US Marijuana Party

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Pushing a top crop, Bolivian president gives Rice coca gift


VALPARAISO, Chile -- Cooperation against illegal drugs was one theme of a cordial first meeting between the top American diplomat and the flamboyant coca growers union boss who is now Bolivia's democratically elected president, but Bolivian leader Evo Morales used the session to send another message to Washington.

Morales gave Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a traditional Bolivian Indian musical instrument called a charango that resembles a ukulele and is usually made from animal hide.

This one, however, was covered with bright green coca leaves.

Coca is the raw material for cocaine but also has traditional uses in Bolivia, where the leaf is brewed as tea, chewed and incorporated into ceremonies.

The gift was a reminder that coca and coca farming are legal in Bolivia, South America's poorest nation.

Rice gamely strummed the instrument for a moment and posed with it for a Chilean television camera. U.S. officials were checking with Customs, but it's not clear whether Rice can legally bring the instrument into the United States.

Loretta Nall inspects coca field in Putamayo, Colombia August 2004


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