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Put Coca Leaf On A Plate, Peru Leader Says

New York Times, Dec, 21, 2006

from the Associated Press

LIMA, Peru, Dec. 20 (AP) — President Alan García on Tuesday suggested an unorthodox use for the coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine: Why not toss it in a salad?

"I insist that it can be consumed directly and elegantly in salad," Mr. García told foreign correspondents at the Government Palace.

His comments put him in the company of Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who have publicly promoted mixing the high-calcium leaf into everything from toothpaste to soft drinks.

For centuries, coca has been considered a medicinal and ceremonial plant in Andean culture, and Mr. García said it should not be vilified as useful solely for producing the drug. He said Gastón Acurio, one of Peru’s best-known chefs, recently served several coca-based dishes for an event at the Government Palace.

A recent report by a Peruvian antidrug group, however, said that some studies showed that coca’s nutrients could not be absorbed by the body.

For years, the United States has pressed Peru, the second largest source of cocaine, after Colombia, to fight production of the drug. The American Embassy declined to react to Mr. García’s comments.

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