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Coca Leaf and Sindicato Democracy in the Bolivian Yungas

The Andeanization of Western Political Models

and the Rise of the New Left

Caroline Sommer Conzelman

Coca leaf with wiphala, stained glass window at the legal coca market in La Paz.
( Caroline Conzelman 2004.)

A dissertation
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
Doctor of Philosophy
in the
Department of Anthropology
University of Colorado at Boulder


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This thesis entitled:

Coca Leaf and Sindicato Democracy in the Bolivian Yungas:
The Andeanization of Western Political Models
and the Rise of the New Left

written by Caroline Sommer Conzelman
has been approved for the Department of Anthropology
at the University of Colorado at Boulder.


J. Terrence McCabe


James R. McGoodwin


Carole M. McGranahan


Robert J. Ferry


Kevin J. Healy


The final copy of this thesis has been examined by the signatories, and we
find that both the content and the form meet acceptable presentation standards
of scholarly work in the above mentioned discipline.

HRC protocol # 0503.10



In 1953, Bolivias indigenous peasantry carried out one of Latin Americas most
successful agrarian reforms, in which the Spanish feudal system was abolished. In place of the
hacienda estates in the highland Yungas region were established rural Aymara communities
with a novel form of political economic organization: European syndicalism. Over the next 50
years, this system originally designed for Western labor unions was adapted to meet the
exigencies of semi-subsistence livelihoods and turned into functioning structures for rural
community government, called sindicatos. As these communal systems lay outside the formal
state structure, the rise of sindicalismo also represented the formation of civil society in the
Yungas after four centuries of colonialism and elite republicanism.

Coca leaf has been cultivated for a millennium in the Yungas, which is now the
primary legal zone to supply Bolivias domestic markets for medicinal, nutritional, and
ceremonial uses of the leaf. Coca has also been targeted for eradication in the U.S. war on
drugs, sparking fierce resistance by the sindicatos to defend the economic mainstay of
Yungas campesinos. The symbolic force of the sacred leaf combined with cultural memories
of historical Aymara revolutionary heroes have helped to organize the Yungas sindicatos into
one of the countrys most influential social movements.

This dissertation argues that the methods of sindicato resistance are gleaned from
long traditions of democratic governance, drawing on both labor union syndicalism and the
ancient Aymara ayllu system. Coca leaf has provided an especially potent impetus for
campesino advocacy in the Yungas, placing the sindicatos at the center of civil society efforts
to counterbalance the power of the state and international interests. Bolivias neoliberal
political reforms via the Law of Popular Participation of 1994 and the Law of Citizen Groups
and Indigenous Peoples of 2004 expanded the range of options for civil society participation
in local and national government. These structural changes enhanced the ability of the
sindicatos to defend the coca economy and promote new policies for the leaf through
democratic political engagement.

Anthropology has only recently become devoted to the ethnographic analysis of
democracy, which has deepened the study of the diverse methods, discourses, and structural
potentials for democratic organization across historical cultural contexts. This dissertation
contributes to this emerging practice by showing not only how Yungas sindicalismo is a viable
form of community democracy, but also how its role as a principal civil society actor is
helping to strengthen (and hybridize) Bolivias precarious democratic traditions at the
municipal and national levels. With the election of Evo Morales to the presidency in
December 2005, it is also clear that agrarian sindicalismo has directly contributed to the rise
of the new Left in Bolivia.



This dissertation is dedicated to my remarkable grandmother


who served throughout her life as an example of how
to pursue, always with an open mind and heart,
adventure, understanding, and love.

This dissertation represents the culmination of ten years of study, research, teaching,
and writing. More accurately, it represents ten years of intense, hilarious, challenging, and
fruitful collaboration with a wide variety of people mostly in Colorado, Washington, and
Bolivia. I am grateful first and foremost to the people of the Coroico municipality for
accepting me as part of their communities and showing and teaching me so much. I simply
feel blessed for all of the experiences I had. Whether it was chatting by the cutting board in
the pollo shop, walking along a country road, telling stories while picking coca, hitching a ride
in the back of a pick-up truck, drinking warm ponche on the plaza during a festival, or
attending a long meeting in the civic center, I treasured sharing these times with the people I
met there. I want to thank the students, teachers, volunteers, and Sister Mary Damon Nolan
at the Unidad Acadmica Campesina in Carmen Pampa, especially the four fabulous thesis
students who worked with me on the community leader interviews: Freddy Mamani, Marlene
Quisbert, Carmen Pardo, and Mario Cama, plus Policarpio Apaza.
Of course, there are far too many people to name who were important parts of my life
and work in Coroico, but I will attempt a partial list of gratitudes: to Tata Jos, for your
wisdom and kindness; to Federico, for your excellent friendship and for being such a
visionary community organizer; to Sofia, for your incredible spirit and warmth; to Sabino, for
showing me what a committed and passionate leader looks like; to Modesta and Gladiz, for
inviting me to pick coca for the first time; to Don Carlos, for sharing that beer with me; to
Geidi, for your friendship and laughter; to Hans, for the casita and the potluck dinners; to
Marlene, Freddy, Clementina and Bruno, for bringing me into your family; to Doa Celestina,

for your delectable chocolate; to Detlev, for all the #5 breakfasts and for taking Gandalf; to
Vicki, Ofelia, Yola, Vicki, and Yolanda for many afternoons of laughs in your shops; to
Elizabet and Mario, for showing me how a couple can collaborate in school, family, and work;
to Ren, for our great conversations; to Cecilio, for taking such good care of little Eva; to Profe
Soliz (QEPD), for your dedication to las raices and your students; to Santiago and Mama
Nely, and to Don Rodriguez (QEPD) and Doa Lili (QEPD), for all those chats on the stoop; to
Hugo, for the amazing goulash; to Alvaro (QEPD) and Pati, for your great stories; to Don
Pepe, for letting me sit in on all those Estudiantina practices and for playing at my despedida;
to Doa Fidela, for bringing me into your home; to Profe Abdn, for your unflagging devotion
to your work and your philosophy; to Franz, for the good discussions; to Nelson, for your
excellent journalism at Radio Uchumachi; to Waldo, Juan, Carlos, Ral, and Lucio at
CENCOOP; to Carlos, Pati, Mario, Jhonny, Ral, Gonzalo, and Marcelo at Caritas; to Marcelo
and Miguel at MAPA; to Oscar, Rodolfo, Jorge, Ascencio, Jos Luis, Don Enrique, Ronilda,
Gumercindo, Leticia, Santiago, Joaquin, Constantino, Olga, Miguel, Patricio, Katia, Ramiro,
Lucho, Victor, Don Eustaquio, Manuel, Julio, Rolando, Jimmy, Elvira, and Don Jacinto in the
alcalda, for good work, fun, and karaoke; and most of all, to mis ahijados Amanda, Lucas
and Jasmin, Mariola and Ximena, and Edwin, and to my wonderful compadres and
comadres Juana and Amado, Federico, Sofia and Mario, and Gonzalo.
In La Paz, I enjoyed the friendship and mentorship of many outstanding individuals:
to Jorge Schmidt, for driving me to Coroico for the first time and later for taking me down on
a mountain bike; to Juan Angola Maconde, for all the excellent walks and talks; to Juan
Claudio Lechn, for the bottomless philosophy over bottomless cafecitos; to Ramiro Blacut,
for your friendship; to Alison Spedding, for inviting me to your chacra; to Ron Davis, for the
good stories and good laughs; to Juan Carlos Gamarra, for all the conversations; to Sergio
Rivas, for your wise insights; to Gabriel Carranza, for your inspiration as a dedicated leader;
to Jorge Medina, for your indomitable spirit; to Felix Patzi Paco, for the good discussions; to
Diego Ballivian, for your guidance; to Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, for including me in the coca
fair; to George Gray Molina, for your energetic devotion to your work; to Gonzalo Rojas
Ortuste, for the excellent pasta and conversations; to Denise Arnold, for the encouragement;

to Jos Saenz Chahar and Felipe Kittelson, for your insights into municipal politics; to the
impassioned and hard-working directorio at ADEPCOCA; to the Latin jazz musicians at
Thelonius; and to the wonderful staff of Hostal ngelo Colonial, especially Rita and Freddy.
In Cochabamba, I was fortunate to learn from people who are doing important work
in nonprofits, research organizations, and universities: to Jim Shultz, for your ongoing
mentorship and creative work; to Kathryn Ledebur, for being such a badass writer and
mother; to Bruce Brower, for all your support and wisdom; to Fernando Mayorga, for sharing
with me many crucial insights; to GeorgeAnn Potter, for the great conversations; to Maria
Lohman, for your amazing work with CEDIB; to Carolina Scarborough, for those great dinner
parties; to everyone at the Maryknoll Instituto de Idiomas, especially Padre Stephen Judd and
my Aymara teachers Alejandro, Osvaldo and Oscar; to the helpful people at CERES, especially
Rosario Len; and last but definitely not least, to Jos and Chuck for countless rounds of
three-man tennis and cocktails on the balcony.
My advisor Terry McCabe has always offered wise insights and practical advice; I
hope I can continue to honor your great mentorship. I thank my committee members at the
University of Colorado Russ McGoodwin, Carole McGranahan, and Bob Ferry for helping me
see this project through. Kevin Healy, who also served on my committee, is a constant source
of inspiration; he challenged me to deepen my scholarship through our dynamic exchange of
ideas. I have benefited greatly from the insights of many scholars stateside, Bolivian and
otherwise, who have guided me through key moments of my work, especially Nick Robins,
Eduardo Gamarra, June Nash, Bud Philbrook, Claudio Ferrufino, Dan Buck, Jeremy
Bigwood, John Brett, Ben Kohl, Jaime Aparicio, Wade Davis, Xavier Alb, Marc Edelman, Ivo
Kraljevi, Jorge Muoz, Hugo Villarroel, and Grace Goodell. I want to give special recognition
to the brilliant researchers and organizers at WOLA and the Bolivian Studies Association who
have given me the opportunity to share ideas on Bolivia. I want to thank my excellent mentors
at CU Laura Border, Jack Powelson, Tony Bebbington, Donna Goldstein, Dennis McGilvray,
Paul Shankman, Carla Jones, Payson Sheets, Gary Gaile, and Rachel Silvey. Thanks also to
Valerie McBride, Karen Larson, and Lesa Morris in our department for all your support.
I would not have survived this experience much less enjoyed it so thoroughly without

the camaraderie and collaboration with fellow grad students Alicia Davis, Laura Deluca,
Susan Erikson, Ian Feinhandler, Krista Fish, Paulette Foss, Shannon Gray, David Hoffman,
Brian Klocke, Ursula Lauper, Ann May, Joanna Mishtal, Sebastian Pardo, Tom Perreault,
Colleen Scanlan Lyons, Jim Schechter, Brad Spangler, Angela Thieman-Dino, Jill Wightman,
and Sarah Wilson. In addition, I have a fantastic cadre of friends, local and not-so-local,
whose love and support have been unflagging through times both difficult and merry: Shari
Bloom, Charlie Carrington, Cathy Cooper, Gray Douglas, Brook Eddy, Jenny Evans, Megan
Friday, Linda Gardner, Ali Larkin, Michele Leonard, Jim Nelson, Robin Rathbun (QEPD),
Julie Skipton, Jen Squires, and Brian Tremblay. Special thanks to Sergio Ballivian, for all
those initial ideas and contacts; to Joel Edelstein, for teaching me how to conduct an
interview; to David Barsamian, for being such a spectacular example of a radically engaged
citizen; to KGNU, for the outstanding news and music programming that accompanied me
through all my writing; to everyone at the Pub, for being like family to me; and to Lynne and
Joe Horning, for facilitating that first trip to Bolivia back in 1997.
For extraordinary financial support for the various stages of my research, I want to
recognize CUs Department of Anthropology and the Beverly Sears Graduate Student Grant
program for funding two months of preliminary research in Bolivia in 2001; CUs Developing
Areas Research and Teaching (DART) program for funding my predissertation research in
Washington, DC, during the summer of 2002; the NSEP David L. Boren Graduate Student
Grant program for funding my language training in Cochabamba in 2003; and the U.S.
Fulbright Program for funding a year of fieldwork in the Yungas in 2004.
During my fieldwork, my grandmother kept a map of Bolivia with her and would
mark each spot I told her about in my letters and emails; her unconditional love and belief in
me will accompany me always. My brother Jim and his wife Becky lovingly supported me
throughout this long project. My other brother Daniel came to visit me (and fish, raft, hike,
and explore) in Bolivia, a time together that I will always cherish. And though my parents
Martha and Jim at first were alarmed at my studying coca leaf and protest marches in South
America, they always had confidence in me. When they came down with me on my return
visit in 2006, they finally experienced for themselves how extraordinary a place is Bolivia.





COROICO IN 2004... 10
PROJECT SETTING.............................. 15
Preliminary Research.. 20
On Bei ng a U.S. Researcher i n the Yungas..... 21
Ayni: Reciprocity in Aymara Life and Ethnographic Fieldwork............. 24
Field Methods and Process. 27



The Incipient Anthropology of Democracy........... 62
Popular Participation in Bolivia 65


The Ayllu System: A Vertical Archipelago... 79
Yungas Coca before the Conquest.. 81
THE COLONIAL CYCLE................................................................................................ 83
The Exploitation of Potos Silver Mines and Coca Leaf. 85
Aymara Resistance to Spanish Domination............................................. 88
Independence. 91
Land Tenure.. 95
Yungas Infrastructure and Transport 98
The Chaco War and the 1952 Revolution.. 102
Military Tyranny. 109
Strides Toward Democracy and Stability.......... 112

Law of Popular Participation.. 116
Black October and the Gas War. 121
Bolivia in 2004. 123


Coca and Cocai ne: What i s the Di fference?................................... 138
Cochabamba Awakeni ng.. 155


Roles and Responsi bi li ti es of Si ndi cato Leaders. 175
Boli vi as Nati onal Referendum as Anci ent Aymara Tradi ti on 201

POLITICS in 2004 209

Relationship between Yungas Sindicatos and other Campesino
Organizations 217
Coca in the Public Sphere 222
Observati ons of a Gri nga at a Si ndi cato Meeti ng. 225
Emerging Debate: Limit Coca Cultivation to the Yungas or Allow its
Legal Expansion?....................................................................................... 227
Road Blockades in the Name of Coca.. 238
The Apri l 2004 Unduavi Road Blockade 239
Cumbre de la Coca.. 245
Feria de la Coca 247
Agroyungas and Other Failed Efforts to Replace Coca in the Yungas. 253
Tourism vs. Coca in the Yungas.. 255
Coroi co: A Muni ci pali ty for Touri sts or Agri culture?... 260
Los Buenos, los Malos, and los Gringos Campesinos. 263

Municipal Elections December 2004... 269
From Sindicato to Neoliberal Democracy in Coroico. 273





La pica: Romance of the Aymaras
by Augusta Valda Chavarra

... And thus years passed
to give way to centuries,
the Indian was in the mines,
the Indian in sacrifice,
the Indian in the servant class,
and the Indian in the massacres.
The voice of protest was choked
the courageous became timid
and the wild beast chained
went off searching to forget

And time followed its course,
destiny followed its route
and todayeveryone speaks of the glories
but no one speaks of the Indian!
And the Indian goes his way in the pampas
like a lost animal,
like a hope that died,
like a solitary oblivion.

Indian of bronzed skin,
Indian hardened in the struggle
your sun does not shine now
but already its light is showing
your hands working
on a double-edged axe,
and there is your highland flute getting ready
to intone a new hymn!
You must once again return to your greatness,
your destiny says so

Aymara of dark skin!
Aymara of the sunken eyes!
Arise now that it is time
to raise your cry!
Leave your llama and your rustic hut,
take up a pen and a book.
And write the new story
until the amen of centuries!

excerpts of a poem written for and read to visitors and the assembled community
Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, April 1997


View of Yungas valleys and the town of Coroico from the Choro Trail.
( Caroline Conzelman 2004.)


The Indigenous [person is] the protagonist of his own destiny: It is necessary to have put
forth that the liberation of indigenous populations should be accomplished by themselves, or
it is not liberation. When outside forces try to represent them or take leadership of the
liberation struggle, there is created a form of colonialism that expropriates the Indigenous
Populations of the inalienable right to be protagonists of their own struggle.

We affirm the right of the Indians to experiment with their own schemes of self-government,
without these experiments having to adopt and imitate the economic and socio-political
schemes that predominate in a particular moment. The transformation of the national
society is impossible if there is no feeling from the Indian that the creation of his own
destiny is in his hands.

Zenobio Ayala A. and Luis Ticona M., CSUTCB Declaration, La Paz, July 1981

This dissertation is about an idea, a tool, an opportunity, a vision. It is about memory,
relationship, oppression, resistance. It is about plants, meetings, roads, laws. It is about
creativity, struggle, vulnerability, wisdom. In other words, it is about, respectively,
democracy, community, coca leaf, and development. All of these factors coalesce in one rural

area of Bolivia and are representative of the neoleftist political convergence taking place
across Latin America. This dissertation argues that democracy is a cultural phenomenon
whose meaning and practices are modified over time, and that this process can be animated
by an element of deep cultural and economic importance. The process I aim to elucidate is the
adaptation in Bolivia of labor union syndicalism, a Western model of democracy that was
both promoted by the state and adopted by indigenous peasant agriculturalists to meet their
needs for community governance and popular political participation after the fall of Spanish
feudalism. The element that brings this process to life in the Yungas region is coca leaf, the
heart of the regions spiritual traditions and peasant economy. Yungas coca growers are using
their syndicalist system and building on Bolivias more recent neoliberal political reforms to
organize advocacy efforts to regain control of the regional development agenda in the midst of
the U.S. war on drugs. Ultimately, this dissertation explores how Aymara peasants in the
Yungas conceptualize democracy and how they employ a diversity of democratic political
methods to defend the coca economy and culture of their communities.
One could read the quotation above, from a statement issued in 1981 by two members
of Bolivias national peasant union, and believe it was composed only recently, for it
represents precisely the current objectives of rural Yungas indigenous communities. Yungas
agrarian leaders used these frames when advocating for their own vision of development in
the face of the U.S. war on drugs in 2004, and President Evo Moraless inauguration speech
in 2006 contained similar sentiments. In fact, this 1981 declaration expresses the imperatives
that have been carried for centuries by the indigenous people of Bolivia in their struggle for
self-determination in the face of external political and economic domination.
What these national leaders were demanding was the right to create and practice
their own form of democracythough they did not use that wordwith their own set of rules
and responsibilities. Indigenous civil society, lead by the nations coca grower movement and
working through their peasant unions, is in the process of transforming Bolivias political
system in ways that hold the potential, like no other time in the nations history, to fulfill
these peasant leaders vision. Ten years of neoliberal political restructuring, 50 years of
syndicalist organizing, 500 years of socio-economic exclusion, and 5000 years of cultural

practices converge in this effort. What measures of advocacy and resistance are these
syndicalist agrarian unions using? How do these strategies contribute to the democratization
of Bolivia? How effective has the movement been in promoting their own development
agenda for coca leaf? Through 20 months of ethnographic research in 2001, 2002, 2003-04
and 2006 in Bolivia and Washington, DC, I sought answers to these questions by studying
Yungas coca growers and their burgeoning social movement in the midst of the age of
neoliberalism in Latin America.

The Hybridization of the Meaning and Practice of Democracy
The word democracy is one of the most liberally used yet least understood ideas in
our world today. It is the explanation for everything from electoral victory to forcing out a
detested president, from humanitarian foreign aid to militarized intervention. Democracy has
become the cause clbre for conservative governments and leftist social movements alike in
Latin America, which generates no small amount of confusion and debate among citizens,
scholars, leaders, government officials, and foreign diplomats. Part of the issue is that there is
no universal definition of democracy that would satisfy all players, yet most do not attempt to
define exactly what they mean when they use the term. In the United States, we are
accustomed to hearing democracy spoken in the same breath as freedom, liberty, and the
free market. In Latin America, it is more common to hear the word used in conjunction with
sovereignty, justice, and equality.
Some scholars (e.g., Coppedge 2007) identify two forms as procedural democracy and
social democracy (with arguments over which is the real one), while others (e.g., Grandin
2007) point out the ways that global powers manipulate the meaning of democracy for
geopolitical ends. Anthropologist David Nugent, based on his research in Peru, differentiates
between liberal democracy and what he calls the New Politics in Latin America. (Neo)liberal
democracy is promoted by such Western entities as USAID (U.S. Agency for International
Development), the IMF (International Monetary Fund), and the World Bank: Imagined is a
world of autonomous and discrete individuals, exercising the rights of citizenship and
enjoying the rule of law, under the protection of a beneficent but minimalist state. Thus

protected and empowered, these individuals are to be free to pursue their preferences in
virtually all public domains: economic, social, political, religious and cultural (Nugent
1999:1). But Nugent argues that this ideal is seldom realized in Latin America, where the
number of poor people grew by 76 million individuals from the 1970s to 2000 (ODonnell
2001:600). The inability of the current neoliberal order to rectify Latin Americas gross
socioeconomic inequalities has generated disenchantment among popular sectors toward the
elite state apparatus and its normative discourse and institutions of democracy.
Even so, asserts Nugent (1999:3), It is democracy that is seen as having truly
revolutionary potential to transform society. The debate in Bolivia revolves around the
distinction between the organization (elections, laws, procedures) and the institution (norms
of participation, socioeconomic impacts) of democracy. The reality is that a nation can
embrace both models of democracyand Bolivian peasant movements are showing how this
can be achieved while contributing to a truly democratic revolution.
The significant historical political economic shift and subsequent democratic
transition that this dissertation addresses is the adoption of the agrarian trade union
syndicate, or sindicato, form of community governance following the Revolution of 1952.
(The adoption of the representative form of municipal governance following the neoliberal
political reforms of 1994 is another example that I studied but that this dissertation does not
specifically analyze). This model originated in Western ideology, theory and experimentation.
Syndicate democracy developed in Europe and the United States in the late 19
and early 20

centuries as a solution to the economic inequalities and labor injustices of the Industrial
Revolution and the emerging capitalist economy. Because of its link to socialist theory, this
model represents both an ideology and a political organizational structure that can be
manipulated depending on the context. The Bolivian government advocated a particular
version that was adapted at the grassroots level in the Yungas by combining it with their
Aymara traditions derived from the cultural memories of the ancient ayllu form of Andean
The central premise that emerges from investigating how this model has been
incorporated into Bolivian society is that democracy is a cultural phenomenon whose efficacy

relies upon a shared relation to a particular history and set of meanings. An ethnic group, by
sharing a common history, identity, and territory, contains its own general ethic of rights,
responsibilities, and participation. This underlying ethic gives rise over time to particular
governing practices that can develop into an effective political economic system to satisfy the
needs of the group. Such a process we can call democratization is not necessarily, if ever, an
isolated or autochthonous process, but an amalgam of emic and etic ideas and practices that
combine in a society over time through trial and error. The learning curve may be steep, but
one factor seems to improve the adoption of workable models: a process that is concurrently
bottom-up and top-down. In other words, during major historical political and economic
shifts, if both civil society and the state have complementary goals, even if the political model
introduced originates from the outside, then the learning curve canover timeresult in a
stable and viable form of democratic governance. The perception among an oppressed social
group may be that external models are always undesirable (as the agrarian leaders stressed in
the quote above), but the examples from Bolivia demonstrate otherwise.
It is critical to understand, however, that Bolivians at the grassroots were not simply
receptive to this new democratic system promoted by the state, but that complementary yet
independent deliberation and preparation had already been taking place before the state laws
changed. Indeed the state was forced to pass the Agrarian Reform law in 1953 because of the
pressure from indigenous campesinos. Indigenous colonos (non-waged usufruct workers) on
the haciendas (landed estates) in the Yungas were already (though often clandestinely)
organizing their own system of governance when the Revolutionary government sponsored
the sindicato model around the country after the Revolution. This concomitant top-down and
bottom-up implementation of a foreign political model in the Yungas contributed to the
establishment of a functional system of democracy at the community and ultimately
municipal, provincial, and national levels as the agrarian sindicatos became organized.
Now it appears that this model, having been well-established in the Yungas and
elsewhere, is being used to form a new hybrid form of governance that is increasing the
efficacy of Bolivias democracy. Such hybridization was apparent in 2004 as the Yungas
cocalero movement gained traction, and is being realized now under the administration of

President Evo Morales. It should not be forgotten that Bolivias sindicato model (and the
LPP) is in itself a hybrid of earlier forms (see Rocker 2004:35-53 on the roots of syndicalism).
In other words, hybridization is an ongoing process of adaptation and transformation, not to
be confused with the biological concept in which a stable new (though often sterile) species
may be generated from the interbreeding of two related species. Mexican anthropologist
Nstor Garca Canclini (2005:xxv) provides an apt definition of this sort of hybridization:
socio-cultural processes in which discrete structures or practices, previously existing in
separate form, are combined to generate new structures, objects, and practices. In turn, it
bears noting that the so-called discrete structures were a result of prior hybridizations and
therefore cannot be considered pure points of origin. The study of democracy is a fruitful
locus for the analysis of such dialectical political practices.
Garca also argues that in global elite circles democracy is considered a marker of
modernity, together with secularism, technological innovation, and economic productivity,
and therefore an indication of the superiority of high culture, which thus proves the
inferiority of popular or indigenous culture. But this is a distorted rendering based on the
desire of an elite national leadership to avoid being associated with its indigenous populace
(as Lomnitz 2001 also argues). I argue that Bolivian campesinos are appropriating and giving
new legitimacy to the concept of democracy, connecting it to their deep cultural history in the
Andes, and demonstrating their ability to adapt and alter Western models of democracy to
better meet their development priorities. By finally creating a dialectical relationship between
indigenous society, the middle class inteligencia, and the political economic (and ethnic) elite
that has been constrained for 500 years, they are redefining the entire notion of democracy
while increasing its efficacy. They are also inserting this new conception into international
debates over nation-building, peasant society, foreign policy, and the global economy.

This new (and fearless) global presence was evident in Evo Moraless speech to the UN General Assembly in September
2006, in which he demanded an end to manipulative and paternalistic foreign policies from the West: We want partners, not
bosses, he said (see also E. Morales 2006). He also held up a single coca leaf and said, This is the Bolivian coca leaf. It is
green, not white like the coca used here in the United States (see Langman 2006).

Historical and Conceptual Context of Research
For three decades after Bolivias 1952 Revolution, a rotating elitist ensemble of
political actors attempted to implement an assortment of political economic models:
socialism, social democracy, state capitalism, military socialism, military conservatism,
authoritarian dictatorship, and populism. No system pleased all sectors of the population nor
fostered adequate economic viability or political stability, but one thing was clear: elite state-
centered programs inevitably devolved into factional clientelism, widespread corruption, and
economic inefficiency (if not virtual collapse) as government leaders spent more time trying
to maintain their power by appeasing differing sectors of the population with temporary
concessions rather than developing a legitimate mandate for viable structural change.
Thus, in 1982, democratic elections were reinstated and Bolivias longest period of
democracynow 25 years and countingbegan. In 1985, neoliberal reforms were put into
place in an effort to halt inflation that was pushing 24,000%, and to reestablish diplomatic
relations with the United States in order to secure essential monetary aid and private
investment. The U.S. used this leverage to negotiate an increased military role in the
suppression of the cocaine trade, offering only minimal funding for initiatives that would
provide alternatives to the coca economy. As a corollary to neoliberal economic policy reform,
efforts to decentralize Bolivias precarious democratic system were undertaken in 1994 with
the Ley de Participacin Popular (LPP, Law of Popular Participation). For the next ten years
Bolivia continued in a state of turmoil, with the national economy in critical condition (partly
due to coca eradication), the U.S. increasing its political and military presence, regular
popular uprisings against U.S. and IMF intervention, and occasionally armed repression by
the state. However, indigenous politics steadily gained in strength and legitimacy throughout
this time. The balance of national power shifted decisively in 2003 and 2004 with the Gas
War and subsequent policy changes. In 2005, Bolivia elected its first indigenous president by
the largest margin in the nations history.
There is now a renewed consideration of socialist solutions to persistent
socioeconomic ills following two decades of failed neoliberal economic prescriptions in
Bolivia (and elsewhere in Latin America) that weakened the state and cut federal spending on

social services. A look back at dependency theory (Frank 1967; Cardoso and Faletto 1979) is
warranted, especially since indigenous social movements place blame for their persistent
economic ills on interventionist U.S. foreign policy, privatization by foreign corporations, and
corrupt elite national politics. Bolivia is not promoting import substitution industrialization
(ISI) or wholly state-run industry but an increased role of the state in the nations economy to
increase state revenues from exported materials and to facilitate the more equitable
redistribution of energy and state funds to historically marginalized social sectors. Of course
without an adequate economic base such an agenda is impossible, so a consideration of free
market economics (Rodrik 2003; Friedman 1963; Hayek 1994 [1944]; Polanyi 1944) is also
relevant. The Bolivian government is seeking foreign investment from a diversity of sources
both public and private, but without the external imposition and conditionalities
characteristic of neoliberalism. Coca leaf processed into value-added productsalong with
natural gas, soy, and other industrialized commoditiesis being promoted as a potentially
lucrative international export.
It is significant that this neoleftist shift (as I will refer to the latest historical cycle in
Bolivia) includes a strong commitment to improving democratic governance at the local,
municipal, departmental, and national levels. Socialism in this case is not to be confused with
a desire to move toward an authoritarian or communist state. In fact, this shift represents a
move toward the democratization of international development and foreign policy, political
spheres previously considered out of the realm of influence of national democratic systems.
Combining the democratic traditions of the ancient Andean ayllu, labor union sindicalismo,
and modern electoral politics, Bolivias social movements (and now federal government under
Morales) are transforming the notion of democracy at all levels of society.
Part of this neoleftist shift can be seen in the methods of political engagement utilized
by the coca grower, or cocalero, social movement in the Yungas. While Bolivias first cocalero
movement developed in the Chapare region near Cochabamba in response to U.S.-backed
militarized drug war policies in the 1980s and 90s (see Healy 1991), the increasingly
politicized Yungas cocalero movement represents its corollary and complement in the very
different context of the legal production zone. This social movement was generated within the

sindicatos agrarios (agrarian peasant unions), the communal governing system for
indigenous small landowners. This dissertation undertakes to analyze the primary sindicato
methods of popular political participation mobilized to defend the coca economy and their
Aymara cultural traditions: the assembly model of community governance, popular protest,
public events facilitating dialogue between diverse sectors, local NGO collaboration, and
participation in the municipal government system.
The agrarian sindicatos provide a forum for discussion, problem-solving, and
advocacy at the community, municipal, and provincial levels, and are ultimately linked to the
national peasant union CSUTCB (Confederacin Sindical nica de Trabajadores
Campesinos de Bolivia, the United Syndicate Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia).
Yungas sindicatos are the means for organizing protest measures, such as marches and road
blockades, against local or national policies that work against the economic interests of the
campesinos. They also coordinate large-scale events, such as summit meetings and trade
expositions, in the national capital to facilitate dialogue, policy guidelines, and public
education. Furthermore, the sindicatos play a very public role in municipal level development
and governance. They negotiate with USAID contractors and international NGOs that have
projects in the area, and they engage in the structure and debate of municipal governments
under the LPP. Thus the sindicatos provide a means for rural community governance, a
system for resistance organizing, and a structure for peasant influence in policy generation.
To analyze their roles and efficacy on these many fronts requires an in-depth ethnographic
perspective that is able to transcend disciplinary boundaries and access the realm of meaning
and public discourse in a variety of settings. This is precisely what I set out to do in my
fieldwork, and what this dissertation intends to elucidate.
This historical and conceptual juncture calls attention to important trends in
anthropology that are either incipient (the study of democracy), relatively new and thus
patchy (the evaluation of the impacts of neoliberalism), or well-established yet inconsistent
(the study of peasants, social movements, nationalism, and development in Latin America).
Conducting this research in the Yungas provided a unique opportunity not only to explore the
history of sindicalismo in a particular historical cultural context, but also to witness its

current evolution as a social movement coalescing around the incendiary issue of coca.
Without this element of tremendous symbolic, economic and political significance, the
agrarian sindicatos would not have had a reason to put on display, all in one year, the full
diversity of their democratic methods of activismjust as a snowflake needs a particle of dust
around which to crystallize, or a pearl needs an irritant. Coca was the key factor that inspired
popular participation in both the cocalero movement (through the sindicatos) and the 2004
municipal elections. As the news media in Bolivia and the United States regularly misconstrue
the meaning and import of both coca leaf and the cocalero movement, my anthropological
perspective is useful for helping to dispel popular myths around these factors that are now
central to Bolivias practice of democracy and its efforts to engage in the global economy.

Coroico in 2004
The massive popular uprising in the streets around La Paz (and ultimately the nation)
in September and October 2003 to demand transparency in the national government and in
international export deals threw the entire concept of democracy in Bolivia into question. The
traditional political parties were disgraced, while popular dissent wrested the attention of the
world. Both supporters and critics of the rebellion tried to claim the badge of democracy. The
protesters insisted they were acting according to fundamental principles of democracy that
require people to take to the streets to defend their civil and social rights. Bolivian and U.S.
government officials accused the nonviolent protesters of being undemocratic for obstructing
roadways and the nations economy and trying to force out an elected president. Even after
the military had murdered dozens of people in an attempt to squelch the protests, the U.S.
ambassador stood by the president in calling for an end to this popular threat to democracy.
What are the meanings of democracy in a case like this? Where do the civil rights of citizens
give way to the economic rights of the nation? Doesnt the history and culture of Bolivia
impact how such a popular uprising is understood? Who decides how democracy works?
These are some of the questions I had while watching these astonishing events unfold from
the city of Cochabamba where I lived in the Bolivian spring of 2003.
The year 2004, the period of my formal fieldwork in the Coroico municipality, was

thus noteworthy for several reasons. First, the entire country was assessing the significance of
the ouster of president Gonzalo Snchez de Lozada and navigating the new policies of Carlos
Mesa Quisbert (of which 2004 was his only full calendar year in office). Second, it was
marked by increased levels of coca leaf production in and around the legal zone of the Yungas
and the construction of a new military check point on the way to La Paz, thus agrarian
sindicato organizing intensifiedleading to a series of emergency assemblies, protest
marches, and road blockadesto oppose the possibility of militarized eradication. Third,
Yungas cocalero leaders staged two major national events in La Paz designed to draw
attention to the non-narcotic uses for coca and improve the international image of the leaf.
Fourth, USAID focused its alternative development efforts in Coroico on securing a legal
designation for the municipality as an official tourist destination and on improving its
specialty coffee production for export. And fifth, the year culminated with municipal elections
on December 5
for mayor and town council members, in which sindicato leaders (via the
MAS party) won the majority of seats in Coroico for the first time.
These events of 2004 helped create the conditions for the election of Evo Morales the
following year as he sought to bring about a democratic revolution in Bolivias political
economic system. He makes a sharp distinction between how Bolivias social movements are
inserting themselves into national politics using nonviolent tactics of popular participation
and resistance in an expanded public sphere, and the outmoded methods of Latin Americas
Marxist guerrilla movements that employed armed resistance or fomented coups detat. In his
inaugural address in January 2006, he explained to his international audience that
queremos cambiar Bolivia no con balas sino con votos, y sa es la revolucin democrtica
(we want to change Bolivia not with bullets but with votes, and that is the democratic
revolution) (cited in Stefanoni and Do Alto 2006:135). The results of my fieldwork in Coroico
illustrate the nature of this political strategy as it was played out in municipalities across the
country during the political openings provided during the new Mesa administration. I argue
that Yungas agrarian sindicatos are revolutionizing Bolivias practice of democracy by their
appropriation of the meanings of civil society, participation, rights, and resistance.

The Ethnographic Study of Democracy
The study of democracy has long been the purview of political scientists, who
generally consider democracy a modern institution associated with industrial societies and a
structured representative system. Anthropologists did not traditionally study state systems in
industrial societies, and when they studied tribal or peasant politics, they did not consider
them within the rubric of democracy. When political anthropologists began to incorporate the
study of democracy into their analyses of culture in the 1980s, the global shift to national level
democracies from communism in Russia and eastern Europe and from authoritarian
dictatorship in Latin America dominated the field (see Lewellen 1992:88-9). Anthropologists
studying Latin American social movements in the 1990s often placed the concept of
democracy at the center of their research (see Alvarez, Dagnino and Escobar 1998; Escobar
and Alvarez 1992), and anthropologists, geographers and economists trying to make sense of
the phenomenon of international development in the 1980s and 90s liberally applied
democratic principles to their analyses. But as the neoliberal economic and political reforms
of the 1980s and 90srepresenting a real democratic opening in Latin America, though also
engendering a severe backlash against the many failings of these reformsgive way to the
next historical moment, there is a need to deepen our investigation of more nuanced
meanings and uses of democracy and look outside of the state system, radical social
movements, and development models. Or better said, we must look at the intersection of
these now-blending political economic spheres to understand where the next models of
democracy will come from.
In the context of the Yungas, I argue that the agrarian sindicatos became the regions
primary civil society institution from 1953 to the present. These sindicatos act as mediators
between individual campesino families and a range of political sectorsmunicipal and
departmental governments, international development NGOs, national labor unions,
businesses and cooperatives, and the national Congress and administration. Through their
sindicatos, Yungas coca growers have been able to advocate for control over their own
development agenda by influencing municipal governments and mobilizing protests.
However, agrarian sindicatos also act as effective community governments, and increasingly

they are generating a body of leadership that are being incorporated into the electoral system.
The multifaceted nature of these roles falls outside the prism of civil society theories (in
relation to democracy and development) that have to date been used to examine such entities.
This complexity of purpose means that we must rethink what being a civil society
actor means as Latin Americas social movements progress beyond the growth stage of
resisting government structures and international bodies from the outside to becoming
incorporated into the formal political system through electoral politics. The line dividing the
state and civil society has thus been blurred, probably beyond reconstruction. How can we
now understand the relationship between these spheres? How does an increased presence of
civil society values within the state system affect democratic practice? The line demarcating
the market and civil society has already been blurred, and with what we know about U.S.
foreign as well as domestic policy, it is clear that the line between the state and the market has
been distorted. Bolivia (and other countries in Latin America) is showing us how it is possible
to reconceptualize the meaning of participation, accountability, citizenship rights, and
democracy itself.
Political scientists have developed a pantheon of nomenclature that has great utility
in the study of the concept of democracy: transition, consolidation, deepening, viability,
decentralization, representation, citizenship, participation, polyarchy, and the categories of
political, civil, social, and economic rights. Political scientists are especially skilled at
identifying regional and global trends, gazing retrospectively at historical processes, and
conducting comparative quantitative analyses. Anthropologists would not be able to study the
phenomenon called democracy without the excellent scholarship and functional vocabulary
of political scientists. We also dip liberally into the well of concepts elaborated over the years
by a range of social scientists (including anthropologists), such as civil society, accountability,
transparency, embeddedness, social capital, public sphere, and of course, power. Then there
is the spectrum of democratic institutions: assembly, election, referendum, constitution,
tribunal, justice system, congress, executive, political parties. And finally, there are the
economic terms and theories that must come into play: classic liberalism, neoliberalism,
structural adjustment, populism, socialism, nationalization, and of course, taxation.

By and large, anthropologists do not spend their research or writing time developing
indicators for evaluating where a country might fall on a continuum of democratic transition
or consolidation (as Huntington 1992 and Whitehead 2001 do), or in comparing the
experiences of different nations (as Gamarra 2001 and ODonnell 2004 do). In fact,
anthropologists are wary of terms like transition or consolidation when talking about
democracy, for they imply nomothetic processes that in reality do not occur in any systematic
or consistent way, neither between different countries nor within different areas of the same
country. So what do anthropologists do when we study democracy?
We construct a scaffolding of theoretical possibilities and historical dynamics
gleaned from the lists abovefrom which to rappel down into the everyday life of the actors
within the system. This way we can take loaded terms, such as participation or democracy
itself, and see how people are talking about them and applying them in their everyday lives.
We can consider certain imprecise trends, such as the consolidation of democracy, and see
if predicted behaviors manifest under particular circumstances. This way we contribute to a
dialectic between disciplines in the development of a more comprehensive understanding of
what democracy signifies, how it is practiced, and what enhances its viability.
In the world right now, the word democracy is tossed about as carelessly as a childs
toy. In 2004, the debacle of U.S. military intervention in Iraq dominated the news in Bolivia.
The low point was reached when graphic photos of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners at
Abu Ghraib were plastered across newsstands in La Paz, where crowds of people would gather
to gawk and shake their heads. The tired rhetoric of the U.S. bringing democracy to other
countries harks back to insidious cold war politics in Latin America and is a cause for
concern among many Bolivians. What is missing from most mainstream media discussions
and political science theoriesof the topic is the recognition that democracy is a malleable
entity that matures gradually and fitfully out of a particular historical context to eventually
serve the needs of the majority, and functions according to a shared understanding of lifes
priorities and responsibilities. In other words, democracy is a cultural phenomenon. It cannot
simply be imposed from the outside without violence and the pointed denial of the right to
self-determination. Therefore, ethnography must be utilized in the analysis of democracy.


Project Setting
Bolivia is a land-locked country roughly the size of Spain and France together with a
total population of slightly over nine million people.
It is one of the most unequal countries
in the Americas: between 1994 and 2004, the share of household income held by the highest
20% of the population was 63%, while the share held by the lowest 40% was only 7%. The
Yungas is a lush subtropical region that lies between 5000 and 11,500 feet above sea level in
the steep forested valleys of the Andes mountains where they begin their long northeastward
descent toward the tropical Amazon basin. The national capital of La Paz (pop. ~800,000)
and the city of El Alto (pop. ~650,000) are only three hours away over the pass in the
altiplano; the flat-topped snowy peak of Mururata (19,560 ft) is a landmark that can be seen
from these cities on one side and from the Yungas on the other. Ancient wide llama trails with
Inca stone paving connect this topographically remote region to the altiplano (where the
ancient Tiahuanaco Empire was centered), though hair-raising dirt roads hacked out of the
mountain cliffs by Paraguayan prisoners of war in the 1930s provide regular access today. The
first leg of a modern highway has been under construction for over fifteen years and is finally
nearing completion. It reaches now as far as Coroico and is intended to eventually connect La
Paz with the vast lowland Amazonian region rich in natural resources and ranch lands.

Covering almost 10,000 km
, the Yungas is a culturally diverse region after centuries
of immigration from all over the country and the world by those drawn to its agricultural
promise (especially for the profitable coca bush), or escaping the harsh altiplano climate. The
Yungas has an average annual temperature of 66F and receives between one inch of
precipitation per month during the dry season (May through July) and seven inches per
month during the rainy season (December through March) (Costa 1997:58). The region is

All population and income figures are from the 2001 census available from Instituto Nacional Estadistico (
Please see Appendix A for maps of Bolivia, the Yungas region, and Coroico.

