Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Coca - the divine plant and "white gold of Peru"


Coca (Erythroxylum coca), grows to a height of 2–3 m (7–10 ft). The branches are straight, and the leaves are thin, opaque, oval, and taper at the extremities. A marked characteristic of the leaf is an areolated portion bounded by two longitudinal curved lines, one line on each side of the midrib, and more conspicuous on the under face of the leaf. The flowers are small, and disposed in clusters on short stalks. The flowers mature into red berries. There are two species of cultivated coca, each with two varieties: Erythroxylum coca, Erythroxylum novogranatense


Traces of coca have been found in mummies dating 3000 years back. Other evidence dates the communal chewing of coca with lime 8000 years back. Extensive archaeological evidence for the chewing of coca leaves dates back at least to the 6th century AD Moche period, and the subsequent Inca period, based on mummies found with a supply of coca leaves, pottery depicting the characteristic cheek bulge of a coca chewer, spatulas for extracting alkali and figured bags for coca leaves and lime made from precious metals, and gold representations of coca in special gardens of the Inca in Cuzco.

This sacred and divine plant was spread by the Incas in the 14th century throughout the Andes, previously could be used only by priests and the higher nobility, which helped to penetrate into other worlds and foretell the future, also served as an offering to the gods of wind, earth (Pachamama) or the gods of the mountains (Apu). Chewing the leaves with lime or calcium excreted mild narcotic that protects the body against cold and decreasing appetite and fatigue. Coca was used by the Spanish conquistadors, who gave it to Indian slaves to toil longer endure the cruel inhuman conditions. 

Coca was first introduced to Europe in the 16th century, but did not become popular until the mid-19th century, with the publication of an influential paper by Dr. Paolo Mantegazza praising its stimulating effects on cognition. This led to invention of coca wine and the first production of pure cocaine. 


Coca has also been a vital part of the religious cosmology of the Andean peoples of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, northern Argentina, and Chile from the pre-Inca period through the present. Coca leaves play a crucial part in offerings to the gods Apu (mountains), Inti (the sun), or Pachamama (the earth). Coca leaves are also often read in a form of divination analogous to reading tea leaves in other cultures. As one example of the many traditional beliefs about coca, it is believed by the miners of Cerro de Pasco to soften the veins of ore, if masticated (chewed) and thrown upon them (see Cocomama in Inca mythology). In addition, coca use in shamanic rituals is well documented wherever local native populations have cultivated the plant. 

Coca medicine

Traditional medical uses of coca are foremost as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. It is also used as an anesthetic and
analgesic to alleviate the pain of headache, rheumatism, wounds and sores, etc. Before stronger anaesthetics were available, it also was used for broken bones, childbirth, and during trepanning operations on the skull. The high calcium content in coca explains why people used it for bone fractures. Because coca constricts blood vessels, it also serves to oppose bleeding, and coca seeds were used for nosebleeds. Indigenous use of coca has also been reported as a treatment for malaria, ulcers, asthma, to improve digestion, to guard against bowel laxity, as an aphrodisiac, and credited with improving longevity. Modern studies have supported a number of these medical applications. Raw coca leaves, chewed or consumed as tea or mate de coca, are rich in nutritional properties. Specifically, the coca plant contains essential minerals (calcium, potassium, phosphorus), vitamins (B1, B2, C, and E) and nutrients such as protein, fiber and essential oils

Traditional preparation

Traditionally, coca leaves are prepared either to chew or as a tea (mate de coca). Chewing coca leaves is most common in indigenous communities across the central Andean region, particularly in places like the highlands of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, where the cultivation and consumption of coca is as much a part of the national culture. It also serves as a powerful symbol of indigenous cultural and religious identity, amongst a diversity of indigenous nations throughout South America. Chewing is called acullico, consists of keeping a saliva-soaked ball of coca leaves in the mouth together with an alkaline substance (limon, calcium) that assists in extracting cocaine from the leaves. Coca chewing and drinking of coca tea is carried out daily by millions of people in the Andes without problems, and is considered sacred within indigenous cultures. Coca leaves in natural form are just mild stimulant comparable to coffee.

