Coca-Cola Should Drop The 'Coca,' Bolivia Growers Say

Thursday, March 15th 2007, 10:00 pm
By: News On 6

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Always Coca-Cola? Not if Bolivia's coca growers have their way.

The farmers want the word ``Coca'' dropped by the U.S. soft drink company, arguing that the potent shrub belongs to the cultural heritage of this Andean nation, where the coca leaf infuses everyday life and is sacred to many.

A commission of coca industry representatives advising an assembly rewriting Bolivia's constitution passed a resolution Wednesday calling on the Atlanta, Ga.-based company to take ``Coca'' out of its name and asking the United Nations to decriminalize the leaf.

The resolution demands that ``international companies that include in their commercial name the name of coca (example: Coca Cola) refrain from using the name of the sacred leaf in their products.''

The commission, which met for three days in Sucre, 255 miles southeast of La Paz, is part of an effort led by President Evo Morales to rehabilitate the image of plant, used in the Andes for millennia but better known internationally as the base ingredient of cocaine.

Coca-Cola released a statement Thursday saying their trademark is ``the most valuable and recognized brand in the world'' and was protected under Bolivian law.

The statement repeated the company's past denials that Coca-Cola has ever used cocaine as an ingredient _ but was silent on whether the natural coca leaf was used to flavor their flagship soda.

``They need to understand our situation,'' said David Herrera, a state government supervisor for the coca-rich Chapare region. ``They exported coca as a raw material for Coca-Cola, and we can't even freely sell it in Bolivia.''

The Bolivian government regulates the sale of coca to prevent use by the drug trade.

In its natural state, the green leaf is only a mild stimulant. In Bolivia's white-collar offices, coca tea is served instead of coffee, and the country's farmers, miners and longhaul truckers chew the leaf to get through a long work day.

The government wants the U.N. to decriminalize trade in coca-based products to promote its exports.

Morales, a former coca grower, believes an international market for coca-derived products such as tea, flour, liquor, and even toothpaste would draw some of the country's estimated 65,500 acres of coca away from the drug trade.

But the United States, which funds a Bolivian coca-eradication program, is adamantly opposed to the policy, saying it only encourages more coca production.