This bottomless money pit of a modernization projectit is supposedly the most expensive road in the world per kilometer
reveals the topographical insanity of engineering a highway through the sheer cliffs, dense forests, and unstable soils of the
Yungas, and as such, the bar-none drive of Bolivias elite and transnational funders to access and export Bolivias Amazonian
resources. That, or the government has a hidden agenda to facilitate military access to the region. Or maybe its just to make
tourists more relaxed during their descent past terrifying drop-offs.

divided into three provinces: the Nor Yungas (capital Coroico, secondary capital Coripata),
Sud Yungas (capital Chulumani, secondary capital Irupana), and Inquisivi. The other
province relevant to this research is Caranavi, with a capital of the same name, a more
tropical region four hours down the river valley from Coroico, which separated from the
Coroico municipality in 1992.

Spanish elites established haciendas around the town of Coroico, replacing all
indigenous communities except one, during the 17
and 18
centuries and appropriated
indigenous labor (Soux 1992). These large estates supplied coca leaf to the highland mines
and brought significant profits to the hacienda owners and some indigenous rescatiris
(intermediaries) who were able to take advantage of the coca trade. Coroico is an area famous
for its stunning vistas and tranquil rural character. Claudio Lomnitz (2001:186) would call it a
posh periphery to the city of La Paz since it is a favored weekend and festival destination for
the urban elite, who are putting up vacation homes on the lush hillsides around the town.
Even so, Coroicos campesinos are adamant that theirs is an agricultural, not a tourist,
municipality. Coroicos 99 rural communities maintain diversified agricultural livelihoods
with small-scale exports of coffee, citrus and coca. Economic resources and opportunities for
locally-directed development have been limited, and public schools provide education to the
third or fifth grade in rural towns and through high school in Coroico. There are two private
Catholic boarding high schools in the area, and the Unidad Acadmica Campesina (UAC), a
community college in Carmen Pampa that attracts students from around the country.
Many Yungas inhabitants, especially in the town of Coroico, are descended from
Spanish hacienda families, but the majority are indigenous, and of these most are bilingual
and Spanish speakers descended from pre-colonial and colonial populations. A
unique characteristic of the Yungas is the Afro-Bolivian population descended from Africans

These capital names are also the names of the municipalities in these provinces. The three other municipalities in Sud
Yungas are La Asunta, Palos Blancos, and Yanacachi.

Aymara speakers are most likely descended from the pre-Incan Tiahuanaco Empire near Lake Titicaca (Kolata 1996).
Aymara is one of Bolivias four national languages.

brought to Bolivia to work as slaves in the colonial era.
Traditional patterns of Aymara
culture and spirituality persist, though Catholicism is the primary religion of both rural and
urban dwellers. According to the 2001 census, the municipality of Coroico has a population of
12,237 people, of which 2,197 (18%) live in the town of Coroico (5880 ft). While 62% of the
entire population in Coroico self-identified as Aymara, only 16% speak the language. The
dominant language is Spanish, with 82% claiming it as their maternal language. The census
shows that 32% of Coroicos population are Afro-Bolivian, 5% are Quechua (with only 1%
speaking this language), and 1% are foreigners (there is a small ex-patriot contingent in the
town of Coroico from Germany and France who run hotels and restaurants, as well as the
occasional U.S. researcher or development specialist).
Coca plants, which have smooth emerald-green leaves and bright red or yellow seeds,
are well-suited to the acidic, rocky soil and irregular climate of the region. A familys coca
field yields three to four crops a year and depends on the reciprocal labor of extended families
and communities. Its cultivation is labor-intensive in such precipitous terraintraditionally
providing near full employment in rural areasand the leaves require only simple and cheap
processing and transport to markets. Its price is relatively stable and earns a profit many
times that of other crops, so no matter what other economic activities a family may be
engaged in, they likely maintain a piece of land with coca to weather the slow times of the
year. The leaves are sold nationally for mate (herbal tea, either as the raw leaf or in tea bags),
medicines (tonics, salves, and supplements), and mastication (the most common use, done
the same way you would chew tobacco), and are shared at social events and meetings to
represent the bonds of reciprocity within and between Yungas communities. But cocas
importance runs even deeper than all of this: it is considered the sacred or divine leaf, the
intermediary between the human world and the supernatural (see Rivera 2003; Allen 2002;
Spedding 2003; 1994; Carranza 2001). When people cultivate or chew coca in the Yungas,
they are linking themselves to an ancient Andean identity and way of life.
The demographics, geography and history of the area were ideal for my research

The high and frigid climate of the silver mines in Potos, where Africans were first taken, was so harsh that hundreds of
thousands died, so some were relocated to work the Yungas hacienda plantations. They now maintain syncretic Afro-Aymara
cultural traditions (see Angola 2003).

objectives: its multi-ethnic populace with an Aymara majority links it to a rich cultural
history; its agricultural sindicatos have a strong tradition of activism; several international
NGOs with permanent projects are established there; Coroicos proximity to La Paz allows
local leaders to negotiate regularly with national government officials; the ascendant industry
of tourism diversifies (and complicates) the economic opportunities available; and the legal
standing of coca production and its interest to the U.S. government intensify the significance
of every other topic.

I dont think fieldwork is a method. Its a situation that one is in, and other people are in,
and you are trying to understand the resolutions that they come to with respect to the
human conditions they face. [O]ne wants to understand [the] impact [of a phenomenon]
and the reaction to itunderstand its meaning to the people. But here [referring to the AIDS
crisis in Uganda] there is the added dimension of having to understand the role of American

Anthropologist Joan Vincent, in an interview with David Nugent (Nugent 1999b:538)

Ethnographic fieldwork, while constantly under critique in our discipline, remains
the very thing that defines it. Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (1997:1) assert that fieldwork
is the single most significant factor determining whether a piece of research will be accepted
as anthropological. Anthropological research in the field set in motion by Franz Boas and
fashioned into its paradigmatic form by Bronislaw Malinowski involves participant
observation, dubbed deep hanging out by Renato Rosaldo (cited in Clifford 1997:188). In
the early days, ethnography was modeled after the natural historians mode of gathering
empirical data in the field (Kuklick 1997). Now, deep hanging out with the subjects of ones
study is required but is often supplemented by historical research, limited in time due to
financial constraints, or fragmented into multiple (cultural, geographic, or temporal) sites.
Multi-sited research is practically the norm for any kind of ethnographic research
carried out today. Anthropologist George Marcus (1995) explained this indelible trend in his
now classic article on multi-sited ethnography. My fieldwork falls squarely under this rubric,
for my field sites included:

o the large rural town of Coroico and several surrounding villages in their coca and
coffee fields, orange groves, markets, town plazas, schools, restaurants, shops,
government offices, NGO offices, public transportation, homes, etc.;
o community meetings (organized by sindicatos, the municipal government, the
town council, local cooperatives, NGOs, USAID, political parties, etc.);
o public events (workshops, debates, community radio shows, political speeches,
protest marches, road blockades, a referendum, elections, etc.);
o the capital city of La Paz and its population of government functionaries,
university professors, international NGO workers, adventure tourism operators,
U.S. government officials, and the legal coca market;
o the secondary city of Cochabamba and its population of academics, NGO
workers, archivists, and Catholic public servants;
o academic conferences and large-scale events (summit meetings, political rallies,
festivals, and parades) around the country; and finally
o Washington, DC, a hub for information gathering, policy making, and program
generation, and its economists, government officials, development specialists,
independent scholars, and social justice activists (several of them Bolivian).

I most closely followed Marcuss suggestions to follow the thing (coca leaf),
the idea
(democracy), and the process (sindicato and municipal politics, rural development), mostly
within the municipality of Coroico, but also in the neighboring Yungas municipalities of
Coripata, Chulumani and Caranavi, and the capital city of La Paz. I went wherever people
were talking about or organizing around coca, sindicato politics, or local development, and I
sought out a diversity of community leaders to discuss these topics in hopes of reaching an
understanding of how these central subjects relate to each other in Coroico. Anthropologist
Lila Abu-Lughod suggests that only a mobile ethnography (1997:121)in which one looks at
all sides of an issue from the perspectives of many different people in a society, and in several
locationsis adequate to investigate a cultural phenomenon, like coca or democracy.
While no other method would have worked for my purposes, this mobile approach
made for a hectic and at times exhausting fieldwork schedule. Following such a routine also
meant that I was unable to spend as much time in any one community in the Coroico
municipality as I would have liked. Clearly there are advantages to traditional ethnography in
which one becomes deeply embedded in one community of relations, customs, and daily
work. I would have developed a better understanding of how the community-level sindicato
system works if I had been able to focus on one set of leaders and been able to learn about the

While I admire Mintzs (1985) method of following a commodity to its historical and geographic extremes, this ethnography
does not attempt such a feat; I was more interested in how coca was wound up in everyday life and political discourse, not in
the particulars of how it is used and adulterated by trade and consumption around the worldthough that would be another
important investigation.

particular issues of one town over the year. I would have been able to learn how community
members resolve everyday problems using their methods of conflict resolution, witnessed the
full range of issues that a sindicato must address, and gained a better understanding of
gender roles, traditional beliefs, peasant economics, and the nuances of political expression.
But if I had carried out only a single-sited community ethnography, I would have
missed the different ways that coca and democracy are debated and conceptualized by a range
of social actors, the diversity of ways that campesinos interact with government officials and
organizations, and the crucial insights from witnessing the inner functioning of the variety of
organizations that became the contact nodes of my research. There are always alternatives to
every choice made in the field: Shall I stay in and write up my notes from the day, or attend
that meeting on the tourism declaration that was just called? Shall I listen to the local radio
news broadcast to record interviews with municipal government officials about the upcoming
election, or go pick mandarin oranges with Waldo? Shall I make my visit to Cochabamba for
follow-up interviews or stay in Coroico for the towns annual festival? Endless choices,
endless trade-offs, all contributing to the construction of the final sets of data.
Furthermore, the incorporation of history into anthropology challenges the notion of
a stable field site and a well-defined ethnographic present. Mary Des Chene notes that the
field may not be a place at all, but a period of time or a series of events, the study of which will
take a researcher to many places, including archives (1997:71; 76). Archival research was an
important component of my fieldwork in Bolivia, as were other historical methods such as
legal and personal historiestypical in the study of politics, for it is important to investigate
the interplay between economic, social, cultural, and other preconditions created in earlier
periods [in order to understand] the decisions taken by current political actors (Srensen
1998:27). Thus, in political anthropology, the ethnographic present is extended by the use
of oral history, archives, documents, and government records (Vincent 1990:24-5).

Preliminary Research
This dissertation project builds upon the rich information I obtained in Bolivia during
seven weeks of preliminary research in 2001. I made important contacts within national and

municipal government departments, international lending bodies, U.S. agencies, universities,
nongovernmental organizations, and rural communities, all of whom supported my research
ideas and ended up being meaningful colleagues in my research endeavors. This preliminary
investigation allowed me to frame my dissertation fieldwork in a way more consonant with
local interests, and relevant to current national and global issues. Importantly, I realized the
significance of the LPP, and the scale of coca eradication measures (in terms of both military
intervention and alternative development aid) in the Yungas.
In June of 2002, I spent two weeks in Washington, DC, collecting a wide range of
institutional perspectives on Bolivias efforts to foster democracy and economic stability. I
interviewed economists, government officials, development specialists, independent scholars,
and social justice activists, several of whom were Bolivian. A common sentiment was that
rural indigenous Bolivians deserve the modernizing opportunities that participatory
democracy and open markets can provide to help them overcome chronic poverty and end
their status as secondary citizens. These opinions are important since Bolivian policy,
especially in the drug war, is often influenced by funding bodies and organizations in the
U.S., and they represent part of the international spectrum of insight into these processes that
I collected and compared. In 2005 and 2006 I spent several more weeks in Washington
during occasional visits and have had the opportunity to follow up on my original interviews.
Despite my efforts to gain a balanced understanding of the range of perspectives
related to Bolivias political system, coca economy, and social movements, my identity as an
American was a liability in the Yungas. The overwhelming pressure that the U.S. government
has for decades placed on Bolivia to acquiesce to its policy demands according to U.S.
national interests rather than Bolivian needs has bred a deep resentment among indigenous
campesinos toward Americans. The following story from my preliminary fieldwork portends
some of the difficulties I would have during my formal dissertation fieldwork in 2004.

On Bei ng a U.S. Researcher i n the Yungas

When I walked into the mayors office, he told me he only had 20 minutes to talk. I had
arrived in Coripata the day before and requested a meeting with him to see if I might be able

to study the cocalero movement in this small Yungas town for my dissertation fieldwork. It
was 2001, and I had two months in Bolivia to explore ideas and locations for my intended
ethnography. I was intensely interested in the traditions of coca cultivation and the policies of
eradication, and in working to counterbalance the discourse of fear surrounding coca leaf in
the U.S., but I had been advised by manyin the U.S. and Boliviathat this topic was either
too dangerous or too contentious. To complicate matters, the Bolivian government had only
two weeks before attempted to forcefully destroy coca fields in the Yungas for the first time,
creating a backlash of hostility against state and U.S. intervention. Before giving up on this
option, though, I wanted to talk to people who actually lived in the region and ascertain
whether I would be welcome there or not.

As the mayor and I got to talking, 20 minutes stretched into two hours. He was just as curious
about my perspective on politics and coca as I was about his. He asked all sorts of questions:
Why is the U.S. trying to eradicate coca here? What do they want from us poor countries? Do
you grow coca in the U.S.? Why does the U.S. get to use coca for pharmaceuticals but only
views coca here as a drug? Why do young people in the U.S. use drugs? What are people like
when they use drugs in the they sleep in the streets, drop out of school? What do
people in the U.S. think of Latin American countries? Do people in the U.S. protest in the
streets and have problems with their government? Do poor people in the U.S. have access to
grants and scholarships? Do you want to do research here for your own financial gain?

I answered all his questions as best I could, and it made me think how ludicrous it would be
to base ones fieldwork on the opinions of only a few people. At the end of our discussion, the
mayor told me that, for his part, he would be happy to have me live there and study coca, but
that it would really depend on whether the cocaleros themselves would accept it. Some would,
but others would think I was a government spy. He told me that I should write up a letter
introducing myself and explaining my intentions to present to the cocalero leaders, who just
happened to be holding a sindicato meeting down the street that very day. We agreed to meet
for lunch in an hour. He promised to take me around and introduce me.

I drafted a letter and asked the mayor to review it over lunch. He declared it appropriate, and
then took out his pen and drew a circle around one of the first sentences. It was the line that
said, Soy de la Universidad de Colorado en los Estados Unidos. You cant tell them you are
from the U.S., he said. They will kick you out of the meeting. Just say that you are studying
with the community college in Carmen Pampa, and if they press you, then tell them you are
from somewhere in Europe. You have European ancestors, dont you? I was incredulous. I
couldnt imagine that they would not insist to know where I was from, and the thought of
lying to the people I was hoping to work with was unappealing at best, and self-destructive at
worst. But he seemed concerned for my safety, and he was the mayor after all, so I figured I
should follow his instructions. After rewriting my letter, I asked if he was ready to head over
to the meeting. He said he had other obligations for the afternoon. Look for the unmarked
red door across from the church, and knock. Someone will let you in. I was to just wander
into a cocalero sindicato meeting in a strange town by myself. With my suspicious letter. In a
region where my country was practically waging war against these people.

So I did. A teenage boy let me in, and I walked down the steps to the back room overhanging
the steep hillside where at least 100 people were gathered. The windows overlooked cascades
of bright green coca fields. I stood in the back and smiled at the women and children around
me. There was a row of men seated behind long tables at the front. A TV and video player
were set up in the corner with three tapes stacked on top. A large pad of paper on an easel
displayed the meetings agenda. The leaders stood up to make their points, and to field
questions. Una palabra (one word), people would say before speaking. As people walked by
me, I smiled and they smiled back, or didnt look at me at all. I received no ugly stares. I felt
elated attending my first cocalero meeting. I could sense the positive, productive and vital
energy of the gathering, where people were working together to fight for their rights and
figure out what to do about the mounting military presence in their area.

After about an hour, I thought of a phrase I needed to add to my letter, so I stepped out of the
room and sat on the bottom step. That was when a voice said, Seorita. I looked up the
stairs and there was a man beckoning me. I walked up to face a group of five campesino men
ready for some answers. Who are you? What are you doing here? Where are you from? I
handed them my letter and explained as openly and honestly as I could, trying to still my
nervousness. They nodded and said, ah yes, anthropology, yes, Carmen Pampa, very good.
But what country are you from, they insisted. The mayors words flashed across my mind, and
then those of a renowned anthropologist of Bolivia who had warned me to not even go to the
Yungas following the recent eradication maneuvers. She had used the word homicide in her
email. In an effort to make my lie more palatable, I offered, Originally, I am from Germany.
They asked to see my passport. I said it was in my hotel.

Then one of them explained very sternly that they would welcome me into their communities
and would help me study coca if, in fact, I was from Germany or Holland or someplace like
that. But, if I was from the United States, then I would not be welcome to work there. He said
I could show my letter to the dirigentes after the meeting, but if I did not have documentation
with me, thenhe demonstrated by pulling on his own ear as if he were being dragged out. I
nodded and said of course, and then excused myself saying I would come back later.

Obviously I could not return, so that was that. I wrote the mayor a note thanking him for his
time and assistance. I told him I had decided it would be better to study other issues in
Coroicoi.e., not in the heart of the coca cultivation zoneand get to know people around
there first, and that maybe in the future I would be able to work with the cocaleros. I slept
fitfully in my hotel that night and caught the 4:30 am truck back to Coroico the next morning.

Thus, placing coca leaf and the politics surrounding it as background context, I
composed my grant proposals around the issues of Bolivias neoliberal political reforms and
the municipal development initiatives in Coroico. When I returned in 2004, however, Coroico
was at the center of the debate around the coca economy and USAID influence, so I did end
up studying the cocalero movement. Coca was the focal issue in the sindicato mobilizations
that took place throughout the year and in the debates leading up to the municipal elections
in December. Once I had gained the trust of people there, many cocaleros told me they
wanted me to learn about this fundamental issue and help teach people in the U.S. about the
perspectives of Bolivians. Not only was the topic of coca inescapable, it was, as I had
suspected all along, the most interesting and vital factor in the local political economy,
shaping the character of public discourse and the methods of civil society organization.
The experience of feeling intimidated during that initial encounter with the cocaleros
in 2001 left a lasting impression on me. I was reminded to not take peoples support of my
presence for granted, and I decided that I would never lie to anyone there again, especially
about my own identity and purpose. The experience also sparked a series of questions about

the dynamics of local politics that would guide my research: What is the relationship between
the sindicatos and the municipal government? How do sindicato leaders use what transpires
in their meetings to represent and defend the interests of the cocaleros? What are the
particular elements of U.S. foreign policy that engender so much animosity among people
here? Why would the cocaleros be so strongly opposed to collaborating with a person from
the U.S., yet willing to work with people from other countries? And how am I going to
overcome the stigma of being an American?

Ayni: Reciprocity in Aymara Life and Ethnographic Fieldwork
Conducting ethnographic fieldwork to analyze the network of relationships between
different segments of society, understand a long political economic history, and process the
meaning of complex ideas like democracy is necessarily a collaborative endeavor between the
researcher and the community of study. My relationships with friends, research assistants
and local leaders were invaluable, for they helped me sort out the interactions I witnessed
during meetings and interviews and interpret new concepts. Even the market women, truck
drivers, and old men resting in the plaza talked with me about their perspectives on these
things. I paid four research assistants to help me conduct interviews in rural communities,
translate Aymara into Spanish, and transcribe some of my recordings, but I also wanted to
show my appreciation to all the other people who gave so generously of their time and ideas.
This opportunity is where my motivations for pursuing a Ph.D. overlapped with a principle of
enormous local importance; it is also a central anthropological concept: reciprocity.
The ancient Aymara practice of reciprocity, called ayni, connotes the reciprocal
relationships and mutual aid that are fundamental to healthy sustainable communal life in
the Andes. While increasing participation in international export economies, wage labor and
service economies, and urban and transnational migration is affecting community level
organization, ayni persists as the give and take of manual labor and responsibility in many
Yungas communities. It is also a potent ideological concept deployed in social situations and
by agrarian union organizers during meetings and collective action.
I used it myself to explain to Bolivians that I was not there to extract information as if

it were a colonial-era resource, take it back to my country, and manufacture it for my personal
profit. My intent was to generate a study that would be of use to communities and
organizations in Coroicoand that would help me obtain the Ph.D. I will have my
dissertation translated into Spanish to put in Coroicos municipal files and the UAC college
library, and I will use my skills as an applied anthropologist to raise awareness of Bolivia and
coca leaf among people in the U.S. and to work toward a more informed and less
manipulative U.S. foreign policy agenda. This is indeed what people in the Yungas would like
me to do. All year long I was asked, You are going to explain to people in your country what
coca leaf is, and what is really going on here, arent you? You understand more than many
since you talk to people on all different sides.
In addition to these long-term strategies, my practice of ayni also had immediate
impacts during my year in Coroico. By hiring four thesis students from the UAC as research
assistants with some of my grant funds, they were able to earn money toward their thesis
expenses (a hurdle that prevents many students from completing their degrees), and gain
practical research experience (and even some data) for their thesis projects. They were also
able to complete their annual community service requirement by offering their skills to the
communities where we conducted interviews. For example, one of my assistants was studying
veterinary medicine: I paid for a set of supplies so that in appreciation for peoples help with
my study, he could provide vaccinations, surgeries, and other medical care to the animals in
that community. I made copies of articles and books from La Paz for my assistants and the
college library, gave class lectures, and advised on ethnographic methods and grant writing.

The most useful commodities I had were my digital camera and voice recorder. I was
regularly asked to photograph and record municipal government meeting procedures; I then
burned CDs for the participants with the documentation. I also printed out piles of photos to
distribute to the people I knew and worked with, something that brought them and me great

When I returned in June 2006, I distributed copies of a chapter I had published in Spanish (Conzelman 2006b) that explains
the dynamics of the cocalero social movement in the Yungas. A friend and agrarian sindicato leader from Coroico who studies
law in La Paz and was elected as a representative to Bolivias Constituent Assembly in 2006 told me he was using this chapter
to help him advocate for better coca leaf policy under the Morales administration. Another friend and local leader asked to
have a copy of my structured community interview schedule, and told me that there has not been a study like mine in the area
and how much he and others in Coroico appreciate it. Coroicos mayor expressed similar sentiments to me at the end of 2004
in anticipation of being able to learn from my research results.

pleasure. I taught two weekly English classes to groups of adults who asked me for assistance,
sporadic anthropology classes at the local university, and computer skills to individuals in
town. I was asked to be the godmother (madrina) to several of my friends children, an honor
that requires occasional gifts of clothes and school supplies and initiates a more abiding
connection to these families. Through all of these efforts, I attempted to show my gratitude to
those who helped me, and to become a part of this broad community of integrated relations
and, yes, to justify in a way my intrusion into peoples lives.
Because I was studying democracy, it seemed important to work to democratize the
fieldwork experience itself so that my work would not reproduce the colonial nature of
traditional ethnographies, and so that I could put into practice some of the elements of
democracy that I was learning from Bolivians. Anthropologist Julia Paley had similar goals
during her research in Chile (Paley 2001) and points to anthropologys history of
democratizing ethnography via such endeavors as action anthropology and participatory
action research as strategies for deconstructing relations of power between investigators and
informants (Paley 2002:488-9). The way I see it, the people we study ought to have a say in
what we study about them, for why else should they allow us into their communities and
facilitate our ability to build a career around the issues in their lives? The authenticity and
validity of our data and the authority of our publications (cf. Sanjek 1990; Wolcott 1990; Van
Maanen 1988; Clifford 1983) are greatly enhanced when our informants are also our
research collaborators. Especially in places like Bolivia with a history of colonialism and
imperialism and the persistent marginalization and exploitation of indigenous people,
research that does not aspire to such goals may be at worst unconscionable, or at best a
wasted opportunity. As an anthropologist from the United States with access to an entire
system of universities and research funding and with the ability to take the time (and afford)
to live abroad, I consider myself extremely privileged. I therefore consider it my responsibility
to use this privilege in a way that honors and works to serve the needs and interests of the
people with whom I lived and worked. Democratizing fieldwork relates to the philosophy and
practice of ayni as well, for it involves the reciprocal exchange of skills and information.

Field Methods and Process
I will briefly describe here the methods I used and the data sets I accumulated in the
field, though more details will emerge within the chapters of the dissertation when analyzing
the data I collected. I had enough funding with a Fulbright Full Grant and an NSEP David L.
Boren Graduate Fellowship to carry out 16 months of fieldwork. From July to December
2003, I first attended the 2
International Congress of the Bolivian Studies Association in La
Paz and then lived in the city of Cochabamba. There I completed a six-week course in
advanced Spanish, followed by a six-week course in beginning Aymara at the acclaimed
Maryknoll Instituto de Idiomas. I took advantage of this city filled with universities, research
institutes, NGO headquarters, volunteer programs, and archives to meet with a range of
scholars, development specialists, businessmen, and volunteer service organizers and to
conduct 25 unstructured interviews to assess more broad-scale perspectives on my research
topics. I attended academic conferences and political summit meetings, and of course was
there to witness the Gas War uprising of September and October 2003.
During the calendar year of 2004, I lived in the town of Coroico in the Nor Yungas
province of La Paz (and I returned for one month in 2006). I conducted systematic
participant observation in and around the town of Coroico (see list of field sites above), over
110 unstructured and semi-structured interviews with a variety of local officials, shopkeepers,
community leaders, campesinos, teachers, and NGO workers (plus 20 additional interviews in
2006), and 22 structured interviews with community and sindicato leaders in six different
villages around Coroico.
I attended over 115 meetings and workshops of the municipal
government, community sindicatos, Coroicos Central Agraria, the USAID contractor MAPA,

A total of 22 structured interviews were carried out by me, and by two of my research assistants from the UAC (see Appendix
C for the interview schedule). I also interviewed many other sindicato leaders without this exact interview schedule, in which I
also asked them to explain their understanding of democracy and other related issues. More structured interviews were not
possible because my primary assistant whom I had hired and been training throughout June and July, and with whom I had
begun to conduct interviews with community leaders in August and September, suddenly was offered a job with an NGO in a
town four hours away from Coroico. He took it, of course, so I had to start all over in October to find new UAC thesis
studentswho could speak Aymara and were finished with their courseworkto work with me. This shift in focus back to
training new researchers and the delay in data collection prevented me from conducting structured interviews with a more
representative sample of community leaders from a greater variety of communities. An underlying distrust among some in the
municipality toward me as a norteamericanaalso impacted my ability to interview some sindicato leaders. For example, I tried
to interview at least a dozen other leaders who either did not show up for our arranged meetings (some repeatedly), or refused
to sit down with me when I arrived at their homes in their villages.

the international NGOs Caritas, Biota, and Ayuda en Accin, and the local coffee cooperative
CENCOOP. I also accompanied NGO workers and municipal officials on site visits to
communities across the municipality. I was formally affiliated with the Unidad Acadmica
Campesina in Carmen Pampa, and I hired four thesis students from their agronomy and
veterinary medicine programs as research assistants. I visited and interviewed community
leaders in each of the surrounding Yungas municipalities: Caranavi, Coripata, and
Chulumani. I often worked closely with radio journalists in Coroicos three community
stations to attend events, make recordings, and discuss issues, and I appeared on six live
radio broadcasts in Coroico and Chulumani discussing coca leaf policy and the U.S.
presidential elections that year.
Special events that I attended in Coroico in 2004 included the Declaratoria del
Turismo, the National Referendum on natural gas, National Dialogue workshops for the
Coroico municipality and its Afro-Bolivian communities, six public debates leading up to the
municipal elections of December, and the elections themselves. I also attended the USAID
sponsored Catacin de Caf (Coffee Cupping Competition) in 2003 and its Taza de Excelencia
(Cup of Excellence) competition in 2004. Events I attended that were held in the Yungas
region or La Paz included the road blockade and a counter-road blockade at Unduavi, a
massive protest march staged by cocaleros and miners from around the country, the Coca
Summit, and the Coca Fair. As I was in part studying the development of the tourism industry
in the area (framed as a way to substitute for the coca economy), I undertook to experience
for myself Coroicos main local tourist attractions, which included mountain biking down the
Death Road and hiking an old Inca road called the Choro Trail over three days from La Paz.
Finally, my fieldwork included approximately one week per month in the city of La
Paz during 2004, where I carried out over 30 unstructured interviews with a variety of
officials and scholars (plus 10 additional interviews in 2006), attended academic conferences,
protest marches and festivals, and consulted government and nonprofit archives on the
history of the Yungas and coca leaf policy. My final data sets from all of my research include
over 300 digital recordings of personal interviews and radio broadcasts (interviews with local
officials and news programs on regional and national events), over 5000 digital photographs,

a comprehensive catalogue of newspaper articles from seven newspapers and weeklies that fill
six large three-ring binders, an extensive collection of sindicato meeting resolutions and
historical documents, and 20 handwritten field notebooks.

Orientation to Dissertation Chapters
This dissertation begins with a discussion of the central theories I have consulted to
formulate my thesis questions, situate my field research, analyze my data, and evaluate my
conclusions. Chapter 2 presents a history of Bolivia and the Yungas region, tracing the ancient
ayllu system followed by five major historical stages: the colonial cycle, the liberal cycle, the
populist cycle, the neoliberal cycle, and the current neoleftist cycle. This history is followed by
Chapter 3 which describes the central Aymara traditions maintained in the Yungas regarding
communal agricultural labor practices and coca leaf. This chapter also explicates the history
of the war on drugs and Bolivias antinarcotics law which impacts the Yungas region as the
countrys primary legal production zone. Chapter 4 then analyzes the dual roles of the
sindicatos as both community government and the principle civil society organization in the
Yungas. I trace the relationship between European syndicalism and Bolivian sindicalismo,
and discuss the meanings that Yungas campesinos ascribe to democracy. Chapter 5 then
builds on the previous two chapters by showing how the structure and philosophy of
sindicalismo combines with the cultural imperative of coca leaf to manifest in three forms of
democratic popular participation: assembly, protest, and dialogue. This chapter concludes
with a discussion of the municipal elections of 2004 and how they illustrated the growing
split within the Yungas cocalero movement. Finally, the conclusion discusses the connection
between the events and trends in the Yungas in 2004 and the election of Evo Morales as
president in 2005. The dissertation concludes with an explanation of the current state of the
Yungas cocalero movement and Bolivias coca leaf policies.
A final note about the pragmatics of this dissertation: If a quote is pulled from a
recorded interview or event, it will be quoted in full in Spanish, with an English translation;
but since the majority of my notes were taken in notebooks during meetings or in situations
where I could not record, many quotes will be in English with the key words or phrases I was

able to write verbatim included in parenthetical Spanish. All translations throughout the text
are my own. The names of some towns and individuals have been changed to protect their


Community meeting with municipal officials in a rural Aymara village.
( Caroline Conzelman 2004.)


Im very concerned about the term theory. I dont think anthropology is a theoretical
discipline. This is my problem. I am very unhappy with constructed knowledge, whether its
state statisticsthe categories that the state formsor academic constructivism, and I
suppose my emphasis on fieldwork is a kind of resistance. Theres somebody out there
talking, and one is capturing something that is not in the systems one comes out of. My
feeling for pacifism, globalism, and anticapitalism doesnt allow for constructed knowledge.

Anthropologist Joan Vincent, in an interview with David Nugent (Nugent 1999:535)

Elsewhere, Vincent argues that in the anthropological study of politics, theory does
not precede but rather follows innovative field research (1990:24), marking a difference
between political scientists who often seek to verify preconceived notions of behavior, and
anthropologists who must enter the field open to whatever is happening on the ground.
Nevertheless, in spite of this perspective that eschews constructed anthropological theory, I
will proceed to outline the theoretical constructions that are most relevant to my research and

how they allow me to explain the dynamics of the peasant coca grower social movement,
sindicato democracy, rural development, and U.S. intervention in the Coroico municipality of
Bolivia. The primary fields of literature that I explore here and on which I drew to develop my
research questions and methods are 1) Latin American ethnography with a special focus on
peasant studies, 2) political anthropology and interdisciplinary research on democracy and
democratization, and 3) interdisciplinary studies of international and participatory
development. Necessarily interspersed within these bodies of literature are works addressing
issues related to modernization, dependency theory, nationalism, and social movements.
My guiding thesis statement is, How are rural indigenous campesinos in the Coroico
municipality of the Yungas of Bolivia utilizing community trade union and municipal
neoliberal democratic institutions and working with international organizations and scholars
to develop and advocate their own agenda for coca leaf? Corollary concerns include: 1) What
is the meaning of democracy to these peasant farmers and their community leaders, and how
are they appropriating and adapting different incarnations of this broad concept? 2) How do
Coroicos campesinos position coca leaf in relation to their cultural traditions and their
development goals, and how does this perspective compare to the image and intentions of the
international NGOs, the UN, and USAID operating in Coroico?
I will demonstrate that these questions are instructive to my three categories of
literature because they help move the discipline of anthropology in new directions in the
study and analysis of democratic systems, specifically the way we understand how people are
creating hybrid forms of democracy by combining ancient indigenous traditions, mid-20

century socialist ideologies, and modern neoliberal models. Anthropologists began their
analysis of democracy after World War II as the last colonial structures disintegrated, yet they
did not adequately problematize the concept because they assumed that democracy
represented a positive change away from socialism and toward modernity (see Paley 2002).
Democracy was also seen as residing in the purview of political scientists who elaborated and
implemented political models, and as existing in the domain of the state rather than the
community. It was not until the 1980s and 90s that the deleterious effects of military
dictatorships and top-down structural adjustment programs became clear and a surge of

democratic transitions swept Latin America and Africa that anthropologists began to
incorporate such evaluation into their ethnographic community studies.
Ethnographic fieldwork is the unparalleled method for ground truthing
in the
investigation of the contested theories and complicated realities of democracy, development,
and the drug war in Bolivia. The power of ethnography lies in several characteristics: 1)
conducting field research over an extended period of time, usually one to two years, which
allows the researcher time to delve below superficial appearances and practices and to build
relationships with local people; 2) learning the local language to a degree sufficient to carry
out conversations and interviewsnot to mention engage in the variety of quotidian and
cultural activitiesin that language, rather than use translators; and, most importantly, 3)
approaching the local population and research questions themselves with a level of humility
that gives rise to an open mind and respect for alternative viewpoints. In the study of
democracy, the nuances that are exposed by such fieldwork become invaluable in the
generation of useful and perceptive conclusions.
The early history of ethnography in Latin America reflects the general trends in
anthropological thought in the United States over the past centuryprogressing from
historical particularism to culture and personality, functionalism, cultural ecology, and
(neo)Marxismyet Latin Americanists have developed particular theoretical frameworks due
to the unique situatedness of the region in relation to Spain in the colonial era and to the
United States since the late 1800s, and also because Latin Americans themselves were part of
the discipline. In the following sections I will extrapolate the major disciplinary trends in the
anthropology of Latin America, indicating the essence of each, identifying the seminal works,
and elaborating on one ethnographer who illustrates the trend. These intellectual traditions
have been central to knowledge production in and about Bolivia, and all inform my fieldwork
in the Nor Yungas region.

This practice in geography is described by Terry Tempest Williams as The use of a ground survey to confirm findings of
aerial imagery; validation and verification techniques used on the ground to support maps; walking the ground to see for
oneself if what one has been told is true (2004:28).

Peasant Studies
Traditional anthropological bias toward rural and underdeveloped societies
directed the early period of Latin American studies
by both North and Latin American
and spawned generations of fruitful social science research throughout the Andes,
Central America, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Mexico.
In the first half of the 1900s, peasant
studies was the primary focus in Latin America since only four countries had populations that
were over 50% urban (Argentina, Chile, Cuba, and Venezuela) (Heath and Adams 1965).
Anthropologists were both edified and limited by the early intellectual traditions of
historicism, indigenismo, and the folk-urban continuum; the discipline evolved as scholars
built on each others work and contended with culture change and early modernization
theory. Latin American peasant studies continues today in quite different historical and
societal contexts, and with explicit attention to interrelations and multi-directional flows (of
people, goods, ideas, and influence) between the local, the traditional, the urban, the modern,
the national, and the global.
Eric Wolf (1955) specifies a structural typology of Latin American peasantry which I
find useful both as an orientation for my purposes in this paper, and as a foil for my future
research in the Andes. Wolf expands upon the general designation of peasant as a social
category as made by Alfred Kroeber (Peasants are definitely ruralyet live in relation to

This era of formal social science research unofficially began in the 1910s and 20s, but Latin American studies has a long
history considering ancient Maya codices and other forms of indigenous oral history, accounts of Spanish Conquistadors (e.g.,
Fray Bartolom de las Casas 1909 [c. 1550]; Bernal Daz del Castillo 1996 [c. 1560]), histories recorded by conquered Incas
(e.g., Pedro de Cieza de Len 1998 [c. 1550]; Garcilaso de la Vega 1966 [c. 1570]; Tuti Cusi Yupanqui 2005 [1570]), and
stories from early explorers and later travelers (e.g., Alexander von Humboldt 1984 [1811]; Harry Franck 1917; cf. Mary Louise
Pratt 1992). I would also like to note the great debt I owe to the brilliant tradition of Latin American literature and poetry in the
cultivation of my appreciation for cultural and historical nuance, especially Jos Mara Arguedas, Julia Alvarez, Alejo
Carpentier, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garca Mrquez, Pablo Neruda, Carlos Fuentes, Mallku Siwarpuma,
and Claudio Ferrufino-Coqueugniot. Special acknowledgement also goes to Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano (1986; 1984; 1982),
who writes Latin American history like no other.

The majority of Latin American social science research is published in languages other than English and is therefore less
accessible to North Americans, but contains no less significant data (see Lyon 1974).

Institutions dedicated to training new anthropologists and to directing on-going scholarly research in Latin America were
established at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Middle America (by Robert Redfield), the federally-funded Institute of
Social Anthropology (by Julian Steward, who continued in this vein at Columbia in the 1940s following the death of Franz
Boas, then by George Foster until the ISA was ended), the Inter-American Indian Institute (by Manuel Gamio), the Mexican
National Indian Institute (by John Collier), and the Institute of Inter-American Affairs (the first U.S. aid agency for Latin America,
by George Foster in 1951), not to mention numerous programs at individual universities (such as the Vicos Project out of
Cornell by Allan Holmberg and Mario Vzquez in 1952) (compiled from Adams 1965 and Lewis 1951).

market towns; they form a class segment of a larger population [1948:284]) and Robert
Redfield (The peasant is a rural native whose long-established order of life takes important
account of the city [1953:31]) (both also cited in Wolf 1955). Wolf considers the following
combination of traits unique to peasant communities (1955:453-6): Peasants 1) are
agricultural producers only; 2) retain effective control over their land and thus of their
processes of production; 3) aim at subsistence, not capital reinvestment; 4) define their needs
according to their culture to maintain continuity; 5) function primarily within a local setting;
but 6) are to varying degrees integrated with the outside world. This classification sounds
almost banal, though some scholars frame the peasant livelihood in a more grim tone, as
Lesley Gill does in the Bolivian context:

Peasants are rural cultivators whose surpluses are appropriated by a dominant group that
depends on peasant surpluses both to maintain themselves and to distribute among other
groups. Because of this domination, production is relegated to subsistence without
capital accumulation, and peasants are forced to diversify their productive activities to
include wage labor just to meet subsistence requirements. (Gill 1987:9, referencing Wolf
1966 and Warman 1980)

Whether being part of the peasantry is an active and strategic choice or an objectionable
hardship (with potential relief from liberal reforms) in the Bolivian Yungas is one of my
primary research questions (though I suspect it is both at the same time).
In the Boasian tradition of historical particularism, history was first used to identify
the origin of cultural traits in peasant societies (e.g., Elsie Clews Parsons [1936] studying
midwifery in Oaxaca, and Melville Herskovits [1937] studying worker reciprocity in Haiti) and
was more descriptive than analytical. This brief phase was known as historicism, and was
roundly criticized in Britain by Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown for being contrived and
theoretically unsound (Adams 1965:4). Historicism was similarly attacked by practitioners of
indigenismo, social scientists who were concerned with the problems of Indians in the Andes
and Mesoamerica and sought to use ethnography to improve the welfare of native peoples.
North American anthropologists, such as Sol Tax and Oliver La Farge, often mentored Latin
American studentssuch as Hildebrando Castro Pozo (1924) and Moiss Senz (1933) in

See also, for example, Joseph Lopreato (1965), writing about the physical and psychological trials of being a peasant in
southern Italy during an intense period of national modernization.