In the Andes commercially manufactured coca teas, granola bars, cookies, hard candies, etc. are available in most stores and supermarkets, including upscale suburban supermarkets. Coca is used industrially in the cosmetics and food industries. A de-cocainized extract of coca leaf is one of the flavoring ingredients in Coca-Cola. 

The coca leaf, when is consumed in its natural form, does not induce a physiological or psychological dependence, nor does abstinence after long-term use produce symptoms typical to substance addiction.

Narcotic mafia

Unbearable misery and the promise of a better life were not the only reasons that in the last decades of the 20th century brought thousands of Peruvian peasants on the way of geurill wars and bloody terror. Lots of poor villagers could not resist hard currency international drug mafia and the most sacred Inca plant within a few years became one of the most popular and best-paid goods in the world. Hand in hand with the discovery of the cocaine came into the peaceful world of traditional Indian villages gross violence, mafia and ecological disaster in the form of felling forest, which had to give way to increasingly larger feelds of coca. 

Is a fact that from coca's cultivation earn mainly especially people who cook cocaine. While for the production is necessary only simple equipment and some basic chemicals. Over time, therefore, divine plant used in rituals became one of the biggest business in the world. According to unofficial statistics is probably the biggest export article of countries such as Peru and Bolivia. For a lucrative business are responsible many important figures in public life, and just few people dare to penetrate more deeply. To meet the demand, do not consider the safety of their own population and the balance of the natural environment, because of the coca patches are felled forest areas. Because of the work and time what farmers spend in the cocaine trade, there is a growing decline of traditional crops such as potatoes, corn and beans. The soil becomes less fertile farming without crop and weaker, on the other hand coca grows up and it life does not need almost nothing.

The cultivation, sale, and possession of unprocessed coca leaf (but not of any processed form of cocaine) is generally legal in the countries – such as Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina – where traditional use is established, although cultivation is often restricted in an attempt to prevent the production of cocaine. In the case of Argentina, it is legal only in some northern provinces where the practice is so common that the state has accepted it.

In 1961 the coca leaf was listed on Schedule I of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs together with cocaine and heroin, with a strict control level on medical and scientific use.

Since the 1980s, the countries, in which coca is grown, have come under political and economic pressure from the United States to restrict the cultivation of the crop in order to reduce the supply of cocaine on the international market.

Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires that nations that allow the cultivation of coca to designate an agency to regulate the cultivation and which physically took over the crops as soon as possible after harvest and destroy all coca which grows wild or is illegally cultivated. The effort to enforce these provisions, referred to as coca eradication, involving many strategies, from aerial spraying of coca herbicides ... Aerial fumigation sets in motion a destructive vicious circle of chemical pollution, livelihood destruction, migration into even more vulnerable areas, deforestation, displacement and expansion of the areas of illicit crop cultivation, which then are again fumigated, etc. 

An independent body, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), but insisted that the use of tea is against UN anti-drug conventions and is therefore illegal activity. 

In 2007, Bolivia submitted a request to the UN for removal of coca from the list of UN Single Convention. However, this was rejected because of the problem of drug abuse and financial support to insurgent groups that collaborate with mafia drugs, environmental destruction and felling of chemical sprays.

Source: Fact Sheet: Coca leaf and the UN Drugs Conventions
The Chemical and Biological "War on Drugs", Martin Jelsma, TNI Briefing, March, 2001
Turistický průvodce Peru řady Rough - Dilwyn Jenkins, Wickipedia

While this problems with the abuse of coca weren't resolved yet in the world, although it seems that never will be the solution from political, economic and cultural point of view. Countries which this plant belongs as a cultural wealth and is associated with their everyday life, will want to keep it as their sacred plant. And if will be still demand for cocaine, drug mafia would want to satisfy, of course, under any circumstances. Perhaps only one solution might be from the other end, to establish preventive and therapeutic programs for people, social groups, which could take care of the cocaine addiction and help reduce the demand.

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