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November 2005
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Interesting developments in Bolivia

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Mr. [Evo] Morales, a onetime leader of the coca growers federation, has steadily become revered by the left around Latin America as an unbending opponent of globalization. That is worrisome enough to the Bush administration. But more alarming to American officials is that a man who promotes coca farming — an industry central to cocaine production — may soon lead this Andean nation.

Rising in part on his pledge to legalize coca, Mr. Morales has become the top presidential candidate in Bolivia, and he now leads his closest adversary, Jorge Quiroga, an American-educated former president, by 33 to 27 percent, according to a poll conducted earlier this month.

Mr. Morales’s ascent now, at a time when President Bush holds the lowest standing of any United States leader ever in Latin America, has intensified a clash of cultures with Washington that shows some of its deepest strains here.

Morales has made it clear that he wouldn’t side with the drug warriors.

Though the Bolivian government has made growing coca largely illegal, the bright green leaves are taken for granted as part of Andean culture.

They are still bought and sold legally across Bolivia for chewing or making tea, with people young and old never giving it a second thought. Indeed, coca tea is sold in supermarkets and it is consumed across the Andes, even in elegant hotels and offices.

While acknowledging that cocaine trafficking is a problem, Mr. Morales and the coca growers contend that most coca in the Chapare goes for traditional uses. Mr. Morales says that as president he would allow the “industrial” use of coca, to make everything from toothpaste to pharmaceuticals to soft drinks to be exported as far away as China and Europe.

“Coca and coca tea can be industrialized to circulate internationally,” Mr. Morales said during an interview en route to a meeting with coca farmers. “How can we not legalize, since we are not hurting anybody?”

I wonder who the U.S. will send to “monitor” the elections?

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