Bad news for cokeheads everywhere: despite Evo Morales’s mid-December election as president, the chances of Bolivia becoming for cocaine users what Amsterdam is for pot smokers are slim at best.
Yes, Morales made his name as a leader of Bolivia’s coca farmers. Yes, the crop those farmers cultivate provides the raw material for the drug known, variously, as “blow,” “snort,” “wacky dust,” “California cornflakes,” “Aunt Nora,” and yayo. Yes, in 2004, the United States spent approximately $150 million on coca eradication in Bolivia. And, yes, Morales takes obvious delight in messing with the Bush administration. (On the campaign trail, Morales promised to be a “nightmare” to the US government; since his election, he’s cozied up to fellow Latino leftists Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez.)
But Morales, the first Aymara Indian to win Bolivia’s presidency, seems disinclined to turn his country into a full-fledged narco-state. Chalk it up to an appreciation of indigenous customs, or a genuine desire — his impish tendencies notwithstanding — to be taken seriously as a politician. But Morales insists he’s interested only in expanding the legal cultivation of coca, which for millennia has been prized in traditional Andean cultures as a kind of staple-food-cum-wonder-drug. (In addition to the cocaine alkaloid, coca is rich in proteins and vitamins; back in the day, some Indian tribes measured distances in cocada, the number of mouthfuls of coca that could be chewed while traversing a certain distance.) “Yes to coca, no to cocaine,” Morales likes to say.
This embrace of coca, however, has a distinctly entrepreneurial tinge: Morales has suggested that a coca-based export industry — featuring coca-based tea, coca-based soda, even coca-based toothpaste — may take shape under his presidency. It’s not quite the same as visiting Aunt Nora, but still. And even if these products don’t materialize anytime soon, count on this: Morales will do his utmost — along with Cuba’s Castro, Venezuela’s Chávez, and Argentina’s Néstor Kirchner — to push Latin America to the political left, and to generally make life difficult for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their compadres.