"No other country can be intrusive in another country's politics," Olivera said. "Bolivia has sovereignty in function to democracy. Nobody can tell us what to do. If there were this respect there would not be any problem."

The infamous component
   International control of coca is based on the plant's connection—and perhaps, confusion with— the drug cocaine. Because of its connection to drugs, coca has been on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime list of controlled substances since 1961.
   Coca, the light green leaf processed for both white cocaine and black Coca-Cola, is a mystery outside the Andes. Though non-Andeans often confuse its name with the drug cocaine and with the cacao tree seeds used to produce chocolate and cocoa, it is neither. It's a short bush with nutritious leaves that have been lauded in Andean culture for millennia. Coca leaves energize like coffee, suppress hunger like diet pills and grace the ceremonies of Indigenous religion like wine and grape juice appear in Western Christianity.
   Unless destined for scientific or medical use, coca leaves and products containing more than a trace amount of cocaine are banned from export by the United Nations, according to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coca-Cola is the exception in the United States— its trademark flavoring is made with imported coca leaves.
   Molina said he understands why people who have never seen the coca leaf would erroneously think, based on its name, that it's the same as the drug cocaine. Though connected, the plant and the drug are different products with dramatically different levels of stimulant.
   The link between the two is this: The coca leaf contains an alkaloid that is the namesake of the drug cocaine. Gautam Sarath, a researcher of molecular biologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, explained that alkaloids are bitter-tasting chemical compounds in plants that evolved to dissuade animals from eating those plants. German Albert Neimann first extracted the cocaine alkaloid from the plant in the mid-1800s for medical use as a painkiller.
   Coca leaves are about one percent cocaine, according to "Drug Use and Abuse: An Introduction," by Howard Abandinsky. The harvest of one coca bush is at most four ounces of leaves. Between 1,100 to 2,750 pounds of coca leaves are needed to make 2.2 pounds (one kilo) of cocaine hydrochloride, the powder drug.
   When extracted and processed into a salt, this alkaloid becomes the drug cocaine, which is technically called cocaine hydrochloride. Coca leaves are not like marijuana leaves, which have a psychoactive effect when eaten or smoked. For coca to become a cocaine drug, the alkaloid must be extracted from large quantities of leaves and pass through extensive, illegal chemical processing.
   It's misinformed, Molina said, to think the coca leaf itself is a drug.
   "People repeat something untrue so many times that it becomes true," he said.
In drug creation, the cocaine alkaloid is chemically extracted from the leaves and treated with other substances including kerosene and ammonia water. It is made into a paste, then a dough-like base and finally the infamous white powder: cocaine hydrochloride. The first two forms are cheaper, more potent drugs than cocaine hydrochloride—powder cocaine—which is often mixed with flour to increase profit and decrease potency.
   The world's largest market for the cocaine hydrochloride powder and its paste and doughlike precursors is the United States, but cocaine drugs illicitly made from Bolivian coca tend to go elsewhere. Not much Bolivian-origin cocaine ends up in the United States, according to the U.S. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report published by the U.S. Department of State in March 2011. Most cocaine from Bolivia is sent to market in other Latin American countries and in Europe. Bolivia produces less cocaine than Colombia or Perú, according to the report.