Peruin field research methods, yet the local knowledge produced by indigenistas was
unsuccessful at garnering broader support for social change (Adams 1965:5). Even so,
indigenismo persisted; it influenced future efforts in applied anthropology (with development
programs through the Institute of Inter-American Affairs), and it merged with the wave of
nationalism after WWII in the form of direct activism by concerned individuals.
Without doubt, the most influential anthropologist in Latin America in the early
1900s was Robert Redfield, who gained inspiration from a prominent indigenista, Manuel
Gamio (e.g., Gamio 1922). Redfield was concerned with the present condition of Mexican
Indian peasants and the changes he could perceive, but not with the effects of history per se.
In his first book Tepoztln: A Mexican Village (1930), he did not integrate the immediate
past of the Mexican Revolutionhe described only current livelihoods even though this town
in Morelos was at the epicenter of Emiliano Zapatas resistance efforts only a few years before
his fieldwork. Redfield would go on to elaborate a method for studying the little community
as an integral entity (1955), and a design for how anthropologists might move beyond
studying isolated primitive tribes to considering peasants and complex civilized societies
). He refers to peasants in these volumes as a human type, though other scholars
were beginning to differentiate peasants according to regional and cultural variation (Wagley
and Harris 1955).
As a result of his research in the Yucatn, Redfield (1934; 1941; 1947) generated what
would become one of the most widely tested and debated theories of the time: the folk-urban
continuum (or, the great dichotomy between past and present). He devised this
classification system by comparing a relatively isolated Maya subsistence village, a more
developed market town, and the modern multicultural city of Mrida. Redfield intended his
nomothetic model of the impact of white civilization upon peripheral peoples to be
generalizable across all cultural contexts (1934:68). His concept of culture change was
something that could be observed synchronically in traits and practices as they differed

The change Redfield addresses in this book is more about how anthropologists must change, and less about how peasant
societies change: [A]nthropology, as it develops, seems a little clumsy and unsure as what to do with itself. I have chosen to
present anthropology in these chapters in an aspect of growth, and the reader may find the spectacle just a little distressing
Perhaps [anthropologists] are not ready for further complexity (1956:5; 78).

between peasant and urban communities.
Oscar Lewis was also a pioneer in peasant studies. He established himself by
undertaking a follow-up study of Tepoztln in the 1940s to evaluate the changes that had
occurred since 1926 (the time of Redfields fieldwork), and to place these changes into a
broader historical context reaching back to pre-Hispanic times (Lewis 1951).
Lewis sought to
interrelate the two dominant trends in Mexican social science research (1951:xx): studies of
the nation as a whole (by historians, geographers, economists, and sociologists), and studies
of single communities (which he calls ideological localism, by anthropologists), arguing that
anthropologists need to be skilled in both. He was interested in the problems that Mexico as a
nation faced after the Revolution, and he used Tepoztln as a mirror to reflect the impact of
these changes on peoples everyday lives. Among other things, Lewis showed that even rural
communities are culturally diverse (i.e., peasant subcultures live in cooperation with town
subcultures, and both are tied to national life, as Foster [1953] also proved), in contrast to
Redfields concept of the homogeneous folk community.
Many ethnographers attempted to apply Redfields folk-urban continuum to other
contexts (e.g., Tax [1941] in Guatemala; Mintz [1953] in Puerto Rico; Lewis [1959; 1961] in
and around Mexico City),
yet each study exposed some major inadequacy in the model.
While the Great Dichotomy became more of a heuristic device, it sparked other efforts to
construct classification systems once ethnographic research had been done throughout Latin
America and reasonable comparisons could be made (cf. Wolfs [1955] peasant traits above,
part of an issue of the American Anthropologist dedicated to various conceptualization
schema). Furthermore, static interpretations of peasant societies were giving way to more
subtle analyses of cultural and structural change in a national, and tentatively global, context
as the impacts of industrialization and two world wars were felt, and Western modernization

Philosophically, Lewis endorsed ethnographic interpretation over sociological quantification, and he believed that
psychological evaluation was pertinent to his research. Though it seems odd to read about Rorschach Tests in an account of
Mexican peasants, this focus reflects his academic proximity to Ruth Benedict and Margaret Meads culture and personality
(configuration) studies, as well as his desire to generate a deep understanding of what poor people endure in their daily lives.

Richard Adams (1965:7) notes that the number of papers on the subject [of Redfields folk-urban continuum] in the late
1940s and early 1950s finally reached such a point that Sol Tax, then editor of the American Anthropologist, announced that
he simply would not accept any more articles on the subject.

was no longer a foreign concept to peasant societies in the Americas.

Modernization Theory
After WWII, the U.S. and Europe became concerned with the development of so-
called Third World countries (whether newly or previously independent, these were
characterized by dual societies, one traditional and one modern) to foster self-sufficiency and
trade relations in the post-colonial era. The U.S., convinced of its moral superiority after
defeating Hitler, sought to strengthen its dominant global position and to ward off
communism, which appealed to the worlds poor but threatened U.S. national security
(Lewellen 1995:54). The West believed that underdevelopment was an initial social and
economic stage from which all societies could emerge, but that Third World countries were
unable to modernize of their own accord and thus required external pressure and guidance.
Those in power drew a line between passionate ideologues (i.e., irrational Marxists who relied
on violence to solve problems) and objective scientists (i.e., rational theorists who could solve
problems peacefully by producing knowledge). Therefore, empirical social science was
called upon to explain the new world order, promote development, and justify Americas
exalted position (Lemert 1993:299).
W.W. Rostowneoclassical economics professor, government advisor, and rabid
anti-communistdeveloped the most influential version of this world social theory. His
Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1960) encapsulated the unilinear
modernization paradigm, which traced the broad stages of advancement as experienced in
Europe and the U.S. and assumed its application to the rest of the world.
advocated industrialization and the creation of a proletariat to replace subsistence
communities in the quest for private profit, which was then supposed to be self-generative via
capital reinvestment. Even if some resisted, it was thought that the Third World would be

Rostows modernization is a theory of production in stages, which proceed thus: 1) traditional society(pre-Newtonian,
fatalist, agricultural, lack of productive options); 2) preconditions for take-off(begin to embrace modern science, nationalism,
trade, wage labor, and industry); 3) take-off(growth normalized, more technology, industry, capital investment, exploitation of
resources, commercial agriculture); 4) drive to maturity(competition in international economy, new imports and exports, capital
output keeps up with population growth); and 5) age of high mass-consumption(consumption beyond basic needs, durable
goods and services, urbanization, skilled labor, ability to support social welfare and security). This became the standard model
for most economists, and justified spending billions of aid dollars on international development using the U.S. as the ideal type.

grateful in the end, and would somehow be prepared to accept the structural changes and
new technology from the West.
Traditional and modern societies cannot exist side-by-side,
nor as an amalgam, Rostow claimed, therefore traditional practices must be subverted and
rendered obsolete by economic development. Furthermore, indigenous societies should come
to identify more with the nation-state than with their tribal or ethnic groups.
Once the world powers agreed on how countries develop, the internal barriers to
development needed to be understood and transcended (Lewellen 1995). Anthropologists,
with their exceptional ability to understand social and economic practices on a local level,
were asked to explain traditional, or undeveloped, societies, and how cultures might change
in order to modernize (a process they generally perceived as positive) (Phillips 1998:xiii). As
in earlier peasant studies, some anthropologists and rural sociologists in Latin America
continued to use the community as the unit of analysis, treating the local as a discrete entity,
and focused on acculturation and assimilation within a traditionalmodern dichotomy (e.g.,
Redfield 1947; 1955; Erasmus 1956; cf. Gill 1987:6).
Commensurate with the newer trend in peasant studies, important ethnography was
undertaken to challenge the unilinear premise of modernization theory, and to link
community change with broader dynamics in the national and international milieu (e.g.,
Steward 1955; Wolf 1956; Mintz 1960). Some studies showed how the worldviews of
traditional societies differed from modern ones (e.g., Tax 1941; 1953)notably in the realm of
medicine and disease (Paul 1955)as an important way to evaluate the enormous and rapid
expansion of cross-cultural channels of communication, interdependence, and exchange
during that period of time (Heath 1965:480). Studies of religious syncretism also contributed
to the understanding of cultural and social structural change, and of how traditional societies
adapt to outside influence (La Farge 1947; Wolf 1958). George Foster (1973) showed that the
force of tradition in indigenous societies is often very strong, and that there may be vested
interests in maintaining the status quo (i.e., not modernizing). Because anthropologists often
seemed to defend the traditional in the face of the modern, they were marginalized from

Hence the accusations of neocolonialism to this sort of externally-imposed modernizationthe Third World became the new
white mans burden.

mainstream analyses and policy-making, which impaired the disciplines ability to contribute
to the generation of culturally-sensitive and thus practicable development theory (Horowitz

Oscar Lewis, after incorporating the national scale of culture change for his research
in rural Tepoztln, shifted his gaze to the growing number of urban poor in Latin America.

In Five Families (1959), he portrays the psychological and social experiences of Mexican poor
people during the massive shift from rural to urban livelihoods that occurred after WWII as a
result of falling rural productivity and population growth. As a Marxist, Lewis did not blame
the poor for the privation they endured in the ghettos but looked to the structural influences
of capitalism on society and how people respond. Through subsequent fieldwork in Mexico,
Puerto Rico, New York City, and Cuba,
Lewis developed his highly controversial culture of
poverty thesis,
which stands as a poignant critique of an externally imposed and simplistic
theory of modernization.
In setting out to explain this idea in positive terms (most coherently in La Vida
[1966]), Lewis defines the lifestyle of those living in urban poverty as adaptive, meaning that
people have evolved a set of solutions for human problems (Lewis 1966:li). He calls it a
because it is a design for living that is passed down from generation to generation,

Early development theory was dominated by economists, political scientists, and geographers until the 1970s. However,
some applied anthropologists acted as change agents in early community development work in Mexico and South America
after WWII in conjunction with U.S. agricultural extension agents (see Schwartz 1978). I thank Grace Goodell (personal
interview 2002) for turning my attention to this phase of anthropological engagement with development.

Others also sought to raise awareness of this social phenomenon. For example, Spaniard Luis Buuel arouse[d] national
indignation [for his depiction of] the slums of Mexico City, this horrendous underworld, in his film Los Olvidados (1980
[1951], cited in Galeano 1988:140).

Lewis (1950; 1959) considered the family a manageable unit befitting the needs of ethnographic analysis. He developed this
method for his study in Tepoztln in 1943, and used it for the fieldwork that would produce the books Five Families (1959), The
Children of Sanchez (1961), and La Vida(1966). The family, as a small social system, is an entity that bridges the gap
between the conceptual extremes of culture at one pole and the individual at the other (Lewis 1959:3). Each family was
portrayed as unique, though also representative of the larger cultural system of which it is a component. His monographs
literary quality allows readers to feel as if they know the people personally, and to comprehend the society in which they are
enmeshed. Lewis refers to his family portraits as ethnographic realism (1959:5), existing somewhere in between the flow of
fiction and the analysis of anthropology.

The term culture of poverty is analogous in many ways to what Eric Wolf (1955) coined a cult of poverty to characterize
peasant communities that maintain traditional patterns of limited consumption, hard work, endogamy, dress, reciprocity, and
agricultural production in the face of potential outside pressures to modernize. I have not found this connection drawn
elsewhere, though Lewis was certainly familiar with this prominent article by Wolf when developing his ideation in the 1960s.

Lewis actually called it a subculture to indicate that it is not a bounded, primordial, linguistic, or structurally coherent entity,

and it governs such things as interpersonal relationships, family structure, and value systems.
This particular kind of culture arose as a result of the cash economywith wage labor and
production for profitwhich forced many people off their land and into the cities. With high
rates of unemployment and low wages, part of each society is pushed to the margins to live in
poverty. The dominant class explains low economic status as the result of individual personal
inadequacy and inferiority (ibid.:xl), but Lewis blames capitalism and liberal
ideology. The
culture of poverty that develops represents an effort to cope with feelings of hopelessness
and despair that arise from the realization from members of the marginal communities in
these societies of the improbability of their achieving success in terms of the prevailing values
and goals (ibid.:xliv).
The psychological effects of growing up poor in this kind of society, Lewis says,
hinder peoples ability to take advantage of improved circumstances when they occur, and
because these feelings of fatalism, helplessness, dependence and inferiority are
compounded by a lack of educational opportunities and a weak welfare system, the culture of
poverty is perpetuated. The culture of poverty flourishes and is endemic to the free-
enterprise, pre-welfare-state stage of capitalism, as well as in colonial societies; both destroy
native social and economic systems and produce the marginalization, alienation, and
oppression that so damage the lower strata of society. Lewis differentiates the culture of
poverty from the sort of poverty that might exist in indigenous peasant or tribal societies (or
in socialist countries such as Cuba, or in advanced capitalist states such as the US) since such
societies do not endure the oppression and dehumanization
that occurs with rapid
industrialization in an externally imposed export economy.
The culture of poverty thesis incited a firestorm of criticism by social scientists who
found Lewiss concept offensive or theoretically unsound, or both. For example, Anthony

but he used culturefor brevity and semantic appeal.

Liberal in the classic economics senseas it will mean throughout this dissertationsignifying modernization in terms of a
decrease in the role of the state relative to the market, individualism, private property rights, an export economy, growth of
cities, investment capital, wage labor, etc. See Polanyi (1957 [1944]) for a spirited history and critique of these ideas and their
social implications.

See Paulo Freire (1993 [1970]) on his efforts to educate people oppressed by colonialism and/or capitalism, and to
encourage them to use their experiences to change the societies in which they live.

Leeds (1971) argued as a structural-functionalist that calling it a culture implies some
intrinsic character of poverty to the population in a blame the victim sort of way, and also
makes poverty seem intractable. He also criticized Lewiss lack of empirical methods and
causal explanations to prove that the culture of poverty exists. Neither was Leeds fond of
Lewiss use of the family as a unit of analysis or his literary style. Sidney Mintz (1985) also
studied the changes proceeding from modernization (and colonialism), but he criticized those
who were studying marginal enclaves within modern society that in effect replicated the
traditional anthropological primitive subject.
After decades of such vitriolic criticism, Lewis was later praised for his ideas:
Lewiss subculture of poverty idea, far from being a poor-bashing, ideological ploy, is
firmly grounded in a Marxist critique of capital and its productive contradictions. As
such, Lewiss work is a celebration of the resilience and resourcefulness of the poor, not a
denigration of the lower class and the cultural defenses they erect against povertys
everyday uncertainty. (Harvey and Reed 1996:465)

The culture of poverty was an ideological Marxist humanist assessment that demanded
situational investigation, but most importantly it was a statement of his belief that the poor
themselves are capable of mounting the resistance necessary to secure their own liberation, as
evidenced by their pragmatic collective response to capitalism. Indeed, That wisdom was
what Lewis called the subculture of poverty (ibid.:482). Ultimately, Lewiss ethnographic
work is most useful as an example of how an historical moment, ideological bent,
anthropological scholarship, and exceptional prose can coincide to enrich the debate over
pressing social problems and influence the direction of future social science research. Lewis
also fomented discussion over the class consciousness of the urban poor, thus contributing to
the analysis of the ongoing structureagency dynamic within capitalist societies.

Research in Bolivia after WWII

In the 1950s, anthropological analyses of diachronic change were not yet evident in
the Bolivian Andes (La Barre 1948; Leonard 1952; Osborne 1955; Nez del Prado 1955);
even though Bolivia had mounted a successful peasant revolution in 1952, it was too soon to
detect new patterns of social organization. Modernization theory did not seem of primary
importance in this remote region as Bolivians created their own model of socio-economic

transformation (inspired by the Mexican Revolution [Malloy and Gamarra 1988] as well as
the Russian Revolution and German Nazism [Alb 1994:57]). William Carter was a rural
grade-school teacher near Lake Titicaca in 1953, during the period of great unrest all over the
country (Carter 1964:1) as Agrarian Reform followed Bolivias Revolution. He returned in
1963 as an anthropologist to document the changes that these reforms had fostered at the
grassroots level, in highland Aymara communities as peasants changed from peons to
landholders. He conducted surveys to analyze their social organization and livelihoods, and to
study the differences between free communities (i.e., those that had been unadulterated by
the hacienda system) and communities that replaced the disbanded haciendas after the
reforms. He found that agrarian reform had brought conflict to Aymara peasants as they
struggled with new definitions of ownership, access, productivity, and leadership.
The Buechlers (1968; 1971) also evaluated the changes wrought by Bolivias agrarian
reform in Aymara peasant communities.
They determined that Aymara cultural patterns
seem to have persisted through the centuries due to their adaptability to new situations
rather than because of any inherent traditionalism, and thus facilitate Aymara adaptation to
change (Buechler and Buechler 1971). In an explicit bow to the trend in Latin American
studies to consider peasant communities as parts of complex systems, they applied new social
network theory (Barnes 1968) to treat highland communities not just as bounded units (as
the Aymara themselves delineate territorially), but also as intersections of individual ties
across territorial and social group boundaries.
The Buechlers and Carterthree of the most prominent Bolivianist social scientists at
the timeonly briefly mention the political turmoil underway in the 1960s, as the
revolutionary party (the MNR) was overthrown by a military golpe (coup) and U.S. military
aid was reinstated. While religion, social roles, and the festival cycle are addressed in detail,
no attempt is made to appraise shifting power relations between the state and society, much
less with the U.S. and beyond.
Perhaps Andean anthropology in the early 1970s was

See also Lons (1967); Heath, Erasmus, and Buechler (1969); Heath (1973); McEwen (1975).

Peruvian ethnohistorian John Murra (1975) addresses the tortuous Andean political economy, and represents the trend
manifested in dependency theory (similar to indigenismo) for such analyses to be conducted from within rather than relying on

somewhat out of the mainstream, or just behind the curve.
In 1972, Eric Wolf and Edward Hansen published (after many years of rejection by
those who did not grasp its import [1972:vii]) a volume assessing the existential conditions
of the political, economic, and social drama going on in Latin America (1972:v). They were
particularly disturbed by the research on Latin America that strove to correlate social
phenomena with modernization theory and pointedly argued against the unfounded
optimism of unilinear development theorists:
We can not find a happy homegrown capitalist class patiently developing national
resources for national ends, while simultaneously offering education, remunerative
employment, and cultural uplift to grateful masses, who are in their turn clamoring for
parliamentary democracy. (Wolf and Hansen 1972:vi)

In other words, the benefits of modernization were very unevenly distributed and actually
perpetuated poverty among the masses. Wolf and Hansen pointed out the increase in control
exerted by the metropolises over Latin American elites as the U.S. relied on more overt
interventionism, and the subsequent diminution in the power of poor communities to
influence national politics.
They were concerned with the economic shifts that had created
enclave export economies surrounded by a matrix of impoverished peasant livelihoods.
They also incorporated an historical perspective
and brought colonialism into sharper focus
to evaluate how it had impacted state-society relationships in Latin America and had
subjugated Third World economies to its industrial centers.
This assessment of colonialism-cum-capitalism exposed the major weakness of
modernization theorythe assumption that Southern nations could develop according to the
colonizers modeland blew apart the simplistic dualism of traditional versus modern. It
seemed clear that Southern countries were not in some primal state of undevelopment, but
had been actively underdeveloped by their colonists, and were kept in poverty as the

Western scholars to set trends.

But see Greaves (1972) on peasant sindicatos and rural proletarians in the Andes (critiquing Redfields assumption of a
homogeneous peasantry, and building on Mintzs [1953; 1960; and later 1974] research primarily). Greaves argues that we
are seeing a number of ways in which people of peasant backgrounds are changing themselves. The rural Andean world is
rapidly becoming the domain of the post-peasant, most significantly as peasants in Bolivia (more so than in Peru and
Ecuador) are increasingly engaged in national political life (Greaves 1972:74 [also in Nash et al. 1977] italics in original).

Wolf is famous for systematically including history in his anthropological work (see 1959; 1969; 1982).

metropolises continued to exploit them long after their independence from Spain in the early
1800s. Such attention to power and history set the stage for a new phase of anthropological
endeavor within a more dynamic paradigm that could better incorporate a multiplicity of
factors relevant to Latin Americas complex reality.

Dependency Theory
This new paradigm, called dependency theory, became the most provocative way to
analyze Latin American socio-economics in the late 1960s and 70s, and had a major impact
on ethnography in the region as anthropologists endeavored to incorporate historical and
international dynamics into their analyses. Not only did it help explain the impacts of
capitalism, but also why poverty continued to be acute in Latin America after 150 years of
independence and 25 years of development. The Economic Commission for Latin America
(ECLA), under the United Nations, had earlier theorized development (Prebisch 1950) and
saw the world divided into a wealthy core and an underdeveloped periphery. Three seminal
textsAndr Gunder Frank (1969), Immanuel Wallerstein (1979), and Fernando Cardoso and
Enzo Faletto (1979 [1971])build on the idea of such a global division and convey the subtle
differences in the debate over dependency theory. These scholars put the political back into
the economy, drawing on Marx and Lenin to show the dialectical relationship between social,
political, and economic factors in the evolution of a countrys economic structure in the
context of the world system.
Wallersteins stance is more global (and is also technically called World System
Theory), whereas Frank and Cardoso and Faletto ground their discussions specifically in
Latin America. Wallerstein reasons that capitalism originated in Europe in the 1500s, and
that its expansion was based primarily on economics as an international division of labor was
created. The others insist that the spread of capitalism from Europe and the U.S. to any given
region is equally influenced by political and social factors. Underdevelopment results from
this spread as nations struggle under external capitalist exploitation, unequal terms of trade,
and the inability to progress beyond primary exports. Thus, dependency theorists argue that
Latin Americas severe poverty, indebtedness, and lack of modernization was caused by

capitalismi.e., these conditions are not simply intrinsic to all non-Western nationsand
that capitalisms global structure (division of labor and power relationships) keeps them in a
subordinate (or dependent) position. Therefore more capitalism (or Westernization) is not
the solution to these ills.
Wallersteins explanation of the capitalist world system is based on the categories of
core and periphery (with an intermediate semi-periphery)
into which each national
economy falls based on its particular function in the system. Cardoso and Faletto use the
similar terms center and periphery, stressing that these designations only account for the
functions that underdeveloped economies perform in the world market, but overlook the
socio-political factors involved in a situation of dependence (Cardoso and Faletto 1979:18).
Franks nomenclature better expresses the changing dynamics between multiple loci of
production and consumption. Frank denounces the dualistic structure of capitalist analysis
(words that connote advanced and archaic), and instead adopts metropolis and satellite.
An economic system can simultaneously be a metropolis and a satellite, depending on its
links to other economies; an economy can be international, national, regional, or local; and
the relationships it has with other economic, political, and social systems is constantly in flux.
There are innumerable chains of such relationships. For example, England is a major
metropolis to the satellite of So Paulo, Brazil; but the city of So Paulo is a metropolis to the
satellite of the Baha region; and so on down the line through the sugar mill factories,
livestock raisers, and the native populations of the Amazon. The Indians are those with the
least power in this network: they can either try to disengage from (or avoid) the capitalist
system, or they must make the most of being an exploited wage labor force. Frank thus shows
that even the interior of a large autonomous country like Brazil is penetrated by Western
Wallerstein allows that capitalism is just an experiment in this particular historical
moment. Cardoso and Faletto emphasize that economics must be considered in conjunction

Some anthropologists of globalizationthe next phase of the world capitalist systemcontinue to utilize core and periphery
as explanatory referents (notably Hannerz 1992), though justifying these divisions today is tricky given the flow and volatility of
international capitals.

See Scheper-Hughes (1992) and Galeano (1997) on dependency theory and Brazilian sugar plantations.

with social behavior and resistance (i.e., interaction between the structure of capitalism and
the agency of social actors), and that each country must be evaluated according to its own
historical process (i.e., it is impossible to make generalizations about the forces of capitalism).
They also assert that capitalism was not designed to create egalitarian or just societies, nor is
it capable of such compassion. Capitalism produces wealth and poverty, accumulation and
shortage of capital, employment for some and unemployment for others (Cardoso and
Faletto 1979:xxiii), whether in the center or the periphery. As a solution, all four theorists
advocate some degree of socialism,
or at least a strong welfare state and a semi-protected
economy. Frank explains the merits of import substitution industrialization (which was
doomed to failure), and the problems with foreign debt (which has grown exponentially in
Latin America since the 1970s).
One of the most insightful ethnographies to incorporate dependency theory is June
Nashs We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us: Dependency and Exploitation in Bolivian
Tin Mines (1993 [1979]).
Nash incorporates broad historical trends and various theoretical
foundations to inform the data she gathers and the stories she tells. She draws primarily upon
Marxs historical materialism (analyzing real human experience to determine how economic
conditions and modes of production affect every aspect of peoples lives) to evaluate the
miners class consciousness and activism, and the dependency of both the workers on the
mines (hence the title of the book) and the country on the world market (1993:xxxiii; 6; 12;
210; 320-25).
She also seeks to study the worldview of the miners as a folk society in the
vein of Redfield (1947) and Tax (1941).
Nashs central discovery from her research is that the women and men of the

Lewis (1966) was also enamored of socialism after his experiences in Cuba and thought of it as a remedy for the culture of
poverty syndrome that he perceived in capitalist societies. Marx, of course, thought that socialism (or communism) would
succeed capitalism in his evolutionary framework.

Nash has also theorized about ideological shifts in anthropology (Nash et. al 1977; Nash 1986; 1997). Before the crisis of
representation swept through anthropology in 1986, Nash was cognizant of the need to decenter... the authoritarian voice of
the outsider (1993:xxviii), which she did by directly quoting her informants as often as possible. Nash does not hesitate to
support the miners activist endeavorsshe has participated in their demonstrations (see Nash 1992), and through her writing
she conveys the logic and imperative of their struggles to a wider audience (see also Nash 2001 on Chiapas)thus illustrating
how academic and applied anthropology can be mutually reinforcing and of value to our research subjects.

Michael Taussig (1980) also uses Marx to theorize the impact of capitalism on Bolivian miners since the Conquest. He says
wage laborers had to treat their souls as commodities in order to survive, resulting in the fetishization of the Christian devil.
Nash (1993:xxxvii) criticizes Taussigs universalizing interpretation.

mining communities worked together toward collective goals, and that all their political
actions against the military government and the capitalist system originated in homes (sites
of consumption and reproduction) as families discussed the state of affairs in their
community and strategized. This dynamic represents the interpenetration of the work site
and the home, which sharpened [her understanding of] the dialectic of the class struggle
(1993:xxviii). This struggle in mining communities is a continuous, exhausting, and often
futile effort to maintain their way of life (then in the face of brutal repression under Hugo
Banzer, and later under the budget cuts and privatizations of neoliberalism). Nash stresses
that progress [toward social justice] can be made only when the rank and file of workers are
the architects of the institutions in which they work and live (1993:xxi). In a repudiation of
Webers ideal typeswhich differentiate irrational indigenous from rational modern culture
Nash is adamant that the transformation of the traditional culture is not only not a necessary
condition for modernization, but that retention of the traditional culture may well ease the
transition (1993:6).
Furthermore, she exposes the fallibility of Marxs assumption that proletarian
revolution would occur in the center of industry in England. Nash argues that the Bolivian
miners acute awareness of the global dimension of their struggle came precisely from their
peripheral position in the international exchange setting. It is a reminder to us now to look
for revolutionary change in the marginal populations rather than the vanguard sectors of the
proletariat (1993:xxxiii). Eric Wolf (1969; cf. Nash 1997) shows that peasants were the
counter-capitalist revolutionaries of the 20
century, far from being Marxs backward rural
incompetents. Thus it appeared in the early 1980s that peasants and other marginalized
laborers would be the bearers of the new class struggle against an exploitative capitalist
system (cf. Greaves 1972).

Alternatively, Billie Jean Isbell (1985 [1978]) documents how Quechua villagers in Ayacucho, Peru, tried to defend
themselves from outside incursions into their corporate communal life in the remote highlands rather than foment revolution. In
the 1960s, they valued self-sufficiency over cultural and economic integration into the nation (sounding similar to Wolfs [1955]
cult of poverty). Her focus on symbolic expression through ritual and reciprocity (drawing from Geertz), however, masked the
fundamental changes actually taking place at the time. During a visit in 1985, Isbell was forced to acknowledge that these
peasants were not able to maintain their social structures in the face of outside influence (both Sendero Luminosoand
government campaigns of terror), and that she had not adequately situated this village in the world system or within an
historical context.

Some say that dependency theory began with the right wing romanticism of
peasants as fatalistic backward-looking victims of oppression and ended with left wing
romanticism which viewed peasants as a progressive and potentially revolutionary class
(Lewellen 2002:222)neither of which encourages substantive analysis. While dependency
theory allowed scholars to visualize an interconnected world political economic system
instead of isolated nations struggling toward modernity along an arbitrary path, it was too
abstract, and, like Marxism in general, its predictive value ranged from not very good to
nil (ibid.:65). In other words, it was more a model of development than a model for it, as it
lacked useful analytical tools. It did not, for example, predict the rapid development of
southeast Asian economies using the free market, and its socialist solutions proved to be
economically impractical or socially detrimental. It also tended overly to treat Southern
nations as victims, emphasizing the external forces that inhibited development (in contrast to
the equally extreme focus on internal factors by modernization theory) (Lewellen 1992). But
dependency theory retains heuristic value, for its central premisethat underdevelopment is
a result of unequal relations with developed countriesstill resonates. The conditions of
dependency and underdevelopment that Nash describes for Bolivia persist today:

low income; slow growth; regional disequilibrium; instability; inequality; unemployment;
dependence on foreign countries; specialization in the production of raw materials and
primary crops [for export]; and economic, social, political, and cultural marginality to a
degree more extreme than that of any other Latin American country. As a result the
policies of the government are responsive to outside interests. (Nash 1993 [1979],
summarizing Sunkel 1973:134)

A difference between then and now is that Nash did not see any way to correct these problems
within the period of repressive military dictatorships that controlled the nation during her
fieldwork, whereas now Bolivia operates under a constitutional electoral democracy.
Especially after the election of the countrys first indigenous president in 2005, there is a solid
mandate to strengthen the countrys democracy and attempt lasting economic reforms. Even
Bolivias subservience to the U.S. in political/military matters and to the world in its economy
is beginning to shift under Evos new creative leadership.

The issues that Eduardo Galeano describes in his synthetic treatise on Latin American economic dependency (1997 [1973]),
also persist despite two decades of neoliberal reform: indigenous marginalization, massive foreign debt, alcoholism, the desire
for land reform and redistribution, the policies and misunderstandings surrounding coca, defensive religious syncretism, the
destruction of traditional economic systems, and rampant poverty.

In addition to its inherent inadequacies, dependency theory failed to maintain a
prominent theoretical position within anthropology in the 1980s for two external reasons:
first, in response to the debt crisis neoliberalism was being applied around the world (which
forced countries to open up to the world market, essentially making dependency theory
solutions irrelevant), and second, the postmodern turn in the social sciences occasioned the
questioning of all metanarratives, Marxism and dependency among them (Phillips 1998:xv).
Aside from a measure of disarray during the crisis of representation, ethnography in Latin
America continues to build on the traditions of peasant studies, modernization critique, and
dependency, but with ever evolving scrutiny and nuance.
But dependency is still relevant to the study of Bolivias political economy, whether or
not it is out of vogue in the academic world. Beginning in the 1950s with the first large aid
packages, the U.S. helped engender in Bolivia a state of dependency and loss of sovereignty, a
condition it is now striving to surmount. Aid money is almost never given with altruism in
even though the popular sentiment among people in the U.S. is that our government
is just lending poor people a caring hand. Aid money can be used to bend people to the will of
the giver (at home or abroadconsider welfare in the U.S.), whether or not the intentions are
noble. Governments always (some say must) hold their national interests as the highest
priority, and they distribute or withhold aid money in order to secure the behavior they
desire. The following story illustrates a classic use of this tactic.
In May 2004, the Bolivian Senate passed a highly controversial resolution that would
grant U.S. citizens, U.S. or U.S.-trained military personnel, and foreign contract workers
employed by the U.S. immunity from being tried for human rights violations or genocide by
any foreign judicial system. The agreement would proscribe their prosecution in Bolivia or
their extradition to the International Criminal Court, requiring instead that the alleged
offenders be returned to the U.S. for trial.
Why would Bolivias representatives agree to such
a deal, given the history of human rights abuses during militarized coca eradication exercises,
and right when revelations of U.S. soldiers torturing prisoners in Iraq are all over the

I am avoiding a discussion of whether it is even possible to be genuinely altruistic, a subject of significant debate.

The Bush administration was pushing for this agreement in countries around the world, not just Bolivia.

newspapers? Because the Bolivian government has become dependent on U.S. aid money to
remain fiscally solvent, it is forced to choose between its dignity and the continuation of the
considerable funding it receives.
Thus, the ideas generated in the application of dependency
theory warrant consideration to better understand Bolivias desire to secure political
autonomy and sovereignty from U.S. oversight and economic manipulation.

Implications for My Research
Early peasant studies treated rural agricultural communities as closed corporate
societies, or as homogeneous traditional communities, which was nave considering the
interpenetration of the colonial and capitalist experience into even remote vicinities.
Evaluating the historical experience of Aymara peasants has been a major focus for my
research in the Yungas, a region of semi-subsistence agriculturalists. Ethnographic work on
modern-day peasants continues in Latin America and elsewhere (Mayer 2002; Alb 2002;
Allen 2002; Shiva 2001; Nash 2001; Bebbington 1999; Edelman 1999; Gupta 1998; Kearney
1996; Sheridan 1988; Gill 1987; Scott 1985), evaluating the interface of subsistence
agriculture and cultural traditions with the Green Revolution, technology modernization,
capitalist development, and globalization. There is a strong tradition in Bolivian anthropology
to evaluate the relationship between indigenous peasant society and feudalism, dictatorship,
state capitalism, and other political economic models (Spedding 2005; Nugent 1997; Alb
1994; Rivera 1993). However, most anthropological analyses of peasant society do not
consider the impacts of different outside models of democracy on peasant society or their
agency in the production of new models of democracy (except for, notably, Rivera 2004; Patzi
2004a; Ticona et al. 1995; Medina 1995). My research that focuses specifically on European
syndicalism as a model for democracy among Bolivian campesinos as it was adapted to ayllu
cultural practices appears to be unique. Now that neoliberalism is being challenged effectively
from below by Bolivian social movements, recent anthropological studies are engaging the

Ironically, the U.S. was threatening to withhold millions of dollars destined for the armed forcesfunds needed to fight the
U.S. War on Drugs, and thus to be certified to receive the next years funds. The resolution was eventually overturned by the
Bolivian House of Representatives. But some took a pragmatic view of this situation: We cant eat dignity, said an urban
indigenous woman, we can only eat food, so we need the money from the U.S. (La Razn 5/14/04).

issues involved in democratic reform (Postero 2007; Kohl and Farthing 2006).
While modernization theory is no longer a valid theoretical pursuit, it has been
reincarnated in neoliberalism, and Bolivias large-scale development projects are couched
within this ideology (Bolivian Authorities 2001). Sidney Mintz avers that anthropology is
concerned with how people stubbornly maintain past practices, even when under strong
negative pressures (1985:xxvi), while also evaluating how such practices are transformed. It
is useful to think of modernity as a subjective condition that varies according to how each
region conceives of the world and constructs its reality: Modernityis a struggle that takes
place in specific locations and a process that knits together local/global configurations. Here,
the local becomes not simply a site but an angle of vision (Rofel 1999:18). Scrutinizing the
repercussions of Bolivias modernization agenda in one location illuminates the perpetual
dialectic between cultural continuity and change. My ethnographic perspective differs from
quantitative analyses of liberal democracy (ONeill and Molina 1998; Peirce 1997) and
development (World Bank 2000) by exposing the daily struggles and satisfactions of
assimilating these principles into peoples lives, and how people negotiate through and
between dominant Western ideologies to craft their own way of addressing problems.
The current era of Latin American studies is an eclectic endeavor in which any kind of
research is possible given the huge increase in the number of new anthropologists entering
the field, and given the diversity of interests (Shankman and Ehlers 2000), by both
indigenous and Western scholars. My work in Bolivia contends with democracy and
development in a multi-scalar analysis from the international level all the way down to the
Andean village context in a semi-subsistence agricultural municipality.

Neoliberalism in Bolivia
Historical sociologist Manuel Castells began studying the global information
technology phenomenon in Europe, the U.S., Latin America, and the USSR in the 1980s. He
asserts that ideas of state sovereignty and autonomy must be rethought in todays information
age, especially in the realm of economics and trade. The level of social and political
organization called the nation-state is not about to be dismantled, he assures, yet countries

are increasingly yielding their sovereignty to supranational entities and trade agreements
such as the WTO, the IMF, and NAFTA. Castells considers this a step in the right direction,
since the global economy does not respect national boundaries in the flow of capital (cf.
Friedman 1999; Appadurai 1996). Castells also predicts that people around the world will
eventually be defined more by their relationship with a network of associations than their
relationships with family, tribe, or nation. This theorybased on rigorous and broad
empirical research, which he emphasizes in order to distinguish his work from abstract
theorizing (in Kreisler 2001)provides an interesting reference point to Bolivias status as a
society, nation, and international actor. Yet Castells is careful to note that networks do not
have agendas of their ownthey can kill or kiss (in Kreisler 2001)but are tools which may
be used by individuals or groups toward their own ends.
A network as impartial resource is the same concept that economists use to explain
the potentialities of the market (Powelson 1998), and I find it useful as a way to think about
individual agency in todays neoliberal capitalist hegemony. Transnational organizations,
information technology, and unrestricted trade are all of great import to indigenous societies
in Bolivia who desire to control their own lives unencumbered by the weight of a centralized
state, an inefficient bureaucracy, self-serving or corrupt NGOs, and international institutions
like the IMF and USAID. This is not to say that governments, NGOs, and international
institutions are nefarious in and of themselves, but their effectiveness is so context-dependent
and variable that local groups and communities need to develop ways to increase control over
their development agenda. As Molina (2001:23) reminds us, good government, globalization,
and citizen participation are only loosely conceptualized ideas (even myths) that are all too
readily transformed into large-scale experiments in decentralization, democratization, and
privatization, which then have direct impacts on peoples lives without knowing what will
result. Yet a broad experiment with decentralization and democratization is underway in
Bolivia, a process which began in 1982 with the overthrow of the cocaine dictatorship of
Garcia Meza and Arce Gomez, subsequent neoliberal economic reforms in 1985, and the Plan
de Todos legislation in 1994.
Free markets and liberal democracy were embraced throughout Latin America as the

ideologies of choice in this global era. As Forrest Colburn (2002) asserts, these suggest an end
to ideological debate over the form of national political economic systems. Bolivia seems to fit
this trend with the New Economic Plan of 1985 and the Popular Participation Law of 1994,
yet within the country formal and informal groups are fervently arguing for and increasingly
organizing to create different forms of national political economic organization.
Bolivias infrastructure deficiency weakens its ability to integrate the country
physically, economically, politically, and culturally. Its high level of rural poverty and
illiteracy means that most people (who are indigenous peasants or miners) are not able to
participate adequately in national life, must resort to public protest for their needs to be
heard by a national audience, and must rely on communal social relationships to survive (Gill
2000). Some liberal theorists (Powelson 1994) maintain that this sort of long-term
persistence allows oppressed groups to gain sustainable power and equality through peaceful
means, whereas violent revolutions or regime changes that merely switch oppressed with
oppressors only reproduce systems of domination and exploitation (cf. Freire 1993).
In Latin America, neoliberalism is one of many imported European ideologiesin
addition to, for example, Marxism, liberalism, and positivism
that carries the following
general objectives (Hobsbawm 1977:189):
a) to transform backward countries into advanced ones,
b) to transform (formally or informally) dependent countries into genuinely
independent ones, and
c) to construct a bridge between the small elites and the mass of the impoverished
and backward population.

But as Hobsbawm cautions, such ideologies are usually rooted in entirely different contexts
than the ones to which they are applied, so they may be inappropriate to the specific needs of
a country and may produce errant results (not that they are problem-free in their original
contexts). Bolivias adoption of socialism and liberalism, to name two prominent ones, have
been painful experiments with great human costs, yet have also generated powerful feelings
of progress and promise among both the government and the populace. Since 1985, neoliberal
economic reforms imposed from the top down in shock therapy fashion have not produced

See Jos Enrique Rods Ariel (1988 [1900]) for a poetic and polemical discussion of U.S. positivism in 1900 Latin America.

the anticipated benefits (and have caused great hardship among the poor) (Gill 2000). On the
other hand, liberal democracy is a dominant ideology that was used as a template, and then
altered to better fit with Bolivias unique cultural and historical setting (Crdenas 1997).

With the introduction of the LPP, Bolivian officials were calling upon its citizenry to
embrace their new participatory democratic system and to Think nationally, act locally as
sort of a patriotic or respectable assignment (MacLean 2001:74). But since historical
collective memory is alive and well (see Trouillot 1995), what incentives, under an elite
government, could the average Bolivian possibly have had to think nationally?
In indigenous communities, people tend to identify with historical cultural figures such as
pre-Conquest nobility and colonial era resisters (Thomson 1996; Nash 1993).

