Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bolivia - The Real Thing

The Real Thing: Coca, Democracy and Rebellion in Bolivia

The Real Thing exposes the disturbing truth about the "Drug War", and the impact it has on the indigenous peoples of Bolivia. It peels away the layers of rhetoric, revealing a war between two worlds, one global and "modern", the other local and indigenous. Check out session times in Auckland and Christchurch and other human rights films at

The Real Thing: Bolivia gives us an insight of the nature of our global economic system...a country richly endowed in natural resources, silver, tin...cocaine, and still it remains the poorest country in South America.

It only touches lightly on the incredible solidarity links uniting rural indigenous communities. Since the closure of the tin mines, these have been forged by the work of radio stations throughout the country, and the ability of protesters to close down the country by lifting cobble stones and bricks on the major roads.

US presence has much to do with this since the Second World War. The US through the CIA arranged for Nazi Klaus Barbie, responsible for executing thousands in France, to be sent to Bolivia in 1956, and he remained as an operative of the CIA until his extradition to France in 1985.

He seemed to perform the role of Security Minister with aplomb, using "bride grooms of death" to remove key left figures. When elections first came in 1979, he organised the military coup. (Garcia Meza). The first act of the new "left" Government in 1985 was to kidnap Barbie, but he was never tried for his crimes in Bolivia.

The US increased its military presence under the new democracy using the cocaine issue as a cover, with a force called "Operation Blast Furnace". I found strong evidence that the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), actually shipped out cocaine to the US as part of the "Contragate" operation exchanging drugs for arms for the Nicaragua counter forces (destabilising the left wing Sandinista Government). To this day, the amount of cocaine available in the US has remained unchanged, and shows that the "War on Drugs" was a farce. We now of course, have the "War on Terrorism".

Neo-liberal reforms were enacted in Bolivia also in 1985 and decimated the economy. Bechtel attempted to take control of water and sell it back to the people. More recently, back hand deals were made to sell Bolivian gas cheaply to the US.

Bolivians have not been sitting idely by, and finally this year, the mass indilgenous movement was strong enough to elect indigenous Evo Morales as President. This last week has seen Evo emboldened to nationalise the natural gas industry(and extend control over mining and forestry) a truly momentous event.

by Paul Bruce

Here are a few links that provide information on issues raised by the film.

On the possibility of the legalisation of certain coca products (particularly in the context of NZ):

Regarding the present classification there is a paliamentary research paper on the subject. There would surely be a reasonable case for sale of imported coca tea that the raw coca leaf is not in fact used illicitly in NZ.

A solid legalisation case is presented in the Oomen Paper (2003).

In terms of health benefits of coca consumption:

Narco News story Coca alimento medicamento y ritual en Bolivia dated 7 August 2004 notes "A pesar que ya en el año 1998, la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) difundió un documento sobre la hoja de coca como un agente anestésico, analgésico, astringente, carminativo, depurativo, digestivo, diurético y estimulante y a este se les suma otros informes positivos a cerca de sus propiedades..."

A fairly extensive report on the nutrition value of coca leaves is available in Chapter Two of Jorge Hurtado Gumucio's:
Coca the Legend, About Coca Leaves and Cocaine

There was a question raised during the discussion after the film about MAS' share of seats in the Bolivian houses of parliament:

USAID notes in its March Field Report: "MAS party candidates won 85 out of 157 seats in the Senate and House of Deputies, and MAS lawmakers were named as presidents of the respective legislative bodies."

The breakdown is given by International Viewpoint:
"...Evo Morales's party has an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies, with 72 out of the 130 seats (43 for PODEMOS, 8 for the UN and 7 for the MNR), [24 ] it remains in a minority in the Senate with 12 seats (13 for PODEMOS, one each for the UN and the MNR)..."

The significance of this situation is that:
"It will have to negotiate to have its proposals for legislation approved in the Senate and sessions of Congress (which bring together deputies and senators)...(furthermore) the approval of certain laws that are called "special", such as the law convoking the Constituent Assembly, needs a two-thirds majority, which is 105 out of a total of 157, whereas the MAS only has 84)."

by Elliott O'Brien

Feel free to comment on this post suggesting other useful issues or info related to the film.


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