As night descends in the Jordan Valley in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), a family in the village of Ras Al-Ahmar lights a small paraffin lamp in the tent they call home.
There is no electricity here and the nearby Palestinian villages are enveloped in darkness. The only visible cluster of light is from a nearby Israeli settlement.
Humanitarian agencies are well aware of the needs in this part of the West Bank but they face a challenge: play by the rules established by Israel or face the risk of having projects demolished.
Despite being outside the state of Israel, 90 percent of the Jordan Valley is under full Israeli civil and military control as part of Area C, a zone that covers 60 percent of the West Bank.
Palestinian communities here, among the poorest and most vulnerable in oPt, desperately need access to water, electricity, sanitation and other basic infrastructure.
But despite the needs, development organizations that try to improve living conditions in Area C say they find their ability to make any lasting impact hampered by Israeli restrictions and bureaucracy.
Like Palestinians, organizations that want to build basic service infrastructure such as houses, schools or water systems are required to submit an application for a permit to the Israeli authorities.
Often, these permits are not granted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January 2000 and September 2007, over 94 percent of applications submitted by Palestinians to the Israeli authorities for building permits in Area C were denied.
“The permit regime is very confusing. There is no clarity about the status of an application, whether paperwork has been received, if it is complete,” Willow Heske, media lead for Oxfam in oPt, told IRIN. “Agencies have sometimes waited for two years only to get a rejection that comes without any explanation.”
“A few years ago we put in plans to build a water reservoir in Al-Jiftlik, to provide half of Al-Jiftlik with running water,” said Heske.
“The reservoir was considered a `building’ and we didn’t get the permit. So we moved to a plan B which still involved setting up a reservoir and piping system but above rather than below ground. This too was not accepted. So as a last resort we had to go back to distributing water tanks. And of course people were frustrated and disappointed.”
Challenging the Occupation
Some NGOs, among them Palestinian organizations like Ma’an Development Centre (MDC), believe that adhering to the permit regime helps legitimize the occupation, and choose to ignore the rules altogether.
“If you’re playing within the rules of the occupation then you are legitimizing it. We don’t seek permits from the Israelis. If we put in a permit request we would likely get denied,” MDC project manager Chris Keeler told IRIN. “And also because of a moral stance. We don’t think that a Palestinian NGO should be seeking permission from Israel to be building on Palestinian lands.”
For international organizations, it’s not only the possibility of having a permit denied that affects their work, but also the multiple ways in which the Israeli state bureaucracy hinders their work by issuing “stop work” orders to existing projects, refusing to issue work visas, or refusing to renew existing work permits for foreign staff.
Even MDC finds that it must sometimes work within existing framework restrictions.
“There are houses all over the Jordan Valley that need renovations,” said Keeler. “If we do a project in some of the communities in the north, it would likely get destroyed. So we work a lot in Al-Jiftlik and Al-Fasayil. We need permits in those places too, but because they are more established communities, there is less risk that they will get destroyed. A lot of donors want reassurance that structures we build will not be torn down.”
IRIN was unable to get a response from the Israeli government despite repeated attempts, but in the past the Israeli government spokesperson has said Israeli policy is shaped by security concerns.
In May 2012, the European Union (EU) Council of Foreign Affairs called on Israel to meet its obligations to communities in Area C, “including by accelerated approval of Palestinian master plans, halting forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure… and addressing humanitarian needs.”
The Council stated that the “social and economic developments in Area C are of critical importance for the viability of a future Palestinian state.”
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the recommendations, saying they were “based on a partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground” and that they “do not contribute to advancing the peace process”.
The Ministry said 119 projects were authorized in Area C in 2011 and that they ensured that “planned projects” were “coordinated and in conformity… with the law”.
Oxfam’s Heske believes the recent EU recommendations are bold and courageous, even though it is still not clear how they will play out on the ground. “These conclusions mean that there is now a full political commitment to work on development in Area C,” she said. “How it will play out, we don’t know, if it happens with or without permits. But we don’t want to see just one token water network here and there.”
Since 2011, the Palestinian Authority’s ministry for local government and local Palestinian councils have submitted 32 master plans for development in Area C to the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA). Each master plan includes infrastructure development, health care, primary education, water provision, electricity and the development of agricultural land, and requires approval by the ICA through a lengthy process of negotiation.
