Spain has agreed to help Bolivia decriminalise the chewing of coca leaf, already being sold in Bolivian fizzy drinks and toothpaste, Madrid said on Wednesday.
Bolivia has petitioned the UN to overturn a provision of
the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which requires countries to
eradicate the chewing of coca leaf.
President Evo Morales, who also heads a regional coca
growers union, is a fervent supporter of the leaf, which has been used as an
ingredient in Bolivian soft drinks, tea, flour, toothpaste and liquor.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca launched a
European tour this week to persuade countries not to block its diplomatic
efforts in favour of the coca leaf.
On Tuesday, he met with Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad
Jimenez, who offered to act as a mediator at the UN "to try to help to
find an agreement," a Spanish foreign ministry spokesman said.
On Wednesday he goes to France and Belgium before
visiting Sweden and Britain.
Bolivia petitioned the UN Economic and Social Council to
modify the drugs convention nearly 18 months ago. The body set a January 30,
2011 deadline for other countries to lodge any objection to the request.
Bolivia, the world's third largest producer after
Colombia and Peru, devoted some 30,500 hectares (75,370 acres) to the crop in
2008, an increase of six per cent over the previous year, according to the UN
Office on Drugs and Crime.
Coca leaves have been cultivated in the Andes mountains
for 3,000 years and are part of the country's culture and identity, according
to Mr Morales, who has said some 10 million people in the Andes chew
"sacred" coca leaves.
The International Narcotics Control Board has called for
years for a ban on coca leaf chewing.