LA PAZ, (Reuters) – Pope Francis has told the Bolivian government that he would like to chew coca leaves when he visits the Andean country next month, a Bolivian minister said on state television and radio yesterday.
Situated at around 3,650 meters (11,975 ft) above sea level, La Paz is one of the world’s highest capital cities and for centuries local people have chewed coca leaves to ward off the effects of altitude.
Although it is the key ingredient in cocaine, the unprocessed leaf is legal to use and still widely chewed in Bolivia and other Andean countries. Many indigenous people, including Bolivian President Evo Morales, defend its use and consider it a sacred plant. “We offered (the Pope) coca tea or something for the altitude,” Culture Minister Marko Machicao said an interview with broadcasters.