However, according to Azzam Hjouj, acting general director for urban and regional planning in the Palestinian ministry of local government, even if master plans are approved by the ICA, it is expected that the Israeli authorities may issue demolition and “stop work” orders for some plans, particularly in areas like Al-Jiftlik in the Jordan Valley, and that political pressure will be required to ensure implementation.
As for the more isolated Bedouin villages in the valley, the new master plans will not cover their areas.
“It’s difficult to make a master plan for these herding communities, because they are dispersed over large areas. They move around a lot and we don’t want to urbanize these areas, it’s their way of life,” Hjouj said. “And even if we made master plans, it would just give the ICA an excuse to congregate the herding communities into one area and take the remaining land.”
The Israeli Coordination of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT – a unit in the Israeli Ministry of Defense that engages in coordinating civilian issues between the government of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces, international organizations, diplomats, and the Palestinian Authority) said that many of the construction projects in Area C are “illegal and poorly planned”.
A report compiled by COGAT relating to projects in Area C states that “illegal construction projects that ignore master plans undermine the possibility for future expansions and create problems for electrical, sewage and water systems.”
As with the wider crisis, there are no easy solutions for humanitarian agencies seeking to provide aid in Area C, and finding the line between purely humanitarian work, and political engagement is tough.
For economist Shir Hever, author of The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation, Western governments and NGOs need to be more active in opposing the occupation of West Bank areas.
“Instead, donors put 99 percent of their work in doing what is allowed and 1 percent in protesting conditions,” he said.
- Israeli occupation authorities halt entry of West Bankers to 1948 occupied Palestine (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- More evictions for Israeli army training in the Jordan Valley (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli forces evict West Bank Palestinian outpost despite court ruling (rt.com)
Even on dry land, Americans should fear the stingray. Not the flat cartilaginous fishes related to sharks, but the secret government surveillance device that not only tracks suspected criminals but also intercepts the private information of law-abiding citizens who happen to be nearby. Now, because of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and lawsuit brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) against the FBI, the government is slowly releasing thousands of relevant documents that are already raising alarms among privacy and civil liberties advocates.
The stingray came to public notice in 2011 when the FBI used a “cell-site simulator” to track down a suspect. This portable device, also called an “IMSI catcher” or a “stingray,” sends out a signal that fools nearby wireless phones into connecting with a fake network. It can then capture all sorts of personal data from all of those phones, including location data that can then be used to track a person’s movements in real time. A stingray can be handheld or mounted on a motor vehicle or an unmanned surveillance drone.
As the FBI has admitted to EPIC, because the stingray fools all nearby wireless phones into connecting with its bogus network and uploading private data to it, its use would constitute a “search and seizure” under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and thus require a warrant. However, because the FBI argues that wireless phone users have no reasonable expectation to privacy, the agency says it does not need a warrant. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the privacy of cell phone calls.
In addition to (probably) violating the constitution, the use of stingrays is also prohibited by federal law. Although heavily redacted, the files reluctantly released by the FBI reveal snippets of internal Justice Department discussions of how to justify use of the stingray as compliant with the provisions of the Communications Act that prohibit “interference” with communication signals like those of wireless phones.
These documents demonstrate, according to EPIC attorney Alan Butler, that “there are clearly concerns, even within the agency, that the use of Stingray technology might be inconsistent with current regulations. I don’t know how the DOJ justifies the use of Stingrays given the limitations of the Communications Act prohibition.”
Nor is it just the FBI. According to a recent report, local police are “quietly” using stingrays in Los Angeles, Miami, Fort Worth, and Gilbert, Arizona. And likely other places, as well.
The speed and extent with which French warplanes have been deployed over the weekend in the West African country, Mali, point to a well-honed plan for intervention by the former colonial power.
Indeed, such is the careful choreography of this salient military development that one could say that the French have finally given themselves a green light to execute a plan they had been pushing over several months. That plan is nothing less than the neocolonial re-conquest of its former colony in the strategically important West African region.
Within hours of the Malian government requesting military support to counter an advance by rebels from the northern territory, French warplanes began carrying out air strikes on Friday. The attack sorties have reportedly been conducted for at least three consecutive days. Media reports said that French Mirage and Rafale fighter jets had struck across a wide belt of the remote Sahelian country, from Gao and Kidal in the northeast, near the border with Algeria, to the western town of Lere, close to Mauritania.
The warplanes were dispatched from France and also reportedly from Chad. The French government claimed that it had been granted over-flight permission by Algeria. Both North African neighboring countries are also former French colonies.
