January 27, 2008
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accepted a handful of coca leaves from Bolivian ally Evo Morales and chewed them during a summit meeting on Saturday, saying, "Coca isn't cocaine."
"You know the strength that coca gives," Chavez said in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. "I've really grown used to it every day in the morning."
The socialist leader joined the Bolivian president in defending the leaf, chewed by Andean Indians for centuries, while condemning its use in the making of cocaine.
Chavez accused Washington of trying to use the issue of drug trafficking to discredit his government, noting that John P. Walters, director of the White House drug policy office, has accused him of facilitating the flow of Colombian cocaine through Venezuela