Bolivian Government Presents Coca Colla

In an obvious play on words, Bolivian coca growers have taken it upon themselves to make war against the world’s most popular drink. Thus, the Vice Minister of Coca, Jerónimo Meneses presented “Coca Colla” yesterday, a new energy drink that will be produced from the “sacred” Andean leaf grown in the Chapare coca region.

There, where Evo Morales began his career as a union leader and politician over two decades ago, is where you’ll find most of the coca which Law 1008 (currently still valid and approved in the 1980’s) considers illegal.

The coca growers started this initiative and, as if any more coincidences with the drink created in 1885 by John Pemberton were necessary, the new “Coca Colla” bottle will have a red logo and will contain a dark, almost black liquid.

Although Coca Cola affirms that it took the coca leaf out of its formula in 1929, claims abound on the internet that “Coca Cola continues to purchase coca from Peru”, a conspiracy theory Evo Morales supports with enthusiasm.

Although Minister Meneses has already presented the bottle, authorities admitted the name might be changed. “Initially this is a private initiative to produce a coca energy drink but we’re looking at how to promote it because it interests us, as the Government, to industrialize coca,” said the Vice Minister of Rural Development, Víctor Hugo Vázquez. He pointed out the various existing private initiatives in Bolivia that already produce “mate”, syrups, toothpaste, liquors, candies, and even cakes from coca. In fact, on Italian restaurant in La Paz offers coca spaghetti, a mix of wheat flour and flour made from the “millenarian leaf”.

The amount of coca consumed legally is part of the controversy. An Integral Study of the Coca Leaf and a national survey on the legal use and consumption of this product that began in 2009, with support from the European Union, seek more data on this. Not all coca growers – a group of rural elite – support the increasing the allowable surface for coca crops. Those who are producing legally don’t want an increase in land dedicated to coca crops to cause prices to drop.

With the new Congress in its favor, the government has proposed increasing the legal amount of land for cultivating coca to 20,000 hectares, in order to include the producers of Chapare, Morales’ social base, in legal cultivation of this crop.

Prior to the Spanish Conquest, coca was already a part of Andean rituals and in Colonial times became a part of the mining economy: the “akulliku” (or chewing) allowed workers to remain awake in the dangerous mine tunnels tens of meters under the earth and even protests by the Church against this “diabolical leaf” were not enough to ensure its prohibition.

Currently, although the law only allows a maximum of 12,000 hectares for coca cultivation in order to satisfy legal consumer demand, according to a recent report by the United Nations Office Against Drugs and Crime there are already 30,000 hectares planted. There is also intense contraband toward Northern Argentina where coca is chewed but cannot be grown or imported legally.

The Argentinean Ambassador in La Paz, Horarico Macedo, is a habitual follower of this consumption which is characteristic of the Andes.

“Under this government the cultivated surface increased by 20%, but as this increase took place in the most productive zones, cocaine production also increased by 50% between 2005 and 2008. In the Chapare, 95% of the coca grown is destined to unauthorized markets, meaning drug trafficking,” stated the former Vice Minister of Social Defense (anti-narcotics) Ernesto Justiniano.

During the past few years the number of Colombians who operate in Bolivia with advanced technology, including mobile cocaine factories has also increased.

But the government responds that it has confiscated record amounts of cocaine and that there have been no deaths caused by confrontations between growers and military personnel in the coca zones.

This is a translation of this article in Spanish.

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