LATIN AMERICA

Evo Morales to Pope Francis: “Take coca and you’ll live a long life”

Bolivian president gives the pontiff some unusual advice on his visit to the Vatican

Morales gives the pope books on coca.
Morales gives the pope books on coca.Alessandra Tarantino / AP

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During Evo Morales’ meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican Apostolic Library on Friday, the Bolivian president had some interesting advice for the pontiff. During the 27-minute conversation, Morales handed over three books on the benefits of the coca plant, and recommended that the pope start chewing the medicinal plant. “I am taking it and it’s working for me. I recommend it to you so you live a long life,” Morales explained.

In return, the pope gave Morales a Saint Martin of Tours medallion, a gift he often hands out in private meetings. Saint Martin is the patron saint of Buenos Aires and a symbol of love for the poor. He also brought the South American leader a copy of his exhortation on family, Amoris Laetitia and a copy of The Name of God Is Mercy, an interview book he published earlier this year.

The coca plant is one of the most common medicines used to combat altitude sickness when the body lacks oxygen

The coca plant is one of the most common medicines used to combat altitude sickness when the body lacks oxygen, especially at heights of over 2,400 meters above sea level. In Bolivia, coca is also used as a medicinal herb to boost energy and stave off hunger. It can be chewed or consumed as mate tea or in herbal infusions. Though the coca plant is on the list of narcotic drugs published by the United Nations (UN) in 1961, Evo Morales decriminalized its use in Bolivia. “Coca is not cocaine,” he has previously stated.

The Bolivian leader also gave the pope a letter from the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) and the National Coordinator for Change (CONALCAM) regarding the latest statements the Bolivian Catholic Church made. “Here you have the letter from the social movements and all the material,” Morales told Pope Francis.

After the Bolivian Episcopal Conference published a document on April 1 saying that drug cartels had infiltrated state institutions, Morales promised to bring up the issue in his conversation with the pope.

 English version by Dyane Jean François.

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