The air strikes by the French jets on at least six widely dispersed target areas within Mali cover an operational distance of nearly 2,000 kilometers, from east to west. This level of co-ordination indicates several weeks of planning and belies the appearance that the French government was responding in an impromptu fashion to a sudden call for assistance from the Paris-aligned Malian authorities.
In addition, over the weekend some 500 French troops arrived in the southern Malian capital of Bamako and the strategic town of Mopti, which is situated near the rebel-held northern territory.
The dramatic French intervention has all the hallmarks of a meticulous plan that was on a hair-trigger for action. The taking over by rebels last Thursday of the town of Konna, 45 kilometers from Mopti, near the de facto north-south frontier, and the subsequent alarm call from the Malian government in Bamako can therefore be seen as merely a green light for the detailed French plan to swing into action.
Furthermore, the French government has received swift support from other European countries and the United States. Britain has sent RAF CI7 cargo planes from a base in East England to Paris in order to help with French supply of troops, helicopters, trucks other heavy equipment. Washington has said it will provide logistics and communications. Both American and French surveillance drones have been operational in Mali and adjacent countries for months now.
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was quick to hail the weekend air strikes a success in halting Malian “terrorists.” Fabius said the French military involvement would be for a “matter of weeks.” However, the extensive mobilization of troops and warplanes and the geopolitical backdrop to the development suggest otherwise. Perhaps mindful of this, Fabius was keen to emphasize that the Mali intervention would not turn out to be “another Afghanistan.”
Officially, Paris, London and Washington have up to now been pushing for an African-led intervention force to take the military lead in assisting the Malian government to quash a separatist rebellion in the northern half of the country. The northern region was taken over last April by Tuareg rebels in league with Islamist militia belonging to Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The rebels have managed to consolidate their control over the vast and largely desert region around the main city of Timbuktu. Northern Mali covers an area the size of France and is sparsely populated with less than two million people.
West African states, including Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger, are charged with assembling an intervention force at the behest of the Western powers. Last month, the United Nations Security Council gave final approval for the West African military mission to shore up the shaky government that is based in Bamako in the far south of the country, thousands of kilometers from the upper northern region.
Following the Security Council vote, diplomats at the UN and in West African capitals were talking about the combined African mission of some 3,500 troops being deployed much later this year, in September at the earliest. This was a view held by Romano Prodi, the UN’s top envoy to Mali, which was reported only days before the French military intervention.
The abrupt side-stepping of the African forces points up the real agenda of the Western powers and France in particular. What we are seeing now, with the rapid, large-scale French deployment, is the true neocolonial nature of this agenda. All the previous talk by Paris, London and Washington on the importance of intervention having “an African face” can be seen as cynical cover for direct Western action.
Only three months ago, President Francois Hollande vowed to French media that there would be “no French boots on the ground” in Mali. Evidently, official calculations have changed.
France and its Western allies have been assiduously taking up the international security threat allegedly posed by the rebels in Mali. Much is being made of alleged links between the Islamist militants and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. President Hollande has repeatedly warned that French and European security is at risk if the rebels in Mali strengthen their control.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said at the weekend: “Both leaders [Cameron and Hollande] agreed that the situation in Mali poses a real threat to international security given the terrorist activity there.”
American politicians, military chiefs and media have also been waxing lyrical for months on how Mali represents the globe’s new “terror central” and that Western governments must act decisively to defeat the danger.
However, the precise nature of this “Islamist threat” from Mali is never spelled out or evidenced. We are expected to accept the word of Paris, London and Washington – the rogue states that have and are conducting illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
What we do know, however, is that the half century post-colonial borders of Mali are an alien imposition on nomadic peoples in the northern region – cultures that date backed thousands of years. Their rebellion against a remote and up to now indifferent colonialist-appointed administration in Bamako is probably a just cause. The French and its Western allies are therefore maligning an internal dispute within Mali with another specious “war on terror” narrative and in that way these powers are giving themselves a mandate to meddle in that country.
France being the former colonial master and with decades of covert military assets in the region is the “natural” choice among the Western powers to lead a neo-imperialist adventure in this strategically important region.
Mali has abundant riches in natural resources of metals and minerals. It is a major source of gold and uranium, as well as iron, copper, tin and manganese, and also versatile minerals such as phosphates, salt and limestone.
Moreover, the West Africa region has awesome potential for agriculture and oil. The Gulf of Guinea off Ghana and Nigeria is earmarked to become a leading oil and gas supply region to world markets in the coming years.
