breads, and ground into flour.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly, with only 15 states, including the United States, Britain, Canada, and Mexico, voting no. One-third of member nations, or 61 of the 189 current members, would have had to vote against to block the resolution.

The decision is a major victory for the Morales administration, which celebrated the resolution as international validation of Bolivian cultural identity. Morales has been campaigning for international recognition of traditional, non-drug uses of the coca leaf for years, and on Saturday he remarked on the resolution as the first time the Bolivian government has succeeded in affecting international policy. He praised the efforts of coca producers in La Paz and Cochabamba, as well as the 169 member states that supported the resolution.

‘The coca leaf has been penalized, criminalized, and demonized by the international community. Consumers have been denounced as drug addicts, producers as drug traffickers’,Morales said. Instead, the president suggested, coca is not only an integral part of Andean identity but also has many health benefits.

Next Monday is to be a national ‘day of rejoicing’ for cocaleros, President Morales said. The resolution will take effect on 10 February. The resolution raised hopes of producing coca leaves for export in traditional uses, such as coca-chewing and coca teas. However, Cesar Guedes, UN representative of the Office of Drugs and Crime (Oficina de las Naciones Unidas contra la Droga y el Delito–UNODC) stated that although traditional uses of coca leaf have been decriminalized, export is still unequivocally banned.

U.S. suggests James Nealon as first ambassador to Bolivia in four years

The U.S. government has proposed James D. Nealon as its ambassador to Bolivia, a post that has been vacant for over four years since the Bolivian government expelled Ambassador Philip Goldberg in September 2008. President Morales had suspected Goldberg of conspiring with the opposition to destabilize his government.

The U.S. suggested Nealon for the post over a month ago, but the Morales government has yet to accept him as ambassador. Vice President Garcia Linera has weighed in on Nealon as anti-MAS, after remarks he made in 2011 while serving in Peru expressing concern about the Morales administration. ‘This shows, once again, that that which most threatens the peaceful life of Latin American communities is the government of the United States’, Garcia Linera said on Friday.

Nealon, a member of the foreign service since 1984, has served in diplomatic posts in Chile, Hungary, Spain, the Philippines, Uruguay, Peru, and Canada.

Magician escapes from chains and shackles below the surface of Lake Titicaca

Jesus Ardiles, a young magician, escaped Friday from handcuffs and shackles while submerged in the waters of Lake Titicaca. Ardiles, who has been interested in magic and stunts since the age of 12, had his hands cuffed and his feet chained to two 50-kilo cinder blocks before jumping into the lake. Keys were tossed in separately. In 32 seconds, he found the keys and undid his restraints before emerging from the surface of the water.

Onlookers from the Bolivian Navy, on hand in case of accident, praised the stunt as ‘interesting’. ‘It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this in the lake’, said frigate captain Hernan Crespo. Ardiles is hoping to get in to the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-altitude escape artist in the world.

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