Bolivian Officials to Hand Out Bags Full of Coca to Dakar Rally Racers

EspañolThe Bolivian government plans to distribute thousands of bags filled with coca leaves to Dakar Rally participants, announced the vice minister of Coca and Integral Development, Gumercindo Pucho, on Thursday.

Bolivian culture regards the coca leaf as a sacred plant.
Bolivian culture regards the coca leaf as a sacred plant. (Julie Laurent)

The Dakar, an off-road endurance race, originally ran from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal, but has taken place in South America since 2009, spanning Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile.

Pucho explained that his ministry will set up a post in the town of Uyuni, in southwest Bolivia, one of the stops planned along the rally.

“We have prepared thousands of bags which we will give to the visitors of the Dakar 2015. We invite all of our Bolivian brothers to this stand in order to give them the chuspas (handwoven bags) with coca,” said Pucho.

Chewing coca leaf, a key ingredient in cocaine production, is an ancient tradition in the country. Its traditional and cultural use was recognized in the 2009 Bolivian Constitution, which designated coca a part of the nation’s cultural heritage.

“The state protects the original and ancestral coca as cultural heritage, a natural, renewable resource of Bolivia’s biodiversity, and as a factor of social cohesion; in its natural state it is not a narcotic. The value, production, sale, and industrialization of the leaf will be governed by law,” states the Constitution.

Pucho said the initiative aims promote coca consumption and demonstrate its value. The Coca and Integral Development Ministry will give away the bags among competitors and visitors, but also plan to set up a showroom with several coca-derived industrial products.

The Dakar Rally will be held from January 10-12, and over 665 competitors from 53 countries will pass through several Bolivian towns in trucks, cars, motorbikes, and quad bikes.

Over 3,000 soldiers and 1,650 police agents will be deployed throughout Bolivian territory during the competition.

Sources: Pagina Siete, El Comercio.

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