Latin Americas Left Turn: Navigating between Neoliberalism and Socialism
Social scientists have employed two dominant theories over the past 50 years to
explain Latin Americas persistent state of underdevelopment: modernization theory and
dependency theory. These two approaches to economic development can be counterposed to
create a continuum of possibility that Latin American leaders are now navigating to decide
the fate of their countries. To be consistent with the political monikers used to denote these
two philosophies, on the right side stands modernization theory (and its ideal, neoliberalism),
and on the left, dependency (and its ideal, socialism). These theories were deployed as if
reality could be confined to one side or the other, as if one or the other were sufficient to
explain the complex conditions in an entire array of nations. Of course, each theory
represents only an ideal, an ideology of historical process that is neither concrete nor
attainable; even so, each retains important heuristic merit. Taking a fresh look at these
theories allows us to see what the so-called leftist resurgence in Latin America is really all
about, and why such terms as socialism and neoliberalism can no longer be used blithely
without reconstructing their meanings in todays controversial political economic arena.
According to modernization theory, whose principal proponent was W.W. Rostow, a

David Nugent (1999; 2002) advocates this sort of appropriation and ideological mixing based on his work in Peru on
alternative democracies.

nation is underdeveloped because its economy is based on subsistence agriculture with little
wage labor or industry, consumption centers on fulfilling basic needs, and modern science
and the modern nation are unfamiliar concepts. The responsibility for this state of being lies
within the country itself, due to its poor economic planning, cultural backwardness, and lack
of modern institutions, technology and infrastructure. In other words, the problem is
considered internal, and no consideration is given to the historical impacts of colonialism or
imperialism. The solution is an economic plan known as neoliberal capitalism which purports
to increase the flow of trade, technology and investment to a country, and thus the level of
industry, wage labor, urbanization and consumption among its populace. Because these
(usually Southern) countries are perceived to have been unable to manage their affairs
properly on their own, outside entities, such as the World Bank and the IMF, feel justified in
imposing structural adjustment programs to force the transition to modern nation status.
Dependency theory, on the other hand, maintains that a nation is underdeveloped
because of a history of colonialism and capitalism that initially destroys indigenous peoples
socio-economic systems and then prevents them from managing their own economies. This
relationship of dominancewhich is usually expressed as an extractive dynamic between the
core colonial or capitalist powers and the peripheral colonies or raw material providers
(Frank 1967; Wallerstein 1971)produced the underdevelopment in the former colonies that
sparked such concern after WWII. The responsibility for this situation is thus considered
external, with the country and its people as victims of a political economic structure they
cannot control. The solution to this problem according to dependency theorists is socialism,
or at least a state-dominated economy and ISI.
Neither of these metatheories has been adequate to explain or solve the very real
socio-economic inequality that persists across Latin America. I argue that the so-called leftist
resurgence in Latin America over the past few years (cf. Castaeda 2006; Forero 2005;
Shifter 2005) may be understood as an effort to navigate the continuum between the
extremes of neoliberalism and socialism. Such a middle ground is flexible, for there is no one
solution that applies to every country. Latin Americas new presidents are inspired by the
ideology of socialism (from dependency theory) and recognize that they must strengthen the

states role in the national economy to provide more services and economic benefits to their
majority poor indigenous populations. They recognize that history plays a major role in their
current situation, but they refuse to see themselves as victims.
Latin Americas leaders also embrace the pragmatism of liberalism (from
modernization theory), since poor indigenous people need to be able to increase their
consumption, and it is irrational now to believe that a nation can or would want to close itself
off from the global economy. In fact, both the administrations and social movements in Latin
America are developing plans to engage more effectively in international markets and trade
agreements. However, they reject the extremes of neoliberal capitalism and the Washington
Consensus (see Williamson 1993)the idea that they must swallow whole and all at once the
medicine prescribed by U.S. and European expertsand they demand control, i.e.,
sovereignty, over the path of their own economic development.
The adoption of democratic reforms across Latin America over the past two decades
has opened up the opportunity to navigate this open space between socialism and
neoliberalism. As Bolivian president Evo Morales contends, we are witnessing a democratic
revolution across the region in which historically marginalized populations are claiming
their right to engage in a widened public sphere, offer up their own candidates in new
political parties, and increasingly influence and author their own development agendas. In
Latin America, democracy is expected to positively impact the economy (see ODonnell
2001)i.e., ameliorate insidious socio-economic inequalitiesnot just properly organize
elections or defend a pluralistic media. Some political scientists maintain that a democratic
nation does not imply any particular economic impact on the population (Schumpeter 1973).
The entire leftist resurgence in Latin America centers around the conflict between these two
perspectives on the practical economic implications of adopting democratic politics.
Crucial to this current endeavor by Bolivias social movements and now the state to
generate new policies for the eradication of such persistent socio-economic ills such as
poverty and illiteracy is the ideaas discussed in the Introductionthat viable mechanisms
for political economic change occur when there exists a concurrent top-down and bottom-up
synergy. Many theories elaborated to explain patterns of development can be applied to

patterns of democratization, especially those relating to civil society, social capital, and
participation. But in-depth and long-term analyses of the particular factors involved in
supporting effective economic development initiatives are rare.
After over 20 years of engagement with grassroots development in Bolivia, sociologist
Kevin Healy determined 17 characteristics that, when incorporated together, engender
successful development projects. He defines long-term success as the ability of an
organization to rejuvenate local cultural and biological resources and transform these
resources into an ongoing flow of benefits valued by cash-poor communities. Said very
simply, these projects improved the quality of peoples lives in tangible and meaningful
ways (2001:396). Interestingly, Healy does not specify the statean aspect central to my
researchas a discrete factor in this list, though he does position government as a significant
player in several of the elements below (Healy 2001:403-17):
1. Popular participation (Community self-management, Training of local people,
Popular education, Employment of paraprofessionals, Professional education for
selected grassroots participants, Group empowerment)
2. Tackling of institutional barriers and discrimination
3. Energetic and committed leadership
4. Resident skill
5. Community motivation and tenacity
6. Community resource mobilization
7. Contributions of social research and participatory research
8. Outside organizers as key actors
9. The participation of foreigners
10. The role of the Churchdepends on level of paternalism vs. advocacy
11. The role of the outside funderdepends on respect for local knowledge and
12. Historical-structural economic factors
13. Single-minded project zeal
14. Sustainable development
15. Interdependence among Andean nations
16. Replicability
17. Luck and synchronicity

While I do not attempt to analyze the development programs in Coroico according to this
comprehensive rubric, it is useful to see that the top-down alternative development initiatives
in the Yungas fall far short of satisfying these characteristics (except for perhaps #13).
Latin Americas 20 year experiment with democracy has not produced the economic
returns that many expected would follow such political liberalization after decades of military
dictatorships and failed state-centered economic programs. In 2004, PNUD (Programa de

las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo) published a survey that indicated that a majority of
Latin Americans would prefer an authoritarian government that could deliver economic
benefits to the population over a democratic government that allowed the regions pervasive
poverty and underdevelopment to persist.
Fifty years of development efforts around the world indicate that orthodox top-
down initiatives tend to ignore the needs and wisdom of affected populations in an effort to
enforce ideological reforms (Ocampo 2001; Kottak 1995; OECD 1995). Bolivia stands to
replicate the worst aspects of such old-style development, which characteristically
exacerbates rather than ameliorates economic and political asymmetries, leads to
environmental destruction, and undermines the subsistence abilities of local populations
(Pigg 1997; Bello 1992; Escobar 1995; Chomsky 1999). These results often throw civil society
into direct conflict with the state as both sides seek to promote their differing agendas (Gill
2000; Alb 1995; Nash 1992; Rivera Cusicanqui 1990). Social unrest and military violence
may then ensue (Stephen 1999; Nash 1994).
Much of the work that problematizes international development has been done in the
fields of development studies, economics, and geography (Bebbington 1996; Bryant and
Bailey 1997; Ll 1991; Adams 1990), but anthropology has been steadily asserting itself into
this theoretical and practical domain over the past 25 years (Horowitz 1998; Ferguson 1997;
Escobar 1991; Hoben 1982). Some ethnographers have contributed important studies that
reveal how free market capitalism and structural adjustment have caused havoc for diverse
populations and environments (Gill 2000; Nash 1993; Brosius 1999; Ellen and Bernstein
1994). Others explain how communities or social groups have manipulated modernizing and
globalizing trends to their advantage (Freeman 2000; Ong 1999; Gupta 1999; Mills 1999).
Still others have analyzed social movements and indigenous activist efforts (Stephen 1998;
Alb 1995; Nash 1992; Rivera Cusicanqui 1990). These sorts of studies were done in an earlier
era of a more haphazard globalization (e.g., Ong 1999), and amidst critiques of development
that were based on either dependency theory (e.g., Nash 1993) or post-structuralism (e.g., Gill
2000). However, globalization, especially in Latin America, is becoming more useful to
popular movements, and development as a concept is being actively reclaimed by grassroots

organizations and progressive theorists to embody ideals as they see them rather than as they
are dictated by lending institutions (Escobar 2001; Arce and Long 2000).
Former ECLAC president Jos Ocampo (2001) argues for a new complementarity
between market and civil society interests so that a true public policy may be created in
Southern nations. He also asks that those who engage in this process cultivate humility and
tolerance, and abandon the arrogance that they already know what needs to be done. Not only
is this an invitation for real alternative development, but also for the skills and
temperament that anthropologists can offer. Instead of elaborating theories that circulate
only within the discipline about the transformations that are occurring around the world as a
result of globalization and democratization, many anthropologists use their ethnographic
expertise to communicate with policymakers and the public in order to lessen the U.S.s
arrogant and manipulative approach to foreign policy (see Okongwu and Mencher 2000).
A controversy exists over whether democracy refers only to an internal national
praxis by which citizens enjoy the rights to vote, speak, assemble, run for office, etc., or
whether it also extends to the international sphere of foreign relations. Clearly, the current
global political economy is decidedly undemocratic, even if it takes place between democratic
nations. Into this debate falls foreign aid and the controversial drug war. Also interesting is
the fact that Bolivias indigenous perception of democracy has helped publicize this insidious
fact of our current global order, especially the coca growers who directly experience its impact
in the form of the war on drugs in the Chapare and the Yungas. Sindicato politics, therefore,
may end up influencing the practice of international relations, and vice versa. People assert
that their government needs to be accountable to them and not to the U.S. These critical
questions of democracy have opened up a new space for ethnographic inquiry which
anthropologists are only beginning to explore.

Critical Questions of Democracy
Words can have histories too.When one of the speakers [at a protest against privatization
in Czechoslovakia] sought to bolster his stormy denunciation of the project by declaring that
he was fighting for his home in the name of socialism, the crowd started to laugh. Not
because they had anything against a just social order, but simply because they had heard a
word which has been used for years and years as an incantation in every possible and

impossible context by a regime that only knows how to manipulate and humiliate people.
What a weird fate can befall certain words!

Vclav Havel (1992 [1989]:383)

Will this be the fate to befall the word democracy now that it is invoked as the
panacea for everything from poverty to terrorism? Vclav Havel was writing about the use
and abuse of the idea of socialism by government ideologues as Czechoslovakia looked toward
a new democratic era, yet he was already skeptical of the promise of perestroika (free trade,
or the facilitation of market over centralized state control of the economy). Havel also noted
that such a charged political term can change from a symbol of a better world into the
mumbo jumbo of a doltish dictator. The same word can be humble at one moment and
arrogant the next (1992:383; 388).
Havels personal odyssey exemplifies the dedication and ultimate triumph of
fomenting democracy from the grassroots as a long-term goal achieved at great individual
and collective sacrifice.
It is deeply ironic to be contemplating the spread of democracy in
Latin America at a time when the U.S. administration is undertaking a campaign of military
intervention to enforce democracy in the supposedly sovereign country of Iraq. Current U.S.
foreign policy begs the following questions: Can democracy be imposed on a nation? If so,
what kind of democracy results from outside imposition? If not, how can a viable
democracy develop internally? Either way, how shall democracy be defined? Is democracy a
cultural phenomenon? Does democracy exist only at the national level? What results is
democracy expected to bring? Is democracy in fact the ultimate political ideology, or has it
lost its meaning after widespread semiotic abuse?
These broad but critical questions inspired my dissertation research in Bolivia. Together
with community leaders in the Coroico municipality, I explored such questions as: What
is the meaning of democracy? What alternatives exist to the dominant Western model?
What is the relationship between democracy and a nations economy? How does U.S.
foreign policy support or undermine Bolivian democracy? As Bolivia expands its forms of
participatory democracy amid a leftist political resurgence, it is an ideal location to
pursue these questions.

Vclav Havel endured government intimidation and many years in prison for being a public advocate of democracy after the
Soviet invasion sparked by the Prague Spring of 1977, and after the grassroots publication (via samizdat) of the Charter 77.
Havel went on to be elected president of a newly democratic Czechoslovakia, and the first president of the Czech Republic.


The Incipient Anthropology of Democracy
Anthropologists have studied politics from many angles over the years and around
the world (see Vincent 2002; 1990; Kurtz 2001; Gellner 1995; and Lewellen 1992 for
summary volumes). The general consensus is that political anthropology as a subfield was
initiated in 1940 with the publication of African Political Systems, edited by Meyer Fortes
and E.E. Evans-Pritchard. The particular populations and topics related to politics studied by
anthropologists change with each successive generation, yet there seems to be no solid
foundation for the vibrant subfield:
By most of the usual criteria, political anthropology is not a viable subfield of
anthropology. It lacks distinctive boundaries and recognized elite practitioners. No
common paradigm has arisen and been consolidated within it; no common theoretical
orientation has ever prevailed. Instead, contesting interests and parties make up any
trends that may be acknowledged. When this contestingcomes to the forewhether
among Marxists, idealists, materialists, conservatives, or interpretiviststhe
anthropology of politics thrives. Political anthropology resembles guerrilla warfare,
frequently shifting its ground and constantly dividing its ranks, a running intellectual
battleground. (Vincent 1990:19-20)

A particular focus on democracy among political anthropologists is now gaining
momentum, but as Vincent suggests, there is no established theoretical foundation for its
ethnographic analysis. While most political anthropology before the 1960s did not engage
political science (Lewellen 1992:3), now that most cultures are influenced by Western politics
and thought, the dominant intellectual figures for our analyses are often political scientists
(e.g., Diamond 1999; Dahl 1998; Gamarra 1998; ODonnell 1992; Huntington 1991;
Schumpeter 1973). Political science provides a language for common definitions and global
political histories, yet it is dominated by statistical analyses and very little ethnographic
contextualization. While political scientific theories of democracy are essential for elaborating
nomothetic trends and theorizing dominant power relations, anthropologists deepen the
discussion by considering democracys circulation, constructedness, discursive nature, and
implication in power relations (Paley 2002:473).
Our two disciplines have much to offer
each other, for traditional democratic practices among indigenous groups now have the

This sort of analysis contrasts sharply with the modernizing programs of USAID, the World Bank, and the IMF, which
promote the same model of liberal market democracy worldwide (cf. Paley 2002; Kohl 1999). This institutional perspective as
represented by U.S. alternative development efforts in the Yungas will be evaluated in this dissertation.

capacity to influence the functioning of the nation-state, not just the other way around.
In fact, since the inception of our discipline anthropologists have been studying
democracy in the way I use the idea here, although they did not use this term. Many earlier
studies carried out to evaluate peasant or tribal communal political practices identify ideas
and structures that could be considered components of functioning, if perhaps alternative,
democracies. Consider, for example: the corporate groups that lend stability and continuity
among Nuer leadership in Evans-Pritchards structural-functionalism (1940); Redfields
little communities among peasant groups in Mexico that operate according to the rules of
reciprocity and often rotate leadership responsibilities (1955); Lewiss culture of poverty
that allows rural and urban communities to pool resources to ensure the survival of the
collective (1959); and Turners communitas that enables all members of a community to
experience a sense of equality through ritual (1969).
Anthropologist Julia Paley is quickly emerging as a leading figure in the anthropology
of democracy with her efforts to outline possible frameworks for its study (2001:2-3), which
does not include the hybridization of democratic models undertaken by indigenous civil
society actors, as was the case with Bolivias agrarian sindicatos. Paley (2002) chronicled the
trajectory of this explicit orientation in ethnographic research, which I summarize and build
on below. After WWII, anthropologists treated democracy as a marker of progress beyond
socialism and colonialism (Geertz 1963), consistent with the tenets of modernization theory.
In the 1990s, with postmodern criticism of metanarratives and the end of communism, they
began to consider democracy more as a malleable political phenomenon than a historical
given. This perspective led to critical studies of competing discourses (Nelson 1999; Coronil
1997), civil society and governmentality (Paley 2001; Fisher 1997; cf. Foucault 1991),
citizenship (Ong 1999; Warren 1998; Yashar 1998), alternative democracies (Stephen 2002;
Nugent 1997; 1999), and more recently, transnational aspects of governmentality and
resistance (Ferguson and Gupta 2002; Brysk 2000; Keck and Sikkink 1998). A comparative
ethnography of community democracy in the U.S. has recently been published (Holland et al.
2007); this study raises the bar for the evaluation of local political systems both because of its
collaborative methodology and because of how it casts its critical gaze inside this country.

A central focus among Latin Americanist ethnographers is to show how poor and
marginalized social groups respond to a neoliberal turn in their national political economic
system (Gill 2000; Phillips 1998; Edelman 1999; Brysk and Wise 1995). Most Latin American
states in the 1980s and 90s adopted the ideologies of free trade and liberal democracy in an
effort to generate efficient economies and cohesive nations, and to improve international
relations (Iglesias 2001; Sachs 1997). Such modernizing reforms contained the potential to
ameliorate trenchant societal ills by linking a nation to the global networks of trade and
diplomacy. Descriptions of how such a system should benefit a country are prevalent
(Bolivian Authorities 2001; Diamond 1999), yet open markets and political systems are highly
variable in their application and effect (Gill 2000; Nash 1994; van Niekerk 1994). As Marc
Edelman (1999:40) emphasizes, based on his research in Costa Rica with rural
agriculturalists, liberal reform is best understood as a complex and eminently cultural
process of political and ideological contention within and between policymaking dominant
groups and popular sectors. In other words, the efficacy of liberal reform depends upon how
new forms of governance and commerce respect particular historical and cultural contexts
and interface with local populations (cf. Ocampo 2001).
Anthropologists now well understand that democracy is not a one-size-fits-all model,
but a concept that has deep localized interpretations and practices based on cultural
imperatives and political exigencies. It is also clear that democratic transition is a gradual,
internal process (as political scientist and former U.S. administration advisor in Iraq Larry
Diamond now argues, in Shapiro 2002), not something that can simply be imposed from the
outside according to an established formula (even Francis Fukuyama [2006] has reevaluated
the neoconservative philosophy to incorporate this recognition). This dissertation makes an
important contribution to this intellectual trend by arguing that Bolivia has appropriated and
adaptedto varying degrees of impactseveral Western models of democracy since the
1800s. I show how the agrarian sindicatos of the Yungas represent one example of such
ideological and structural mixing according to particular historical and cultural factors, and
how the line between civil society and the state is no longer precise as Bolivia moves into a
post-neoliberal era.


Popular Participation in Bolivia
Politics must cease to be a technique for holding and exercising power and become again the
self-management of society by its members.

Takis Fotopoulos, editor, The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy (2002)

From the Revolution of 1952 to the 1980s, the outstanding feature of Bolivian politics
was clientelism, often accompanied by corruption and acute myopia. A close reading of the
nations political economic history (e.g., Klein 2003; Healy 2001; Malloy and Gamarra 1988;
Ordenes 1994; Osborne 1964) exposes the persistent nature of this personalistic conciliation
by leaders in the service of their own positions of power and political longevity. The Bolivian
indigenous people and their organizations were manipulated like pawns in the corrupt
administrations of their state. When the last of the military regimes was expelled from office
in 1982, the government (with popular pressure [cf. Alb 1987]) reinstituted general elections
and began to repair its damaged relationships with labor, peasants, the private sector, and
civil society.
Bolivia continues to orchestrate its transformation (as opposed to a transition, which
would imply a teleological end, Huntington 1992) away from authoritarian rule and toward a
liberal democracy. Some argue that the present phase is better expressed as democratic
consolidation (ODonnell 2006), while others consider it deepening democracy (Gamarra
1998). These terms suggest that the maturation of a democratic society requires that a greater
percentage of the population at increasingly localized scales adopt not only the practices
needed to uphold electoral and judiciary institutions, for example, but that they also adopt a
more democratic sensibility in their day-to-day actions. Laurence Whitehead (2001) takes
issue with both of these characterizations, arguing instead that the strengthening of
democracy in a country is not a linear processby which some ultimate ideal state is reached
and then somehow perpetuated (as appears to have happened in the U.S., though this state
may be only illusory)but a circular one.
The key components of Bolivias liberal democratic system, formalized under Gonzalo

Snchez de Lozadas first administration with Aymara vice president Victor Hugo Crdenas in
the 1994 Plan de Todosonce considered one of the most radical models for democracy in the
world (Blair 1997)are popular participation and fiscal decentralization. National statistics
five years after the implementation of these laws showed that participation in rural municipal
elections was on the rise (Seligson 2000), yet anthropological research (Andersson 1999;
Dudley 1997) indicated that campesinos felt disenfranchised from municipal politics. My
research in 2004, ten years after implementation and amidst a greatly altered political reality,
shows that campesinos are actively utilizing the new municipal political system to promote
their interests and even to redefine the meaning of democracy.
Popular participation and decentralization have received much attention from
political scientists (Manor 1999; Crdenas 1997; Peirce 1997; Rojas Ortuste 1994; Fox 1990),
but ethnographic analysis can help elucidate the value and efficacy of these unpredictable
processes at the local level, and how they are changing peoples relationships to each other
and to the state. What the Aymara campesinos in Coroico are demonstrating is their ability to
utilize the spaces for participation and influence opened by the liberal democratic reforms of
the 1990s to counter and remedy the liberal economic reforms of the 1980sand thereby
improve the practice and results of Bolivias new democratic regime. To expect dramatic
change to any political economic situation in a mere twenty-five years (1982-2007) is perhaps
Liberal democracy is more than just electoral democracy in that it embraces
Schumpeters (1973) democratic method as a bare-bones model but also protects civil
liberties (political rights such as freedom of assembly, opinion, and expression, as well as
protection from violence from the state) (ODonnell 2002; Diamond 1999). What is
significant about Bolivias current political situation and social movements is that they are
promoting a democratic revolution, not an armed revolution as indigenous resistance had
been framed throughout Latin America for much of the past 50 years. In other words,
Morales and Bolivias dominant social movements are not interested in Marxism per se or

armed insurgency in any way,
but in using legitimate democratic institutions and norms to
address the persistent socio-economic problems facing indigenous communities. The
strategies consist of working within both the municipal and national representative/liberal
system and the local indigenous sindicato/ayllu system to consolidate Bolivias democracy
and change its relationship with the citizenry.

Sindicato Democracy as Political Alternative
This is a rather unusual example of the beginnings of a close association between two
traditions of democracya liberal, representative form and an indigenous, community-
based formwhich can encourage us to suggest that Bolivia constitutes an example of an
evolving hybrid democracy.

Geographer David Slater (2002:626)

My research shows that the Yungas sindicatos drew upon their traditions (or at least
cultural memories) of the ancient Andean ayllu system as well as the European syndicalist
model to create their own form of communal governance. This corroborates David Nugents
research that shows that alternative democracy results from the appropriation and ideological
mixing of different models and histories of democracy (Nugent 1999). A distinguishing
feature of Bolivian democracy is the competing discourse of ayllu democracy, a form of
communal governance and subsistence that has survived since pre-Incan times and differs
significantly from the liberal model (Andolina 2001; Alb 1995; THOA 1995; Rivera 1990). In
Aymara and Quechua communities, the LPP represents Western political organization, and
many are endeavoring to reinstate the ayllu system of interdependency, rotating authority,
redistribution, and exchange (though not the original territorial ayllus) as a way to strengthen
their rural communities and prosper in todays liberal market democracy (Alb 1995:43).
Mary Jo Dudley studied how rural Bolivians initially reacted to the LPP. As one campesino
explained to her,
During the first few years, we didnt understand this law. [O]ur local organization does

Anthropologist Robert Albro (2007:419-20) made an interesting comparison between Bolivias two principle indigenous
leadersEvo Morales with MAS and Felipe Quispe with MIPand showed how they perceive Marx in completely different
ways, which relates to the historical perspective and indigenous identity they apply in leading their social movements and
political parties.

not fit in the political party scheme. We have our own organizational systemthrough
rotations rather than elections. From our perspective, the political party system is
wrought with corruption; nonetheless, to have access to funds we would have to accept a
clientelistic relationship with respect to the municipality. (Dudley 1997:32)

The social, political, and economic design of the ayllu was developed by Aymara and
Quechua societies over the millennia as a way to use to their best advantage the extreme
topography of their soaring mountain ranges and the Pacific coast. A community living on the
altiplano could best produce potatoes and raise llamas, one living in the Yungas could grow
plenty of quinoa, coca, and fruit, and one on the coast could harvest fish. An ayllu was a
network of communities that exist throughout these diverse climates. In some regions the
Aymara are endeavoring to reinstate the ayllu system (Alb 1995:43), though in the Yungas
the sindicatos are only drawing upon the agricultural practices and moral political manner of
participating as a responsible member of a rural community.
Ayllus also represent a form of civil society: individuals work together toward
common interests, have a built-in system for political action, and are able to interact with
other ayllus in a productive manner to mutual benefit (Platt 1982). The most important
component, or consequence, of civil society has been termed social capital, an idea which
implies a degree of reciprocity and mutual trust within a society that allows individuals to
work cooperatively toward collective goals. Indigenous communities have not always been
considered valid civil society entities because they are not voluntary membership
organizations but ethnic kinship social groups (see Korovkin 2001).
According to Robert Andolina (2001), this new ayllu movement challenges the
political boundaries of Bolivias recent [1994] decentralisation policy with alternative
definitions of authority and legitimacy, and with alternative representatives to the long-
standing but increasingly impotent peasant union CSUTCB. Most importantly, ayllus
symbolize an alternative (to nationalist) indigenous identityin line with new trends in global
ethnic politics (Brysk 2000)and an alternative model for development. Considered
territorial grassroots organisations (Andolina 2001:7), ayllus would be able to participate in
the vigilance committees according to the LPP. This movement calls into question issues
surrounding gender roles and politics, as women were traditionally not allowed to act as ayllu

leaders, and are still expected to be the primary child and home caretakers.
My research shows how people in one municipality interpret the meanings of
democracy and of participation, and how these interpretations and practices compare to the
liberal model that Bolivia has adopted. While ayllu democracy is experiencing a renaissance
in the altiplano region, in the Coroico municipality it acts primarily as an historical ideology
to connect community leaders with their Aymara heritage and to lend legitimacy to the new
social activism of the sindicato system in comparison to the LPP. Thus I argue in this
dissertation that Yungas agrarian sindicatos are this regions manifestation of the highlands
ayllu form of democracy. I will show how the mentality and historical orientation of the ayllu
influences sindicato leaders in their establishment of an alternative meaning and practice of
democracy in the Yungas.

Hybrid Democracy in Bolivia: Dominant Paradigms and New Potentials
Democracy so badly wants to be born here.

Jim Shultz, founder and director of The Democracy Center, said while we watched a protest
march in Cochabamba, 25 November 2003

An anthropological approach can contribute to documenting the constitutive nature
of struggles to implement or adopt democratizing projects, rather than establishing an a
priori definition of democracy (Paley 2002:471)in other words, anthropologists are better
skilled at uncovering the discourses and dynamics of how democracy is debated and
practiced, not at determining what a general model should consist of. The dominant
paradigms for evaluating the strength of a nations democratic system usually involve
discussion of its consolidation (cf. ODonnell) or deepening (cf. von Mettenheim and
Malloy 1998). These ideas imply a linear path toward some known eventual outcome.
Whitehead (2001) critiques these assumptions and argues instead that the adoption and
implementation of a democracy is a circular path that always carries with it the potential for

Shultz also commented that day that no one is bowling alone in Bolivia, contrasting Bolivias dynamic civil society with the
frail condition of democracy in the U.S. as critiqued by Putnam (2000).

reversal. Bolivia is an example of a country in which a democratic regime may seem
consolidated, yet the economic and social conditions of the countrymean that in the long
run there are grounds for doubting viability (Crabtree and Whitehead 2001:xi). Bolivia is a
particularly good test case of viability because of the ability of Bolivian governments to
take external policy prescriptions and adapt them in ways that complement locally defined
priorities (ibid.:xi-xii; the LPP is a central example of this adaptation). In other words, if we
are to engage in an analysis that judge[s] the process of democratization not so much in
relation to universal standards but to the way in which institutional structures and practices
are grounded in local realities and the extent to which these respond to peoples needs and
expectations (ibid.:xi), then not only is Bolivia an excellent place to look, but ethnography is
the ideal approach to the study (though Crabtree and Whitehead are political scientists and
did not complement their theorizing with ethnography).
However, Crabtree and Whiteheads volume on democracy in Bolivia analyzes
Bolivias political situation as of 2000, when it was still in the old rut of clientelistic elitist
polyarchy (cf. Dahl 1971), not in the new wave of consensus-based socialist. This dissertation
concerns the transition phase from the neoliberal to the neoleftist cycle of Bolivian
democracy, illustrating how increased collaboration between agrarian sindicatos and
municipal governments fostered greater popular participation in government. This transition
phase helped usher in the political climate in which Evo Morales was elected as the first
indigenous president in the Americas with an unprecedented majority and thus a clear
mandate to address Bolivias acute socio-economic inequalities.
Political scientist Robert Dahl (1998) explains the origins of popular democracy in
Greece, Rome, and Norway, where the assembly system was createdperhaps independently
in each placebeginning at least 2500 years ago. This form of democracy is often called
pure or ideal democracy because it functioned with the direct participation of all eligible
membersin ancient times women and slaves were excluded, so it was not then an entirely
just systemwho gathered together to openly discuss and vote on items on a popularly
approved agenda. Leaders were either elected or chosen by lot, and most members served at
least once in positions of leadership. Within the city-state structure of ancient Greece, this

system functioned quite well for centuries before Athens was conquered by the Macedonians.
However, in the vast geographic area of the Roman empire, the atomized assembly system
proved too unwieldy and unable to counterbalance the power of the emperor. Since they
failed to develop a representative system to contend with these intrinsic problems, democracy
ultimately expired for the Romans.
The interesting thing here is that Dahl talks about the two democratic systems
small-scale assembly and grand-scale representationas opposing systems whose trade-offs
cannot be reconciled. He says (1998:110), I do not see how we can escape this dilemma.
Bolivians may be showing us a way, for by linking the sindicato system (an assembly system,
called asamblea by the sindicatos) and the LPP (a representative system) at the municipal
level, they are consolidating Bolivias democracy from the ground up and the top down at the
same time. It is thus their effective combination that makes Bolivia such a unique opportunity
for the study of contemporary democracy, and why geographer David Slater (2002) calls this
potential a hybrid democracy.
Latin American political scientist Guillermo ODonnell is one of the most
authoritative scholars of democracy in Latin America. He has done much to show us why the
situation in Latin America is unique from the U.S. and Europe, and to elaborate the ways that
different countriesmostly in South Americaexperience democracy or its absence. He
breaks down the individual rights that are necessary for a healthy political democracy into
three categories (ODonnell 2001): political, civil, and social rights. He notes that the
countries of the Northwest (which includes the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand)
developed their democratic systems by first establishing civil rights (for the ruling majority,
that is, white maleshe leaves out of this equation the experiences of women, blacks, and
immigrants for explanatory purposes here) and then social rights, and only later
implementing political rights. Since most theories of democracy were formulated using the
Northwest experience as the reference point, he asserts, they are inadequate to explain what
has transpired in Latin America with an entirely different history and social configuration
(2001:602). The situation in South America as of 2000 reflected fairly well-established
universal political rightsmost people enjoy the freedoms of opinion, association,

movement and access to a reasonably free and pluralist media (ibid.:600)yet only limited
and biased civil rights, and an erosion of already limited social rights (ibid.:604).
Not only does his analysis point out some key differences between the experience of
Latin America and the Northwest, but it shows where the potential lies for a deepening of
democracy. It is beneficial that political rights are in place, he argues, for this set of rights has
the greatest potential to give rise to the fulfillment of the other sets of rights. Specifically,
political rights open up spaces for organizing and public expression, which individuals and
associations can take advantage of to generate an alternative national political agenda to then
strengthen a countrys civil and social rights. This is essentially what is happening in Bolivia
as individuals and groups adapt to neoliberal political reforms in order to increase popular
participation and indigenous representation, which will ultimately improve the social services
that the Bolivian state is able to provide.
In rural Bolivia, each agrarian sindicato acts as a community government. Agrarian
sindicatos have gone through multiple manifestations since their inception in the Yungas in
the 1950s, and for my purposes represent a form of participatory democracy grounded in the
residual principles of the ancient Aymara ayllu combined with imported European notions of
a socialist trade union. But since 1994, there has been another form of local democracy at the
municipal level, established by the Law of Popular Participation (LPP), which is grounded in
Western neoliberal notions of individualist decentralized free market political economics.
Because both jurisdictions overlap and the people living under both systems must work
together toward collective goals, it is worth comparing the structure and efficacy of sindicato
democracy to that of municipal participatory democracy. What makes this comparison useful
is that notions of what makes a society democratic vary widely and deserve a more nuanced
consideration, especially as the U.S. continues bound to an international agenda to promote
and impose democracy as a political and economic panacea to troubled and impoverished
nations around the world. In other words, it behooves us to widen our understanding of the
different ways that democracy can be practiced and understood rather than assume the U.S.
has a corner on the market on the idea.
What we are seeing in Bolivia now is a recombinant form of socialist democracy at

both the municipal and national levels, because of this inter-mixing of the sindicato and
neoliberal political systems. I argue that these two forms of democracy can not only be
complementary, but mutually beneficial. One seems to be allowing the other to persist; one
seems to be strengthening the other; one seems to be learning from the other. In a country
that has changed political systems about as many times as there have been years of
independencethere have been 189 coups, plus the constitutional ouster of three recent
presidents, in 182 years since 1825anything that looks like viability is call for celebration.
The Yungas agricultural communities have had 50 years to incorporate the systemics
and didactics of the sindicato structure and links to a national hierarchy, while they have had
only 10 years (as of 2004) to do the same with the LPP. What my research shows is that the
LPP is serving to consolidate democracy within the rural sindicato system, but so far it is also
exacerbating a menacing divide between the pueblo and the campo. Sindicatos are having to
collaborate with each other within each municipality in a way that the union hierarchy had
not produced before. The locus of decision-making, funding and project generation is at the
municipal levelthrough the LPP and international NGOswhile the national-level labor
unions are breaking out of their peripheral status and moving beyond their traditional role as
agents of resistance for the countrys broad interest groups. Increasingly, sindicato leaders are
winning positions in the municipal government, in the national Congress, and as national
level advisors. Understanding the formation of the agrarian sindicato leadership and how that
influences their performance in a representative democratic system is the central topic of
subsequent chapters. First, a history of Bolivia and the Yungas in the next chapter will frame
this central discussion.


Mural from the Radio Yungas studio in Chulumani showing Aymara revolutionary Tupac
Katari surrounded by Andean flora, a colonial Spanish ship, striking highland miners, and
indigenous dancers and musicians. ( Caroline Conzelman 2004.)

The lessons of history teach us a good deal, but nothing more clearly than the fact that we
often remain quite unaware of the forms of oppression of which we are victims, or
sometimes agents, until social struggle liberates our consciousness and understanding.

Noam Chomsky (2004 [1989]:iii)

A central goal of this dissertation is to illustrate the historical and cultural context of
Bolivia and the Yungas region in order to uncover the motivations for and methods of rural
indigenous popular participation in Bolivian politics. It is also my intent to evaluate the
meanings and practices of democracy that currently exist in Bolivia. Drawing upon the
processes discussed in this chapter, I will show in a subsequent chapter how this history
influenced the adoption and adaptation of the agrarian sindicato system in the Yungas region.
It is significant that coca leaf is the key cultural and economic component around which

Aymara campesinos organize their sindicatos in the Yungas. It has been the most important
agricultural product from the pre-Incan era to the present, and is thus inextricable from local
political dynamics.
To explore the history and culture of the Yungas in the context of coca, I will discuss
the historical succession of three forms of political economic organization: ancient Aymara
ayllus, Spanish haciendas, and rural indigenous communities. Haciendas replaced ayllus
through the violence of the Spanish conquest and liberal reforms, and free communities
governed by agrarian sindicatos replaced the haciendas through the upheaval of the 1952
Revolution and 1953 Agrarian Reform. The amount of Yungas land producing coca has
fluctuated over the centuries, relevant to which class controls production, which political
model dominates the local and national stage, and which domestic and international markets
for coca exist. But only when indigenous people have controlled their own land has coca
production been declared illegal or slated for substitution. After the feudal system was
abolished, the agrarian sindicatos developed democratic means of political participation and
resistance in order to become agents of their own development.
As anthropologist Eric Wolf (1982) demonstrates, we can only understand todays
political economic system in Latin America by examining ancient cultural systems, 300 years
of Spanish colonialism, and 200 years of independence. Likewise, historian Steve Stern
encourages those who study peasant resistance to incorporate long-term frames of reference
explicitly in their analysis (Stern 1987:13), and to pay particular attention to the culture
history of the area under study (ibid.:15). This strategy is especially important here because
Bolivias past of indigenous culture continues to coexist with the present of (neo)liberal
democracy and capitalism (Rivera 1990:98; 1993:33).
Ethnography in Latin America today
captures peoples lived experience amid conditions of political instability and dramatic
political change (Greenhouse 2002)thereby revealing the complexity of conditions that
might otherwise be assumed to fit predetermined teleologies (Paley 2002:479). These
imperatives frame my objectives in presenting here this political history of Bolivia.

I allow this conception here because Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui is a Bolivian anthropologist and has the authority to make
such a statement. However, I do not intend to implynor did shethat Bolivias indigenous people do not also live in the
modern world, nor that their culture has arrived in the present unchanged from the past (see Rosaldo 1995:xvi).


The Blessing is Next to the Wound
Colombian human rights activist Hector Aristizbal was tortured in 1982 at the hands
of the U.S.-trained Colombian military, yet he considers this a transformative experience
(Lefer 2005). He uses an African saying The blessing is next to the wound to explain that
enduring torture allowed him to redirect his life to serve as a therapist and theater director
with torture survivors, gang members, low-income immigrants and other disadvantaged
groups in Los Angeles. One of the interesting things about human nature is that sometimes it
takes an event of intense tragedy or loss for us to realize the gravity of a situation and propel
us to make changes. If only the injustices of the initial event are analyzed, we may miss the
positive effects of the learning curve that often follows.
A good example of this phenomenon is the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay
in the 1930s (discussed below). While this ill-conceived war led to the deaths of tens of
thousands of indigenous people on both sides and the loss of one-fifth of Bolivias territory, it
allowed Aymara and Quechua Indians in the Bolivian highlands to plainly see the extreme
degree of their continued marginalization and exploitation by the state. What followed was a
generation of organizing and literature to draw attention to these injustices, and the seeds of
the Revolution of 1952 were sown.
A similar dynamic is being played out now in response to Bolivias neoliberal reforms
of the 1980s and 90s. Industry and natural resource privatization and a sharp decrease in
government social spending exacerbated deep-seated socio-economic inequalities and
severely undermined peasant and worker rights. The implementation of a new anti-narcotics
law in 1988 as part of the U.S. war on drugs led to increased militarization of some sectors
of society and a further disintegration of the national economy. However, political rights were
effectively expanded with the return to democratic national elections in 1982 and the
decentralization laws of 1994. Sindicato leaders in the Chapare and the Yungas capitalized on
this democratic opening and on the public outcry against neoliberalism and U.S.
interventionism to organize some of the most successful social movements in Bolivias

The election of Evo Morales as president in 2005 is the most visible outcome of
these movements, but their efficacy is emblematic of much more significant long-term trends.
Bolivias current social movements not only demand an end to the historical
oppression and marginalization of the majority of Bolivians who are indigenous, they are
changing the way democracy is understood and practiced in Bolivia. By altering the
governments relationship to the economy and civil society, they are endeavoring to combine
ancient cultural practices with modern political institutions. Even though much has been lost
in the face of tremendous change over the past 500 years, many indigenous traditions and
organizational methods endure. They persist in the mentality of the ayllu in agricultural
practices, and in the widespread practice of justicia comunitaria (community justice) in
indigenous communities. They have also been woven into the socio-political fabric of
community agricultural unions, called sindicatos, and increasingly they are being integrated
into municipal government systems as local populations continue to contend with the
neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 90s. Each of these dynamics will be taken up here.

Stages of Bolivian History
Bolivian anthropologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (1990; 1993) delineates the principal
stages of Bolivian history as the colonial (1532-1825), liberal (1825-1930), and populist (1930-
1985) cycles. I will use these here for explanatory purposes, but I have added indigenous
Andean tradition as the initial phase (until 1532), and the neoliberal cycle (1985-2005) as the
fifth phase.
Bolivia began a transition into yet another historical cycle with the Water War of
2000, the Coca Wars
of 2000-01, Black February of 2003, and the Gas War of October

From the perspective of the ousted Bolivian government and its Western advisors who orchestrated the neoliberal political
reforms of 1994, that these political rights led to the strengthening of indigenous and worker social movements was an
unintendedand indeed unwelcomeconsequence (personal communication with a political science professor who teaches
on this subject in Chicago).

Bolivian historian Magdalena Cajas argued (on a panel at the Bolivian Studies Association conference in La Paz in 2003)
that neoliberalism does not fit with other cycles of history as it opened a completely new political and social phase linked to the
processes of globalization. She also warns against imposing external theories onto the Bolivian experiencewhether in
politics, economics, or academia.

Although not named the Coca Wars, drug policy sparked major protests against the Bolivian and U.S. governments in 2000
and 2001 as militarized eradication escalated in the Chapare and the Yungas and objection to the criminalization of coca leaf
production increased. Such cocalero protests began in the 1980s and have become increasingly more public and broadly

Continuing through the short presidencies of Carlos Mesa and Eduardo Rodrguez
and culminating in December 2005 with the election of indigenous leader Evo Morales as
president, this transition period coincides with the more general left turn throughout Latin
America. I will call the present phase (2006-present) the neoleftist cycle, for it represents the
cumulative triumph of indigenous and worker social movements throughout the countrys
history as well as the reinsertion of community values into the national political economy, but
it differs substantially from former socialist phases. This dissertation concerns the period of
transition from the neoliberal cycle toward the neoleftist cycle.
The year 2004the period of my ethnographic fieldworkrepresents a rare window
in time in which the president curried wide national favor (Carlos Mesa enjoyed an 80%
approval rating for several months in early 2004 before a gradual decline), municipal and
community leaders were able to focus on regional concerns rather than national crises, and
civil society groups networked and prepared for the July 2004 national referendum and the
December 2004 municipal elections. It was a time of hope and reassessment on the part of
Bolivias leaders and civil societybut also of continued vigilance and distrust on the part of
historically marginalized sectors toward national and international forces that continued to
promote their external agendas. It was a time of intense public debate over government
policies and the economy, and thus a fruitful time to be conducting research on the ideas and
sentiments around democracy and development. This brief history outlined below will
provide the necessary context for my analysis of Bolivian politics and social activism in the
Coroico municipality.

organizedand effectiveand have placed the campesino sector in the center of Bolivias most important social movements.

The Water War and Gas War resisted the privatization of natural resources, and Black February rejected IMF-imposed
neoliberal economic reforms. Bolivia has been a raw material exporter since the Spanish arrivedsilver during the colonial
era, tin in the 19
and 20
centuries, and other minerals and goods such as wood and coca leaf throughoutan enterprise
that mercilessly exploited the labor of the countrys indigenous majority and African immigrants without adequate wage
compensation, social service provision, or public investment. 500 years of enormous export profits accrued to individual elite
land and mine owners and were distributed along clientelistic lines to influence government policy in their favor. People were
skeptical of Gonis plan in 2003 to allow yet another foreign private entity to control and profit from the export of the nations
current most abundant resource, natural gas.