Military intervention by France and the other Western powers in Mali – under the guise of “defeating terrorism” – is a bridgehead for Western capital and corporations, not only into a resource-rich country, but into a large chunk of the entire African continent. In 2011, NATO’s bombardment of Libya and French subversion of elections in Cote D’Ivoire marked a new beginning of Western neo-imperialism in Africa.
The US justice system is “rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” says the family of American activist Aaron Swartz, who was an outspoken critic of the US government and was recently found dead in his apartment.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” said Swartz’s family in a statement.
Since Friday, when the activist and computer prodigy was found dead in his New York apartment, internet activists have also blamed the US Attorney’s office.
Before his death, Swartz openly criticized the US and the Israeli regime for launching joint cyber attacks against Iran.
The blogger was also vocal in criticizing Obama’s “kill list,” a list of individuals who are suspected of terrorism by the US and are listed for targeted killing after final approval by the US president himself.
Swartz was also critical of the monopoly of information and believed that information should be available to everyone for the benefit of the society.
The US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts accused the 26-year-old of downloading millions of academic journal articles from the online service JSTOR by using Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s computer network in 2010, to make such articles available to the public.
Even though, Swartz handed over his hard drives and the charges against him were dropped by the JSTOR, US Attorneys Carmen Ortiz and Steve Heymann, with the support of MIT, continued to pursue the activist’s prosecution.
According to the statement by the activist’s family, officials were demanding heavy penalties of more than 30 years in prison and up to USD 1.0 million in fines for Swartz, “to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.”
The activist’s death comes weeks before he was due in court.
A petition presented to the White House “for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz” has been set up to remove US Attorney Ortiz and it has already gained almost 10,000 signatures.
The TSA has issued a “Market Research Announcement” in which the agency expresses a desire to expand its Pre-Check whitelist program by allowing private companies to carry out risk analysis of Americans that would determine whether they are “trusted” enough to participate in the trusted traveler program. This would be a major step toward turning the agency’s Pre-Check whitelist into the insidious kind of passenger profiling system that was proposed under the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11, and a confirmation of our longstanding warnings that the logic of the risk-assessment approach to security will drive the government toward the use of more and more data on individuals. It would be the most significant of the new initiatives the TSA is looking at this year.
Currently, under Pre-Check, travelers who have attained a certain level within the frequent flier programs of six airlines can apply for the program by providing the government with certain information and, if they are accepted, receive access to expedited security lines. Department of Defense personnel and those with certain security clearances may now also join—and future expansions are inevitable. Although it is currently limited in scope, we have been warning that this kind of program points us down the road of engaging in background checks and discriminatory profiling of passengers. The concept raises knotty questions about fairness; we don’t know who is approved for this program and who is rejected, and based on what data, or what criteria for evaluating that data.
Defenders of Pre-Check point out that it is voluntary. However, as the agency explicitly states in this new document, “TSA desires to maximize appropriate participation in expedited screening initiatives.” In short, it hopes to lighten the screening load as much as possible by enrolling as many people as it can in Pre-Check. That means that ultimately, we face the prospect of a two-class airline security system, or even a system in which simply everyone has a Pre-Check ID, and the hapless group who can’t get one become a security underclass. Then the Pre-Check is adopted for all kinds of other purposes by piggybacking organizations, and like a “voluntary” credit card, it becomes impossible to fully participate in American life without one, and those who are shut out—and they won’t know why—face all kinds of obstacles and disadvantages.
As I discussed in this post, the Bush program, called CAPPS II, would have tapped into commercial data sources to perform background checks on every air passenger, and crunched that data to produce a profile of each traveler’s “risk to aviation.” The initial vision seemed to be to measure individuals’ “rootedness in their community,” measuring such things as how long a person has lived at their current address, held their current job, held a credit rating, etc. Among the numerous problems with this concept, it would have been enormously discriminatory in its impact (African-Americans, for example, tend to move more often than whites), and would have been grossly ineffective in spotting terrorists. (As Bruce Schneier has long pointed out, the danger is that to the extent you exempt some groups from security measures, you open up a pathway for terrorists to join or recruit their way into the program.)
We and others fought this terrible idea, and over several years of battles in Congress and the media, it was renamed “Secure Flight” and basically reduced to watch list checks. A victory of sorts—although the watch list system underpinning Secure Flight continues to be a mess.
