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August 7th, 2003
Coca and the Congressman

About the Film

The rise of new leftist leaders in South America has been swift and surprising. From Venezuela’s Chavez to Brazil’s Lula, from Argentina’s Kirchner to Peru’s Toledo, the swelling ranks of left-leaning governments have provoked fears among some conservatives. If the proverbial dominos are on the table — will Bolivia be the next to tip over? In recent years the country has been roiled by competing political forces, with the indigenous coca grower’s union (the “cocaleros”) becoming an unexpected powerhouse. Their hero is ex-Congressman Evo Morales, a former coca farmer from indigenous peasant roots, who rose up last year to defend the coca growers against the Bolivian military’s crop eradication program. Today Latin America’s highest-profile indigenous leader, Morales fell just 45,000 votes shy of the presidency in the country’s June 2002 election. This summer, as the standoff between the cocaleros and the government escalates, Wide Angle travels with Morales to the stunning highlands of Bolivia as he fights to expand the amount of coca that can be legally grown by farmers. The pitfalls of a drug-based economy — and the difficulty of finding suitable replacement crops to support peasant families — are all part of the story. We will profile powerful indigenous politicians working with Morales, a poor cocalero family whose survival is dependent on coca growing, a wealthy entrepreneur who is starting a chain of supermarkets, and a coca-eradication commander on a slash and burn mission. Cocaleros illuminates the shifting balance of power that’s underway in Bolivia — and spreading across Latin America.

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