Native Andean Tradition: The Roots of Democracy and Coca
The Ayllu System: A Vertical Archipelago
The Aymara (descended from the Tiahuanaco Empire around Lake Titicaca, 400-
1100 C.E.) and Quechua (the common people of the Inca Empire, 1450-1532 C.E.) were and
continue to be the two most significant indigenous groups in Bolivia, primarily in the
highland regions (almost two-thirds of Bolivias current population are indigenous [Censo de
Bolivia 2001]). The holocaust of the Spanish Conquest, beginning in 1532, irrevocably
changed traditional modes of agriculture, political organization and trade, and dispossessed
the majority of indgenas (native peoples) from their lands. Even so, their languages, modes
of civil society networking, forms of community democracy, cultivation of autochthonous
coca, quinoa, potatoes and maize, and use of the llama and alpaca for labor, meat and wool
endure. Other indigenous groups that live in the lowlands and Amazon rainforests of Bolivia
have experienced shorter but no less destructive periods of cultural and territorial invasion;
they are also struggling to find a balance between old ways and new. My research in the
Yungas concerned primarily Aymara communities, though these have not retained the level of
cultural traditionsstrict Aymara language, dress, rituals, and community hierarchiesthat
persist in the more closed Aymara society in the altiplano and Lake Titicaca areas.
A defining feature of ancient Aymara life was the ayllu (EYE-you), an elaborate
kinship-based system of political, economic, and social egalitarianism. Its meaning varies
with the time and place (Allen 2002:82), but Aymara ayllus existed as components of tribal
nations with nobility (kings) and regional caciques (chiefs) (Klein 1992:15-17). The design of
the ayllu was developed by Andean people over the millennia as a way to use to their best
advantage the extreme topography of their soaring yet narrow mountain ranges, including the
Pacific coast. A community living on the altiplano could best produce potatoes and quinoa
and raise llamas, one living in the Yungas could grow an abundance of root vegetables, maize,
coca and medicinal herbs, and one on the coast could harvest fish and salt. Each community
needed a combination of these nutritional and ceremonial items to survive, so their solution

was a complex order of land tenure and trade (in goods and services, not money per se
between these geographical areas. Peruvian historian John Murra (2002 [1972]) termed the
ayllu a vertical archipelago because each one is composed of a series of communities in
communication across the diverse climates from sea level to high mountain valley.
Each ayllu was an effective medium for localized democracy and subsistence.
It was
not a market system based on private property ownership or currency, but involved shared
plots of land and reciprocal exchange. Via consensus and mandatory rotation, all families of
an ayllu took turns holding positions of authority. Those in charge were responsible for
collecting tribute (based on ability to give, to supply goods for ceremonies and food reserves),
leading rituals, allotting new land (in their collective fields), overseeing the rights and duties
of each family, and equitably distributing food and other local resources for the benefit of the
ayllu (Rivera 1990:100-1). This arrangement satisfied the various needs of the people, and
represents an effective pre-Western participatory political economic system.
In some regions of Bolivia the traditional ayllu system is being revived as a way to
strengthen rural communities and prosper in todays economy (but not the actual territorial
ayllus, which no longer exist and would be impossible to reconstruct) (Alb 1995:43). The
ayllu also stands as an indigenous model of democracy that differs in significant ways from
the liberal and neoliberal models that have been instituted in the country (Fernndez 2004;
Untoja 2001; Andolina 2001; Alb 1995; THOA 1995; Rivera 1990). This topic will be taken
up again in the chapter on sindicato organization, where I argue that the agrarian sindicatos
of the Yungas have adopted some of the philosophy of the ayllu system and also function as
an alternative model for democratic governance.

When the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s, textiles and coca leafnot silver and goldwere the most valuable
commodities and as such were commonly used in trade (Murra 2002 [1992]:360).

The ancient ayllu system often appears in scholarly work as a romanticized perfectly balanced structure, but of course it is
unknown how they actually functioned in the past. See Weismantel 2006 for a well-researched analysis of how the ayllu is
represented in the anthropological literature, both indigenista and Western.

Yungas Coca before the Conquest
There are limited resources on the history of the Yungas of La Paz.
It appears that in
ancient times the Yungas valleys were inhabited primarily by tribes with cultural roots in the
Amazonian lowlands. They used the higher elevation subtropical lands to access a diversity of
forest products and game, and to seek refuge from the terrible surazo (J. Morales 1929:10),
the autumn weather pattern that cloaks the tropical lowlands in bitter winds and rain. These
tribes also used slash-and-burn agriculture in the forest, a method still in use today (Kolata
1996:116). Highland Aymara populationsmost significantly during a period of expansion of
the Tiahuanaco Empire in 400-600 C.E., and when organized into kingdoms after 1000
C.E.incorporated the Yungas into their ayllu system for the production of staple and
prestige crops such as corn and coca (ibid.:205-6). Archaeological findings from Tiahuanaco
show gold and ceramic human figures with the characteristic bulge in the cheek, evidence that
chewing coca and thus its cultivation and trade in what is now Bolivia was common at least by
the 4
century C.E. (Lanning 1969 and Posnansky 1945, cited in Carter and Mamani
1986:69), and other sources argue that coca has been cultivated and traded throughout the
Andes and into the Amazon for at least 4000 years (Mayer 1978). Archeological evidence
related to coca cultivation in present-day Yungas has not been adequately analyzed to give a
precise date, though 1000 years is a conservative estimate (Spedding 2004).
When the Inca Empire spread south from Cuzco in 1440 C.E. to take control of the
Lake Titicaca and altiplano regions long the center of Aymara civilization, more Aymara
escaped into the Yungas and established permanent settlements on the flat shoulders of
vertiginous slopes, driving out the lowland tribes for good (J. Morales 1929:12). From there
they maintained their ties to the highland Aymara through their ayllu relationships that
regulated the distribution of goods and labor, provided for local and regional democratic
government via the rotation of leaders, and came together for significant religious
The primary crops were racacha and walusa (root vegetables), aj (a type of

It is generally thought that the name yungas derives from the Aymara word meaning hot valley (Spedding 1997a:48),
though it is also linked to a type of palm tree common in subtropical forests, called yuncain Aymara (J. Morales 1929:11).

The Inca rulers, when they conquered new cultures, allowed native languages and traditions to continue. Their main form of

chili pepper), banana and other fruits, maize, medicinal plants, and coca. Since Andean
civilizations never invented the wheel and had no beasts of burden larger than the diminutive
cameloids, all goods were carried out of the valleys on the backs of llamas and people.
ancient trails can still be traveled on foot through tiny pastoral villages, and they still retain
the Inca-era stone paving, stabilization walls, and irrigation canals.
The Inca also imported
coca from the eastern slope of the Andes, including the Bolivian Yungas, for its medicinal and
spiritual properties (Allen 2002). Abandoned Inca stone terraces used to cultivate coca on the
precipitous slopes are still visible near Coroico.
The Inca maintained great supplies of coca leaf, food, tools, and clothing in massive
storage units available for traveling armies and laborers (Hemming 1970:60) or in case of
local need during difficult times (Carter and Mamani 1986:71). The most popular chroniclers
of the Inca Empire at the time of the Spanish Conquest (Cieza de Len 1998 [c. 1553];
Garcilaso de la Vega 1966 [c. 1570]) assert that Incan royalty reserved the exclusive right to
chew coca, having taken over the land and relying on subjugated laborers to produce the leaf
and transport it (J. Morales 1929:17). Anthropologists William Carter and Mauricio Mamani
(1986:71) take exception to this assumption and argue that while the Inca could claim the
land they conquered, they more likely allowed the local populations to retain usufruct rights
to the land in exchange for their loyalty. This way, the Inca ensured social stability and
economic productivity in far-flung regions of their empire.
Either way, they say, local
groups possessed coca crops that they had already cultivated before the conquest of the Incas

domination was to extract tributes of labor and land from the conquered peoples (Cieza de Len 1998 [c. 1553]).

This was a factor that limited the development of the region until the Spanish brought their horses and mules (Fossati
1948:1) and modern roads were built in the 1930s.

The Inca Empire constructed over 15,000 miles of roads throughout the Andes in less than a century (1450-1532); many of
the roads had been built and used long before the Inca arrived, but were paved and improved by the Inca (Von Hagen 1955).
The Choro Trail, the Taquesi Trail, and the Yunga Cruz Trail were the three primary ancient roads that linked the Yungas with
the altiplano, and are now popular hiking routes for Bolivian and foreign tourists.

Beginning in 1450, Inca leaders from Cuzco carried out a series of conquests in the Andean region and eventually
established governance and economic hegemony from what is now Quito, Ecuador, into northern Chile. The Inca did not
demand the cultural, religious, or linguistic conversion of conquered tribal groups, but allowed an ethnic plurality to exist
alongside political and economic allegiance to the Incan kings. As such the Inca articulated diverse regional ethnic groups into
their sprawling militarized empire more than they dominated them ideologically. This state system addressed minority issues
differently than modern forms of nationalism, in which (usually rural) minority characteristics are appropriated as national
symbols by the urban elite at the same time that minority groups are expected to transition away from their traditional
livelihoods and cultural practices (Eriksen 1993).

and thus it was not just Inca royalty who used the leaf (ibid.).

The Colonial Cycle
The colonial cycle commenced rather abruptly in 1532 when Spanish explorers led by
Francisco Pizarro arrived in the Andean highlands to find the prosperous and powerful Inca
Empire reaching from present-day Colombia in the north to Chile in the south. The kingdoms
and communities of the Aymara had been conquered and forced into economic and religious
servitude by the Inca less than 100 years before, but had been allowed to maintain their
language and ayllu system, as was the Incas customary mode of imperialism (Klein 1992).
Ironically, the Spanish subjugation of the powerful Inca Empire was relatively effortless: the
Aymara and other native communities took advantage of the opportunity to be liberated from
Inca dominance, so many aided the Spanish in their endeavor. Also, the Empire at that
moment was split between two brothersAtahualpa in the northern province and Huascar in
the southernvying for control after the death of their father, the ruler Huayna Capac (likely
from smallpox, which had spread from the early Spanish in Central America faster than the
human Conquistadores) (Hemming 1970). The Spanish played each side off the other with a
political manipulation as cunning as their advanced military technology and brutality.
The Spaniards who then controlled the Andes immediately unleashed a repressive
and exploitative regime upon the indigenous people. The Catholic Requirimiento (the
Requirement), which was considered a legal preamble to the takeover of indigenous
populations and their lands in the Americas, was central to this endeavor.
Read out loud in
Spanish upon encountering a new native settlement, it absurdly required the Indians to
voluntarily recognize the Catholic Church and king and queen of Spain as their new rulers,
with severe consequences if they did not:
[W]e will not compel you to turn Christians. But if you do not do itwith the help of God,
I will enter forcefully against you, and I will make war everywhere and however I can, and
I will subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and His Majesty, and I will take
your wives and children and make them slavesand I will take your goods, and I will do
to you all the evil and damages that a lord may do to vassals who do not obey or receive

Spains Requirimiento was a ritual modeled on the politico-religious principles of Islamic jihad, which had been used to great
effect by the Moslems when conquering the Iberian peninsula in the seventh century (Seed 1995:72-8).

him. And I solemnly declare that the deaths and damages received from such will be your
fault and not that of His Majesty, nor mine, nor of the gentlemen who came with me.
(translated and quoted in Seed 1995:69)

Thus the Conquistadores not only felt entitled to subjugate the indigenous population to their
control, but that it was ultimately the fault of the Indians for allowing it. Catholicism was
established as the official religion of Spanish America while indigenous animism and worship
of Pachamama and the mountain Apus (grandfather spirits), among other traditions, were
Gradually the Spanish installed their leaders in place of the indigenous political
structure, and replaced indigenous communal lands and the barter economy (trueque) with
a society based on the extraction and exportation of wealth (van Lindert and Verkoren
1994:12). The material goals of the Conquistadores were to send riches back to the king and
queen in Spain, strengthen the Spanish Empire in the Americas, and to increase their
personal wealth and power, primarily with the valuable metals and minerals that saturated
the mountains and by the subjugation of indigenous people as laborers in both the mines and
landed estates. The Spanish colonists in the New World were required to remit twenty
percentthe Royal Fifthof all profits to the Spanish Crown. The injection of massive
amounts of natural, human, and financial capital into the world economy during the Spanish
colonial era helped establish the capitalist world system to follow (von der Heydt-Coca 2003;
Stavig 1996; Wolf 1982; Wallerstein 1979).
During the Inca Empire, people who were not part of the ayllu system (and thus could
not inherit land) were dispatched to coca-producing areas to be the merchants of coca,
creating a sort of middle class (Carter and Mamani 1986:71, drawing on the research of
Parkerson 1980:79-92). The Spanish, however, did not understand the complex nature of the
ayllus and Andean trade and destroyed this native system. They 1) created the encomienda
(later called the hacienda
) feudal system in its stead, which broke up the ayllus and gave
large tracts of land and their indigenous inhabitants to be exploited by the Conquistadores

The encomienda system was created to control indigenous labor, separate from land rights; later these two forms of
dominance merged into the hacienda system, which controlled land and labor together and became the essential unit of rural
life (Malloy 1970:16). On the haciendas, Indians were considered colonos, or one who gives free labor for a subsistence plot

and their creole descendents, and 2) took control of the commercialization of coca throughout
the Andean region (Carter and Mamani 1986:71).
Thus the myopic and obdurate Spaniards simply overlaid their brand of religion
(Catholicism) and political economy (feudalism) on Latin America right at the time when
Protestantism and capitalism were on the rise in the rest of Europe and being imposed in
what would become the United States (cf. Seed 1995). Bolivian philosopher Juan Claudio
Lechn (personal communication 2003) maintains that this process of subjugation and the
silencing of the indigenous perspective produced a dialectical stillness that persists in the
region. The Spaniards did not allow the Indians to form a dialectic with them on socio-
political or economic matters and thus lost the opportunity to collaboratively create a new
sustainable society. Their elite descendents, Lechn argues, have been stuck in a black-and-
white Inquisition mentality and have produced a highly unstable society that is able to be
co-opted by external forces. This situation may be finally changing, as we will see.

The Exploitation of Potos Silver Mines and Coca Leaf
One of Spains most brutal practices was called the mita, a labor tax imposed on
indigenous men (and later women and Africans) to force them to carry cargo, labor in
workshops, serve the haciendas, or work in the colossal silver mines of Potos.

in 1574, Indians were required to pay tribute to the Spanish Crown by extracting silver from
ever deepening and hazardous mines, with nominal financial compensation.
As many as
eight million miners died from accidents and mine collapses, and from the debilitating lung
disease silicosis that afflicted most workers (figure cited by cooperative tour guides at Potos);
the average life expectancy for a miner during this timeand even into the 1970swas 35
years (Barrios de Chungara 1978). The mita has been called colonialism at its worst (Stavig
1996:47), even though it was modeled on the Incan practice of collecting tribute in the form of

This head tax was meant to humiliate those defeated by the Spanish, as per the Requirement, but it also became a central
economic component to the survival of the Spanish Empire. However, it required elaborate censuses and tracking of tribute
collection, an unwieldy bureaucratic undertaking that contributed to the disintegration of Spanish rule (Seed 1995:79-83).

labor donated to large public works and agricultural projects (J. Morales 1929:13).

Spanish settlers in Per (what Peru and Bolivia together were then called) wanted to
be free to force the Indians to extract silver without just remuneration, and viewed any law
requiring fair pay or reasonable loads as an intolerable restraint (Hemming 1970:353). If
the Indians did not comply with the mita, they were subjected to sanctions or violent
punishment from the colonial rulership. Some managed to escape the mining communities,
but most endured acute poverty, disease, and decimation of their population. Some mothers
even killed their children so that they would not have to grow up and suffer under the Spanish
in the mines (Nash 1979:PP). Thus, [t]he mita severely strained the bonds that linked
communityand the state, which were primary ingredients in the social glue that kept
colonial society from coming apart (Stavig 1996:52). Nevertheless, the mita would persist for
three centuries.
The primary way the indgenas were able to survive the mita in the mines was with
coca leaf. Chewing coca staved off hunger, thirst, and exhaustion during the interminable
weeks and months inside the horrific mines, and offering coca leaves to the god of the
underworld (called To, literally Uncle, referring to the Devil) was meant to ensure their
protection inside the mountain (Nash 1993). The pious Spaniards at first were appalled at the
pervasive practice among the indigenous people of chewing coca leaf, and they called for its
elimination. Their perception in the mid-1500s was that coca
was used extensively in heathen rites, and was almost worshipped for its magical power
as a stimulant. It formed a bond among the natives and was an important obstacle to the
spread of Christianity. Because of this, coca was condemned and attacked with passion
[by Catholic priests, who] declared that Coca is a plant that the devil invented for the
total destruction of the natives.
[It] was condemned at the first ecclesiastical council
of Lima in 1551. (Hemming 1970:354)

This is presumably how the Inca Empire managed to build 15,000 miles of paved roads in less than a century, and how it
created agricultural terraces filled with rich fluvial soil high in the mountains, such as are found at Machu Picchu (though the
Incan application of the mita was far less tyrannical than the Spanish version [Murra 1983]). The Quechua word mitaoriginally
meant a turn of labor and the equal exchange of work, and was thus associated with the practice of ayni (Mosley 1992:49).
Mita was used by the Aymara in the harvest of coca in the pre-Hispanic Yungas (Morales 1929:13). Mita apparently also
meant cosecha, or harvest, and is associated with the three annual harvests of the coca plant in the Yungas (Fossati 1948:8).

The 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which categorized coca with the drug cocaine and called for cocas
complete eradication in the Andes is reminiscent of this early European Christian notion that coca is the root cause of the
misery and poverty of the Indians and thus must be eliminated. This mindset was also present in the deliberations of Bolivias
Ley 1008 (Davis 1996).

Historian John Hemming parrots the colonial-era discourse that coca had been one of the
privileges of the [Inca] royal family and priests, and that after the Conquest its use spread
rapidly as such restrictions fell away (ibid.:353-4). But more recent research, as explained
above, shows that coca had already been used by the Aymara and Quechua people (Carter and
Mamani 1986). It seems that the considerable increase in indigenous coca consumption noted
after the Spanish arrived coincided with the discovery of the rich veins of silver in Potos in
1545. Because trade of the leaves became so lucrative for Spanish landowners in the humid
subtropics of the Andes, a powerful coca lobby was formed to defend this tremendous
wealth-generating activity. They argued that coca was the only commodity that was highly
prized by the natives and thus they ought to be allowed to sell it to them. They also claimed
that coca alone could inspire Indians to work for reward and to participate in a monetary
economy. [Anyway, its] trade was too large to suppress (Hemming 1970:355).
Bolivian silver financed the colonial exploits of the Spanish Crown, fattened the
coffers of the Catholic Church and elite landowners, and justified an ever more brutal and
extractive regime in the Andean region. Beginning in 1528, eight million Africans were
brought to work as slaves in the mines, but because the climate in this high and dry zone is so
harsh, they died by the thousands (J. Morales 1929:20). The Spanish encountered the Aymara
of the highland subtropical Yungas in the 1530s. The Aymara had chosen the best places for
villages and had invested generations in the construction of elaborate agricultural terraces, so
the Spanish simply founded their haciendas on these very settlements and fields and forced
the Aymara to become peones on their own land (personal communication from many in the
Yungas). The Spanish introduced citrus, coffee, sugar cane and cacao to the region (Osborne
1964:21-2). In 1557, Africans began to be brought to the Yungas to cultivate these and other
tropical products on the haciendas; more labor was needed especially to handle the increase
in coca production and export.

Most of the coca brought to Potos in the 1500s was grown in the subtropical valleys
below Cuzco, Peru, where much coca had been grown during Inca times. A small part of the

Morales (1929:23) explains that los negros were brought to the Yungas for their skill in cultivating tropical products and to
transport goods for export. The Africans adopted many Aymara cultural traditions, including their language and style of dress,
yet they prefer to live in their own rural communities, of which there are about 100 in the Yungas today (La Razn 2005).

Bolivian Chapare (the valleys of Pocona and Totora) was colonized in the 1500s by the
Spanish to supply coca to the highland mines and the national capital Sucre (Meruvia
2000)a sensible plan since nearby Cochabamba was then the highlands breadbasket. But
production in the Yungas of La Paz intensified, and by 1800, 90% of Potoss coca was
brought from this region (Spedding 2004:56). Yungas coca is renowned for its superior
nutritional quality and sweet flavor, ideal for its most common uses, chewing and tea.

Aymara Resistance to Spanish Domination
After 250 years of forced labor, land expropriation, and religious subjugation by the
colonial system, the Aymara people organized what would be their last attempt to expel the
Spaniards and regain territorial and political control of the Andes. The Tupac Katari
Rebellion of 1780-81 is still heralded by Aymara leaders today as the inspiration for
indigenous resistance to oppression and struggle for self-determination. The Aymara leader
Tupac Katari
sought to take advantage of the tumult emerging between the creole landed
elite and peninsular imperial forces to try to finally expel the Spanish elite and reestablish the
Inca Empire and ayllu system (J. Morales 1929:75). Marking the end of this indigenous
rebellion, young Katari was drawn and quartered by the indignant Spanish governors in a
public display of brutal retribution, as was customary at the time (cf. Foucault 1979). Kataris
last words are believed to have been (as told to me by a teacher of Aymara): Nayaw jiwkta,
nayxarux waranq waranqanakaw saytasipxani (I die now, but over me will rise up
thousands and thousands).

Spanish Brigadier Don Sebastian de Segurola was in the city of La Paz when it was
surrounded, starved, and attacked by Kataris indigenous forces for seven months, and he
documented these events and his experiences in them in a diary (Segurola 1872). After the
Aymara forces were defeated, Segurola and a band of Spanish nobles toured the regions

Alternatively spelled Tupac Catari or Tupaj Katari, though his given name was Julin Apaza.

Rivera (1993:49) records Kataris words as: Nayawjiwtxa nayjarusti, waranq waranqanakawkuttanipxani (I die today, but I
will return converted into thousands and thousands). This statement (commonly in Spanish, Volver y ser millones [I will
return, and then I will be millions]) has proven prescient, as there are now millions of Aymara people pressing for their right to
self-determination against persistent elite economic and political domination.

surrounding La Paz to make contact with the Spanish creole hacienda owners and ensure the
pacification of their indigenous laborers. They were also searching for Mateo Flores, an
Aymara leader who was still trying to perpetuate the uprising in the Yungas.
As the group made their way on horseback along the precarious roads through the
Yungas, they delivered a letter to the indios of each hacienda demanding their allegiance to
the King of Spain and the Catholic Church. Segurola says the indigenous workers bowed
down to them with much humility, asking our pardon and reprieve from punishment,
apologizing for the excesses of the uprising (ibid.:180). On their way to Coroico, however, the
Spaniards learned of the most cruel and appalling deeds during the Rebellion when Mateo
Flores led the Aymara people to rise up against the other racial groups that had come to
inhabit and control their area (ibid.:183). Five-hundred and seventy-two Spanish, black, and
mixed-race people were put to death at the altar of the Catholic church of Coroico;
bodies were then buried in the main plaza.
The traveling Spaniards were greatly disturbed
by this news, so they continued their quest and eventually tracked down Flores in the village
of Pacallo. They executed him on 29 May 1781 in the plaza of Coroico, and thus terminated
the last remnants of the great indigenous insurgency against the Spanish (Carranza 2001:20).
These accounts of pre-Independence activities suggest three things about the Aymara
people in Coroico at the end of the 18
century: 1) they had already suffered greatly by being
displaced from their native lands and forced to labor under the Spanish hacienda system; 2)
they felt threatened (probably economically and culturally) by African immigrants, who were
taken to the Yungas to cultivate coca for the Spanish landlords; and 3) they maintained ties
(familial, political, and economic, reminiscent of traditional ayllu relations) with highland

Historian Nicholas Robins (1998) shows that, at the same time (1781-82), the Tupac Amar rebels in Peru employed the
symbols of Catholicism to humiliate the Spaniards they were torturing and killing, such as hanging them at church altars in the
presence of the crucifix or the Virgin Mary. Such symbolic acts were meant to shame their oppressors religion and culture in
an attempt to re-empower Aymara and Quechua traditions.

After reading this account, I went to talk to Ren Portugal, a man who spent most of his 80 years in Coroico and served as
both alcalde and subprefecto. I asked him if he knew of this story, and whether the skeletons were still under the placid flowers
and palm trees of Coroicos plaza. He told me that most of the bodies were exhumed from the plaza long ago and reburied
under the church (there is no plaque noting their presence). Then, he continued, when the land behind the church was being
dug up in 2002 for the construction of a large new hotel, many bones and craniums were found. What did they do with them, I
wanted to know. They just threw them away (Los han botado), he said matter-of-factly, with a look that said, you know how
things are here, no one bothers to take care of such things.

Aymara groups, even supporting the Rebellion around La Paz. This perspective shows that
Bolivias independence soon afterward in 1825 did not liberate the Aymara people nor lessen
their suffering under the hacienda system, for the Spanish creoles did not defend indigenous
causes and in fact worked to suppress their rights. Spanish-style feudalism continued in the
Yungas and elsewhere in Bolivia until the 1952 Revolution. The history above also elucidates
the lengths to which Yungas Aymara were willing to go to regain control of their land and
government. When Coroico sindicato leaders pay tribute to Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa at
their meetings now, they are making a direct connection between their current struggle
against national elite and U.S. intervention, and their long tradition of bold resistance to
outside forces of domination.
The role of Yungas coca in the Tupac Katari Rebellion of 1780-81 in La Paz illustrates
how the Aymara people continued to revere the ancient leaf for its ability to fortify their
bodies and their resistance efforts. Coca was used during the Rebellion for its nutritive,
medicinal, and ritualistic properties by the Aymara fighting the Spanish in the harsh
altiplano: Coca became the principal element [to the insurgents around La Paz] to combat
the cold, rain and inclement weather, as well as hunger and certain illnessesall by chewing
coca, which also raised their spirits, and gave them strength and bravery in combat
(Carranza 2001:23, my translation).
Yungas Aymara cultivators clandestinelyi.e., not on the haciendasgrew a separate
supply of coca to bring to the highlanders during the Rebellion, taking great risks to do so,
and proving their allegiance to the indigenous leadership in the process (ibid.:18, citing
Godoy n.d.). Tupac Katari is said to have worried more about the supplies of coca than food
(Carter and Mamani 1986:74). Mateo Flores is still revered today when campesinos in
Coroico talk about the regions past, for he represents the involvement of at least some
Yungas Aymara as warriors and supporters in the uprising around the capital city. He is also
invoked to motivate their continued struggle against servitude, exploitation and misery that
persist even after the passing of many centuries (Carranza 2001:24).

Nationalist movements in Europe (particularly in France and Germany [Brubaker
1992]) in the 1800s inspired South American elites to consolidate nations around territorial
claims based on lucrative mines and other resources and access to major seaports. In 1809,
the Latin American colonies, led by Per, began the War of Independence with the battle for
the liberty of the city of La Paz from the bastard politics of Madrid ([Bolivia] 1925:12). An
army of rebel criollo (creole, of direct Spanish descent born in Latin America) and mestizo (of
mixed Spanish and indigenous descent) commercial elites sought to escape the trade
restrictions, tax levies, and peninsular bias of monarchical Spanish rule (van Lindert and
Verkoren 1994:13). After the Spanish armies were vanquished in Per under the command of
El Libertador Simn de Bolvar, the southern portion of this regioncalled Alto Per by the
Spanish and Qullasuyu by the Incasought its own national independence. With General
Antonio Jos de Sucres leadership, on 6 August 1825, the Republic of Bolivia came into

The Venezuelan general Simn Bolvar was a dedicated advocate for the indigenous
: he supported their ambitions by proclaiming equality for all, granting Indian
land ownership and rights, and abolishing the detested mita (Medina 1977:10). However,
Bolvars idealism proved no match for South American realities (Lawlor 1989:120)these
laws were either not enforced or nullified by subsequent administrations. Creole elites were
terrified of opening a space for indigenous revolt, for the Age of Andean Insurrection of the
late 1700s was all too vivid, and the centers of Bolivias government and elite residence were
located in the middle of indigenous territory (Larson 2004:6). This fear partly explains the
subsequent century of elite military coups as a way to maintain control over the national
territory and its people. Little improvement to the lot of the Indians materialized; Bolvars

Several independence fighters from Coroico are still revered in the towns annual festival on 20 October: Gregorio Garca
Lanza (whose house still stands), Sagrnaga (whose namesake street in La Paz is the center of the tourist industry), and Flix
Reyes Ortiz (who has an elementary school in Coroico named after him).

Bolvar was also interested in creating a monolithic South American territory that could rival Europes economic hegemony,
but individual nation-states prevailed. This vision has been recently revived by Venezuelas president Hugo Chvez and his
Bolivarian Revolutionand it seems that he is turning into a similar sort of caudillo and may be wasting another unique
opportunity to serve as an inspiration for a new political economic order during the leftist cycle in South America.

goals for the indgenas would go largely unfulfilled until the mid-1900s.
Despite his high-minded ideology, Bolvar set an unfortunate standard for the
countrys emerging political leadership, exemplifying the megalomania of caudillismo that
would persist throughout the 1800s to the detriment of Bolivias political economic stability:
Insisting that, unlike his rivals, he alone respected liberty of conscience, [Bolvar] demanded
unswerving loyalty. A poor example for Bolivias new political elite, he was ruthless toward
those who opposed his vision (ibid.). In the absence of political parties, caudillos were elite
military leaders given complete authority and expected to act with the welfare of the people in
mind, but in reality they were obsessed with public posturing and the cycle of their ascent to
and fall from power. This constant struggle for control by competing elite groups created a
state of anarchy, impotence and chaos (Smith Ariez 1960:13). It was particularly galling to
some that the work of the heroes of the War of Independence gave way to the enervating
virus of the caudillos whose actions only shamed the new country (Ascarrunz 1899:9).
Reflecting the racism and classism of the day, there was little interest in the development of
economic or social problems which might lead to a more just society (van Lindert and
Verkoren 1994:16). Indeed, as opposed to the contemporary revolutionary outcomes of the
United States and France, Bolivias independence movement produced very little change in
the overarching socio-economic structure (Fifer 1972:238).
Bolivias lunatic president Mariano Melgarejo was the most notorious of Bolivias 19

century caudillos (Lawlor 1989:137). His presidency is an extreme example of the damage
that was done by the unrestrained behavior of corrupt and violent officials in the fragile initial
period of Bolivias status as a nation. Serving from 1864 until his assassination in 1871,
Melgarejo gambled away Bolivias national resources to foreign bankers and made
compromises that would lead to the loss of the countrys Pacific seaboard in 1879. His
primary negotiating pawn was national territory; he traded tremendous swaths of Bolivias
Amazon to Brazil, its Chaco to Argentina, and its coastal desert to Chile for promises of
allegiance from and transit through these countries.
Granted, he was an alcoholic given to

One popular legend has it that Melgarejo was approached by Brazilian officials wanting to negotiate for part of Bolivias

commit all manner of extortion and violence (Ascarrunz 1899:25), but Melgarejo was also a
product of this tormented time in national history:
When Bolivia gained its independence, the country was little more than a grab bag of
warring regions. Self-rule caught it unprepared. It lacked political institutions, a
governing class, a working constitution. Only the military could preserve the peace, and
so it happened that he who ran the army ran the country. Force became the final arbiter.
But force bred force. Tyranny begat revolution, and revolution begat tyranny.
Insubordination was now a tradition. (Lawlor 1989:137-8)

This reactionary caudillismo continued for another hundred years as a sort of
unconscious political ideology of Bolivia (Malloy 1970:17). A staggering figure (even cited in
the Guinness Book of World Records) conveys the countrys perpetual state of instability and
political turmoil:
Bolivia endured 188 golpes de estado (coups detat) in 157 years of
independence between 1825 and 1982 (van Lindert and Verkoren 1994:17), when electoral
democracy was restored.

The Liberal Cycle
The years between 1870 and 1930 represent a particularly dynamic period of change
in Bolivia. Its ruling class strove to surmount the reputation as a state mired in chaos and
violence in order to form a legitimate constitutional government and attract foreign
investment. Adopting the positivist liberal paradigm that promotes equality, citizenship, and
economic development would help identify Bolivia as a modern nation-state on a par with
Europe and the United States (Malloy 1970:17; 59; cf. Lomnitz 2001). Extractive outward-
oriented capitalism became the dominant economic strategy, the primary focus now on tin
exports and to a lesser extent rubber (ibid.:17). Bolivias first political parties were formed in

extensive Amazonian region called Acre, and this during the rubber boom. He was shown a map of Bolivia and assured that it
was only a small area that Brazil wantedLook, its just a piece the size of my thumb! one negotiator supposedly said.
Melgarejo agreed to the deal and traded away over 250,000 square kilometers of priceless territory and accepted as
payment a white horse. A 1903 deal with Brazil in which Bolivia ceded another 189,000 km
of the Acre region was made to
secure free transport of goods along Brazils rivers to the Atlantic coast (van Lindert and Verkoren 1994:16) and to receive 2
million from Brazil for the construction of railway lines (Morales and Pacheco 1999:169).

Equally as incredible is the fact that Bolivia lost over half its original territory to neighboring countries, beginning with the
concession of Mato Grosso to Brazil in 1867 and culminating with the loss to Paraguay of the Chaco Boreal in 1935 (van
Lindert and Verkoren 1994:14). Bolivias total land area is now 1,098,581 km
(about the size of Spain and France combined),
whereas in 1825 it was 2,363,769 km
(larger than Argentina) (Laguna 2003:13).

Bolivias social upheaval since 2003 has lead to the ouster of two presidents (Snchez de Lozada and Mesa) and the
temporary appointment of one (Rodrguez), but these were not golpes de estado; succession followed constitutional mandates.

the 1880s and electoral politics were introduced (Smith Ariez 1960:13). Social goals included
improving education, establishing obligatory military service, ensuring freedom of the press,
and lessening the influence of the Church on the state. However, these liberal ideals were
mixed with the persistent elitism and racism of the colonial era, as well as the fear that giving
indigenous people political power would enable them to rise up against the creole elites
(Larson 2004:243), so native Andeans were denied citizenship and suffrage. As political
scientist James Malloy explains, the Indian experienced the Bolivian government as an
arbitrary and alien power, which when it didnt ignore him, sought to use him and nothing
more (Malloy 1970:27). Thus, Indians were excluded from the benefits of this liberal
ideological shift, just as they were excluded from the benefits of Independence.
Bolivia suffered a catastrophic blow to its economy and national identity in the War
of the Pacific between Bolivia and Chile in 1879-83. Bolivia lost the territoryits tenth Litoral
provincethat connected the highlands with the Pacific Ocean, leaving it landlocked behind
the western Andean Cordillera.
Bolivias economy was thus severely debilitated, and some
(notably Sachs 1997 and 2000; Gallup, Sachs, and Mellinger 1998; consistent with Adam
Smith in 1776) argue that this condition helped lead to the countrys protracted state of
The nation was left without a seaport just when this mode of trade was
expanding exponentially, and Chile gained Bolivias extensive nitrate deposits, then a
lucrative export as a component of fertilizer during a boom in agriculture (Glade 1989:4) and
of newly invented dynamite (van Lindert and Verkoren 1994:15). Bolivias loss of its seacoast,
added to its already poor transport infrastructure and rugged topography, also means that it
has had some of the most expensive overhead in the world for its exports, making them
uncompetitive in the global market (Dunkerley 1980:24). This loss of land and status to Chile
has been one of the most contentious political issues in its national history, and continues to

Paraguay is the only other landlocked American nation, but it is situated in the eastern lowlands and has ready river access
to the Atlantic coast and thus European trade links.

However, not all Bolivianists believe that it is Bolivias landlocked status that has kept it from developing adequately. Daniel
Buck is an independent researcher and collector of postcards from early 1900 Bolivia with whom I spoke in Washington, DC
(2002); he argues that the images on these postcards indicate a level of prosperity and global interconnectedness that could
have fostered national development if not for the indefatigable corruption and self-interest of the ruling elite. Also, basing an
entire national economy on one raw material exportfirst silver, then tin, now natural gasis a recipe for instability.

affect national discourse and trade today.

Land Tenure
One of the most significant transformations of the liberal cycle was the intensified
destruction of the traditional ayllu system in favor of the feudal hacienda system as the silver
mining industry faltered (Glade 1989:17). This political economic shift was largely the project
of estate owners, industry leaders, European expatriates, and other elites in Bolivia, without
input from indigenous representatives. Indigenous knowledge of their own people, history,
subsistence patterns, local economic systems, or modes of governance were not respected in
this process because elites assumed that Indians were socially inferior and intellectually
backward (see A. Arguedas 1919). As a result, sharp disparities in power and productivity
deepened in the rural areas such as in the Yungas.
Post-Independence governments of the 19th century in Bolivia, run by Spanish
descendants and mestizo elites, felt threatened by the strength and self-sufficiency of the
localized political economy of the ayllus that still existed, and undertook to bring this realm of
society under greater national control. The state was motivated by the prospect of creating a
lucrative commerce in land with what it saw as unclaimed territory (because the ayllus were
corporate domains) (Purnell 1999:89). It also intended for the Indians to turn into yeomen,
or rural wage earners, who would produce a surplus for the burgeoning export economy
(Langer 1989:19). In accordance with classic liberal ideals of individualism, wage labor, and
private property ownership, the government instituted a slate of reforms in the late 1800s in
an attempt to modernize Bolivia to European standards. The government abolished the
indigenous ayllu system, made collective property and community social organizations illegal,
and required that Indians become individual landowners (Medina 1977:11). The colonial-style
head tax the Indians had paid since the Conquest (owed by each adult in the form of work in
the mines or fields) was converted to a state tax (based on an assessment of land holdings)
(Langer 1989:19).

Diplomatic relations between the two countries remain chilly. A vocal majority of Bolivians oppose any economic plan that
entails utilizing Chilean seaports or selling natural resources to Chile, even though Bolivia is in desperate need of trading
partners, and using Perus ports is often impractical.

This private property reform did not, however, lead to the incorporation of
indigenous societies into the national economy. It merely opened the door for co-optation of
indigenous land and labor by elites, and the oppressive hacienda system was strengthened
(ibid.:2). This shift was accomplished in several ways. Some Indians were told they had to buy
their land within 60 days following a decree by Melgarejo in 1866, and when they could not
(as was largely the case), the government sold their land at public auction. Another law in
1868 simply declared that all corporate property belonged to the state, and the ayllus were
confiscated and sold cheaply to urban speculators, military cronies, and relatives of the
president (ibid.:18). Some altiplano Indians revolted in 1870 and were able to regain some of
their lands, but this accomplishment was short-lived. The law of 1874 served the final blow by
again nullifying the ayllu communities and forcing the Indians to purchase their own lands,
which they could not afford to do. By the time a law was passed in 1902 that canceled this
parceling out of native territory, most ayllu lands had been sold off and the haciendas were
irrevocable (Rivera 1990:102).
In order for Indians to survive within this feudal system, they had to farm the land
that now belonged to privately owned haciendas for their own subsistence, setting aside part
of their crops as taxes to the hacienda and the state. They sometimes even had to provide
their own tools, seed, plow animals, and transport for their harvests (Klein 1982:228).
Furthermore, Indians were ordered to personally serve the hacienda owners, or hacendados,
and their families on a regular rotation without pay in a system known as ponguaje (after the
derogatory term for these servants, pongos). This added burden to lives of such privation was
exacerbated by the fact that the hacendados often lived in distant cities (ibid.:229).
This history of how the ayllus and communal lands were absorbed into the hacienda
system does not adequately portray the deep humiliation and misery that the indgenas
endured (see, for example, J. M. Arguedas 1958:14-20). Californian Alicia Overbeck, who
traveled by mule with her husband into the Yungas around 1930, describes being
enthusiastically welcomed into every hacienda they passed, because as Americans they were
both curious novelties and fellow elites. At one point she provides an example of what service
to the hacendados could entail:

We had been ushered into a small, stifling room[when suddenly] the door was thrown
open and a bare-foot Indian with a sheepskin in his hand rushed in. He tossed the skin on
the floor and darted back. I gazed hopefully at the door and nearly collapsed with
excitement when on the threshold appeared four ragged Indians bearing on their
shoulders a sort of float on which sat an enormously fat old gentleman draped in a bright
red poncho. With convulsive snorts and terrifying lurches the bearers brought up before
the sheepskin, and kneeling like so many camels gently lowered the float until it rested on
the skin. (Overbeck 1935:181)

Tata Jos, an Aymara laborer who grew up in Coroico, remembers what it was like to
work as an indigenous colono in the Yungas haciendas before the Revolution of 1952 brought
agrarian reform. There used to be a lot more coca grown in this region under the haciendas
than there is now, he explains. Aymara children did not go to school, or even learn to speak
Spanish, but worked in the cocales with their parents. That was our education, learning how
to pick coca. Even children had to chew coca when working on the haciendas. And if we were
caught looking around, the jilaqata [overseer] would beat us with the chicote [leather whip].
There were scattered incidents of organized opposition by indigenous groupsmost
notably the Willka Rebellion of 1899 (see Larson 2004:229-42)but they had little effect on
the system as a whole. Labor unions, called sindicatos, were first organized in the early 1900s
as a form of political protest against oppressive economic conditions, but the government
easily disbanded them by murdering their leaders or entire groups (Magill 1974:22). Even so,
historian Erick Langer (1989:3) points out that the severity of the impact on indigenous
communities which were incorporated into haciendas was variable, and that indigenous
society and traditions were not always destroyed. Rivera (1990:103) describes how the ayllus
in at least one areanorthern Potos, a region more isolated than other Aymara homelands
managed to resist the hacienda takeover of their lands, much to the consternation of the state.
Current critique also acknowledges that workers, even as debt peons, often have ways to
assert their own power within and against oppressive regimes (Glade 1989:53; Langer
1989:4-5; Scott 1986; cf. Russell 1966:56 on labor union sabotage).
In general, however, the liberal reforms of the late 1800s and the actions of the elites
thereafter weakened and marginalized indigenous identity, social organization, political
practice, and economic means of survival across the Bolivian highlands and valleys. It was not
until the Chaco War with Paraguay in the 1930s, followed by the Revolution of 1952 and

Agrarian Reform of 1953, that any widespread legal changes were made that allowed the
political economic situation of Bolivian indgenas to improve. Cecilia Medina (1977:13-14)
summarizes well the liberal cycle between 1870 and 1930:
Indians remained subservient to their landlords, the local authorities, the Church, [and]
the State, both in regard with the rendering of personal services and the giving of
unaccountable tributes. No matter how many provisions were enacted setting forth
prohibitions and penalties, Indians were living under a regime of oppression similar to
that of the Colonial times.

