Should Bolivia Ban Coke?

It’s The Real Thing

For half a century or more, the Great American Terrorist Roadshow has brutalised one region after another, crushing freedom (in the name of freedom), deliberately destroying economies, creating chaos, and leaving millions of dead people in its wake. Following the Roadshow’s sellout tour of South-East Asia in the 1970s, Uncle Sam turned his attention to Latin America. Whether done in the name of fighting socialism or drugs, or simply carried out in secret, US terrorism crushed democracies, propped up murderous dictators and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

In the 1990s America grew bored of killing Latinos and decided to go bully Arabs instead – no doubt, Latin Americans watched the Gringos leave with tears in their eyes. Latin America was left alone (to some extent anyway) to lick its wounds and rebuild its freedoms. Today, Latin America hosts some of the world’s most vibrant and independent democracies – and it’s hardly surprising that giving America the finger is a popular pastime among leaders in the region.

So when a Bolivian government minister announced that he would ban Coca Cola this coming December, nobody was too surprised. The suggestion is more than just a dig at America’s favourite weight-enhancer; it’s a symbolic statement on the US “War on Drugs”, which continues to terrorise and destabilise Latin American countries. Coca leaf, the raw ingredient used to make cocaine, is a traditional Bolivian product, and commonly used as a mild stimulant. The US-initiated ban on coca is an attack on the Bolivian economy, which could benefit from legal coca exports. Bizarrely, Coca Cola is the only US company which is allowed by the federal government to import coca leaves for use in Coca Cola (although it refuses to confirm or deny the use of coca in its products).

In summary: the US government bans the import of a Bolivian agricultural product, with the exception of one company, which uses that product to make a drink which is consumed by millions of Americans. It could make sense to ask why coca isn’t more generally allowed for sale in the United States – a trade that would boost the Peruvian and Bolivian economies. But sensible questions are incompatible with the Orwellian War on Drugs.

Naturally, the Bolivian idea of banning Coke (the tooth-rotting, obesity-encouraging variety) is now being downplayed as a comment “taken out of context”. A serious point has been well made, but with Latin America now perhaps the world leader in freedom and democracy, we can expect to see more serious initiatives towards ending the moronic War on Drugs – and perhaps see America turning its aggressive gaze back on the region in response.

7 thoughts on “Should Bolivia Ban Coke?”

  1. It is surely the exclusive business of Bolivia if it bans CocCola, and hopefully it will be act as a spur for locally produced colas.
    CocaCola contains coca leaves that have been processed to remove the relevant chemicals and is just for flavour.

    Cocaine was first produced in 1898 in Europe. Chewing the leaves provides a mild high, and the body cannot synthesise the alkaloids into cocaine.

    Reference to the later developments of the Monroe Doctrine will show that the USA by the latter part of the 19thC regarded S. America as it’s “back yard” and arrogated to itself the right to dominate it, and intervene if political developments ran counter to US foreign interests. This led to a number of military interventions in the 19th & 20thC. (

    Although the USA began to challenge UK in Asia in the 19thC, it lacked the strength until WW1 to make much impact. It’s involvement in Vietnam arose from the fear post-WW2 that following the Chinese civil war where the Communists won, the USA became fearful of the “domino effect” with one country after another becoming communist. This led to their involvement in Vietnam.

    As for the Middle East post-WW2 the USA sought to replace UK as the dominant western power, and until the 1970’s it’s foreign policy was weighted in favour of the Arab states. However as the Cold War was played out and the Arab states, most notably Egypt, play off each side, the USA became disillusioned and increasingly favoured and identified with Israel.

    The USA doesn’t ban importing of coca leaves, but requires that the importer has a legal use for this and can demonstrate that it can control it, and against that will provide licenses. At present only one US company holds a license, that is Stepan Corp. It processes the leaves to provide them for CocaCola, and the narcotic residue is further processed and turned into FDA approved medicines. (CocaCola ceased using unprocessed coca leaves in 1903) This corp imports about 100 metric tons (very little – Two dockers can unload this is one shift as it’s less than the 160 MT (2000 sacks of coffee beans) as agreed with unions) The USA severely restricts all import and processing of narcotics to such an extent that during the Vietnam War all morphine used by US Army was manufactured in Liverpool. In terms of licensing import & processing US Law is not fundamentally different to those of UK. Were the US to completely ban the import of coca leaves, CocaCola could easily switch to an overseas processor that can produce the leaves striped of the chemicals to the FDA standard.

    The consumption of narcotics is a major problem for USA and the countries along the supply routes. Ultimately the USA needs to address this and seek to suppress demand, or manage it effectively. As far as I am aware the UN has been trying to have coca & cocaine production suppressed since the early 1960’s. But we shouldn’t overlook the destabilising impact on S. American countries such as Mexico.

    While appearing to be in opposition to the USA is a popular pastime in S. America, it is much like the Middle East. In an opinion survey Egyptians were asked which country did they hate most – USA. And which country would they like to live in – USA. Of course the USA is heavy handed and often violent, but it also provides enormous amounts in direct and indirect aid to these countries without which they would be in deep trouble. Can’t live with ’em, & can’t live without ’em. Superpowers!

  2. Interesting comment RSD!

    Regarding suppression of drug demand – if that was possible, I think the war on drugs would have made some headway by now, even if only a little. By this stage, millions of drug users have been arrested in the US, many of them imprisoned, and there’s no sign that demand has been dented at all. Indeed, drug usage patterns seem to ebb and flow independent of any enforcement.

