Results from a recent random drug test revealed that Jose Alfredo Castillo tested positive for cocaine. The 21-year-old forward from Club Bolivar adamantly declares that he is not a drug user. Instead he states that the two cups of mate de coca tea he drank prior to the match was the root cause of this positive result. Derived from the coca leaf, this tea is commonly consumed because of its medicinal properties.
Even though the coca leaf has been targeted as the centerpiece of the United States’ War on Drugs in Bolivia because it is used to process and manufacture cocaine, there is a world of difference between the two. The leaf in its raw form has been used for centuries as a stimulant to counter the effects of hunger and fatigue. In present day, the coca leaf can be consumed in mate de coca tea, often utilized to diminsh the effects of "soroche" or altitude sickness. Upon arrival in La Paz, many tourists and visitors struggling with the sudden change of altitude are offered a cup. Even children regularly consume this mate, proving its safety.
Experts say that one would have to ingest between 30-40 cups of mate before its results would resemble anything remotely close to testing positive for cocaine. However, it is still not an exact science.
In 1993, Bolivian captain Miguel Angel Rimba tested positive for cocaine prior to a game against Brasil. The results were later overturned when it was discovered that Rimba had taken mate de coca.
Random testing for two players per team takes place after every Bolivian league match. Regulations state that any player who had recently drank mate de coca, should notify the administering physician. Team doctor stated that Castillo did not mention anything about drinking the tea. However, head coach Vladimir Soria indicated that Castillo did approach him after the test saying that he had in fact drank two cups of tea.
As players continue to test positive for cocaine (approximately 2-3 per year in Bolivia), the excuse of tea drinking has been convenient. Although in the past couple of years, no positive result has been overturned.
The case is still pending, with Castillo and his lawyer asking for a re-test. Facing a minimum six months suspension, his bright future could be on hold. After scoring 42 goals in 2001 with Oriente Petrolero, which earned him the distinction of the top goal scorer in the world, Castillo was transferred to UAG Tecos in the Mexican League. Returning to Bolivia in 2004, he scored a hat-trick in a historic win against Boca Juniors in the Libertadores Cup. Officials stated that the finishing touches were almost complete that would transfer him to Boca, the current holder of the Intercontinental Cup.
Perhaps fame and fortune came too quickly for Castillo. With a reported monthly salary of $25,000 playing in Mexico, he was back in a country where the minimum monthly salary is approximately 70 dollars. Earlier this year, he was suspended from his club because he did not return to training after the Easter holidays spent in his hometown of Santa Cruz. Neighbors complained about the loud party that lasted two days straight.
Past behavior and a reputation as one who loves farras may have many doubting his pleas of innocence. From a football standpoint, one can only hope that it was all a misunderstanding and that the can soon play on the biggest stage in South America. However, from a personal standpoint, one can only hope that this can serve as a wake-up call to turn his life around. The opportunity is there to be the one to turn the Bolivian National Team’s fortunes around and to make the most of one’s natural talents.