president gives U.N. chief coca birthday cake
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[June 14, 2014]
By Hugh Bronstein
SANTA CRUZ Bolivia (Reuters) - United
Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon got an unusual treat for his 70th
birthday on Friday when the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, presented
him with a cake made with coca leaves.
The UN chief was in Santa Cruz, Bolivia for a meeting this weekend
of the G77 group of countries to discuss measures for reducing
Coca is used to make cocaine but host Morales, a former coca farmer,
has long defended its legal use as an "ancestral rite" for tea,
sweets and medicines, going so far as to pull coca leaves out of a
small plastic bag during a UN anti-drug meeting in Vienna in 2012
and chew on a wad of them. People in the Andean region also
traditionally chew on coca leaf as a source of energy or as an
antidote to altitude sickness.
"The Bolivian people will never forget your visit," Morales told Ban
on Friday in front of hundreds gathered for the presentation of the
cake and a traditional Bolivian jacket.
Ban was effusive in his thanks but stopped short of publicly taking
a bite of the "torta de coca" or of endorsing Morales' position on
the controversial leaf.
"The Bolivian people have a big, broad heart ... and great wisdom,"
Ban said. "You have lived for thousands of years in harmony with
The UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs banned coca leaf in 1961 along
with cocaine, heroin, opium and morphine, and in 2012 Bolivia
withdrew from it to protest the criminalization of the chewing of
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Subsequently the UN granted Bolivia a special dispensation
recognizing the traditional practice as legal in Bolivia and Bolivia
was re-admitted to the convention.
The country's condition for rejoining met resistance from 15
countries, including the United States and the rest of the G8 group
of industrial nations, but in order to block Bolivia's re-admission
a full third of its signatories, or 63 countries, needed to object.
Bolivia is the world's biggest cocaine producer after Peru and
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Additional reporting by Enrique
Pretel; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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