Yungas Infrastructure and Transport
In the Yungas, most lands had been transferred to elite hacendados, though some
independent indigenous communities persisted. Given the regions topographical and
climatic extremessteep and deep river valleys with fragile subtropical soil and a protracted
rainy seasontransportation has long been considered the most vital factor in assuring the
economic viability of the Yungas (Fossati 1948:65). Until the 1930s, travel between La Paz
and the Yungas was extremely difficult, especially in the rain, and transporting its myriad
products around the country required the grueling work of indigenous fleteros (porters) and
pack animals on mostly dirt paths. In the case of Coroico, road conditions had not changed
since the colonial era (J. Morales 1929:271), and none were transitable by automobile.
Overbeck, who lived for four years in the high valleys between the Yungas and La Paz with her
geologist prospector husband, provides rare insight into the social and infrastructural status
of the Yungas in the 1920s:
The important role that transportation plays in the development of a country is strikingly
demonstrated here; for many staple articles can be brought from five or six thousand
miles away and placed in La Paz cheaper than the same things could be brought from the
rich and fertile valleys a hundred or so kilometers to the east [in the Yungas]. Sporadic
attempts have been made to colonize this fruitful territory, and the Government has
encouraged the idea by offering land to foreigners at a price as low as a cent and a half
United States currency per acre. (Overbeck 1935:12)

She also describes the traffic along one of the ancient foot roads in and out of the Yungas,
which she observes from the mining camp in Pongo (she does not describe what the road is
made of, but it was likely packed earth with flat stones laid during the Inca Empire):
[A] trail bent and twisted down the valley. This trail had been, since the beginning of
history, one of the chief highways between the Altiplano and the low country of Bolivia.
Up and down it surged the life of the countrya horseman wrapped in a gaudy poncho
and followed afoot by an Indian servant; a train of llamas laden with flour or salt or coca;

a [file] of stubborn gray burros peering from under towering loads of alcohol tins;[even]
a band of a hundred or more peons sweating and snorting over a pianola which they are
transporting to the [hacienda] of a wealthy landowner. (ibid.:59; 170)

The Sociedad de Propietarios de Yungas (SPY, Society of Yungas Landowners),
founded in 1830 but formalized in 1861 when the state approved its statutes, was dedicated to
the improvement and maintenance of the infrastructure needed to transport products within
and out of the region for domestic and international export (Fossati 1948:94-5). Their initial
priority was the construction of mule roads to La Paz, with bridges and a railroad also
considered essential. They pushed for these projects with the argument that the Yungas
supplied the people of Bolivia with many important products, that industrial capacity in the
region could be increased to contribute to a sluggish foreign trade, and that this route was the
best link from the highlands to the Amazon and the Atlantic (J. Morales 1929:206-7; 264-5).
Yungas hacendados even had a reliable way to finance such costly projects: collect a tax on
each bale of coca leaving the Yungas (ibid.:193). This special tax would be levied on no other
agricultural good but coca, and as such coca exports would be exempt from other municipal
and national taxes.
Such a proposal had traction because of the steady demand for the leaf
in the highland mines and elsewhere.
The idea of investing in an access to the Yungas from La Paz was controversial in the
1800s because the national emphasis had been (and still is) on the more southern corridor
between the urban centers of La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz, and the mining centers of
Potos and Oruro. The primary focus of trade was via Brazil and Argentina to Europe, so the
national railroads especially were planned to facilitate the exchange of productsmost
importantly minerals, wood, fuel, cattle, and rubberbetween the Andean highlands and the
navigable rivers that linked to the countries in the eastern lowland region (J. Morales
1929:209). However, the enormous export potential of the Yungas was recognized at the turn
of the 20
century as the Bolivian state struggled to augment its foreign trade after the loss of
its lucrative nitrate fields and Pacific coast territory to Chile in 1879, and to strengthen its
fragile relationships with neighboring nations. When coca was the principal product

Bolivian laws regulating the taxation of coca from the Yungas were constantly shifting and used to many different ends, even
to finance the countrys centennial celebration (see Fossati 1948:144-52).

transported from the Yungas to the highland mines, transport by mule or porter was
practicable, since a 100-pound load of coca leaf is of significant volume. But when Yungas
citrus, coffee, wood, rubber and fuel were targeted for domestic and international export,
automotive transport became imperative.

In 1929, the Yungas automobile road project was initiated under contract between the
Bolivian government and the then internationally renowned U.S. construction firm The
Foundation Company.
To connect La Paz with Coroico, what is now known as el camino
antiguo (the old road)named the most dangerous road in the world by the Inter-American
Development Bank a few years ago, it frightens even the most seasoned travelerswas hacked
out of the cliffs along the eastern slope of the Andes.

By 1935, the Yungas had their new automobile roads and (part of a) railroad built
primarily because coca was such an indispensable domestic product. Coca consumption was
woven into the national fabric as part of the majority indigenous culture and as an essential
component in the perpetuation of forced labor in the mines and haciendas, and even in the
coca fields themselves. Not only did the importance of coca convince the government to grant
the support necessary to initiate these projects, but the sale of coca was so stable and
profitable that the SPY felt they could rely on its generating the requisite funds to pay for
these long-term infrastructure projects and their maintenance.

In a road inauguration speech in 1928, the Yungas was also promoted as an excellent place for winter vacation homes for
families from La Paz and frigid Oruro (Morales 1929:273), a prescient proposal.

By this time the funds saved from coca taxes by the SPY had been squandered on the failed railroad project, and a loan was
taken from New Yorks Guarantee Trust Company to finance the roads (Morales 1929:280). They were built according to
national standards that stipulated a maximum gradient of 8%, a curve radius of 10 meters, and a width of 4.5 to 5 meters
(ibid.:288). These specs were considered preferable over those required by railroads because the highways were cheaper,
and trucks could haul greater loads with tighter turns along higher grades (Fossati 1948:80-1), a distinct advantage in the

When the railroad project was delayed for decades due to bureaucratic incompetence, the extreme topography of the
Andean Cordillera, and the disintegration of the pine railroad ties in the humid Yungas climate, SPY members began to rethink
their future dependence on railroad access to La Paz. After World War I, the facility and liberty that individual automobiles
provide was recognized and considered desirable for the variability that agricultural harvests entail, and to improve
communication between haciendas and with their market centers (Morales 1929:245-6; 276). Proposals for road projects
suited to horse and mule transport which had languished for decades were changed to proposals for automobile roads in
1925, and the construction of the Yungas road network was begun in 1929 by The Foundation Company (ibid.:257; 262).
Paraguayan prisoners of war from the Chaco War in the 1930s as well as Chinese laborers were used to construct the
precarious old road, scores of whom died in the process (according to local lore).

For example, when the plan to build the railroad from La Paz to Puerto Pando (a route traveling directly through the Yungas

After the automobile roads were completed, the export of products such as fruit,
wood and minerals gained in importance while that of coca remained stationary, since trucks
could transport heavier cargo at lower prices. This ended the monoproduction rut the Yungas
had been in (Fossati 1948:92). As such, the SPY reoriented its focus from just improving
transport infrastructure to experimenting with new crops to substitute for coca, since cocas
decline in economic importance was considered inevitable (ibid.:104). Other objectives
included teaching farmers the secrets of scientific cultivation to increase harvest yields,
helping them fight insect infestation, and defending human capital as the factor of decisive
importance for the progress of the two [Yungas] provinces (ibid.). This last cryptic bit was
left unexplained; it is unclear if the author was referring to the value of the indigenous labor
force or to the intellect of the elite hacendados.
Ultimately, the new road network was a modernizing and unifying force. The roads
facilitated the import of cheaper products, increased the potential for industry, and increased
passenger and tourist travel between the capital city and the lush rural valleys (ibid.:93).
Today the yungueo feels more unified with his country [and the industrial world], noted
chronologist Humberto Fossati, because daily he communicates with the seat of government
via the press. [T]he relationship that is established between yungueos and men of the
capital is always advantageous (ibid.:94, my translation). Fossati did not document the
status or disposition of the Aymara colonos in light of these significant changes, except to say
that a new generation of mechanics was taking shape (ibid.). The Revolution of 1952 was only
a few years away; one can imagine that communication between rural indigenous people and
leaders in the capital was also improved, or at least that the travel of news and ideas was
facilitated. It is difficult to say whether this might have influenced the eventual overthrow of
Yungas haciendas in 1953.

to the Amazonian lowlands) was approved in 1905, taxes on coca and cane alcohol (then a product of SPY lands on a huge
Caranavi sugar cane estate) were expected to generate 5000 per month for 20 years (Morales 1929:212; no exchange rate is
given here for the British pound sterling, used because the Bolivia Railway Company was based in London). Most of this coca
leaf and alcohol (called aguardiente) supplied the highland mining centers. The railroads construction began in 1919 but,
beset by repeated obstacles, was only completed as far as where the road splits toward the Nor and Sud Yungas near
Unduavi. U.S. loans were taken to help finance the expensive railroad in 1919 and 1922 (ibid.:227) when World War I
diminished Europes ability to fund such projects. The network of automobile roads was also financed largely with taxes on
coca and other goods transported out of the Yungas, which demonstrated the strength of the regional economy and thus the
necessity for investing in the roads (Fossati 1948:87).


The Populist Cycle
The events leading up to, including, and following the Revolution of 1952 may be
referred to as the populist cycle. Ironically, this period also includes the military dictatorships
of the 1960s and 70s, for these dictatorships often relied upon clientelistic relationships with
the peasantry, miners, business class, and other social groups. This phase lasted until the
early 1980s when democratic elections were re-established in 1982 and the New Economic
Plan in 1985 ushered in the neoliberal cycle. The populist cycle consists of several important
stages, including the Revolution (with its antecedents and immediate aftermath), the period
of military tyranny from 1964 to 1982, and the initial efforts to institute a new electoral
democracy with universal suffrage.

The Chaco War and the 1952 Revolution
Bolivias political and social scene entered a new phase in 1932 when President
Daniel Salamanca sent Bolivia to war with Paraguay over the Chaco Boreal, Bolivias
southeastern arid lowland region. What began as a minor dispute over a border fort
mushroomed, much to the horror of the people and government of Bolivia, into armed
combat over trade routes and potential oil reserves (Klein 1982:185). Inept tactical
leadership, miserable conditions, and a militarylargely composed of highland Indians
forcibly recruited and unable to match the Paraguayans understanding of the areathat was
poorly supplied and not personally invested in the cause allowed Paraguay to advance rapidly
into Bolivian territory.
After three years of bitter conflict, Bolivia had lost a major portion of the Chaco, over
55,000 Bolivians (and 36,000 Paraguayans) had died, and the political elite had lost its sense
of legitimacy that it had enjoyed since the liberal reforms of the 1800s (Klein 1982:187,
Probably the most significant result of this misbegotten war was the rise of a liberal

The oil reserves of Bolivias remaining Chaco territory, then owned by John D. Rockefellers Standard Oil of New Jersey,
were nationalized in 1937 to create Bolivias national oil (now also natural gas) corporation, YPFB (Yacimientos Petrolferos
Fiscales Bolivianos). Paraguays military effort was backed by Shell Oil, but no oil has ever been found in Paraguays Chaco
region (van Lindert and Verkoren 1994:17).

image of the prospective role of the Indian within the nation, and a new sense of
participation, real or frustrated, by the Indian population in national life (Patch 1960:115).
The Bolivian publics reaction to the humiliation of the Chaco War is reminiscent of
what occurred in the United States as a result of the Vietnam War, but Bolivians were more
successful in using this indignity and sense of purpose to change their political situation
(Ferrufino, personal communication). Societal complacency to elite national agendas was the
first thing to disappear. Most Indians who fought in this war had been hijacked from their
highland communities and sent to the front lines in the desert under appalling conditions;
more Bolivian soldiers died of thirst and exposure than in battle, and desertions were
common (Malloy 1970:73). They returned, disillusioned and angry, to their communities with
an enhanced awareness of their persistent social and economic oppression and of the
incompetence of Bolivias ruling class. Many of them refused to return to their lives as
exploited peons and instead worked toward radical reform in the rural towns (van Lindert
and Verkoren 1994:18). They decided that a more aggressive and unified approach to
addressing such discrimination was called for (Medina 1977:17).

Indigenous labor unions (sindicatos) began to form around the country, new political
parties developed, labor strikes at the mines proliferated, and public protests became more
frequent. However, the state countered these various forms of resistance by their tried and
true methods of placation with false decrees, and outright massacre of protesters: This
manner of dealing with pressure from below seems to show that Bolivias ruling elite was
modern in rhetoric, but ever more traditional and caste-like in its style and action, making it
simply incapable of transforming itself into an agent of basic adaptive change (Malloy
1970:57). The foundation for revolution was laid: it began to seem reasonable to some sectors
of the non-indigenous population to defend the Indians as their marginalization and
exploitation became impossible to ignore, and adopted European socialist ideology made it
seem honorable to support the organization of indigenous workers into politically self-
conscious unions (Osborne 1964:65).

Malloy (1970) argues against the premise that the Chaco War was the primary cause of the raising of indigenous awareness
as to their subjugated national position, arguing instead that indigenous people were already well aware of this fact.

Some blancos (urban people of European descent) and mestizos who had fought in or
protested the Chaco War emerged as an awakened activist segment of society. They published
books and pamphlets decrying the injustices against the poor and the foolishness of the
Bolivian government (Klein 1982:194).
In addition, a new socialist ideology was generated
mostly among the progressive elite and educated classwhich evolved into a radical political
movement to upend state control by the tin oligarchy and collaborate with peasant and miner
organizations (Dunkerley 1980:24). It seems clear that this anti-liberal movement drew upon
the teachings of Leon Trotsky and Karl Marx, as both argued for the creation of a political
party representing the working class to better engage with and ultimately take over the state
in order to create a more equitable society through centralized redistributive policies (Trotsky
1969). Such a party was formed in 1938, called the Movimiento Nationalista Revolucionario
(MNR, Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), and it generated the potential for the
Revolution of 1952 (Klein 1982:195). Persistent liberal notions of nationalism and anti-
imperialism were also moderating influences on the MNR leadership (Patch 1960:115).
There were structural issues also at play that made the Revolution and subsequent
Agrarian Reform almost inevitable. In the 1940s, Bolivias governors were incompetent, the
economy was stagnant and unstable, tax revenues were insufficient to fund government
programs, and the feudal system was not able to provide for the financial and social needs of
an increasing population (McEwen 1975:21). In 1948, only one rural school existedin
Warisataand it was sorely underfunded (Ostria Gutierrez 1958:161). This situation was a
result of the enormous disparities of wealth and power between the countrys tiny elite and
its mass of oppressed indigenous rural workers and miners (Dunkerley 1980:23). The most
blatant contributors to this system of inequality were the three mine owning families (Patio,
Aramayo, and Hochschildthe Big Three or La Rosca) who pursued a policy of
superexploitation of [their] workers rather than of expanding capital investment in order to
increase production, which meant that the mines in 1952 were badly run-down and severely
under-capitalized (ibid.:24).

Such as Augusto Cspedes 1946 novel Metal del Diablo(The Devils Metal), which decries the brutal treatment of Bolivias
miners, and the reissue in 1936 of Alcides Arguedas Pueblo Enfermo (Sick Population), first published in 1909, which exposes
Bolivias severe racial and economic inequalities and calls on the urban inteligenciaand youth to help tackle these problems.

The other structural malady was the highly inefficient and exploitative hacienda
system, in which 615 landowners controlled 16.2 million hectares (with only 0.2% under
cultivation) while 51,200 peasant farmers owned only 74,000 hectares in communal lands
(with 54% under cultivation
) (ibid.:23). Other data show that 92% of arable land was held
by the hacendados, representing only 6% of the population (Arze 1999:62). The indigenous
communal lands that did exist were located primarily in the altiplano and the high mountain
Cordillera, and there were some small family farms in the Yungas (Demuere 1999:275).
Over three days in April 1952, the MNR seized control of the government with broad
support (but not direct participation [Malloy 1970:164]) from the indigenous mining and
agricultural sectors and the urban lower classes (van Lindert and Verkoren 1994:18). Victor
Paz Estenssoro was named president, and he immediately joined forces with the newly
formed Central Obrera Boliviana (COB, Bolivian Labor Union),
headed by the celebrated
mining organizer Juan Lechn Oquendo. Together the MNR and the COB implemented a slate
of significant reforms: universal suffrage and citizenship for all native Bolivians (male and
female, literate or not, landholders or not), the establishment of free public schools in
indigenous areas to support their inclusion as citizens, and nationalization of the mines to
reinvest the wealth inside the country. The name campesino, or peasant, replaced indio (a
derogatory term at the time) to mask entrenched class divisions and foster a greater sense of
unity among Bolivias many indigenous cultures (Alb 1995:40).
The feudal hacienda system became one of the lefts primary concerns, and
indigenous people became the central actors in the next phase of the Revolution. Loss of
indigenous land to haciendas had expanded since the War of the Pacific, and the desperation
of indigenous rural and urban poor had intensified (Arze 1999:62). The leftist movement and
the COB provided the necessary inspiration for a mass peasant uprising (Malloy 1970:202).

The portion not under cultivation were probably fallow fields in rotation (Demuere 1999:270).

The artisan, semi-proletarian, and other labor unions (sindicatos) that proliferated in the 1920s, 30s and 40s were brought
together under the umbrella of the COB in 1952 soon after the Revolution. These sindicatos evolved as a strong militant
forcesome with support from Chilean and Argentine socialist and anarchist groupsparallel to the national political system.
This is when the use of demonstrations and strikes to disrupt the economy and public order and designed to secure
government concessions began (Malloy 1970:55-8), inspired by European anarcho-syndicalist traditions of revolt (cf. Russell
1966:56). These tactics, plus road blockades, are still the preferred methods used by the COB and sindicatos to garner
government (and now media) attention to their demands.

Motivated by extreme poverty and injustice, armed by the MNR, and bolstered by the
Agrarian Reform initiative,
in 1953 indigenous peasants, finding themselves for the first
time in a position of power, embarked on a program of total land redistribution from below
(Patch 1960:118). The hacienda system in the altiplano, the Yungas, and the Cochabamba
valleys was destroyedand with it the hated practice of ponguajeand the Indians became
landowners practically overnight. Thus the term campesino was not just cosmetic, for it
represented a very real structural change in that the Indians reacquired the benefits and
responsibilities of working their own land (Alb 1995). In the Yungas, campesino families
built their communities on the land of the former haciendas (which, in some places, had been
the locations of former ayllu communities) in an almost one-to-one ratio.
Peasant trade unions, called sindicatos agrarios, were established at the community
level on a national scale (sindicatos were also formed to represent the miners). In some areas,
such as the altiplano, this agrarian political system was adapted to the ancient indigenous
ayllu system of community interdependence and cooperation, whereas in other areas where
the ayllus had been completely destroyed, such as the Yungas and Cochabamba valleys, the
sindicatos became the only space to politically unify the campesinos (Rivera 2003 [1984]).
The sindicatos were intended to improve the efficacy of agrarian reform, provide a structure
for communal organization and representation to replace the hacienda system, and promote
the interests of the campesinos by giving them a greater voice in local and national politics.
The process of sindicato formation and actualization varied greatly by region and over time
(Malloy 1970:214), but in general, the sindicato became the nucleus of social, political and
economic organization throughout the countrysideand a new stratum of peasant leaders, by
controlling local organizations, became the new human links between the national system
and the rural Indian peasantry (ibid.:208).
The nationalization of the mines was an effort to introduce state capitalism and to
break foreign control of the Bolivian export market and government. Part of this
consciousness developed during the Chaco War when people realized that Rockefellers

The two main goals of Agrarian Reform were: 1) facilitation of agrarian economic development by bringing capitalist forms of
production to rural areas, and 2) distribution of land to former colonos and organization of peasants into unions and militias so
they would perpetuate the revolution in conjunction with the MNR (Malloy 1970:205).

Standard Oil, which owned the oil fields in the Chaco, was manipulating the outcome of the
war in Paraguays favor. Bolivia responded by confiscating Standard Oils holdings and
creating the state oil company (Klein 1987:185). Foreign ownership of Bolivias tin mines
meant that private interests took priority over national ones. The Big Three mining oligarchs
invested most of their fabulous tin profits outside of Bolivia, paid minimal taxes to the state,
exploited the indigenous labor force, and manipulated the political system to maintain their
power (Hillman 1996:132). The MNR seized control of the mines and formed state-run
COMIBOL (Corporacin Minera de Bolivia, Bolivian Mining Corporation), in the hope that
Bolivias economy would enjoy increased revenues and be able fund rural schools and other
social programs.
For a while, the MNR and its state capitalist reforms seemed to represent well the
needs of the people, and it appeared that a peoples democracy through universal suffrageas
opposed to the cycle of caudillos and coupswas emerging as the dominant political program.
A brief period of mass euphoria ensued (Rivera 1990:103), but it only masked the
dysfunctional relationship that continued between those in power and indigenous society.
Domitila Barrios de Chungara, in her compelling personal account of her life as an Indian
woman growing up in a highland mining community, gives her version of this dissonance:
The revolution of 1952 was a great event in Bolivias history. It was really a peoples
victory. But what happened? The people, the working class, the peasants, we werent
ready to take power. And so, since we didnt know anything about the law, about how you
govern a country, we had to give the power to the people of the petty bourgeoisie who said
they were our friends and agreed with our ideas. But they immediately made up a new
bourgeoisie, they helped make new people rich. Those people began undoing the
revolution. And we workers and peasants lived in worse conditions than before. (Barrios
de Chungara 1978:50)

The educational measures of the Revolution included widespread Spanish
instruction. The 1950 census showed that 54% of Bolivias population was indigenous, with
only 6% of the predominantly Aymara and Quechua speakers also able to speak Spanish
(cited in Patch 1960:113). While it was important for campesinos to learn Spanish as a way to
interact productively with the rest of society and to defend their rights under new laws, the
decline in native language usage that ensued threatened to homogenize indigenous culture as

using native languages in public was discouraged (Rivera 1990:104).
People in the Yungas
still say they feel embarrassed using Aymara in public, and many are now refusing to teach
their children Aymara.
Becoming landowners exposed the campesinos to new methods of exploitation from
state hegemony (Lagos 1994:63), while the Agrarian Reform initiative failed to adequately
support them in this major transition. Many peasants had hoped to gain some autonomy as a
result of Agrarian Reform in order to reestablish their tradition of communal landholding,
but state policy required the campesinos to hold titles to private plots of land, continuing the
liberal notion of individual property ownership (Medina 1977:31). Historian Harold Osborne
negatively compares both the hacienda system and the results of Agrarian Reform by the
1960s to the successes of Inca agriculture, claiming that
from being under the Incas one of the more advanced agricultural technologies which the
world has known, [with the hacienda system] Bolivian agriculture became, and has
remained to this day [even after Agrarian Reform], backward, primitive and hand-to-
mouth. The system of planned surpluses which was fostered under the Inca empire has
never again been realized. (Osborne 1964:74)

However, even though Agrarian Reform did too little to provide legal land titles, paid too little
attention to the technical and economic aspects of land distribution, and parceled out the
haciendas in too-small plotsthis atomization of ownership impeded the mechanization of
agriculture, then considered essential for rural economic developmentit is still valued as a
visionary and positive step along Bolivias path, and may not have happened at all had it not
been hastily enacted (ibid.:75-6 footnote, quoting a 1961 government document and then
putting his own spin on the situation).

In the highland mines, the indigenous miners felt their political position in society
was strengthened with nationalization. They also benefited from the reforms that improved

Such indigenous homogenization following the Revolution was not the first time this contradiction was experienced. After the
Conquest, the Spaniards sought to differentiate which Indians were saved and which were still heathens, so they mandated
a dress code as a revised form of indigenous identity (which was eventually adopted by the Aymara and Quechua groups
themselves, most famously the classic pleated polleraskirts and felt bowler hats). This invented tradition (Hobsbawm and
Ranger 1983) made the indigenous communities appear united around a common identity, and naturalized as a legitimate
component of Andean culture. It is not known what traditions were lost in this process.

Rationalizations for the overnight nature of Bolivian reforms were also made in the 1980s regarding the shock therapy
neoliberal structural adjustment program, promoted by the World Bank and the IMF and implemented in what would become
standard fashion in Southern countries the world over.

local education and health services. However, Bolivian currency was highly unstable, and
since the miners were paid in bolivianos, their wages fluctuated dangerously and put their
families at risk. Meanwhile the Bolivian managers and engineers who had replaced the
foreign workers were paid in secure U.S. dollars. Therefore, once again, it was not the
indigenous workers who really prospered from this state reform (Nash 1994:18). The Big
Three had been paid tremendous sums in compensation for the appropriation of the mines.
This expense, along with falling tin prices,
mismanagement at COMIBOL, and the need to
create mining jobs, raise wages, and import grain because of a widespread disruption in
agricultural production severely hampered the ability of the revolutionary government to
follow through on its populist promises (Dunkerley 1980:25).

Military Tyranny
Ultimately, the political framework of the Revolution and its reforms deteriorated
(Malloy and Gamarra 1988), and the weakened MNR government was deposed in 1964 with a
military golpe de estado. New president General Ren Barrientos was considered the
supreme leader of the peasantry; his regime was a continuation of the populist movement
and trend toward national capitalization that the MNR had begun (Alb 1987:385-86). In
1964, the Pacto Militar-Campesino (Military-Peasant Pact) was enacted: it pledged that the
military would uphold the agrarian, political, and educational reforms of the Revolution in
exchange for peasant political loyalty (Alb 1995:41). It also divided the alliance between
peasants and miners, who had come together through the Revolution and the COB (van
Lindert and Verkoren 1994:22). These sectors would not rejoin their efforts at collective
advocacy until 1985.
When Barrientos died in 1969, a series of bloody coups and radical military
dictatorships ensued, and the Military-Peasant Pact was weakened. The West offered easy
and generous credit, encouraging the construction of infrastructure projects and acquisition

Again, basing the national economy on one export product was a great risk, but there was no real alternative at the time:
Attempts to develop a market for coca were frustrated when synthetic anesthetics took the place of natural cocaine [in the
1950s]. Thus deprived of one alternative after another, Bolivia was left with only the traditional mineral industry and principally
with tin (Osborne 1964:121).

of new military equipment as a means toward modernization in exchange for protection of
U.S. economic interests (Arellano-Lopez and Petras 1994:557) and in support of the
eradication of the political left and radical union activity (Dunkerley 1980:42). Foreign debt
was already mounting by the late 1960s, as was Bolivias dependence upon USAID support
(Lernoux 1982:206). Political scientist Christopher Mitchell (1977) argues that by this time
the formerly revolutionary MNR party had become completely unmoored from its populist
ideology, in part because its original middle class base had turned more radically conservative
once they gained political power. They were afraid that the peasant and working class masses
would gain too much power, and so they favored a military solution to keep them
marginalized, subservient, and afraid to speak out. Sindicato organization was suppressed
and political diversification was seen as a threat to the stability of the nation.
The dictatorship of General Hugo Banzer from 1971 to 1978 was notorious for its
suppression of human rights and union organizing. Banzer was not interested in currying
favor with the peasantry as a publicity stunt as Barrientos had done, but sought to keep the
rural majority neutralized and divorced from political activity. He only [made] infrequent and
stilted visits to the countryside, warning against the dangers of political involvement
(Mitchell 1977:127). Banzer curried great favor with U.S. administrations, however, which
gave generous grants, loans, and aid to his administration (Dunkerley 1980:43) to ensure that
communist peasant and worker movements were suppressed during the cold war. In 1971,
Bolivias foreign debt amounted to US$391 million (accounting for 17.3% of export earnings),
and by 1978 it had mushroomed to US$3.1 billion (32% of export earnings), though stable
economic growth was not achieved (ibid.:46). Bolivias dependence on U.S. and other aid was
thus solidified as the country needed ever more loans to pay back its existing loans, a cycle it
still must contend with.

Real wages plummeted during the 1960s and 70s, and workers and peasants
experienced their worst state of impoverishment in modern times (Arellano-Lopez and Petras
1994:557). The regimes during this period were extremely violent, similar to the other brutal

People often pointed out to me that every Bolivian born today already owes the U.S. several hundred dollars as their portion
of the national foreign debt. The total is actually almost US$600 per capita, for Bolivia has US$5.2 billion of foreign debt and
slightly over 9 million peopleand this in a country with a GDP of only US$1010 per capita (World Bank 2005).

dictatorships that flourished throughout Latin America at the time. Journalist Penny Lernoux
explains the phenomenon this way: Workers whose buying power is sharply reduced can be
counted on to protest, so the next and final step had to be military dictatorship.... Without
repression, ...these millions [of common people] will not stay quietly on their farms or in the
slums unless they are terribly afraid (Lernoux 1982:35-6). Indeed, the goal of these military
dictatorships leading up to the terror campaign of the Garcia Meza dictatorship of 1980-82, in
addition to controlling the countrys economy, was to eradicate independent working class,
peasant, and popular organizations (Dunkerley 1980:21). The sindicato leaders in the
Yungas continued to meet clandestinely, though at the risk of being tortured or disappeared if
Bolivias dictatorships were supported financially and politically by the United States.
The U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA, now called the Western Institute for Strategic
Cooperation in the Americas), founded in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946 and later moved to
Fort Benning, Georgia, trained Latin American military and police personnel in the skills of
counter-insurgency, including interrogation, torture and suppressing popular insurrection
(New York Times 9/28/96). General Banzer was a graduate of the School of the Americas
(SOA Watch bulletin, n.d.). Anthropologist Lesley Gill (2004) chronicles the history of this
military academy and its efforts to maintain U.S. hegemony in Latin America throughout the
cold war and later the drug war.
Thus, for three decades following the 1952 Revolution, while indigenous people made
great strides in securing civil rightsuniversal suffrage, formal citizenship, access to
education, the right to form their own community governing structuresthe peasantry was
considered by those in the national government as a latent threat that must be kept at bay lest
this popular force rise up to destabilize the nation or overthrow the elite regime. Such fears
are buried deep in the psyche of the Bolivian elite (and the small middle class), for Tupac
Kataris rebellion is not simply a memory carried by the Aymara. The MNR and the
dictatorships of the 1960s and 70s used contrived national level peasant confederations with
compliant leaders as a means to control peasant loyalty rather than to receive peasant
demands (Mitchell 1977:49). The self-consciousness of the oppressed indigenous majority

was in the end only half-heartedly promoted by the national government, when it wasnt
using the military to actively suppress the realization of their own political power.

Strides Toward Democracy and Stability
In 1977, four wives of highland minersled by Domitila Barrios de Chungara, the
head of Oruros Housewives Committeeheld a hunger strike in La Paz in an effort to secure
freedom and amnesty for the miners unions that were suffering military repression and their
leaders who were being tortured. When more than a thousand people joined the strike across
the country to demand presidential elections, Banzer was forced to comply (Alb 1987:397).
The success of this strike was a major victory for the new activist efforts by women, and for
Indians in general (see Barrios de Chungara 1978). The first popular election was held in
1977, also under pressure from U.S. President Jimmy Carter, but more bloody coups and
aborted presidencies followed. The political situation remained chaotic until 1982.

The Neoliberal Cycle
These dynamics set the stage for another tectonic shift in Bolivias system of
governance. In the 1980s, many Latin American countries minimized the role of the state and
shifted toward increased dependence upon market forces to meet their social welfare needs
(World Bank 1997:24-5). This agenda was promoted by the World Bank and Western
government aid programs in an effort to help Southern countries
reform their economies
away from the top-down state-centered model to conform to this new era of democracy
movements and undermine socialist models. Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) forced
radical changes in debt-burdened countries as a requirement of rescheduling their untenable
foreign debt with new IMF and World Bank loans. These changes included lowering tariff
barriers to imports, removing restrictions on foreign investment, reducing the states control
of the economy by privatizing state-run industries, balancing bloated budgets by reducing
social welfare expenditures and prioritizing debt repayment, and making export production

The Third World will be referred to as the South in this paper because that is how those countries refer to themselves (e.g.,
The South Commission), and the U.S. and Europe together will be called the West as influential industrialized countries of the
north are still called (see Galtung 1993:77).

more profitable by cutting wages and devaluing the local currency (Bello 1993:200). Bolivia
was considered an ideal candidate for structural adjustment due to its significant foreign
debt, inefficient state programs, outrageous inflation (to reach 24,000% in 1984), meager
income for most of its population, and numerous untapped markets in human-made and
natural capital.
Democracy in Bolivia has been, to varying degrees throughout its history, compatible
with state capitalist, authoritarian, and populist national governments, yet in 1982 democracy
became paired more directly with private sector interests (see Malloy and Gamarra 1988).
This neoliberal approach arose in reaction to both internal and external incentives and
pressures. Domestically, widespread disgust with the military regime of Garca Meza in 1980-
81in which civil society as a whole and the private sector were actively repressed, drug lords
were protected, and the U.S. was excluded (and backed away) from engagement in Bolivian
politics (see Dunkerley 1980; 1984)fostered a reformist attitude among an unprecedented
alliance of the population seeking to wrest control away from the military and clientelistic
networks. Also, the worst economic decline in Bolivias history demanded that the
government reinstate diplomatic relations with the U.S. in order to secure financial
assistance. The Reagan administration, with its concern over Marxist armed insurgencies in
Peru and Colombia and the burgeoning cocaine trade, was eager to assist Bolivias transition
away from authoritarianism and support general stability in the Andean region.
Civil society interests such as the COB (Central Obrera Boliviana, Bolivian Worker
Central) preferred a return to more socialist and redistributive economic policies, but private
interests had a broader mandate after 30 years of failed political experimentation at the
expense of economic stability. By the time electoral politics were reestablished in 1982,
Bolivia was $5 billion in debt to foreign lenders (cited in Nash 1994:20). Between 1980 and
1985, family income fell by 29% and government health care expenditures decreased by 78%;
the state was unable to provide adequately for employment or social services; and national
industry could no longer function due to the drop in national buying power, an increase in
foreign competition, and a drop in global market prices for tin (Arellano-Lopez and Petras
1994:558). While the private sector had allied its agenda with the dominant state capitalist

model with previous administrations, whether populist, socialist, or authoritarian, it began an
aggressive push toward free market reforms to bolster a capital accumulation model of

MNR president Victor Paz Estenssoro implemented the Nueva Poltica Econmica
(NPE, New Economic Policy) in 1985. The state shifted its natural resource use from
production for local and domestic consumption to production for foreign export in order to
increase government revenues (Nash 1994:11). The unproductive national mines were either
offered up for sale to international and cooperative interests or shut down. This measure
resulted in the discharge of tens of thousands of state-employed miners and their families and
a mass exodus from the highlands to the more tropical lowlands where they looked for land
and a new means of subsistence (Sanabria 1995:90). Since manufacturing plays a minor role
in Bolivias economy, farming was the only alternative to mining for the indigenous working
class. They were encouraged to move to, among other places, the Chapare outside of
Cochabamba to colonize virgin forest land. As this period coincided with the boom in cocaine
consumption in the U.S., many new campesinos chose to cultivate coca leaf destined for the
international drug trade as a practical economic livelihood strategy (M. Painter 1998).
To balance the federal budget in favor of repaying its foreign loans, the Bolivian
government made drastic cuts to its health care, rural development, and education programs,
creating a vacuum in vital service provision. To compensate for these cuts, national and
international NGOs along with foreign government aid programs (such as USAID) formed to
take the place of abandoned state programs, a phenomenon repeated in many Southern
countries during the 1980s. There were mixed feelings about this change: NGOs were
initially hesitant to fill these spaces on the grounds that they would be freeing the state of its
responsibilities, and effectively endorsing the structural adjustment programs (Bebbington
1997:1756). While this support from civil society was surely welcomed as an alternative to

Bolivian IDB economist Hugo Villarroel (personal interview 2002) takes a popular union slogan Tenemos que ser antes de
tener(We have to be before we can have)which assumes that people need to have civil rights, social services, and
education before they can benefit economically and increase their consumption beyond basic needsand reverses it to say
Tenemos que tener antes de ser(We have to have before we can be)thus asserting that people need access to markets
and jobs first so that they may create a better life for themselves, which will then lead to their full rights as citizens and human
beings. This outlook represents perfectly the neoliberal approach to solving social problems and poverty. This philosophy was
criticized by Ernesto Guevara (2005) at the 1961Alliance for Progress conference in, long before neoliberalism had a name.

social collapse, their insertion into the heart of the national economy was not a panacea. NGO
administrators are not elected by the populations they serve, and their finances are tied to
foreign agendas and not always transparent. And they may or may not be influenced by the
sort of corrupt elitist clientelism previously the purview of the national government.
In the 1970s, only a few NGOs were in Bolivia, often working side-by-side with local
grassroots organizations on their political agenda of opposing the military regime, or
protesting to improve the education system (Arellano-Lopez and Petras 1994:556). The
government was in the process of going heavily into debt from foreign banks easy terms of
credit. In the 1980s, the focus of NGOs shifted along with the change to democratization
they began to work with the government and international aid agencies to facilitate
development programs based on renewed interest in the social sector. But when structural
adjustment and the debt crisis struck in the mid-1980s and the state was forced to decrease
its social spending, NGOs quickly infiltrated the system to take over these functions. The
states responsibility toward the welfare of its citizens was thus rapidly reduced as NGOs
coordinated much of its development projects.
Because NGOswith their international links and larger scale involvementbecame
the principle recipients of international and state funding for grassroots development, they
gradually either coopted or alienated themselves from Bolivias sindicatos and other civil
society organizations. NGOs now often act as development brokers to provide a link
between civil society organizations, the state, and international donors (Arellano-Lopez and
Petras 1994:557). This has had the unfortunate side effect of forcing sindicatos to compete for
funds and assistance from various NGOs instead of working with each other in the common
struggle of the people against the depredations of low incomes and the informal economy.
Some NGOs began to stop using the more time-consuming and labor-intensive method of
local participation in development, which is what made them effective in the first place. Even
worse, NGOs began to be created just to take part in the flow of aid money from the North,
especially as employment opportunities fell. As poverty alleviation funding from the North
increased dramatically in the 1990s, the number of NGOs in Bolivia increased from 100 in
1980 to over 530 in 1992 (ibid.:561-62; I do not have current data on this number).

Structural adjustment produced a period of general social, political, and economic
upheaval that continues to this day. The state lapsed into its former authoritarian role as
labor strikes and other forms of popular protest were efficiently and brutally crushed in the
late 1980s (Sanabria 1995:85). The states credibility, accountability, legitimacy, and
predictability (crucial factors for any effective system of authority) deteriorated, especially as
the interventionist role of the United States became clear to an increasingly enraged public
(see Nash 1992). Bolivias anti-drug law, passed in 1988, was a prime example of this foreign
intervention, which challenged peoples understanding of a truly democratic nation. The next
phase in Bolivias neoliberal transformation was to come in 1994 with political reforms to
decentralize Bolivias governing bodies and development funds. Since these reforms were also
considered to be founded on U.S. intervention, protests from civil society organizations broke
out around the country. But they also accompanied a new Constitution that recognized
Bolivia as a multiethnic and pluricultural nation after 169 years as a republic (Crdenas 1997).

Law of Popular Participation
We are now witnessing the most profound political and social transformation that has ever
taken place in Bolivian democratic life.

Carlos Hugo Molina Saucedo (2001), OAS/IAF Building Democracy from the Grassroots
Forum, Washington, D.C.

This hopeful declaration by Carlos Molina, Bolivias first Secretary of Popular
Participation in the 1990s, indicates the potential that he saw in Bolivias 1994 Ley de
Participacin Popular (LPP, Law of Popular Participation, Ley 1551) to engender a modern
functioning nation-state for this deeply fragmented country. The LPP, the corollary to
Bolivias 1985 economic neoliberal reforms, was intended to break up once and for all the
post-revolutionary centralized socialist power of the state. As an effort to build a
decentralized political system to complement its budding capitalist system, the law was
passed to international acclaim but internal discord. Gonzalo (Goni) Snchez de Lozada

Snchez de Lozada, as Minister of Planning, was the principle architect of the economic stabilization program adopted

served his first term from 1994-98 with Victor Hugo Crdenas, the first Aymara vice
president, during which they envisioned a form of liberal democracy that would incorporate
the majority indigenous Bolivians into national political life after centuries of marginalization
and discrimination. They hoped that if people could have more control over decision-making
processes at the local level, they would be less inclined to instigate public uprisings (Peirce
1997), thus enfeebling the centuries-old culture of protest.
The LPP was designed to incorporate the Bolivias far-flung majority rural population
into a national democratic system by devolving the powerand 20% of the federal budget on
a per capita basisto Bolivias 311 (now 327) municipalities (some created in conjunction
with the law) to coordinate local infrastructure and development projects (see Serrano 1995).
Municipal governments were established with elections for mayor and town councils every
five years. All civil society organizations were named as OTBs (Organizaciones Territoriales
de Base, Grassroots Organizations), which gave them an official role in the municipal
government system. The CV (Comit de Vigilancia, Oversight Committee) was established for
each municipality so that OTB leaders could get together once monthly to be informed on
municipal policies and to have a forum for popular participation in policy generation. An
annual plan (POA, Plan Operativo Anual) was to be elaborated with input from the OTBs
each year, in conjunction with a five-year municipal development plan (PDM, Plan de
Desarrollo Municipal). Local officials have struggled to navigate this new law (as well as a
series of new laws passed in quick succession
) and to incorporate these changes.
According to political science theory, a liberal democracy should include not only
open and regular elections, but civil liberties and equal political rights (Diamond 1999).

during Paz Estenssoros regime in 1985 (Yergin and Stanislaw 2002).

Ley SAFCO (Ley de Administracin y Control Gubernamentales, Ley 1178) had been passed in 1990 to administer state
resources for public services; the Ley de Capitalizacin(Ley1544) was passed in 1994 authorizing the state to privatize state
industries; the Ley de Descentralizacin(Ley 1654) was passed in 1995 to regulate economic resources at the departmental
level; Ley INRA (Ley del Servicio Nacional de Reforma Agraria, Ley1715) was passed in 1996 to regulate the distribution of
lands; the Ley de Municipalidades (Ley 2028) was passed in 1999 to delineate the norms and rules for social control in
municipal governance; and the Ley de Dilogo Nacional (Ley 2235) was passed in 2000 to direct the spending of municipal
funds according to coordinated national priorities. A second Dilogo Nacional was carried out in 2004 (in compliance with the
World Banks debt forgiveness plan) to develop the next phase of national development priorities. All of these laws were
referred to on a regular basis in Coroico government proceedings and public meetings, usually by their numbers; cheap copies
of these laws can be purchased on any street corner in La Paz.

