Bolivian Museum Devoted to Coca Leaf

ByABC News
October 13, 2000, 9:48 AM

L A   P A Z, Bolivia, Oct. 13 -- Only in Bolivia can one find a museum dedicated to the much-maligned and misunderstood coca leaf, holy of holies in ancient Andean religions but also the reviled raw material used to make cocaine.

Much like the hidden coca patches dotting South Americas subtropical lowlands, the International Coca Institutes museum is nestled in a barely noticeable backyard of a busy La Paz open market in the San Sebastian district. Finding its Web site ( might prove to be easier.

Our main objective is to differentiate between coca and cocaine without resorting to demagoguery like calling it the holy leaf, sociologist and museum guide Javier Castro said.

The three-year-old museum is mainly funded by foreign visitors who pay $1.15 to browse the extensive chronology, anthropology and criminology that Castro and three doctors have gathered over 15 years in their drive to demystify the tiny, bitter leaf.

The foundation also produces a distilled coca liquor we sell in 375 ml bottles for about $3.25. We use organic coca to make liquor and pills, neither of which have cocaine, to help with stomach pains or altitude sickness, Castro said.

We believe the best way to combat the drug trade is to commercialize the medical applications of coca and its byproducts, he added.

The Bolivian and U.S. governments, however, have another idea of how to combat the drug trade: Root the sturdy plants right out of the ground. Plantings in the Chapare region, a key supplier of illegal coca, have fallen to 5,000 acres (1,950 hectares) from 93,000 acres (37,000 hectares) three years ago.

The eradication program has undercut the livelihoods of 40,000 families over the same period of time, leading to riots, roadblocks and 10 deaths in recent weeks.

Coca Loaded With Nutrients

Another vocation of the museum is to prevent the use of cocaine, but not as part of a government campaign telling people drugs are bad. We show people how coca leaves are good but also the harm cocaine and the chemicals used to make it can have on drug users, Castro said.