Now it is clear that our concerns about Pre-Check sliding back towards some kind of CAPPS II-like profiling system have been warranted. In particular, the agency appears never to have lost its fixation with partnering with private-sector data aggregators to evaluate American citizens. The TSA writes:
TSA is particularly interested in techniques that … use non-governmental data elements to generate an assessment of the risk to the aviation transportation system that may be posed by a specific individual, and to communicate the identity of persons who have successfully passed this risk based assessment to TSA’s Secure Flight.
As I understand it, the concept here is that a company such as a data broker would sift through the enormous volumes of data they store on Americans and come up with a proposed algorithm for judging “the risk to the aviation transportation system” of any given individual. TSA would examine that algorithm, and upon the agency’s approval, the company would be authorized to sell Pre-Check memberships using that algorithm applied to its own data.
For now, the TSA says it “is seeking white papers that successfully demonstrate sound, well-reasoned concepts … to identify ‘known travelers’ pre-screened to a high degree of confidence.” The agency says it wants to allow “entities latitude to do what makes the most sense for them”:
TSA will specify a few common core requirements for process and algorithm content, while encouraging innovation by allowing participating entities to include additional elements in their algorithms as they see fit (as long as they are legal). These hybrid algorithms would have to meet certain performance criteria, described below.
Those criteria include:
- An enrollment process that is convenient and user friendly
- A proposal that “presents an effective process for gathering required personal information from potentially large numbers of prospective enrollees”
- Handling travelers’ personal information with various security and privacy safeguards
- “Has identified and obtained access to specific sources of current, accurate, and complete non-Governmental data that can be used to support effective screening of prospective travelers”
- An algorithm “that produces dependable results”
The agency outlines a three-phase process for turning these white papers into functioning part of our security system. Phase 1 (30 days) is selection of promising submissions, phase 2 (45-60 days) is prototype implementation, and phase 3 (4-6 months) will be live prototyping on actual passengers at an actual airport.
Aside from the fundamental effectiveness questions of this concept, there are a number of major problems with it from a civil-liberties point of view:
- Unfair effects. It is likely to have an unfair impact on the American public. As I mentioned above it could easily be discriminatory in its application, or otherwise unfair depending on the data sources used. For example, see this story about a man having problems with his credit score precisely because he had always been careful not to go into debt. The data aggregators are subject to no rules regarding data quality, and their databases are rife with errors, as are the credit ratings agencies’ (despite their being subject to some regulations).
- Secrecy. We probably won’t even know about such unfair effects because the system will be wrapped in secrecy. The TSA’s document specifies that “The specific sources and types of information employed for pre-screening purposes under this initiative may not be publicly disclosed.” It also contains a long section specifying that any private partners of the TSA will be subject to the agency’s Sensitive Security Information (SSI) rules.
- Private-sector delegation. Delegating security assessments to a private company raises significant issues. We have always believed that it’s a foolish idea to start building an algorithm-based system for “rating” Americans on their security “trustworthiness,” which is then used to curb people’s rights (such as the right to travel). If we must have such ratings performed, that would at least be an inherent law enforcement function. We shouldn’t have private, profit-oriented companies making those designations, any more than such companies should be deciding who to prosecute. Having private companies make the ratings, and the government acting upon them, may be pretty close to the worst of all worlds. In addition, much of the corporate world operates on relationships and favors—not to mention money; it’s not clear how the TSA would regulate these companies to ensure they won’t engage in corruption or abuse or systematic bias when deciding who can get a Pre-Check pass. Especially given that the TSA won’t routinely have access to the underlying data.
- Access to data. However, the agency does state that while it won’t “generally” access the personal information about an individual used by a company, it may do so during audits. Also, the “results of the pre-screening process” will be shared with the TSA “upon request”; it’s not clear to me what the agency means by “results” here.
Ultimately, the core problem with Pre-Check remains: it is (as I said here) caught between two possibilities: collecting so little information that it’s useless as a security measure, or so much that it is scarily intrusive. The TSA wants to take a long stride toward the latter. True, by outsourcing the data-crunching function to a private company, the agency won’t be collecting the information itself. That certainly ameliorates some of the privacy problems with the concept—but if anything worsens the other concerns, such as fairness, accuracy, due process, and the role of for-profit companies in providing what are essential government functions. Thwarted in its efforts to tap private databases a decade ago, the agency seems to be edging back toward that concept via a classic Surveillance-Industrial Complex strategy.
Bolivia will again belong to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after its bid to rejoin with a reservation that it does not accept the treaty’s requirement that “coca leaf chewing must be banned” was successful Friday. Opponents needed one-third of the 184 signatory countries to object, but fell far, far short despite objections by the US and the International Narcotics Control Board.