Guillermo ODonnell (1992) distinguishes between the initial transition to democracy from an
authoritarian regime, during which the basic institutions (rules of the game) are established,
and the subsequent consolidation of democracy during which the principles and procedures
are adopted by both elites and the general populace. In some sense Bolivia has erected the
framework for a liberal democracy and is now working toward consolidation. In another
sense, Bolivia is still a polyarchy (cf. Dahl 1971), a more restrictive system in which only a
small circle of elites has access to national political power. Either way, a strong tradition of
liberalism that protects individual rights and a functioning electoral system is important for
the adaptation of more indigenous forms of political organizing.
By the late 1990s, the sense among Western theorists and governments was that we
had arrived at end of history (Fukuyama 1992) or the the end of politics (Colburn 2002)
as economic liberalization and democratization had become the preferred methods of
generating efficient economies and cohesive nations in Latin America
(World Bank 1997:24-
5). These reforms contained the potential to ameliorate trenchant societal ills by linking a
nation to the global network of trade and diplomacy. Descriptions of how these systems
should benefit a country were prevalent (Bolivian Authorities 2001; Diamond 1999), yet the
positive predictions were not effectively borne out. Open markets and democratic systems are
highly variable in their application and effect (Gill 2000; Phillips 1998; van Niekerk 1994),
and the efficacy of liberal reform depends upon how new forms of governance and commerce
respect particular historical and cultural contexts and interface with local populations
(Ocampo 2001). In Bolivia, there was an enormous disconnect between these factors.
The overall effect of the neoliberal reforms was to support Western corporate
interests and expand the capitalist world market, while economic inequality increased in
Bolivia and other Southern countries (ODonnell 2001). Even though Bolivians feel that they
do live in a democracy, this perception is often only comparable to the horrors of a military
dictatorship. Very little material benefits have trickled down to the working classes and
indigenous campesinos. Since the late 1990s Western governments have cut their aid budgets

And of creating modern nation-states that will stand up to international scrutiny (Lomnitz 2001).

in response to their own financial crises, making it more difficult for Southern states to meet
their social needs, and necessitating an increased reliance on external NGO funding and
service provision. Anthropologist Lesley Gill (2000) evaluated development and service
NGOs in some of Bolivias poorest communities in the late 1990s. She concluded that they
were able to do little to improve the situation of poor communities because the NGOs must
compete with each other, the state, and the military for limited foreign funding, and
increasingly they must conform to the policy agendas of the international agencies that fund
them rather than the local communities they are meant to assist (Gill 2000:156).
Recognizing in hindsight the instability of nations with weak states, the World Bank
(1997:25) warned against an overzealous rejection of government, as occurred with its
SAPs. The Bank stressed that the market and civil society are unable to carry out effective
development on their own without the active participation by the state. This realization is
leading to a slow change in World Bank policy as it tries to learn from its experiences (World
Bank 2001). By the time Goni won the presidency for the second time in 2002, Bolivias
national political situation had changed dramatically. For the first time in history, Bolivias
Congress was one-fourth indigenous, due to the performance of the new MAS (Movimiento al
Socialismo, Movement Toward Socialism) and MIP (Movimiento Indgena Pachakuti,

Pachakuti Indigenous Movement) parties. This shift serves as an example of how indigenous
politics through the sindicatos and the pueblos originarios of the lowlands have learned to
utilize the neoliberal political reforms at the municipal level to gain public service experience
and win elections on the national level.

The Rise of the New Left
Since the implementation of the New Economic Plan in 1985, Bolivians have been
organizing against itmost notably the miners 1986 March for Life and Dignity (see Nash
1992) and the eastern lowland indigenous groups 1991 March for Territory and Dignity (see

Pachakuti is an Aymara word that means change or revolution, in the sense of a complete reversal or overhaul of an
existing political or cosmological order. For example, the Spanish conquest of the Andes was a pachakuti. MIPs leader, Felipe
Quispe (El Mallkuan Aymara high office, literally condor), a former katarista guerrilla, advocates a return to Aymara and
Quechua political, economic andterritorial sovereignty in the Andes. One meaning of the multifaceted noun pachais time.

Rivera 1993)but coordinated efforts that reached a wide international audience began with
the 2000 Water War in Cochabamba protesting the privatization of the municipal water
system by the U.S.-based Bechtel Company. This civic revolt represented the emergence of a
shared challenge of democratic renewal or utopic recovery of the ideal of citizenship in
response to economic neoliberalism (Albro 2005:250). The Water War was followed by
resistance to coca eradication in the Chapare and the Yungas in 2000-02, to IMF-imposed tax
hikes in February 2003, and to the privatized export of natural gas in September-October
2003. These first indigenous uprisings of the 21
century in Bolivia became uno de los
detonantes para el cuestionamiento del modelo neoliberal (one of the sparks for questioning
the neoliberal model (Mamani 2004:121). Rather than isolated protests around special or
regional interests, these uprisings represented the coming together of diverse social sectors
around the country to form a cohesive social movement that would eventually not only force
the resignation of two presidents but lead to the election of populist leader Evo Morales.
By 2003, the negative impacts of economic neoliberalism were impossible to ignore:
After seventeen years of financial orthodoxy, the neoliberal programme was increasingly
seen as sheer plunder. Per capita income had not risen since 1986, and Bolivia had the
second most unequal distribution of income in the continentonly Brazil was worse. The
top 20 percent of the population owned 30 times more than the bottom 20 percent, and
60 percent lived in poverty; in rural areas, the figure reached 90 percent. The official
unemployment rate had tripled, to 13.9 percent, while the proportion of people working
in the informal sector had risen from 58 to 68 percent in fifteen years. Infant mortality
was 60 out of 1,000 births, and life expectancy was 63 yearscompared to continent-
wide averages of 28 per 1,000 and 70 years respectively. Infrastructure remained
rudimentary in much of the countryside: over 70 percent of roads were unpaved, and in
rural areas only a quarter of households had electricity. (Hylton and Thomson 2005)

Voices of dissent against the elite political establishment that had followed the Washington
Consensus were growing louder. The events leading to Black October created a perfect storm
of impassioned resistance that instigated political changes that would eventually allow for
visible structural economic changes in BoliviaMoraless so-called democratic revolution.
On 25 October 2003, one week after Lozada fled Bolivia (to exile in the U.S.) in shame,
Morales was an invited speaker at the In Defense of Humanity Forum in Mexico City. Morales
explained to the Forum: This uprising of the Bolivian people has been not only about gas and
hydrocarbons, but an intersection of many issues: discrimination, marginalization, and most
importantly, the failure of neoliberalism (E. Morales 2003, in Ali 2006:221).


Black October and the Gas War
The protests began in mid-September 2003 in the altiplano region near Lake Titicaca
as a way to capture government attention to the long-unmet needs of Aymara and Quechua
communities in relation to the Bolivian governments neoliberal agenda. Specifically, people
were suspicious of President Gonzalo Snchez de Lozadas controversial plan to allow a
foreign corporation to export the countrys massive reserves of natural gas through a Chilean
port, an arrangement that would remit as little as 18% of the profits to the state.
While the
Bolivian state is in desperate need of incomealmost 70% of its population still lives in
poverty, it has no major exports at this time as its silver and tin reserves are depleted, and its
infrastructure has still hardly been modernizedpeople wondered why the government
should rush to sell its gas cheaply to places that already use more than their share of the
worlds energy, such as California, rather than industrialize it first to increase the profit
margin and use the revenues for national development initiatives. Plus, peoples trust in the
conduct of private corporations is minimal after the countrys long history of abuse. The
sweeping privatizations of Bolivias state-run companies over the past 10 yearsafter Snchez
de Lozadas 1994 Law of Capitalizationhas resulted in neither improved services nor
increased income for the state (see Kohl 1999), and memories of Cochabambas famous
Water War remain vivid (and are a source of inspiration for many people).

People originally took to the streets primarily calling for a formal dialogue over the
gas issue between the government and indigenous leaders.
Rather than reasonably submit

President Snchez de Lozada was elected in 2002 by a narrow margin (less than 1%, with 21% of the vote; Evo Morales
came in second with 20%) after a campaign run by the Carville Group of Washington, DC (see Our Brand is Crisis
documentary 2006; Forero 2006). His clear connections with the U.S. and his role in designing (and profiting from) the 1985
New Economic Plan (as Minister of Planning under Paz Estenssoro) and the 1994 Law of Capitalization (as president during
his first term) made him suspect of favoring private corporations over social services to the Bolivian population.

Cochabamba was at the epicenter of the fight against resource privatization by multinational corporations in 2000 and was
an inspiration for the anti-globalization movement. After their water was privatized and rates shot up without their government
defending them, the people of this city succeeded, in the face of heavy military repression, in expelling the U.S.-based Bechtel
Corporation from Bolivia (see Shultz 2000).

At first the fact that the gas would be exported through Chile instead of Peru was a main point of contention. Many people
are still indignant that Chile seized all of Bolivias coastal lands in the 1870s leaving Bolivia land-locked, and blame this for the
nations underdevelopment. This nationalist pride was intensified by the fact that Chile intended to levy substantial taxes for
the use of its port. As the protests became more widespread and the government response more violent, such nationalist

to this request, the administration refused to reveal the exact terms of the plan and chose to
use the military to subdue the swelling multitudes. The death toll began on September 19

when five people in a small Aymara altiplano village were killed by the Armed Forces. After a
month of fruitless collective action and outrage over military repression, people began calling
for Gonis resignation, and gradually surrounded the capital city of La Paz with roadblocks
that cut off all commerce and transportation.

On October 12
, the military was instructed to step up its level of intimidation. Goni
had the solid backing of the U.S. Ambassador, David Greenlee, who declared that the people
were trying to subvert democracy with their protests. Helicopters circled overhead and fired
indiscriminately into the crowds, and tanks pushed into the streets. The next day Vice
President Mesa renounced his support for the president and his heavy-handed tactics and
street demonstrations spread to other parts of the country, but the violence and Gonis
intransigence continued for four more days. Then on October 17
, Goni unexpectedly
submitted his resignation and escaped to the United States, and Carlos Mesa assumed the
presidency according to constitutional provisions. In all, over 70 citizens were killed and
hundreds wounded.
But as one official in El Alto (the booming immigrant Aymara city
outside La Paz) put it, The Aymara put the brakes on the third conquest of Bolivia (Punto
Final 2003). Celebrations broke out around the country at Gonis final demise.
By late Saturday night the 18
, the city of Cochabamba (where I was living at the
time) was already back to normal: people drinking beer in cliques at sidewalk cafes, music
and dissonant voices emanating from the karaoke bar across the street, men revving their
souped-up engines down the main boulevard. I did hear a tuba and drum band playing down
the street for a little while, and some people celebrated by honking their horns as they drove
by. Sunday morning I woke up early, looped my camera over my shoulder, and walked a long
meandering route through the empty city streets. I documented the written record left behind

sentiments gave way to more internationally relevant themes, such as human/indigenous rights, neoliberalism, sustainable
development, and national sovereignty in the face of U.S. domination and exploitation.

See Prada 2004 on how different social movements came together under this shared goal.

This is a very brief outline of the events that took place during Black October in Bolivia. For two excellent summaries, see:, and

on the walls by demonstrators in their final hours of defiance. The slogans were frank,
idealistic, and full of vitriol: El gas no se regala (Dont give away the gas); Patria y
soberana (Country and sovereignty); Goni, hijo de puta (Goni, son of a bitch).
In Mexico City at the Forum one week later, Morales framed his philosophy which,
although he did not refer to it as such in this speech, could be considered a working definition
of Andean socialism, the central premise of his MAS party:
For us [Bolivian indigenous people], October 17
is the beginning of a new phase of
construction. Most importantly, we face the task of ending selfishness and individualism,
and creatingfrom the rural campesino and indigenous communities to the urban
slumsother forms of living, based on solidarity and mutual aid. We must think about
how to redistribute the wealth that is concentrated among few hands. This is the great
task we Bolivian people face after this great uprising. We need to be led by the people,
not use or manipulate them. Weve been making progress in this for a long time, so that
our people are finally able to rise up, together. (Morales 2003, in Ali 2006:222-23)

President Carlos Mesa was initially seen as an ally in carrying out this vision, for he publicly
renounced the reactionary militaristic response of the Bolivian government to social protest:
Me han preguntado si tengo el valor de matar y mi respuesta es no, no tengo el valor de
matar, ni tendr maana el valor de matar (People have asked me if I have the courage to
kill [protesters or other Bolivian citizens by sending in the army] and my response is no, I do
not have the will to kill, nor will I have the will to kill tomorrow). If social protest is to be
considered a legitimate form of democratic participation for those who have suffered political
exclusion for 500 years, then Bolivian citizens need to feel secure that their government will
not respond to peaceful demonstrations or even massive but unarmed road blockades with
force. But, as Bolivias political system adjusts to a post-neoliberal erain which the
principles and practices of syndicalism combine with those of neoliberalismthere may be an
opportunity to abandon such energy-intensive measures of popular participation for those in
which indigenous workers exert more control within the state system itself.

Bolivia in 2004
In 2004, Bolivia was looking toward surmounting its historical economic woes and
almost continuous political unrest to navigate a new stage of relative stability. The nations
history has bred a deep distrust between social sectors, a malady pervasive at the local up to

the international level. Since independence in 1825, Bolivia has had 18 constitutions and over
250 governments, many of which were installed by coups detat and lasted on average about
10 months (Lawlor 1989:x, plus the 1994 constitution). The majority of Bolivians still bemoan
the loss of their Pacific seaboard to Chile in 1879; the Da del Mar (Day of the Sea) is
celebrated each March to keep alive the memory of Bolivias strategic disadvantage and to call
for the return of the Litoral department. In 2004, this call had special resonance because the
mass protests of October 2003 that led to the ouster of President Snchez de Lozada placed
this issue back on the front burner of national interest, inspiring people to insist that their
countrys natural resources be used to benefit the population rather than external private
entities, considered illegitimate beneficiaries of Bolivias wealth.
As much as Black October was an indigenous uprising opposing the latest foreign
privatization of Bolivias most valuable exportable natural resource, it was also a nationalistic
movement that garnered wide support among the middle class, intellectual, and public
servant spheres. Those who abhorred the mass uprising were the urban and business elite in
the lowland cities in the Santa Cruz, Chaco and Tarija departments, since it is under this
territory where the natural gas and oil reserves are located. The resentment among this
contingent also stems from centuries of inherent racism between the highland people (called
Collas) and the lowland people (called Cambas). Even so, Mesa entered the Palacio Quemado
(the Burned Palace, the presidential palace that has twice been gutted by fire) to lead a nation
that had been at least momentarily unified around the issues of national identity, sovereignty,
and social investment (Vargas Llosa 2004).
This history of Bolivia and the Yungas has brought us to the place where we can now
investigate more thoroughly the roots of Aymara communal traditions and the role of coca
leaf in the present socio-political and economic structures of the Yungas. The next chapter
will also discuss the history of the international war on drugs so that the new coca politics of
the Morales administration can be adequately appreciated. These insights will facilitate the
analysis of Bolivias sindicato democracy in chapters four and five.


Morning mist in a Yungas coca field. ( Caroline Conzelman 2004.)

COCA LEAF and AYMARA TRADITION: Language, Agriculture, and Drug War
Ama suwa, ama qhilla, ama llulla, ama llunku (Dont steal, dont lie, dont be lazy, dont be

Law of the Inca state and current Aymara moral-political maxim (in Rivera 1993:49)

Yungas sindicato politics is inherently connected to the cultural setting of the
majority Aymara population and the regions history of colonialism, feudalism, syndicalism,
and the U.S. war on drugs. To build on the lengthy history elaborated in the previous
chapter, the goals of this chapter are to provide the necessary cultural context for the Yungas
and to explain the centrality of coca so that the organization of the agrarian sindicatos and
their present-day actions can be adequately comprehended. My ethnographic perspective on
coca cultivation and the many quotidian and ritualistic uses of the leaf in the traditional zone
demonstrates why sindicato politics are inextricable from this socioeconomic mainstay. This
chapter will begin with issues related to language use and rural community traditions. It will

then detail the cultivation practices of coca leaf in the Yungas and explain the history of the
war on drugs policies that have come to impact the legal cultivation zone ever more directly.
Not only in community sindicato meetings but also at the municipal and provincial
levels Aymara is often spoken, by both the leaders during their polemics and members who
have la palabra (literally, the word, meaning their turn to speak). There is a subtle but
pervasive concern to maintain their cultural identity and practices. Cultural preservation was
not always an explicit goal, but a desire to honor and preserve their Aymara heritage was
often voiced in the context of other concerns, such as land rights, education, and of course
coca. Ayni was frequently mentioned as a core value, referring to the ancient practice of
mutual aid within and between rural communities, especially in the cultivation of coca.
In one interview with a secretario general (sindicato leader) in Cruz Loma, I asked
him which aspects of his community would he not want to lose to the process of development
(Qu cosas no quiere perder de su comunidad?). He responded:
No quisiramos perder la costumbre de la comunidad. Toda la cultura ms que todo, y
tradicin; todo lo que, por tradicin, es de tiempos antiguos, como la lengua aymara.
Porque yo veo que ahora la cultura, mi cultura ya se est perdiendo, porque a un
jovencito ya le da vergenza ponerse una abarca, por decir, o llevar un pantaln as, de
costurado manual, le da vergenza. (Personal interview 11/17/04)

We wouldnt want to lose the customs of our community. All the culture more than
anything, and our traditions; all that, according to tradition, is from ancient times, like
the Aymara language. Because I observe that now the culture, my culture is already
disappearing, because a young person is embarrassed to wear sandals [handmade of worn
tires], for example, or to wear pants like this, handmade, makes him embarrassed.

Another community leader from San Pablo had similar sentiments: Que no cambien las
costumbres, porque ahora todo est cambiando y unos se avergenzan de nuestra cultura,
de nuestra Aymara (That our customs do not change, because now everything is changing
and some are embarrassed by our culture, by our Aymara). This concern that young people
are embarrassed by their Aymara culture and language was pervasive in the Yungas. Eusebio
Mendoza, himself an Aymara joven of 25 years who in 2004 had already worked his way up
the leadership ladder to be the dirigente of the Coroico Central, explained, Hay una
alienacin tremenda de los jovenes (There is a tremendous alienation among young people),
because they see gringos and want to be like them, but they cant. This trend is linked to the
presence of global culture through international tourists visiting the area, the close proximity

of La Paz, and the internet (now accessible in Coroico in three cafs), as well as the pressures
of participating in a modernizing and globalizing economy.
Significant to this sense of cultural loss occurring right before peoples eyes is the very
real decline of the Aymara language in the Coroico municipality. People say the Yungas is
castellanizado now. Spanishized.
In a series of informal interviews that I conducted with
elementary school teachers around the municipality, it seems that most parents are not
teaching their children Aymara anymore. This shift is said to have begun around 1990, for the
general consensus is that children under 16 do not normally speak Aymara, at least not in
public. If their parents speak Aymara at home it is oculto, behind closed doors. Most said that
people are embarrassed to speak Aymara in public, thinking others will make fun of them.
One teacher in the tiny village of Quenallata along the Coroico river explained that parents do
not want their children to learn to write poorly in Spanish based on their Aymara
pronunciation. This is an insightful comment that only a teacher could make, for he is able to
see what happens when a child is learning to write. Aymara has only three regular vowels (a,
u, and i) and two that are formed when a vowel lies next to either a q or an x (u changes to an
o sound, and i changes to an e sound). Thus, he said, a child might try to spell donde est as
dundi ist, since there are no qs or xs in these words.
Parents want their children to be
competent in Spanish and eventually English so that they will be respected and able to get a
good job in an urban area, and not be humiliated because of their Aymara.

I wondered if the issue had more to do with the parents remembering painful
experiences of humiliation during their childhood (under a military dictatorship), or even
stories from their parents (about the hacienda days), rather than any threat to their children.

The situation regarding language and culture in Yungas Aymara communities is quite different than in the altiplano Aymara
communities, where Aymara is still the first language, the economy is much more closed and subsistence-based, and the
sindicato and party politics more militant.

For example, my friend Tata Jos says timpu instead of tiempo (time). Many Spanish words have been incorporated into
the Aymara language, either because there are no Aymara equivalentssuch as iscuala(escuela, school)or because the
Spanish word is so commonsuch as democracia. Incidentally, coca is pronounced the same in Aymara because its name
derived from the word for tree, quqa; the q, which sounds like a throaty k, influences the change of the uto an osound.

The 1994 education reforms were supposed to institute bilingual education across the country, in which every school would
offer instruction in Spanish and in the native language of the particular area. As with so many of Bolivias creative laws passed
at the national level, insufficient funding was appropriated to ensure its implementation, so bilingual texts and teacher training
have not yet materialized.

One day I accompanied an engineer from the municipal government as he went from town to
town telling people about an employment opportunity. While he talked to the primary school
teachers (the easiest people to contact, who were then to inform the sindicato leaders), I was
able to talk with the children. At the colegio in Santa Barbara, a crowd of students gathered
around me, the strange gringa. I asked if any of them could speak Aymara: Jumanakax
aymar parlapxtati? Nervous stares and glances at each other. Our driver Eugenio walked
over and said, Ella est preguntandoles si hablen Aymara (She is asking you if you speak
Aymara). No response. So I said, in Spanish, How many of you speak Aymara? Five hands
shot up, mostly girls, grinning. I tried another question: Kuns iscualan yatiqaskta (What are
you learning in school)? After a bit of encouragement, one girl finally said something rapidly
in Aymara, and smiled. Then everyone was smiling, and some others said things in Aymara,
even those who had not raised their hands, and it soon became obvious that every child spoke
Aymara. I started countingmaya, paya, kimsa, pusi, pheska, suxta, pacallco, kimsatunka,
patunka, tunkaand they all joined in at the top of their lungs, clearly enjoying the exercise.
Perhaps children can hear their parents speaking through those closed doors.

Aymara (Agri)Cultural Practices
What we must understand is that in rural communities like that of the Aymara, agriculture
remains a primary activity that not only provides the communities with food, but also
provides its social life and perpetuates core cultural values. Understanding the social
significance of such core valuesrequires persistence and a willingness to explore and
understand the complex web of local and cultural histories [and] that one involve oneself in
the messy realities of local politics. [T]he agricultural fields of communitiesproduce
meaning, identity, and intense personal satisfaction as much as they produce potatoes [or in
the Yungas, coca]. Fields and spirit become one.

Andean archaeologist Alan Kolata, writing about the Lake Titicaca area (1996:269)

Four key practices within ancient Aymara culture and which continue in Yungas
agricultural communities today are ayni, minka, faena, and trueque. Ayni means reciprocity
or mutual aid; minka is a day of paid labor; faena is an agricultural work party on communal
land; and trueque is the trade of products or labor, not money. All relate to the realm of labor
and commerce and denote particular kinds of relationships within and between indigenous

communities, institutionalized in the ayllu system and currently practiced by Yungas
sindicatos. These key practices are especially relevant to the cultivation and trade of coca leaf,
though not exclusively so, employed both historically and in the present day Yungas.
Ayni is a fundamental practice that impacts many aspects of Aymara society past and
present, like a pump at the heart of Andean life (Allen 2002:73). A discussion of coca
production in the Yungas can illustrate how it works. Coca is a hardy bush that grows in acidic
or rocky soil and can remain productive for 30 years. The Aymara developed a method of
terracing, which they still utilize today, to exploit the extreme topography and mild climate of
these high altitude subtropical forests. The terraces, called wachu
in Aymara (andenes or
tacanas in Spanish), are constructed by teams of men who first clear the fallow brush, forest
trees, and large rocks. They then work their way up the steep hillside to fashion the earthen
ledges that will allow the coca seedlings to take root and mature. The men wield heavy
pickaxes to dig out stubborn roots and hefty wooden paddles to beat the wachu into shape.
This laborious work is punctuated by breaks to chew coca, and by a meal brought to the field
by the wife of the couple who own the cocal (coca field).
While men do the muscle work, women do most of the harvesting of the leaves, a
division of labor that traditionally provided near full employment in the Yungas (Spedding
2004:24). Sisters, daughters, aunts, and neighbors spend the day picking coca surrounded by
swirling mist, warm sunshine, and mountain vistas. Before the work begins, the women take a
few moments to sit in the thatch roof shelter located in each field, chew some coca, and trade
gossip. After stashing water and their lunch in the shelteras well as, perhaps, a young child
wrapped up tightly in a blanket and slung from a beam for a napthe women set to plucking
the smooth oval leaves off row after row of the low dense bushes.
Each coca field can be harvested three to four times a year, a cycle that depends on
the reciprocal labor of the women. Likewise, clearing new or fallow land, building terraces,
and planting the wawa (baby) coca requires the collaborative labor of the men. This practice
of reciprocity, which builds relations of trust and mutual aid within and between rural

Wachu is the singular form of the word, but Aymara words in the plural do not take an s, but the suffix naka. To avoid
confusion, Aymara words used here will not be pluralized but left in their singular form.

communities over the long term, is what is called ayni. Since harvesting coca goes on year-
round and the labor required is equitable, the women generally just exchange their labor in
each others fields on rotation. Building the wachu, however, is more of an event that requires
expertise and hard labor, so the men are contracted specifically for the jobthough this paid
work also ends up rotating between men in neighboring communities (Spedding 1997a).
Children are also useful in the fields, for picking the leaves, fetching water or other items for
those working, or minding the babies. Teenage children often join their mothers work parties
in the cocales after school.
The system of ayni reciprocity in Yungas communities remains the central social
institution that helps ensure their economic viability. The principle boils down to a basic
negotiation of labor exchange between relatives or community members: Today I will help
you weed your fields, and tomorrow you will help me fix my roof. Ayni can involve any sort
of labor, compensating someone for their labor does not have to occur immediately, and there
is no formal signed pact. These sorts of exchanges occur on a daily basis, and people keep a
running mental account of who they can call upon in a time of need, and to whom they might
owe their labor. Such regular and equitable exchanges create networks of solidarity both
within and between communities in the Yungas.
In addition to the reciprocal trade of comparable labor through the exchange of ayni,
communal agricultural practice has also long utilized paid day laborers to make up for a
general scarcity of labor for coca production or to meet the needs of the annual coffee and
citrus harvests. This important component of rural life in the Yungas is called minka in
Aymara, or jornal labor in Spanish. Minka has been a part of Aymara society at least since
the time of the Inca with their mita coca harvest practices (Sanabria 1993), and Yungas
haciendas relied on a permanent reserve of minka laborers from the altiplano especially
during harvest times (Soux 1992:409-10). But minka should not be viewed from a simple
Western pragmatic perspective where wage labor has been normalized across class strata. In
Andean communitieswhere people focus on processes, or modes of relatedness, rather
than on categories (Allen 2002:86)ayni is exchanged between status equals, while minka
implies an asymmetrical relationship, whether between a godfather and his godson, or

between a woman with land and her neighbor who just moved to town without land. Even so,
minka is an important component to agricultural life and is inseparable from ayni.
My friend Tata Jos (tata is an Aymara term of respect for an older man) had many
stories to tell about the nayra pacha, the old times of the Aymara culture, which he learned
from his awicha (grandmother) and achachila (grandfather) as oral history passed down
through generations of his indigenous ancestors in the Yungas. He explains that long ago,
coca leaf was the most valuable product the people had, so it was often used to trade for other
goods or to compensate someone for their labor. This use of coca was only one component of
a comprehensive system of barter exchange called trueque, in which products and labor, not
money, were traded within and between ayllus. Trueque is still in use today among the
Aymara in Bolivia since many people live outside of the formal economy and have only their
labor, agricultural goods, and handmade products to trade for the other commodities they
Coca leaf remains an important component of these transactions, both as a valuable
good and as a ritualistic element of the exchange. Trueque, in a way similar to ayni, creates
long-term relationships between individuals and communities and thus helps make
indigenous society more stable over the long term.
A final essential practice of Yungas community agriculture is called faena, or a group
of community members contributing to a particular labor project. Sindicato leaders are
responsible for organizing the contributions of community members to the various faena
projects that take place throughout the year. Faenas are used to accomplish tasks that will
benefit the entire community, such as regular cleanings of the plaza and the town roads,
construction of a community center, or the tending of the communal plots of land that help
supply the sindicato leadership and those in need.
The current use of ayni in Coroico varies depending on the community, but from my

The 2006 trade agreement between Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba (called ALBAAlternativa Bolivariana de las Americas, a
play on ALCAAcuerdo de Libre Comercio de la Americas [FTAA in English]) was based on the concept of trueque: each
country presents the material goods (oil, natural gas, wheat, coca) or human capital (doctors, educators) they have to offer,
and they work out an exchange to satisfy the needs of each country. For example, Bolivia has large reserves of natural gas but
is severely lacking in health care and education services, so it agreed to export gas to Venezuela in return for literacy teachers
and to Cuba in return for doctors who would serve people in need at no cost. This kind of negotiation outside of the Western-
style market structure inspired the name given to the trade agreement, as well as the monikers Axis of Good (Hugo Chvez)
and Axis of Hope (Ali 2006) to distinguish this tri-nation alliance from, but also poke fun at, George W. Bushs Axis of Evil.

interviews it seems that campesinos use about 50% ayni and 50% minka for work in the
fields and family building projects. The general impression is that the practice of ayni has
greatly decreased from previous generations, and that more minka is required to
accommodate an increase in temporary workers who come from the altiplano to work the
coca and other harvests. Because of the strong coca economy in the Yungas (and its mild
climate and proximity to La Paz), it is a popular destination for those from other regions of
the country in need of work. As coca production increases, more day laborers are needed,
which is further hindering the ability for landed campesinos to rely on ayni.
Some believe that the use of ayni is decreasing because people have adopted a more
self-reliant stance in an increasingly market-based economy. Se usan el ayni, pero muy
pocono es como antes, antes era ms porque la comunidad era mas unida. Otros dicen, yo
prefiero hacerme porque otros no me lo hacen bien el trabajo (Ayni is used in our
community, but not very oftenits not like it used to be, before there was more ayni because
the community was more unified. Others say, Id rather do it myself because other people
dont do good work for me), explained one dirigente from San Pablo, a town close to the
municipal capital. However, a sindicato leader from San Juan de la Miel, a town almost two
hours away from Coroico, said that ayni is used in the majority of their community work, both
by men and women. Proximity to transportation routes and market centers likely affects the
prevalence of ayni in a community.
Regardless of a communitys actual employment of ayni, there is a universal sense
that the loss of ayni is related to a troubling loss of Aymara culture in the Yungas, in addition
to the loss of the Aymara language and traditional dress. No queremos perder los usos y
costumbres (We do not want to lose the traditional uses and customs of our culture), said a
dirigente from San Pedro, using the legal term for cultural rights in Bolivia. Por ejemplo, la
minka, las faenas que se hacan antes, el ayni tambin el pijchu, y las fiestas comunales
para recordar nuestras costumbres (For example, the minka, the comunal work parties that
were used in the past, the ayni also the practice of chewing coca, and the communal festivals
that allow us to remember our traditions). Ayni is at the heart of rural Yungas communal life
and thus of the sindicatos, for it promotes mutual aid, communication, and bonds of trust.

While campesinos bristle at national newspapers that only talk about coca in their
occasional stories about the Yungasyungueos highlight their diversity of production and
their tourist attractions, for they do not want to be labeled as a coca monoculture region lest
they be targeted as narcotraffickersit cannot be denied that coca cultivation continues to be
the archetypal agricultural interest in this vast mountainous area. In order to understand the
methods of sindicato organizing to defend coca in 2004, it is necessary to have a clear
understanding of why coca is such a central component of life in the Yungas.

Significance of Coca Leaf in the Yungas: Medicine, Symbol, Politics
Over the 16,000 foot mountain pass from La Paz and the altiplano, down in the steep
eastern slope of the Bolivian Andeswhere the snowy peaks of the cordillera to the south and
the rivers deep in their valleys flowing north toward the Amazon are simultaneously visible
lie the legendary Yungas coca fields. The tell-tale signature of a coca field, or cocal, can be
seen on all sides: row upon row of low earthen terraces stacked up in vertical columns until
they cover the hillside, radiating a brilliant emerald green. The old eroding Inca stone terraces
can still be found in some places, which local people point out with pride. This is the region
where I spent many days picking coca with several groups of women, and where I even helped
construct some new terraces one day with a group of men.
When my friend Doa Corina harvests her coca bushes, each leaf makes a soft snap,
indicating that she has picked it off whole, not torn or crushed. With all the women working
together in her field, the air is filled with these snaps, a rhythm that decorates the womens
conversation like the sequins embroidered on their festival skirts at home. At the end of the
day they will have accumulated a large cloth bag of the leaves which Corina can carry on her
back along the winding paths to her adobe home. There she has a slate patio surrounded by a
low adobe wall called a kachi where she will spread out the leaves the next morning in the sun
to dry. This is all the processing that coca needs before it is put into bags to sell into the legal
market in La Paz, or stored for her family to use for tea, medicine, and ceremonies. Many
families have their own modest kachi or build one to share between neighbors, and some
towns have access to the old hacienda kachi which are rented out on rotation. The scale of

these huge old kachi reveals the large volume of coca that was produced when the majority of
land and people were controlled to produce for the profit of the elite few.
The leaf is regularly chewed by people in her community because of its many
beneficial properties and because it is a potent symbol of their indigenous heritage. Coca is
our life, says Doa Corina quite literally, for coca sustains her communitys health, economy
and spirituality. As the Maya do with respect to corn, the Aymara correlate the stages of a
persons growth with the life cycle of the coca plant (Spedding and Colque 2003). Coca has
been cultivated, traded, and used in the Andes for over 4000 years and is thus one of the first
domesticated plants in the Americas (Mayer 1978; Plowman 1979). However, for five
centuries coca has been despised, misunderstood, and largely controlled by colonial and elite
powers. Its popular image has veered from one extreme to the other, as either the sacred leaf
or the devils leaf. All the while, indigenous people in Bolivia have considered coca a
fundamental aspect of their livelihoods, politics, and traditions.
Alison Spedding (1997a) argues that coca is a total social fact in the Yungas
evoking sociologist Marcel Mauss (1990 [1950])and is thus an immutable element of the
social, political, symbolic, and economic fabric of Aymara communities. Likewise, Enrique
Mayer (1986) maintains that coca is irreplaceable because of the way it facilitates reciprocal
exchange networks, social interactions, mystical intelligence, and healthy livelihoods. The
Western world, however, associates the plant primarily with its notorious derivative cocaine.
The leafs tiny concentration of the cocaine alkaloid plays a role in its pharmacological
properties, as when the leaves are used as a poultice for minor wounds or as a mild topical
anesthetic. Inca doctors were able to perform some surgeries (notably brain trepanation) with
coca at a time when European doctors relied on shots of whiskey or a sharp blow to the head
to prepare their patients for an operation (Hurtado and Silva 2000). But pure cocaine was a
Western laboratory invention so its abuse as a drug has no corollary in Andean traditions.
Cocaine is one of coca leafs 14 alkaloids, but its concentration in the raw leaf is
extremely low. The impact of chewing the leaf or drinking coca tea is not in any way similar to
the impact of ingesting pure cocaine (Montesinos 1965, also in Carter 1996; Weil 1995:73).

Coca leaves are most commonly used as an herbal tea (called mate de coca
) to ameliorate
the effects of high altitude or indigestion, and as a mild stimulantwith an effect similar to
caffeinewhen chewed during the workday by farmers, miners, truck drivers, and market
vendors. It is significant, however, that coca leaf is not addictive, as are both caffeine and pure
cocaine (Weil 1995). Traditionally, coca was also chewed after meals, which in the Andes
consisted primarily of potatoes, and coca has been found to help regulate the blood sugar
produced by potato starch (one of cocas alkaloids is insulin). Coca leaf is also a remedy for a
variety of other physiological ailments such as hypoglycemia and possibly diabetes (Burchard
1975, also in Carter 1996). Preliminary studies (notably by sociologist Jorge Hurtado in La
Paz), indicate that it may even be possible to use coca leaf to wean people from cocaine and
crack addictions (Henman 2006:67; Weil 1995).
It is not difficult to understand why coca has been a sacred and central component of
life in the Andes and parts of the Amazon for so many millennia. One Aymara myth says that
coca leaf was a gift from Pachamama (Mother Earth) long ago when her people needed
sustenance during a food crisis in the Yungas, caused perhaps by deforestation exacerbated
by a natural disaster (Henman 2005:85). She guided them to a simple shrub that was able to
survive under these conditions and told the people to suck on the small flat leaves. Thus the
Aymara began to discover the remarkable nutritional and medicinal properties of this
unassuming plant, and forever after have offered coca leaves in their ceremonies to honor
their connection to the land and the divine realm of the spirits, especially Pachamama.
This myth supports Yungas campesinos who declare that la madre de la coca existe
ac en los Yungas como una planta silvestre (the mother of coca exists here in the Yungas in
a form of a wild plant). It is unknown where exactly coca was first domesticated, though
ethnobotanists Wade Davis and Timothy Plowman, students of Richard Schultes at Harvard,
undertook to trace the different types of coca leaf in the Andes and into the Amazon (see
Davis 1996). While they determined the existence of three speciesone from Colombia, one
from the Amazon, and one from Peru and Boliviasince they made only a short visit to the

Mate is the generic term in Bolivia for a steeped tea of fresh herbs, not to be confused with yerba mateso popular in
Argentina (and now the world). The most popular mates in Bolivia are mate de ans (fennel) and manzanilla(chamomile).

Yungas it seems this was not a node of species generation. Regardless, when campesinos pay
homage to Yungas coca, they are referring to the general Andean history of the leaf. Among
Yungas campesinos, coca is commonly referred to as the la hoja sagrada (the sacred leaf)
or la hoja milenaria (the millennial leaf)terminology which Jean and John Comaroff
(2001:2) define as messianic, salvific, even magical. In other words, coca is considered not
only an ancient element of their very survival, but central to the Andean cosmovision as well,
lending an air of mystery and antiquity to their popular discourses on coca.
The legends that revere coca represent deep cultural knowledge, for the leaf has been
found to contain many essential vitamins and minerals that indigenous people could not
access in the rest of their diet in ancient times, and often cannot afford to access now. For
example, coca is high in calcium, and milk products did not exist before the Spanish
conquered the Andes in the 1500s (Davis 1996:419);
milk is also too expensive now for
many to consume regularly. A major Harvard study (Duke et al. 1975) showed that compared
to 50 other native plants consumed in the Andesincluding a variety of nuts, vegetables,
cereals and fruitscoca leaf has higher concentrations of proteins, carbohydrates, fiber,
calcium, iron, and vitamins A. The study also showed that chewing a normal amount of the
leaves daily (about 100g) would satisfy the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for
men and women for calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B-12, and E.
All of these scientific studies vindicated what Andean people have known
experientially for millennia. En todo entra la coca, es integral de la vida (Coca is a part of
everything, it is integral to life), is a common refrain in the Yungas. Coca leaf is chewed by
men and women workers in the cocales, the cafetales (coffee fields), and the naranjales
(orange groves). This is cocas most common and habitual use in the Yungas, for its benefits
during the workday are many. Though the leafs precise nutritional properties were not
generally known by campesinos, its benefits could be listed by anyone, as one mans account
indicates: La coca da fuerza, nimo y las ganas a trabajar, quita el cansancio, nos calma el
hambre, y nos quita la pena (Coca gives us strength, enthusiasm and the willingness to work,

The calcium intake by coca chewers is significantly augmented by the alkaline substance called lejaor llipta, a mixture of
lime and vegetable ash, put in the mouth together with the leaves to help extract cocas nutrients and alkaloids (Baker and
Mazess 1936, also in Carter 1996).

it takes away fatigue, it calms our hunger, and it takes away any pains we have).
In addition to staving off hunger, dehydration, and fatigue during the workday and
being a font of nutrients, coca also acts as an anti-depressant and can be used to facilitate
weight loss.
Women report using coca leaf during childbirth, thus reinforcing the leafs link
with Pachamama and fertility. Because of its many medicinal properties, rather than pay for
expensive (and often imported) pills at the drug store, Bolivians chew coca or drink mate de
coca to cure what ails themmost commonly headaches, toothaches, nausea, hangovers,
altitude sickness, and all manner of gastrointestinal irritation.
I used coca myself for many
of these things during my time in Bolivia, and would still now if I had access to the raw leaf.
Since it is considered the sacred leaf, coca is omnipresent in Yungas community
meetings, celebrations, and funerals. When chewed collectively, coca inspires communication
and the alliance of the group (Laserna 1996:14). In any kind of collaborative work or
gathering, el acullico es el momento de sentarse, mascar la coca, y evaluar la tarea que uno
ha hecho y planificar la prxima tarea que uno va a hacer (the ritual of sharing coca
provides the opportunity to sit down, chew some coca, and evaluate the task you have
completed and to plan what you need to do next), explained my friend Irma. Coca is also
used in divination, in which the leaves are allowed to fall on the ground and the resulting
pattern is read for signs and portent. Coca is not simply a functional substance that makes
physical work more tolerable and provides essential nutrients, but it is also one of the central
symbolic links to these communities Aymara ancestors. Nuestros tatarabuelos lo hacan
antes y no tenemos que olvidar. Lo que nos dejaron nuestros antepasados no tenemos que
olvidarnos (Our grandparents used [coca in gatherings and ceremonies] before and we must
not forget this. What our ancestors left us we must not forget), said a dirigente from
Chovacollo. When a person is laid to restas with my friend and mentor Professor Eusebio

Many campesinos mentioned cocas anti-depressant qualities, but only mestizos and urban members of society mentioned
their ability to lose weight by chewing the leaf (which suppresses the appetite and satisfies an oral fixation). One mestizo
woman I know in the town of Coroico lost 50 pounds over the course of two years by chewing the leaf every day in the
afternoon in place of eating a snack (though her husband still called her, affectionately, gordita, little fat one). I suggested she
could make a mint by opening a weight-loss spa in Coroico for image-obsessed Americans.

There are still other medicinal uses of coca, including to repair bone fractures and to treat colds, asthma, nasal
hemorrhage, diarrhea, ulcers, motion sickness, impotence, and even malaria (Carter and Mamani 1986:74).

Soliz (Q.E.P.D.
) in October 2004coca leaves chewed by those in attendance are placed in
the coffin to assist in the journey to the next world and as a greeting to their ancestors.
Some explicitly connected chewing coca with its ancient symbolism as an honor
shown to Pachamama in order to ensure productive work: Hay que hacer acullicar a la
Pachamama. Su alcoholcito la challan bien antes de empezar el trabajo; si no, no sirve el
trabajo. Es la nica forma de valorar lo nuestro (You have to chew coca in honor of
Pachamama. With a little alcohol you give a good offering to her before beginning the work; if
not, your work will be for naught. Chewing coca is the only way to cherish what is ours).

Such challa offerings are also made with beer and alcohol at fiestas before taking the first
sipperformed by splashing a little onto the ground (or the floor) while saying, sometimes in
shorthand, A la Pacha! (To the Earth!)along with sharing coca leaves for acullico.

Coca and Cocai ne: What i s the Di fference?

To equate chewing coca leaf with snorting a line of cocaine is like equating eating a bunch of
grapes with drinking a bottle of wine.
While coca leaf does contain a small concentration of
the pharmacological agent cocaineas a mild topical anesthetic it will make the mouth
slightly numbbecause it is ingested as a component of the leaf and is absorbed holistically
through the digestive system, the alkaloid enters the body slowly and produces none of the
euphoria or paranoia that occur with cocaine abuse (Weil 1995:77). The World Health
Organization (WHO) showed in 1995 that even long-term users of coca leaf experience no
detrimental health effects and do not suffer from addiction (Laserna 1996:14). On the other
hand, Cocaine, in every possible way, violates the natural safety net against abuse, addiction,
and adverse effects (Hernndez 1999).

The manufacture of cocaine takes place in clandestine venues, hidden in thick tropical forests
or in nondescript buildings of burgeoning city slums. A series of noxious chemicals
including sulfuric acid, ether, diesel, caustic soda, potassium permanganate, sodium
bicarbonate, kerosene, gasoline, hydrochloric acid, acetone, ammonia, rubbing alcohol, and
paint thinner (listed in Ley 1008)are used to extract and concentrate the alkaloid. These
chemicals corrode the legs of the boys who mix the leaves with the toxic solutions by walking
up and down the large plastic-lined pits. They also gradually poison the surrounding soil and
water, and traces of cocaine can be detected in faraway rivers and groundwater (UNDP

Q.E.P.D. means Que en paz descanse (May you rest in peace).

