part 9

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Posted by Sadie from D006033.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 0:49AM :

In Reply to: part 8 posted by Sadie from D006033.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 0:48AM :

I was surprised to learn that the cocaleros, Bolivia’s coca farmers, have a parliamentary brigade. I went to see its leader, Evo Morales, at his office in La Paz. His office turned out to be a dimly lit room in a high-rise government warren. People clumped in the shadows, and it felt a bit like a NORML meeting, particularly after I told Morales and his aides that I had recently chewed coca to combat altitude sickness on a drive through the high mountains, and they all cackled happily.

Morales is short, dark, handsome, round-faced, with a long pageboy haircut. His father was a peasant potato farmer, he said, and he himself still farmed a coca plot in the Chapare, a jungle district east of Cochabamba. Most of the coca farmers are ex-miners, he said, “on the run from neoliberalism.” They had been fighting for years with the Bolivian army, which was being heavily supported by the U.S. in a coca-eradication effort known as “zero coca.” Although the Bolivian government and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency were claiming victory, most independent analysts believe the effort is futile, since poor farmers in other parts of South America have always proved willing to raise coca when there is a market for it.

Morales didn’t want to discuss the drug business, except to say that in Bolivia it was certainly not a military problem. He preferred to frame the U.S.-Bolivian war on drugs as a war on his people, the Quechua and Aymara, who have been growing coca for thousands of years, and have been suffering attacks from white colonizers for centuries. “Zero coca means zero Quechua and Aymara,” he said. “They see us as animals. They enslaved us. When we learned to read, they cut out our eyes.”

Evo Morales is a prominent Bolivian politician, but the U.S. Embassy in La Paz assured me that his career had peaked years earlier, and that he would soon be found in the dustbin of local history.

The embassy was wrong. That was in early 2001. In 2002, Morales ran for president, on a socialist ticket. He vowed, if elected, to end Bolivia’s participation in the U.S. war on drugs, and to end, moreover, Bolivia’s participation in the failed neoliberal experiment. All the industries and utilities that had been privatized? They would be renationalized. To the horror of the local authorities, not to mention the Americans, Morales began to rise in the polls. His radical ideas clearly appealed to a fair number of people. As election day neared, the embassy seemed to panic. Ambassador Manuel Rocha announced that if Morales won the election, the U.S. would have to consider cutting off aid to Bolivia. This threat was taken ill, apparently, by Bolivian voters. Support for Morales surged, and on election day he finished second, behind Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Since no candidate had received a majority of votes, there was a runoff between the top two finishers. Fortunately for Goni, as Sanchez de Lozada is known, the voters in the runoff were not the Indian majority of Bolivians, in which case Morales would probably have won. They were, instead, the Bolivian parliament, whose members overwhelmingly favored the wealthy, well-educated, white man, Goni.

-- Sadie
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