Bolivian president Evo Morales celebrated the decision as a moral victory for his people and the centuries’ old culture based on the ‘acullicu’. “It’s not easy to change international legislation, particularly when 25 years ago they had decided to eliminate the coca leaf and with it, our culture”, said Morales who added that the coca leaf has been “criminalized, demonized, condemned world wide. Consumers have been described as narcotics-dependents and farmers narcotics traders”.
Of the 61 countries needed to veto the initiative only 15 turned out led by the US and UK, plus other European countries, Canada, Japan and Mexico.
“The objecting countries’ emphasis on procedural arguments is hypocritical. In the end this is not about the legitimacy of the procedure Bolivia has used, it is not even really about coca chewing,” according to Martin Jelsma, coordinator of the Transnational Institute’s Drugs and Democracy program. “What this really is about is the fear to acknowledge that the current treaty framework is inconsistent, out-of-date, and needs reform.”
The Institute noted that Bolivia’s success can be an example for other regional countries where traditional use of the coca leaf is permitted, including Argentina, Colombia, and Peru, to challenge the Single Convention on coca. It also called for the World Health Organization to undertake a review of coca’s classification as a Schedule I drug under the Convention.
“Those who would desperately try to safeguard the global drug control system by making it immune to any type of modernization are fighting a losing battle,” according to John Walsh, director of the Washington Office on Latin America drug policy program.
“Far from undermining the system, Bolivia has given the world a promising example that it is possible to correct historic errors and to adapt old drug control dogmas to today’s new realities.”
“I can’t stress enough how big this is. Once again, the United States snapped its fingers and told the rest of the world to get in line and oppose Bolivia’s move. But this time, while the UK joined them, most of the rest of the world just said “no, thanks.”
However it’s a largely symbolic victory, as this UN commission lacks the power to regulate coca leaf consumption in Bolivia in the first place. But the UN declaration has been welcomed by the Bolivian government, which is planning to invite the country’s coca growers to massive coca-chewing events in the cities of La Paz and Cochabamba.
The coca leaf is the base material for cocaine. But for centuries indigenous people in the Andean mountains have chewed this leaf in its natural form to gain energy and decrease hunger. Some groups in the region also consider the coca leaf to be a sacred plant, and use it regularly for social and religious rituals.
Evo Morales, who is himself a former coca grower, has championed the decriminalization of the leaf since he came into office in 2006, chewing coca in international forums, praising its nutritional qualities, and even asking Sean Penn to be his global ambassador for the coca leaf. A special clause in the 2009 Bolivian constitution refers to the matter.
But the UN’s decision to tolerate coca leaf chewing in Bolivia was not well taken by US diplomats, who claim that most of Bolivia’s coca crops are being used for cocaine production, and not for traditional chewing.
“We oppose Bolivia’s reservation and continue to believe it will lead to a greater supply of cocaine,” a senior US State Department official was quoted.
”While we recognize Bolivia’s capacity and willingness to undertake some successful counter-narcotics activities, especially in terms of coca eradication, we estimate that much of the coca legally grown in Bolivia is sold to drug traffickers, leading to the conclusion that social control of coca (allowing some legal growing) is not achieving the desired results,” the official said in a statement.
Most member states did not object to Bolivia’s readmission into the antinarcotics group or to the new statute which says that chewing, and growing the coca leaf, is fine within Bolivia. The non-objectors included Colombia and Peru which are the world’s two biggest cocaine producers and also have very large crops of the coca leaf.
Some diplomatic representatives in La Paz had a hard time explaining why the vote of the fifteen on the US initiative. British ambassador Ross Denny said the decision was a bad example since it opens the door for other countries to present objections and thus weakening the UN Narcotics Convention. He added that the UK fears that the return of Bolivia on that condition could mean a greater production of coca leaves that end up with the narcotics trade.
But President Morales made a passionate defence of the ‘acullicu’ and the Andes highlands culture of chewing coca leaves and mentioned Harvard University and the World Health Organization papers supporting such consumption. “It’s good for human health and benefits those suffering from diabetes.
The official re-entry of Bolivia to the convention is scheduled for February 10 and is a milestone in the Bolivian government campaign to defend the ‘acullicu’ which has seen President Morales and his Foreign minister David Choquehuanca, both indigenous Aymaras, lobby around the world in support of the coca leaf chewing tradition.
- Bolivia slams US over ‘irrefutable evidence’ of meddling (alethonews.wordpress.com)