Not a drug, but an opportunity
   Because she is a coca farmer, some outside Bolivia might automatically associate Margarita Aguilar with powerful, discrete operators whose luxurious homes are filled with ammunition. The petite woman wears a heavy blue sweater to keep off the dawn chill one morning on a coca terrace in Irupana, Bolivia, part of the permitted coca-growing region in the Bolivian department of La Paz. She farms a small plot of coca, harvests leaves for other area farmers and is a household helper for a successful entrepreneur to support her children. Like so many other relationships, Aguilar's marriage simply didn't work out. Now, as a single mom, Aguilar supports her two teenage daughters' and young son's education by growing coca.
   In Bolivia, coca is associated with Indigenous tradition and economic opportunity, especially for women, who tend to carry out the most labor in the fields.
   "Evidently there are good Bolivians and bad Bolivians," Olivera said. "The bad ones deviate the coca to illegal destinations and there are people that take coca to the legal market."
   Aguilar said coca is one of the few things she can viably grow. It's a hardy plant that still grows in exhausted mountain soil. Its lightweight leaves don't spoil and are easier to transport on rugged roads than heavier crops. It draws a high price, making it a source of livelihood for rural families.
   The legal coca market is driven by uses ceremonial, mundane and innovative: Every day, Bolivians chew coca leaves and drink teas of it to stay alert. Now, entrepreneurs are inventing and mass-producing new coca products: energy drinks, sodas, wines, shampoos, balms, vitamins, medicines, cookies. They look to capitalize on the 29,652 acres (12,000 hectares) of legally grown coca in Bolivia permitted by the Bolivian government and the United Nations.
   President Morales declares a pro-coca, anticocaine vision for Bolivia.
   "We want rationalized production," Morales told TIME in a May 2006 interview. "We want to industrialize the coca leaf, but we understand there can't be unlimited cultivation because the coca leaf does get diverted into cocaine."
   In 2009 76,355 acres (30,900 hectares) of coca were cultivated in Bolivia, according to an UNODC report, far exceeding the 29,652 acre limit (12,000 hectares). Bolivian lawmakers are drafting a bill that would expand legal coca growth to an estimated 49, 421 acres (20,000 hectares) as backed up by a European Union study expected to be finished in 2011. This study analyzes the country's legitimate coca demand based on non-drug consumer habits. In June 2010, plans destined a fifth of that potential legal growth to industrial products, such as processed foods. The Bolivian government exceeded its goal to destroy 19,768 acres (8,000 hectares) of illicit coca fields in 2010, according to a U.S. Department of State report.
   "In sum we are making a census of all the owners of parcels, so those who have multiple parcels in different places will not be able to have them anymore." said Molina, who is working on the coca study and one of several versions of the bill to expand legal coca farming. "They must have them in one place. That will help the rationing of the production and at the same time a follow is done, so they do not sell coca to the drug traffickers. Those (farmers) who do will lose the ownership rights."
   John Creamer, the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Bolivia, said in a statement that the U.S. recognizes that Bolivian law allows for 29,652 acres (12,000 hectares) of coca intended for domestic religious and cultural uses, but that he is not aware of any international market—which is also prohibited by international law—for processed foods made from coca.
   Because the plant is largely unknown or misunderstood outside the Andes, it's hard to predict what kind of market coca products could have abroad. With entrepreneurship, coca products can at least be developed and sold in Bolivia and other countries where coca consumption is traditional, such as Perú, Colombia and Argentina. Reaching the big markets depends on the cooperation of the international community.

International outreach
   Eyes widened and a few jaws surely dropped when Olivera revealed a coca leaf at the podium. Before him sat the representatives of more than 130 nations at an assembly in Paris in 2000. Olivera had spirited some coca leaves out of Bolivia between the pages of his planner. Now the little leaves made a big point. Olivera was presenting on DEA human rights violations in Bolivia and explaining what coca is and isn't. To illustrate that coca isn't a drug, he chewed leaves in front of the assembly as many Bolivians do daily at work, on long bus rides and other daily moments when one desires something energizing.
   "I told them, if you consider the coca leaf a drug, in the afternoon I will be wanting to lose my mind," Olivera recalled. "I started to (chew) and told them, I assure you it is not drug in its natural state."
   President Morales employed a similar tactic in 2006 when he surprised the United Nations General Assembly by pulling a coca leaf out of his pocket during a speech.
   Olivera said after he chewed coca in Paris in 2000, curious delegations approached him for more information. He didn't have time to take all of their appointments in one day, so he stayed for about a month. Olivera said after his initial speech in Paris, no one clapped, but after meeting with delegations, the crowd's attitude changed. When he left the summit, he met roaring applause.
   "The world is a big place so we needed to get to those people," he said.
   The Bolivian government is trying to educate other countries about coca. Its current focus is to amend the part of the U.N.'s 1961 convention that made coca chewing illegal. The end goal is to remove coca from the U.N. list of controlled substances to facilitate its greater export, but the Morales administration has also backed away from two chances to formally request it, according to TIME. Erasing coca from the list is a long-term goal. Officials realize it's not likely to happen within Morales's term limits, which end in 2015.
   At press time, the European Union study on coca use and efforts to legally allow more coca growth were still in process. The Bolivian government representatives make coca a point of discussion when they can at international summits and hope to create a type of network around the world of people who are educated about coca from an Andean perspective. In January 2011, coca farmers all over Bolivia staged coca-chewing sit-ins to show the international press that the practice isn't drug use.
   The search for autonomy and the economic future of Bolivians will be influenced by coca's fate. The future of the little leaf depends on how many people are won over by these efforts.
Andean Information Network photos documented a January 2011 chew-in with men, women and children gathered in a public square in Cochabamba. A line of women with long braids and straw hats reclined barefoot on the ground, taking in the sun, bags of coca between them. A toddler surveyed another pile of coca leaves. One man spread his leaves on the checkered, rainbow flag that represents Bolivia's Indigenous nations: the people for whom economic prospect, spirituality, identity and independence are all linked to one leaf, sacred and scorned.