Coca and society in Chapare

Photographs by Jorge Uzón

*Bolivia’s new President, Evo Morales, learned his politics during his years as the leader of the coca growers from the tropical Chapare region of the country.* The 1990s witnessed constant clashes as the Bolivian Government, pressured by the US, tried to eradicate Chapare’s coca plantations by force. Many of the Quechua peasants who live here come from militant tin-mining families and migrated from the Bolivian highlands when their jobs disappeared in the 1950s. Their political passion and sophistication has made them a bastion of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) that brought Morales to power. Latin America’s first indigenous president has already nationalized Bolivia’s significant hydrocarbon reserves, held elections for an assembly that will rewrite Bolivia’s Constitution and implemented a national literacy campaign. He has been in power for less than a year.

Literacy classes at the Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz school in Santa Elena. The ‘I can do it!’ literacy campaign, launched by the Bolivian Government with Cuban assistance, and modelled on similar campaigns in Venezuela, began in March 2006. It aims to end illiteracy in Bolivia within 30 months.

Coca growers listen to a speech by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez during a political rally in Shinahota. The event, in which Evo Morales also participated, was organized by his Party, MAS, to launch the campaign of its candidates to the assembly that will rewrite Bolivia’s Constitution.

Evo Morales listens to a speech by Rafael Bausá, Cuban Ambassador to Bolivia, at the Saint Francis of Assisi Hospital in Villa Tunari, the capital of Chapare province.

A girl’s drawing illustrating the nationalization of Bolivia’s hydrocarbon reserves with an image of President Evo Morales hangs beside other such drawings at the Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz school.

Community leader Jorge Mercado harvests coca leaf on his land in Eterezama. The Morales Government recently granted coca growers permission to cultivate one cato (1,600 square metres) each of coca, as part of a policy of allowing those who grow coca leaf to regulate their own production.

Three girls accused of stealing clothes await trial under the rules of ‘community justice’ in the town of Villa 14 de Septiembre. ‘Community justice’ is the name given to indigenous customary law. Among the proposals for the new Bolivian Constitution is that of giving community justice equal authority to that of national laws.

New Internationalist issue 394 magazine cover This article is from the October 2006 issue of New Internationalist.
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