Bolivians Want Coca Chewing Legalized

Indigenous gather in front of the U.S. embassy to inaugurate the national day of coca leaf-chewing in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday Jan. 26, 2011. Bolivia has petitioned the U.N. to end an international ban on coca leaf-chewing. A mild stimulant, the leaves have deep cultural and religious value in the region. The U.S. will file a formal objection today to Bolivia
AP Photo
LA PAZ, Bolivia - Thousands have taken to the streets in Bolivia to chew coca leaf in support of the country's bid to remove an international prohibition on the age-old practice.

The chief target of Wednesday's peaceful protest was the U.S. Embassy.

Coca is a mild stimulant of high religious and social value in the Andes. It fights hunger and alleviates altitude sickness. But it is also the raw material of cocaine.

Washington last week formally objected to Bolivia's proposal to remove a prohibition on coca chewing from the international Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Bolivia's U.N. Ambassador Pablo Solon says that Bolivia does not seek to remove coca from a list of controlled substances.