    My feeling is that a regulated market in drugs, combined with user education, would lead to users drifting of their own accord towards safer drugs, and the natural decline in the most dangerous ones.

  3. Sadly a proportion, and a very large one, of mankind has always wanted to be out of its head for a considerable period of time during their lives. There are also those who run to drugs to escape the stress & misery of life.

    I rather feel it has more to do with the failure of our societies to meet our emotional and intellectual needs.

    There are of course those who are vulnerable and need protecting from the predatory individuals who want them dependent on drugs. Boy & girls who are then exploited mercilessly in various ways.

    Locking people up isn’t the answer unless it rebuilds their lives and gives them a chance to become part of society. Also helping them find ways of being without needing to escape into the excitement or oblivion of drugs. But it’s expensive, and requires a forgiving society.

    1. I’d guess 5-10% of drug/alcohol users fall into those categories. The rest use drugs in unproblematic ways. Not all drugs are negative in their impacts – depends very much on the drug and the person. If you’ve ever seen a crowd of people on MDMA (and you’ll find many such crowds on any Saturday night) you might conclude that some drugs can enhance us. I don’t think it’s sad that we’re drawn to drugs. We’re chemical beings, and drugs are chemicals that interact with us in multiple, interesting ways. Unless you’re religious and think we can’t be improved on, you must realise that we’re simply flawed, evolutionary works in progress. Why shouldn’t a chemical improve us, like other human inventions (the hat, the bicycle) have done?

  4. Drawing upon decades of observation and experience, it is now my considered opinion that drug-users, especially those that imagine they are in the risk-free recreational group, talk a complete load of bolleaux. My generation’s thing was various amphetamine, barbiturate, acid, heroin based concoctions that were so cut with crap that it wasn’t the drug that killed you, it was the junk that was in with it. Mine was the generation of the “cocaine-decision” and “Chinese Rocks”.
    As someone who deliberately walked away from the scene, I listen to some of my peers who remained there, and I hear and see the damage.
    As for drugs improving anyone, I’ve heard it before. In the early 70’s, there were musicians who thought that the drugs improved their perception and their playing, and audiences who took the junk to get a better deeper understanding. My generations drugs geniuses drowned in their own vomit.
    As for the comparison with bicycles and hats – I can see and readily understand what a bike or a hat does and is doing – with drugs you just don’t know.

    1. Firstly, if the drugs are cut with crap, that’s a function of their illegality not of “drugs”. If aspirin was illegal, “aspirin deaths” would be common.

      I know people who have taken too many drugs; I know people who have taken drugs in moderation; I know people who have never touched them. Only the first group (a small minority) could be said to have “problems” – although in my experience, the drugs tend to be a symptom rather than a cause of their problems.

      More important, talking about all drugs together isn’t enlightening. Drugs are hugely varied. Some are harmful, some are medically beneficial, some are a mix of the two. Some worsen human behaviour, others improve it. Some make people more egotistical, others suppress the ego. Some increase the tendency to aggression, others reduce it. In almost all cases, the harm is minimal. Excluding heroin, crack, crystal meth and a small handful of others, most cause no significant harm – unless, as you say, unscrupulous dealers mix them with other things. Some illegal drugs no doubt have medical benefits – unfortunately due to their illegality, research is very difficult (a point Professor Nutt recently made regarding MDMA).

  5. All drugs are poisons that contained chemical compounds which act upon the body to create an effect. This effect may be positive or negative, or indeed both simultaneously. In most countries the distribution of drugs is controlled to prevent people inadvertently doing damage to themselves, and hence why we have pharmacies and pharmacists to dispense drugs for medicinal use, and to oversee the prescribing of drugs by doctors. These licensed drugs are subject to a variety of controls to ensure that the quality of manufacture meets national and international standards.
    In the post-war era the variety of drugs expanded enormously, as did their effectiveness, and it took some appalling events to change people’s attitudes towards drugs. Prior to the 1950’s most dispensed drugs were fairly limited and people had a fairly lackadaisical attitude towards them. It was with Thalidomide that this became a massive issue as women shared their “pick me up” anti-depressants, and doctors ignored the warnings that pregnant women should not take the drug. While the high profile media attention and national outcry was directed against the manufacturer, and it had to compensate people globally. Had each case been dealt with individually then a large number would have not been eligible for compensation from the company.
    In terms of harm, the study of illicit drugs is complicated by their lack of consistency and the illegality of their consumption, and so it is hard to determine the impact. Equally due to the lack of control on their consumption it is not possible to determine the interaction with other substances that the subject may be taking, unlike for dispensed drugs. The impacts are also not limited to the individual but may affect the environment in the same manner as contraceptive pills have done over the last 40 years to the point where artificial hormones are present in our water no matter where any of us live. In this instance there are allegations that this may have had some seriously and worsening impacts on wildlife and the food chain.
    The illegal drugs industry seeks to provide the new high in the form of new permutations of drugs and their application. These are rarely tested in controlled conditions before they hit the street and before some person ends up dead.
    Perhaps the real question we should pose is why, the vulnerable and disturbed aside, that normal healthy individuals need various substances in their lives to find the high? It doesn’t matter whether it is alcohol or heroin. Are we all so dysfunctional that we cannot find contentment without these substances?
    IMO we should be looking to reduce all drugs consumption, prescribed, over-the-counter and illicit, and finding ways of creating a society where we feel happy and content without the need for such chemical interactions.

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