The International Writers Magazine: Bolivia
COCA MUNCHING PRESIDENT
my honeymoon in La Paz, Bolivia; the forgotten and poorest country
in South America. No sooner had I placed the ring on my fiancées
finger and the Catholic priest blessed us with a sort of go
forth and multiply finishing sermon, that I received a telegram
(the Morse code was still in style) from London HQ telling me
to pack my bags and head for the Altiplano.
After a smooth flight
from Santiago, Chile to Arica followed by a bumpy one in an old 1946
DC3, my wife and I arrived at the Bolivian capitals airport, 12000
feet above sea level. The medical authorities had warned us not to over
exercise for the first couple of days in order to acclimatise our bodies
to the rarefied atmosphere. Big deal! Nine months later, our first daughter
was born in one of the local clinics. To this day, she is still proud
of her Bolivian nationality! We eventually lived there for just under
Bolivia was, and I imagine still is a fascinating country. It is the
fifth largest in South America, very rich in minerals including oil
and gas and yet heavily divided both physically and politically. It
has a range of mountains between it and the sea and is itself sundered
by another range locking its high arid Altiplano from the fertile yet
undeveloped eastern semi-tropical lowland. The majority of the population
is made up of Aymara Indians who hardly speak Spanish whilst the wealthy
minority that have controlled both the government and the economy for
years are descendants of the few straggling Spaniards who ventured away
from El Dorado back in the XVII century.
Bolivia is also one of the worlds largest coca growers, the raw
material for cocaine.
I remember one day, when I returned from work I found my wife shivering
at the entrance hall clutching our newly born in her arms and pointing
in the direction of the huge kitchen of our apartment. What the
hells the matter? I asked sheepishly. There all in
there; sitting on the floor; munching away and spitting all over the
place. I ran through the hall and into the kitchen. Sure enough;
our local maid and another three women were sitting crossed
legged in the middle of the room. A huge shawl full of green leaves
was sprawled out in front of them. Each in turn, in a sort of ritual,
would pick up a few and after a couple of chews, would spit out the
frothy remainder on to the floor beside them. This went on for about
an hour until the guests bid farewell and our employee
would get on with her chores.
Hence was our introduction to the centuries old custom of coca-leaf
chewing by the Aymara Indians; a social gathering event no different
to the Anglo-Saxon tea or coffee drinking sessions taken during our
own leisure breaks. In those days, the Bolivian coca farms were part
of the local agricultural landscape. It wasnt until international
heavy drug trafficking came on the scene, decades later, that Bolivia
joined the most wanted list of suppliers and hence part
of the US campaign against drugs. The coca growers were in for a rough
Reverting back to the economy, it is worth mentioning that Bolivia was
at one time one of the worlds largest tin producers. That is,
until the early 1980s when the tin market collapsed. Despite reforms,
tax changes and other modern political niceties to try to control the
economy, Bolivia fell back into yet another period of social unrest.
In the meantime, multinational oil companies began to exploit the countrys
rich oil and specially its gas reserves. The rich got richer and the
poor got poorer. All this was going on whilst the USA was cracking down
on the Latin American drugs trade. The majority of the Aymara population
was being hit from all sides. That is, until around four years ago,
when a young ex-llama herder turned coca grower called Evo Morales entered
In 2002 he led the MAS (Movement towards Socialism) party and presented
himself as candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections. His
electoral pledge was simple. He would nationalise the gas industry and
legalise the coca growing. Dynamite for the Bush administration! Thanks
to blundering statements made by the US Ambassador such as threatening
aid sanctions should his party win, Morales popularity rose
and he reached an astonishing second place. Trouble is that from then
on he created havoc in the country arousing populist sentiment, causing
street demonstrations and other economic paralyzing events.
Over the next three years however, his popularity grew out of all proportions.
On the 19th of December 2005, Evo Morales won the Bolivian presidential
elections and became the first ever Aymara Indian to head the government.
Although this time Washington kept silent, the damage had been done.
So what does the geo-political structure of Latin America look like
now with a new left-wing Marxist leaning president? Chavez
of Venezuela and Kichner of Argentina have both publicly condemned the
USs imperialistic approach to Latin Americas problems. Lula
in Brazil, as I stated in another report, sits on the fence. But Evo
Morales has gone one step further. He has publicly called George Bush
a terrorist for illegally invading Iraq and
that his country will join the anti-imperialistic
movement already started by Cuba and Venezuela. On the economic front,
he has set the ball rolling by promising to nationalise the oil and
gas industry and, true to pre-election promises, he intends to legalise
the coca growing industry.
So what are you going to do about it George?
This new Bolivian president has called me Condescendence!
said Condy Rice, who does he think he is? George chuckled,
doesnt matter. The worst part is that hes gone to
see Castro and next stop Spain to meet up with Zapatero, that European
left wing pain in the butt. I dont like it! But what
can we do, sir? Nothing, Condy; theres nothing we
can do without starting the whole 1970s mess all over again. I
dont want a new dirty war down south. But
Sir, hes insulted us! Shucks woman, who cares. Weve
already got plenty from the Europeans and the Arabs, so whats
a bit more garbage thrown at us from our Southern neighbours.
George finally burst out laughing, let the oil companies and the
drug enforcement guys do our dirty work.
So there we have it. A new era of extreme left wing socialism has crept
into the Latin American continent, yet again. First step is the take
over of power followed by rabble rousing and anti-American rhetoric.
Next are the nationalisation programs that include expropriation of
land and natural reserves followed by cancellation of private multinational
contracts (read the big oil companies). Finally it will be the handing
over of the country to the people. By this time Wall St.
has got its act together and sent in the 7th Cavalry. Enter the CIA.
The whole shebang starts all over again.
It is rather ironic that the original trouble maker in the last century,
Che Guevara was caught and killed in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
way back in 1967. His legacy lasted for thirty years and caused terrorist
and counter-terrorist mayhem from Mexico down to Tierra del Fuego. It
finally came to an end with the condemnation and trials of various military
governors such as Pinochet of Chile and Videla of Argentina. Yet Castro
lives on and although his child prodigies have passed away,
it appears that his grandchildren offshoots are resurrecting
the dead to have another go at changing Latin Americas social
© James Skinner. January 4th 2006.
James Skinner on Venezuelan politics
James Skinner from analog to digiblog
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