La Paz, Bolivia - On Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Bolivia, the pontiff has requested to chew coca leaves, the raw ingredient for cocaine, according to Bolivian Culture Minister Marko Machicao. The Pope was offered coca tea by the Bolivian government, but “specifically requested” to chew the coca leaves. The coca leaf has been utilized for thousands of years in the Andes region as a mild stimulant and to counteract the effects of altitude sickness. According to a study published by Harvard University in 1975, (Nutritional Value of Coca Leaf (Duke, Aulick, Plowman 1975)) chewing 100 grams of coca, is enough to satisfy the nutritional needs of an adult for 24 hours. Thanks to the calcium, proteins, vitamins A and E, and other nutrients it contains, the plant offers even better possibilities to the field of human nutrition than it does to that of medicine, where it is commonly used today. Under the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, coca leaves were designated as an illegal substance, but the use for medicinal and religious purposes are legal in Bolivia. Native Bolivarians consider the coca bush a sacred plant, with the chewing of it’s leaves, as well as brewing of them into tea, being looked at as simply a part of the cultural heritage of the Bolivian people. Bolivia’s 2009 constitution actually declared that the coca leaf “a cultural patrimony,” according to BBC. "We will be awaiting the Holy Father with the sacred coca leaf," Mr Machicao said. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower, has consistently campaigned on a platform for the decriminalization of consumption of coca leaves. The chewing of coca leaves by Pope Francis on his visit to Bolivia would provide a strong base of support for President Morales’ initiative.
It's important to make note of the hypocrisy shown by Pope Francis, as he will chew coca leaves upon his visit to Bolivia, but has recently come out publicly against the legalization of marijuana.
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay's work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.