April 18, 2006
OP ED: “Coca not Cocaine”
Coca is at its highest market value in history—even with a small plot farmers can make about $60 a month per family. Mr. Felix Muruchi and his fellow Aymara Andean indigenous people are fighting a social battle against multinational corporations, the United States and international law that prohibit the export of coca, not cocaine, a traditional crop which generates sustainable income for some of the world’s poorest farmers.
Social movements in Bolivia are well developed and have deep roots in the indigenous community. Mr. Felix Muruchi has been an activist in Bolivia for over 30 years. His struggle has been a long hard-fought battle that has helped the Aymara people elect one of their leaders, Evo Morales, as president of Bolivia.
Evo Morales, a coca growing farmer from the Chapare region, was elected with 54 percent of the vote in December 2005. His constituency draws heavily on the “cocaleros,” traditional Andean farmers of the coca plant. Coca has several properties that can be used for a range of products. Coca however, is not cocaine. This is the message Morales, Muruchi and the traditional farmers are trying to convey to the rest of the world. Coca does contain the alkaloid needed to make cocaine, but also includes potent medicinal values as well. Coca has been used in Andean healing for centuries. Some other traditional uses include chewing coca to sustain harsh conditions in mines and relieving fatigue and hunger in high altitudes.
The movement, as mentioned by Muruchi, consists of three major groups: FREJUEVE, COR and UEPA. All three organizations have their base in El Alto, an impoverished city above La Paz. They are connected with Aymara speaking university for indigenous rights in Bolivia. El Alto has grown to over 600,000 inhabitants and in 2010 will be bigger than La Paz. Most houses are collectives of shanty towns and do not posses simple things like gas to cook with, a major grievance of the indigenous community.
The United State’s anti-narcotic policies have targeted the supply side of the “war on drugs” focusing heavily on crop eradication. Coca has a rich heritage of indigenous cultivation that exists today and most farmers resent the fact that other governments are forcing them to eradicate a traditional crop. However, unlike Colombia with its high rates of cancer and organ defects, aerial crop eradication using chemicals is prohibited in Bolivia. Often times the military employs the farmers to uproot the coca themselves.
Putting coca for sale on international markets will considerably boost Bolivia’s economy. Coca is not legal for export for traditional products made with the leaf. However, multi-national American corporate giant Coca-Cola is allowed to import a large supply of coca leaves annually which is used for flavoring. It is an unfair hypocrisy for the struggling farmer making two dollars to feel economic oppression, but for a multinational company to expand profits worldwide.
Mr. Muruchi and the indigenous movement have valid arguments in their constant struggle. Why should multinational companies be able to come in, exploit indigenous land, use their labor and keep all the profits without regard for the native people? The US needs to listen to the grievances and cultural values of the people affected by its foreign policy. At least now the Bolivians have a president who advocates for the rights of his people and will try to prove to the world that coca is a versatile plant that can benefit the rest of the world as well as the people that farm it.
Panel: Mr. Felix Muruchi Poma: “Urban Social Movements in Bolivia”
April 14, 2006, Elliot School Series on Andean Social Movements.
Healy, Kevin. Journal of International Studies and World Affairs. “Political Ascent of Bolivia’s Coca Leaf Producer”
Sanabria, Harry “The Discourse and Practice of Repression and Resistance in the Chapare” 170-190.
Spedding, Alison. Coca and Cocaine in Bolivia: Reality and Policy Illusion. “The Coca Field as a Total Social Fact” 47-71.
Articles found on Blackboard, posted by Professor Kevin Healy.