Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Evo Morales and His Coca Vision



The Coca-Cola Company must not be happy about this: a new soft drink is hoping to someday make its way into the American market, and what’s worse, it basically has the same name, except for an extra “l.” Bolivian President Evo Morales has been talking about the drink for years, and this month, his vision was finally materialized under the name “Coca Colla” printed on a red label.

The choice for the name is no accident. Coca leaves are the main ingredient, and colla (or kolla, in both the Quechua and Aymara languages) are the people of the Andean highlands where coca has been chewed for centuries. Once upon a time, Coca-Cola’s recipe called for five ounces of coca leaves per gallon of syrup. But these days, coca is more often identified with being the main ingredient of the drug, cocaine.

As a former coca grower and union leader, Morales has repeatedly tried to put an end to coca’s negative association. “We’re for the coca leaf, but against cocaine,” said Morales at a UN summit on drugs last year. “The coca leaf should no longer be vilified and criminalized.” Coca has been consumed in raw form in the Andes for as long as people have inhabited the region. It is considered a sacred plant that is believed to cure altitude sickness, hunger and dizziness, and its use and importance in Bolivian traditions goes beyond what most outsiders see. Coca is legal only within Bolivian territory.

For the past three years, Morales’ government has prided itself in what it calls a Coca Sí, Cocaina No program, and one of the ways in which it has tried to de-vilify the plant is by championing its alternative uses. The production of Coca Colla, or coca flour, candies or liquor fit perfectly into this scheme.

It’s still too early to tell whether the new bubbly drink would pose a serious competition to Coca-Cola in Bolivia, a country of almost 10 million people. And even if it does conquer the Bolivian market, there is still no chance it can be imported and sold in the United States under current U.S. or international law. And of course, to ultimately be competitive, the next step would have to be a Diet Coca Colla.

*Ruxandra Guidi is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org based in San Francisco, California. She is Communications Director for the San Francisco-based non-profit Amazon Watch, and one half of the collaboration group, Fonografia Collective.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ruxandra Guidi is an independent journalist and multimedia producer with Fonografia Collective (http://fonografiacollective.com) based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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