Acullicar is a hispanicized Aymara verb (because of the ar ending [and resulting conjugations] instead of -aa) meaning
to chew coca together, and a challa is an offering made by splashing cane alcohol on whatever you wish to blesson the
ground to honor Pachamama, or on a vehicle to ensure safe travels. The most famous challa offering in the Yungas is at the
Cumbre, made by the choferes on their truck or van tires before beginning the long treacherous descent on the old road.

Or as Mario Argandoa (retired psychiatrist, ex-Minister of Health of Bolivia, and ex-official at the WHO) put it, Que coca
no es cocana es anlogo a que maz no es etanol o que vaca no es queso(To say that coca is not cocaine is analogous to
saying that corn is not ethanol or that a cow is not cheese) (2006:61), to point out the absurdity of even having to explain the

2004). It takes about 355kg of coca leaf to make one kilogram of cocaine (Riley 1993:78). In
1997, it cost US$650 to buy enough leaves to make one kilogram of pure cocaine, which then
sold for US$188,000 on American streets (DEA numbers in Reuter and Greenfield 2001,
cited in Walsh 2004:15).

Bolivian campesinos who do cultivate coca illegally or make cocaine paste for the drug trade
defend their right to participate in global market commerce, just as elite Bolivians have done
for centuries with the nations silver, tin, rubber, timber and oil resources. Most of these
profits have benefited private interests while very little has been used to provide social
services to Bolivias indigenous workers. It is significant that coca production in Bolivia is not
controlled by multinational corporations but by small family indigenous farmers in self-
sufficient communities. When massive quantities of tin were being exported and driving
Bolivias national economy in the early and mid-1900s, no one objected to the fact that this
metal was being used to fabricate war planes and munitions that would be used to kill people
(Jorge Domic in Aguil 1991:10), especially during WWII. So tin is a legitimate export and
cocaine is not, even though people who use cocaine do so of their own volition.

In the 1980s, travelers to Bolivia could readily obtain the white powder, as a journalist from
that time described: I had been in Santa Cruz five minutes when someone offered to sell me
coke. The barber, the shoeshine boy, the man from whom I bought a newspaperall tried to
sell me coke. We see nothing reprehensible in what were doing, said Tom, a dealer I met in
the plaza. Were simply operating by the rules of a free market. The world wants cocaine, and
were in a position to supply it. Everyone prospersnot least the police [and the DEA
agents]. We have clients in 47 cities around the world (Lawlor 1989:152-54). The fact of
the matter is that the prohibition of cocaine manufacturing and trafficking makes these
ventures extremely lucrative while doing nothing to stem the flow of the drug to the United
States or elsewhere (see Walsh 2004). Prohibition policies also perpetuate the colonial-style
demonization of an important native Andean plant, making coca leaf for traditional uses
more difficult to obtain (see Allen 2002; Henman 1990).

The Pragmatics and Politics of Coca Cultivation
We are tired of explaining to other peoples and to the world that [coca] is intimately linked
to our customs, legends, and traditions. Its suppression means also the disappearance of the

Zenobio Ayala A. and Luis Ticona M., CSUTCB Declaration, La Paz, July 1981

Coca is the principle export crop within a diversified subsistence agricultural system
in the legal production zone, and cocaleros must have a license to sell the leaf, obtained at
ADEPCOCA for about US$50. People would proudly show off to me their carnet de
productor, a laminated card with their name, signature, sindicato affiliation, and images of
the wiphala and a coca leaf. Most families in the 99 rural communities in the Coroico
municipality have two or three small plots of land where they grow coca leaf, oranges,
bananas, root vegetables, and low grade coffee. Many also have chickens, guinea pigs,

honeybees, and perhaps a hog or a fish pond by the house.
These products contribute to the
familys daily subsistence, and the coffee, oranges and coca, and sometimes chicken, piglets
and honey, they sell to generate cash in order to buy the other imported items they need, such
as clothes, cooking gas, machetes, soap, flour, pasta noodles, and vegetable oil.
The land tenure system inherited by Agrarian Reform presents many challenges to
semi-subsistence livelihoods in the Yungas, and to the political organization of the agrarian
sindicatos. When the hacienda lands were divided between the campesinos of each new free
community, a system of minifundias (mini-estates) was created. Because the MNR
government did not prioritize the use of state funds to provide titles to each new land owner,
and because the ancient ayllu method of normalized communal land distribution had long
before disappeared, parcels of land were distributed to each family with the territorial
boundaries drawn on a large map for each community. These maps are kept in the alcalda in
Coroico, and have not been significantly modified since the 1950s. Each one shows the
community boundary, surrounded by monte (forest) where colonization is not allowed (partly
to protect water resources), and individual plots with family names written in the spaces.
In an all too common scenario, with each successive generation of peasant farmers
inheriting land, the parcels have been repeatedly subdivided until many are now too small for
a family to survive on.
And without titles, the lands cannot be sold or consolidated, much
less used as collateral in a bank to secure an agricultural, construction, or small business loan.
Anthropologist Madeline Lons (1967) warned little more than a decade after the reforms that
minifundias would be economically unviable in the Yungas, and she worried that a fall in
productivity would lead to conflict in ensuing generations. Even though agrarian reform was

Other common products include maize, avocado, mango, papaya, yucca, and onions. Due to the steep terrain and humid
climate, other farm animals are not viable in this area. Sheep are a nightmare because their wool is destroyed by the
vegetation; horses and mules can survive, but their meat is not edible. Some told of a foreign NGO project years ago that gave
milk cows to campesinos around Coroico, but it was impossible to prevent the cows from getting sick from the many disease
vectors in the subtropics, and it was too expensive to provide store-bought feed (there is no natural grass in the Yungas).
There was one woman who was somehow able to maintain her cow for several years after the rest had died, but since this
woman had recently passed on herself, there are now no cows in the Coroico municipality.

The average size of individual plots in Coroicos rural communities is 2.7 hectares (POU 2003). Because educational
opportunities are so scarce especially in rural areas (most villages, if they have a school, can only offer instruction through
grade three), and because Bolivias industrial sector is so tiny, and because of the large informal economy (hovering around
70%), there are very limited alternatives to peasant farming in the Yungas. The UAC is a notable exception, providing training
in five career tracks, but the college can only serve about 400 students at a time.

intended to rectify deep-seated socio-economic disparities in Bolivias rural sector, she
pointed out that social justice does not always lead to efficient farming operations.
Sindicato leaders do not normally need to consult their communitys aging territory
documents. Territorial lines are generally known within the community and can be identified
according to markers like creeks, rock outcroppings, certain trees, and the like. Of course,
these markers are not always agreed upon, which helps make land disputes the number one
issue with which sindicato leaders must contend. Disagreements over boundaries levy a
significant cost to the energies of the dirigentes during their one-year cargo posts, using up
the time and negotiating skills that might be better spent advocating for the communitys
interests with the Central, the municipal government, or development NGOs. Such disputes
also contribute to intra-communal factionalism, potentially disrupting the balance of ayni
labor between family members and neighbors. From a conversation I heard working in her
cocal one day, this issue may have been the reason why my friend Doa Marta was one time
left to harvest her coca with only one niece to help her.
Land titling proposals regularly float to the surface of the agenda of the national
government, but to date, no systematic initiative has been undertaken to improve
economically-poor campesinos ability to obtain such legal documents. In order to have ones
parcel titled, a person must hire a lawyer to undertake an official measurement and follow the
legal procedures, an expenseaccording to local estimates at upwards of US$2000that is
simply out of the realm of possibility for peasant farmers who earn less than US$1000 per
year. Indicators show that owning a land title leads to more efficiency in the agrarian sector
and raises farmer incomes, but there are a few other reasons besides the initial cash outlay to
explain why campesinos are not in a rush to have their land officially titled. First of all, the
privilege of owning a title comes with the responsibility of paying taxes. Second of all, being
legally registered with the Ministry of Agriculture erases a sense, real or imagined, of the
farmers autonomy from and invisibility to the state (cf. Scott 1998).
When these already tricky issues are considered in the context of a coca growing
region, they take on an added measure of complexity. Coca growers, whether in a legal zone
or not, are not anxious to disclose how much land they have under cultivation, nor are they

very interested in registering with the state the exact location of these plots of land. Even for
the legal region of the Yungas, there has been too much volatility in Bolivias regime
progressionfrom populist governments to military dictators, from leftist state-centered
administrations to conservative neoliberal onesfor the average cocalero to feel secure in his
governments promises to protect his right to grow coca. In other words, cocaleros in the
Yungas would rather protect the limited degree of autonomy that they do enjoy through their
sindicato organizations and curtail their ability to take out a bank loan, rather than expose
their economic future to a potentially corrupt or elite state regime that might one day decide
to confiscate their lands or jail them or their children because of a change to national law.
There is one more important factor to consider in the post-reform context of the
Yungas and its relation to coca: the quality of the land itself. Because of the subtropical forest
cover, the depth of Yungas soil is very thin, and due to the volcanic geohistory of the Andes,
this soil rests on exceedingly steep mountainsides. Thus erosion is a serious hazard with any
agriculture or construction that involves deforestation, especially with the slash-and-burn
method that is still commonly used. These highland Yungas lands have also been
continuously cultivated for at least 500 if not 1000 yearson former hacienda lands, the
same terrain that was cultivated then is cultivated nowleaving the soil extremely acidic and
depleted in some areas. Although a fallow rotation has been historically practicedeven for
coca, which needs 20-30 years to regenerate the necessary soil nutrientseconomic
pressures, in part due to the minifundia system, have forced some campesinos to shorten the
fallow cycle, thus putting in greater jeopardy the future productivity of the land.
And one more factor seems to be affecting the quality of the soil: according to a local
agronomist I interviewed at Biota
(12/1/04), the current way of building the terraces for
planting coca are not the traditional methods. This agronomist drew an elaborate picture of
the process that I cannot replicate in words, but essentially, the Inca would preserve the
nutrient-rich topsoil by carefully (and more labor-intensively) building stone reinforcement
walls to maintain the original layers of soil, while the common practice now completely

Biota was an environmental NGO based out of Coroico with funding in part from the Audubon Society and the MacArthur
Foundation. By 2006 it had disappeared from the scene for unknown reasons.

destroys the topsoil by churning the soil layers to break up the stones in the ground and then
fashioning earthen terraces by hand. Coca is the only plant that will grow in such nutrient-
poor soil exposed to the direct high altitude sunthough weeding is effectively obviated.
Therefore, adding together 1) the minifundization of Yungas lands, 2) the expense of
land titling, 3) the limited access to available credit, 4) the depleted nature of highland
Yungas soil, and 5) the fact that coca thrives in this environmentplus the fact that coca is
currently the agricultural product with the highest market priceit is clear why coca has
become the central element to the long-term stability of the Yungas rural economy. But there
are other reasons as wellin addition to the medicinal, religious and cultural factors already
discussedwhich contribute to the sindicatos vehement defense of the coca economy.
According to my interviews with sindicato leaders and others, typical weekly
expenses for a family of four or five run about 200 bolivianos (US$25 in 2004),
regular income for campesinos is erratic at best. These expenses do not include periodic
necessities such as school supplies, house repairs, farm tools, medical care, or trips to La Paz.
Coca is such an important crop because each cocal gives three to four harvests per yeareven
in the acidic subtropical soil of the regionso having two or three cocales with staggered
harvests means that income can be generated consistently throughout the year to meet basic
household expenses. This is why people often refer to their coca fields as their bank
accounts from which they are able to withdraw money on a regular basis. Coca also
requires no weeding, it can be harvested with ayni labor, and women can easily carry the days
harvest out of the fields on their backs along dirt footpaths.
The other two staple Yungas cash crops, coffee and oranges, on the other hand, give
only one harvest each year. They also require large investments of time and money to raise
the crops for several years before the first harvest, tend to them throughout the year to ensure
the health of the plants, afford many days if not weeks of jornal labor to harvest the beans or
fruit in a short and crucial interval, and pay for expensive truck transportation to carry the

For comparison, it is quite easy for a tourist to spend 200 bs in a day, even on a budget: 50 bs for a bed in a shared hostel
room, 35 bs for a large breakfast with fresh bread, juice, eggs and coffee, 30 bs for a van ride to and from the waterfalls, 12 bs
for a Pacea beer, 35 bs for a small pizza, and add a Coca-Cola, the newspaper, 30 minutes of internet time, a chocolate bar,
and another beer, and youve spent a campesino familys weekly income in one day all by yourself.

heavy and bulky produce out of the fields and to the markets to sell.
Of course, adequate
road infrastructure is essential for this last step. It must also be noted that because of the
steep terrain in the Yungas, it is not possible to use tractors, and the unpaved roads are
difficult to maintain, especially in the rainy season. Also, coffee and oranges grow much better
at lower altitudes and in better (often virgin) soil. Thus, coca is the only consistently reliable
and profitable crop in the Yungas. If the U.S. comes to destroy our coca, said Ta Pascuala
while we were picking coca one day, it is like cutting off our heads. They may as well just
come and murder us. It is not uncommon for coca eradication in the Yungas to be equated
with genocide, by the cocaleros themselves and by scholars concerned with social justice.
My experiences harvesting coca helped me think differently about the kinds of
politics this daily agricultural work inspires in Aymara communities. I often picked coca with
a group of women from Maracata, a small town perched on a curve of the mountainside with
broad low hills scored by coca terraces filling the huge valley below. Walking through these
cocales along meandering paths, one can see small bands of workers that spend the day
together: the men clear the trees and brush, make the earthen terraces, and plant the
seedlings in new fields, while women and children do most of the harvesting in the mature
cocales. No weeding is required, and the red or yellow seeds are collected once a year. Though
land parcels are individually held, extended family members and neighbors work together,
rotating from one field to the next throughout the year. It would be impossible for one person
or nuclear family to manage a single plots three to four harvests a year; keeping apace with
the agricultural cycle requires the collective, focused efforts of the group.
When my women friends arrive in the field to pick coca, they begin by chewing the
leaf together, catching up on news, and tying cloth pouches around their waists. Then,
beginning at the top of a steep, narrow section of terraces,
each woman steps to the end of
one row, bends down and begins with the first bush. Lined up vertically, they move slowly
across the column of terraces at roughly the same pace, alternately chatting, listening to a

It was very common for campesinos to complain that it is not worth the investment to even harvest their oranges, for once
they have paid for the day laborers and the trucks to take the fruit all the way to La Paz (where they can get a slightly higher
price), they cannot even recoup their expenses. The going market price for 100 oranges in 2004 was less than one dollar.

Each terrace is about 25 feet wide: they lay end to end across the width of the field, and cascade downhill in long columns.

transistor radio, or caught in meditative silence. When a woman has collected all the leaves
from one row, she moves down to the next one available and continues filling her pouch. The
owner of the field collects the leaves throughout the day in large red sacks. Once in the
morning and once in the afternoon, the group takes refuge under a shade tree and again
chews coca together. For lunch everyone convenes inside the thatched-roof shelter situated in
each field. Spooned from large pots, heaping bowls of rice, spiced meat, vegetables, cooked
green bananas, boiled potatoes and hot sauce are passed around to each person. I liked to
bring disks of dark chocolatemade by my friend Doa Celestina in Coroicofor our dessert.
The relaxed efficiency of this daily work pattern and the egalitarian structure of the
work groups
inspire similar attitudes in other community settings. Imagine people working
like this according to a steady rotation of labor day after day, year after year, alongside
multiple generations of extended families and community members, with no status or power
hierarchy other than the person coordinating the plan for the day. Now imagine these same
people coming together for a meeting: the community would consist of one big network of
interlocking relationships between people who literally could not survive without the ever-
shifting balance of reciprocity. There are no permanent positions of dominance or servitude
in the fields, and none in the political structure of Aymara communities. Just as the field
owners in charge of the days work rotate, so do the positions of community leadership
alternate from family to family for one-year posts. However, differentials in wealth and power
within Yungas communities do exist, abuses of leadership authority occasionally take place,
and women do not share equal social status with men, so certainly there are exceptions to this
ideal scenario. But this general dynamic illustrates the fundamental characteristics of Aymara
community democracy as embodied in the Yungas sindicatos, qualities that contributed to the
collaborative and creative nature of the regions burgeoning cocalero movement.

Work groups of men follow a similar egalitarian pattern in the new cocales.

Coca Leaf Enters the Global Stage
While coca leaf was a central component to life in the Yungas before the conquest, it
was also the central economic pursuit of the Spanish haciendas during the 17
and 18

centuries to supply coca to the highland silver mines. Coffee, cacao, and quinine plantations
were established in the 19
century to improve the Yungas economy (Soux 1992:403), but in
the late 1800s, coca became an important export commodity. In 1859, German chemist Albert
Niemann isolated the leafs cocaine alkaloid, which could be concentrated into a white
crystalline powder. Cocaine became a popular bourgeois recreational drug in Europe and the
U.S. and was also considered a medical panacea, endorsed by such figures as the Pope,
Sigmund Freud,
and President Ulysses S. Grant (Davis 1996:414). Coca-Cola was created in
1886 as an elixir of cocaine and caffeine (from the kola nut) and became an international
sensation. By the early 1900s, however, cocaines deleterious effects were becoming clear. The
media aggravated this alarm by hyping cocaine use among the working poor and racial
minorities as a menace to society (Davenport-Hines 2002:199). Coca-Cola eliminated cocaine
from the drink in 1909, but retained the unique flavoring of the leaf in their recipe.
In 1914
the U.S. passed the Harrison Narcotics Act, which set the standard for the failed model of
prohibition that would later become the war on drugs.
Records for 1920-25 show that of the 16,347,115 kilograms of Yungas coca produced,
87% was consumed in Boliviaprimarily in the minesand of the 13% exported, most
supplied laborers in Argentina and Chile while the rest was sent to Europe to be used in
pharmaceuticals (J. Morales 1929:157). Yungas hacienda owners, under the aegis of the
Sociedad de Propietarios de Yungas (SPY, Society of Yungas Landowners), fiercely defended
their right to grow the leaf as a mainstay of the national economy and the most important tax-

Freuds infamous essay Uber Coca(On Coca) (1884) extolled the virtues of cocaine as, among other things, a cure for
morphine addiction. However, he did not conduct proper clinical trials on the use of cocaine, relying instead on his own elation
over the effects of the drug as his primary endorsement (see Davenport-Hines 2002:154-58).

Now, with the cocaine removed but the flavor oils of coca leaf still part of its special recipe, the Coca-Cola Corporation
(through the Stepan Chemical Company of Maywood, NJ) is the only legal importer to the U.S. of coca leaf from Bolivia and
Peru. Coca thus helps fuel their profits, even by extracting the cocaine and selling it to European pharmaceutical companies,
something indigenous coca growers are not allowed to do. New Coke bombed in 1985 because the coca leaf extracts had
been removed in an effort to comply with Ronald Reagans Say No to Drugs campaign, but the public rejected this new coca-
less flavor. For more on the history of coca leaf and cocaine, see the accounts in Sikkink 2003a and 2003b, Davenport-Hines
2002, Streatfeild 2001, Gootenberg 1999, Lons and Sanabria 1997, Davis 1996, Laserna 1996, and Henman 1992.

generating commodity for regional transportation infrastructure projects; they also stressed
that coca does not pose health risks (ibid.:159). These voices were initially honored in
international agreements because the Bolivian government advocated in favor of these
powerful landowners (Lema 1992:395-96). However, the leafs nutritional properties and
quotidian uses were unknown in the West, so coca leaf became increasingly conflated with the
drug cocaine. Thus, says ethnobotanist Wade Davis (1996:417), a mild stimulant that had
been used with no evidence of toxicity for at least two thousand years before Europeans
discovered cocaine came to be viewed as an addictive drug.
By the 1940s, cocaine consumption in the U.S. had actually fallen off, yet hysteria
over coca leaf was gaining momentum (Streatfeild 2001:188). In 1949, the United Nations
Commission on Narcotic Drugs undertook a study of coca leaf chewing among the Andean
indigenous population to find out why the region suffered from poverty, poor nutrition, and
illiteracy. This study, based on the belief that The use of coca, illiteracy and a negative
attitude toward superior culture are all closely related
(Gutierrez Noriega 1948, quoted in
Davis 1996:418), concluded that the daily mastication of coca leaf by the Quechua and
Aymara Indians in Peru and Bolivia was the root cause of their persistent poverty and
underdevelopment. Osborne explains this flawed mentality at the time:
The most usual verdict of modern research, both lay and medical, is that the cumulative
toxic effect of the alkaloids of cocaine ingested from the [coca] leaves is to stupefy the
faculties, dull the senses, undermine will-power, cloud the intelligence and generally
weaken the system, producing an attitude of stoic fatalism which in extreme cases may
simulate complete aboulia
and mental deficiency. There have been many in Bolivia who
have held coca primarily responsible for the alleged degeneracy and irresponsiveness of
the Indian. Their case has not been made out. (Osborne 1964:116)

Gutierrez Noriegas research was used to justify the classification of coca leaf as a
narcotic drug by the UN in 1961, which subjected the leaf to the maximum restrictions on
international trade and use.
By signing this convention, the Bolivian government agreed to

Peruvian scientist Carlos Gutirrez Noriega studied the effects of chewing coca leaf with native Peruvians who were
incarcerated or in insane asylums in Lima. His research has been repeatedly discredited (see Weil 1995; Mayer 2002).

Aboulia is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as Loss or impairment of the ability to decide or act independently,
exactly how the Conquistadores had characterized the native Andeans, and as the U.S. seems to regard Bolivians today.

See TNI 2006 for a history of the legal control of coca leaf and cocaine.

eliminate all cultivation and use of the leaf over the next 25 years.
This international statute
also prohibited Bolivia from exporting raw coca leaf, and thus undermined the countrys
ability to utilize an autochthonous agricultural product for its own economic development.
Pointedly ignoring the actual root causes of indigenous poverty in the Andesfive centuries of
land expropriation, political oppression, labor exploitation, and cultural destructionregional
and international policy-makers chose to vilify an ancient native plant and the
complementary indigenous lifestyle. In reality, Andean culture has endured because of the
fierce will of its native people to maintain itan accomplishment made possible by internal
solidarity, group integration, and feelings of belonging. In this effort, coca has been
judiciously used (Mayer 2002:180).
By focusing the alarm over cocaine use on the countries that produce the leaf while
denigrating the livelihoods of the people there, the U.S.with complicity from the UN
cultivated the attitude that the war on drugs could be fought on distant lands against
foreign people with suspect cultural practices. Linear modernization development theory was
in its prime, U.S. global power and democratic (read: anti-Communist) idealism were
ascendant, and Andean anthropology was in its infancy, unable to adequately counterbalance
this discourse of fear. Furthermore, Bolivias Agrarian Reform of 1953 had ended the elite
monopoly on the production and trade of coca leaf and had placed the indigenous campesinos
back in control of their landonly then was coca cultivation considered a legitimate target for
eradication. The time period for complete coca eradication ended in the mid-1980s (without
having achieved the intended results), exactly when the U.S. promoted the next round of coca
leaf prohibition policies in Bolivia.

There seems to have been a connection between this drive to eradicate coca in the Andes in the 1950s and 60s and the
desire of the Coca-Cola company to maintain its corner on the market for coca leaf (according to Paul Gootenberg, cited in
Streatfeild 2001:191-94). If coca leaf was not considered dangerous, then others would want to import it as well, which would
create competition for the soft drink manufacturer. As it happened, the ban on coca leaf in Peru and Bolivia pushed cocaine
production underground and increased it as those countries sought to make a living from their native plant in a difficult
economy, and led to increased consumption of the drug in other countries. It seems that the United States created the
cocaine problem itself (ibid.:194).

The Absurdity of the U.S. War on Drugs in Bolivia
Every two to three years, the coca tiras (soldiers who rip out the coca plants) return [to my
community in the Chapare]. This last time, the eradicators came in a truck full of coca tiras
at 6:30 in the morning. Some of them were armed to the teeth. Others were armed with
their pickaxes. We were eating breakfast. They came down from the truck and entered my
field in a line, and they were in a bad mood. My children started to cry. My daughter said to
them, Dont take out my coca, how are we going to eat? The oldest child said, How are we
going to afford to go to school? The coca tiras responded, We are only completing orders.

Woman in the Chapare (in Spedding et al. 2003:15, my translation)

I arrived [at my house from town] the same day that they eradicated my coca field. I went
to check on it, and they had already been ripping out my coca. But in the middle of my coca
field there were orange trees, some already ripening, and those they picked. They had
trampled the orange plants that I had around my coca field. Not even my heart of palm
plants did they respect. The worst was that some of the eradicators were chewing coca. I
said to them, You also chew coca, so why do you want to get rid of the coca? They just said
they were chewing coca from La Paz [the Yungas] and not from the Chapare, and that they
were only obeying orders.

Community leader in the Chapare (in Spedding et al. 2003:16, my translation)

Because I kept denying everything, they sent electric current through my testicles. I couldnt
stand it anymore, I had to [sign the document indicting me with transporting precursor
chemicals in the Chapare]. Here in jail I make a living from the crafts I make. I was
acquitted, but I dont know when I will leave. Ive been in jail for two years and seven

Man in the Chapare (in AIN 1995:5)

In August of 2001, Rolling Stone published a series of remarks concerning the war
on drugs from U.S. politicians, news reporters, police chiefs, and of course popular
musicians (being the astute readers of culture these artists are) (Wenner 2001). Everyone
focused on drug use and its consequences within the United States, except for David Crosby.
His comments advocating the forced eradication of coca fields in the Andes were startling.
Personally, he said, I think we should send some very serious lads from the Army down to
the fields where coca is being grown, take it out of the ground and say, Look: Plant coffee;
well buy it directly from you, well pay you three times as much, and youll be fine. Plant coca
again, and well be back next year and somebody will get hurt. This is not alright anymore.
Game over. Too many lives ruined, too many families shredded, too much wreckage.
Crosbys were by far the most interventionist sentiments in the article, and these
coming from a countercultural icon. But they mirror the patronizing mentality of the U.S. in

its approach to staunching the cocaine trade, as well as the hypocrisy of punishing such
efficient practitioners of the free market. The preference for fighting our drug war on foreign
soil, far out of sight of the average U.S. citizen, and against the least powerful actors in the
entire system is also clear (Farthing 1997).
Anyway, coca leaf is the smallest financial
component in the drug production system. It has been shown irrefutably that costly source
control strategies are ineffective over the long term at reducing the flow of cocaine from the
Andes to the U.S. or at raising the street price of cocaine to levels that would reduce
consumption (Walsh 2004; Riley 1996; 1993). As such, continued confidence by the U.S.
Congress in these measures is troubling. And of course, our militarized eradication campaigns
in poor peasant communities also result in ruined lives, shredded families, and wreckage.
The current phase of prohibition in Bolivia known as the U.S. war on drugs picked
up steam in the 1980s (see CNLCN 1982; Healy 1988) with Bolivias return to democracy and
the Reagan administrations Just Say No to Drugs campaign. U.S. drug policy in Bolivia is
comparable to other efforts to control the supply of the raw materials of certain drugs
especially coca leaf in Peru and Colombia, opium poppies in Afghanistan, and cannabis in the
U.S. and Mexicobut the drug war is also a global phenomenon. The document that has had
the greatest impact on Bolivia is the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic
Drugs (named as such because it was an attempt to unite the various bilateral agreements
under one international agreement on the global control of the trafficking and use of certain
substances). While this convention is an obscure international law to most people in the U.S.,
it is common knowledge among cocaleros in Bolivia.
By categorizing coca leaf as a Schedule 1 drug (along with cocaine, opium, heroin,
methadone, cannabis, and morphineeven though these are stimulants, not narcotics),
traditional uses of the leaf among indigenous Andean peoples were allowed only during the
transition period toward the total abolition of both the practice of chewing coca and its
cultivation. Signatories (which included the U.S., Bolivia, and Peru, but not Colombia) agreed

Spedding (1989:6) observes, No one suggests that the answer to alcoholism is uprooting the vineyards of France and
California, but the answer to cocaine addiction is military campaigns in the Andes and alternative development. I had many
conversations with campesinos in Coroico who said they would like to stage an eradication of tobaccowhich causes the
death of many thousands in Bolivia each yearin the U.S. to demonstrate how absurd such contrived efforts are.

that coca leaf chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years from the coming into force
of this Convention (Article 49, no. 2e) and to enforce the uprooting of all coca bushes which
grow wild [and] to destroy the coca bushes if illegally cultivated (Article 26, no. 2). While
neither of these goals were achieved, the U.S. continues this mentality with its current effort
to undermine the cultivation of coca in Bolivia, both with military force and coerced
alternative development initiatives (discussed below).
The Single Convention also explains how to resolve disputes between signatories, and
military violence is not one of the strategies:
Article 48: DISPUTES
1. If there should arise between two or more Parties a dispute relating to the
interpretation or application of this Convention, the said Parties shall consult
together with a view to the settlement of the dispute by negotiation, investigation,
mediation, conciliation, arbitration, recourse to regional bodies, judicial process or
other peaceful means of their own choice.
2. Any such dispute which cannot be settled in the manner prescribed shall be referred
to the International Court of Justice for decision.

Pressure from the U.S. in 2004 to disallow the extradition of U.S. citizens or contract workers
accused of human rights abuseswhich in Bolivia occur primarily in the course of coca
eradication measuresto the International Criminal Court is in direct violation of this
international convention. The use of non-violent road blockades and protest marches,
together with meetings, to resist militarized eradication and to force government officials to
engage in dialogue can be considered legitimate means of negotiation as laid out by the UN.
It is less the manner of eradication that is the primary concern of the Bolivian
cocalero movement and more the removal of coca leaf from the Schedule 1 list in order to
regain political and economic control over one of their most important native plants. The 1961
Convention (Article 3, no. 6) allows for amendments to the drug Schedules in response to
recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), but when a major report
called Cocaine Project WHO/UNICRI was released in 1995 arguing that chewing coca has
many beneficial effects and that the WHO should investigate the impacts of drug control
legislation on individuals and communities, the U.S. was indignant and suppressed the report
on a technicality (Argandoa 2006:53-7).
In the two decades following the passage of the 1961 UN Convention, the fear that

Bolivias coca leaf would become broadly used for cocaine production remained largely a
myth. In the mid 1980s, however, two phenomena aligned to turn that myth into a reality. At
the international level, the cocaine boom in the U.S. and Europe had spiked demand for coca
leaf beginning in the late 1970s. Nationally, amidst Bolivias debilitating economic crisis and
the resultant New Economic Plan of 1985, some unemployed Bolivians turned to their best
option for supporting their familiesironically promoted by government migration
programsto become farmers in the Chapare tropical region. Some farmers merely grew and
sold coca leafthe most practical crop for those who were new to agriculturewhile others
learned to elaborate the leaf into cocaine paste to meet the rising global demand. It was these
circumstances that led the U.S. and its international partners to launch their massive
initiative that would come to be known as the war on drugs.
On 19 July 1988, confined by a staggering foreign debt burden and thus dependent on
the U.S. for aid dollars, the Bolivian government passed the Ley del Rgimen de la Coca y
Sustancias Controladas (Ley 1008, Law of the Regimen of Coca and Controlled Substances),
the corollary of U.S. national security and economic foreign policy in Bolivia.
Ley 1008 (lay
mil-ocho) was deliberated in secret without public input, and imposed by the Paz Estenssoro
administration onto a populace that was actively protesting against it. More than that, it was
common knowledge that Ley 1008 was passed under pressure from the United States
(Ledebur 2005:151), so the law was considered an incursion on Bolivias national sovereignty
(Serrano 1991:32). Several of its articles have also been found to be in violation of the Bolivian
Constitution (ibid.:37).
For example, one of the most notorious and insidious prescriptions
of the law is that people arrested under suspicion of participating in the illegal cultivation of

Journalist Maia Szalavitz argues that First Lady Nancy Reagan decided to make teen drug use her political cause in 1982
when she needed to improve her image after suffering criticism of her excessive personal spending. With the administration
hyping teen drug abuse as pervasive and immoral, Parents became more frightened of drug use among teens, and when
were frightened we make poor decisions and are much more susceptible to social pressure. Just Say No [to Drugs]
convinced many parents that extreme measures were the only way to help their teenagers (in Polonsky 2007:9). This
campaigns mentality that leniency is bad, and kindness only encourages weakness and misconduct (ibid.) also helped
galvanize the movement to militarize the U.S. war on drugs policy in places like the Andes. Such a punitive response to a
perceived external threat fits with cognitive scientist George Lakoffs argument that conservative Republican leaders follow the
strict father model of moral leadershipin this case Southern countries are considered children incapable of making
responsible decisions and are in need of painful punishment in order to learn to discipline themselves (see Lakoff 2005).

One of the many goals of the Constituent Assembly now underway in Sucre to rewrite the constitution, is to rectify the legal
aberrations of Ley 1008if it is not thrown out altogether. Some changes were made in 1990 (Decreto Supremo 22410,
signed by President Jaime Paz Zamora), but the punitive and restrictive nature of the law remain the same.

coca leaf, the transport of precursor chemicals, or the elaboration of cocaine are considered
guilty until proven innocent, and are placed in the custody of the judicial system (Article 33).
The perennial and intolerable weakness of the Judicial Power of the Bolivian state (Ordenes
1994:28) cannot handle those arrestedoften to produce higher numbers in order to meet
U.S. certification quotassuch that people can languish for years in jail before even receiving
a hearing (Shultz 2007; M. Painter 1998). Of course, it is the most poor and powerless actors
in the manufacturing chaintransporters of the leaf and precursor chemicals, or those who
stomp the leaf (pisacocas) in the jungle lab pitswho are most easily arrested.
One positive point of the law, relatively speaking, states that forced eradication may
only be carried out by manual and mechanical means, and that the use of chemicals,
herbicides, biological agents and defoliants are prohibited (Article 18).
In its terms for
alternative development, the law relies on bilateral and multilateral funding (Article 27),
which places the state at the mercy of external agendas. And finally, Ley 1008 does not allow
for a future increase in licit cultivation (Article 29), even if new recipes or industrialization
technologies were to provide the opportunity to increase the use of legal coca for export.
These controversial points in the law used to unite Bolivias cocaleros around a common
agenda to reject Ley 1008 and Bolivias sublimation to foreign coercion, but such unity has
fractured, as this dissertation explains. It is interesting to note that the implementation of Ley
1008 stands in stark contrast to that of both Agrarian Reform and the LPP.
It was at least a welcome correction to the 1961 UN Convention that Ley 1008
recognized coca as a natural and ancient product of Bolivia that has licit and non-toxic uses in
acullico, medicines and rituals (Articles 1-5). Based on data from the 1970s (in Carter and
Mamani 1986), the law stipulated that only 12,000 hectares (about 30,000 acres) could be
legally cultivated in the subtropical (highland) areas of the Nor and Sud Yungas provinces of
the department of La Paz to provide for these uses (Article 9).
A small pocket of legal

These environmental considerations distinguish this law from Colombias drug control laws, which allow the U.S. to use
fungal agents that kill the soil so that no plants can grow, or to spray chemical herbicidesmanufactured by the Monsanto
Corporationthat wipe out coca, gardens, licit crops, and forests all together (see Ramrez, Stanton and Walsh 2005).

Other areas of the La Paz department listed are small sections in the provinces of Inquisivi, Murillo, Muecas, and Franz
Tamayo, all surrounding the Yungas. The delimitation subtropical is significant here: this ecological zone coincides with the

cultivation and trade was also allowed in the Vandiola Yungas of the Cochabamba
department, which is also a traditional growing area. Since the Yungas region of La Paz is the
countrys traditional site of coca cultivationcontrolled by the Aymara and Inca before the
Conquest, the Spanish during the colonial era, elite landowners after Independence, and
indigenous agriculturalists since the 1952 Revolutionalmost all legal cultivation was
allocated to these high Andean valleys.
In addition, Ley 1008 designated excess in transition (excedentaria en transicin)
zoneswhere all coca cultivation must be phased out in ten years with alternative
developmentand illegal (ilcita) zoneswhere all coca cultivation is subject to immediate
eradication without compensation (Articles 10 and 11). Most of the coca leaf destined for the
cocaine trade since the 1980s has been grown in the colonization zone of the Chapare
province, a tropical region between Cochabamba and the lowland city of Santa Cruz. The
Chapare was originally categorized as an excendentaria zone; campesinos received US$2000
for each hectare they destroyed, but many used this money to establish new cocales. By the
late 1990s Chapare coca was considered illegal. Chapare coca leaves grow larger (and may
have a higher cocaine alkaloid content) but are considered bitter and thus not as good for
chewing and tea as the small sweet leaves from the Yungas. Cocaleros in the Chapare have
borne the brunt of the U.S. war on drugs as the U.S. used a military strategy to eliminate the
supply of coca leaf in an attempt to raise the street price of cocaine to prohibitive levels (see
Ledebur 2005; Youngers and Rosen 2005; Thoumi 2003; Gootenberg 1999).
While militarized eradication is not sanctioned by Ley 1008, such measures by U.S.-
trained and funded security forces (special anti-drug military and police units) have been
liberally applied in the Chapare, ravaging communities and the rural economy for 20 years.
Violent eradication maneuvers (without public dialogue) were stepped up under President
Banzers Plan Dignidad (Plan Dignity) and Coca Cero (Zero Coca) initiatives between 1997
and 2002 (see Ledebur 2005 for a summary of these activities). The personal stories quoted
at the start of this section are just a sample of the injustices that have been visited upon

highland municipalities of Coroico, Coripata and Chulumani (though these are not named), but not the lowland tropical areas of
the La Paz departmentsuch as Caranavi, La Asunta, and Palos Blancosand the Chapare that are being rapidly colonized
now. No specific boundary is indicated in the law.

people attempting to make a modest living yet caught up in the massive drug war.
my preliminary research in Cochabamba in June 2001, I gained a bit of insight into the
character of some of the U.S. soldiers who were carrying out drug war policies on the ground
in Bolivia. I was not heartened by the encounter, as my fieldnotes below reveal.

Cochabamba Awakeni ng

I had an unpleasant encounter last night with a U.S. special forces soldier. I was at a popular
neighborhood bar in the city when he came in with a fellow American soldier and two young
Bolivian women. He started talking loudly about how messed up this country is and how the
U.S. government should just come down and colonize the place. Then he began to brag about
how he had shot three Bolivian campesinos that day in the Chapare. He said how much easier
it is working here than in Colombia since the peasants here are unarmed and come out of the
forest with their hands up, making for easy targets. I turned around to face him. These are
people trying to make a living, I said, human beings with families! He looked at me blandly
and said, Im just doing the right thing. I said, According to whom?? Hey, the Bolivian
government invited us to come down here and do this, so Im just doing what they ask, he
justified. I retorted, Well, actually, our government pressures the Bolivian government to
carry out these policies with our military and funding. We have no business killing people
here because we are addicted to cocaine in the United States. He was so gloating, pompous
and self-righteous it made me fume.

I went back to a table by the wall to join my friends. They tried to convince me that it wasnt
worth talking to him or trying to change his mind. They couldnt believe I had said those
things to him. And I said, bullshit! It is our responsibility to say something, especially for me
as an American. If he walks around talking like that and no one ever says anything, then hell
never find out how people feel about this issue. I was tempted to ask for his number and
assignment and report him to the embassy to express my disgust at his attitude. A while later,
paying their bill at the bar, his friend said something I didnt hear and the guy responded,
Hey man, you gotta stop doing that crack! Dont you know that shit is bad for you? I
marveled over how a U.S. soldier could go to a foreign country to stake out people in the
jungle and murder them because of the cocaine trade, and then joke about doing crack. I am
glad I had the chance to see what the people can be like that we are sending down here to do
our dirty work. Its a shame our military doesnt require even a semblance of historical
understanding or cultural sensitivity when they send people to other countries. I guess if they
had that they wouldnt be so willing to shoot people here.

This was hopefully an aberrant example of an ignorant (and fearful) man trying to
display his machismo in public, and not representative of the U.S. special forces in Bolivia as
a whole. He may have been bluffing or exaggerating, though that would not really change the

See AIN 1995 and Spedding 2003 for compilations of stories collected from those impacted by militarized coca eradication
in the Chapare. Paolo Freire (1970) would point out that the soldiers who are just following orders (orders that come from the
United States) when they abuse or torture people or destroy their crops are also victims of oppression by being the
perpetrators of oppressive acts. And besides, these soldiers likely come from poor families themselves and are just trying to
make a living (see Gill 2000). This is one of the sadder undertones to the U.S. war on drugs; the result is a war on the poor.

egregiousness of his proclamations. My hot-blooded response to him was also indicative of
my initial incredulity over the insidious machinations of the war on drugs that I was
learning about in the Chapare. His commentary seemed to confirm the horrors I had read
about but did not want to believe were true. If I were to encounter the same situation now, I
would prefer to be less antagonistic and engage the man in a more measured conversation to
give him a way to better respect the grave situation he was contributing to.
This story reflects the chasm of misunderstanding between those who are making
policy in the U.S. and those who are bearing the brunt of violent repression, even though it is
no longer possible to ignore the obvious failure of the U.S. war on drugs. Washington drug
policy analyst Sanho Tree maintains that such policies are perpetuated by the U.S. Congress
out of fear, ignorance, cowardice, and opportunism (KGNU interview 4/13/07). One
collateral impact of forced eradication and interdiction measures applied in the Chapare is
the sharp rise in coca cultivation in the Yungas and surrounding lowland areas to perhaps
double the legal amount since the late 1990s. The U.S. now worries that the nexus of the drug
trade may be shifting, while Yungas cocaleros worry that they will become the next targets of
militarized eradication.

Coca Cultivation Increases in the Yungas
In 2004, virgin forest lands in the Coroico municipality were being claimed and razed
for new plantations, and formerly fallow fields (some from the time of the haciendas) were
being turned back into terraced cocales. Newly cleared rectanglesthe marker of a cocal,
along with the tell-tale horizontal terraceswere visible amid otherwise untouched forest
canopy from almost any road in the Coroico municipality, even in valleys where very little
coca had been grown in the past.
Responding to the current national high price of coca leaf
in the legal market in La Paz, many campesinos were either adding coca to their rural
livelihoods or increasing the amount they already had, and others were beginning to work as

Many newspaper reports in 2004 decried the increase in coca production in the Yungas as linked to the drug trade (see for
example, La Razn 4/12/04; 4/13/04; 4/15/04), but sindicato leaders were incensed that the focus of these articles was so
exclusively about coca. At a Coroico Central meeting in April at the peak of these reports, members were cautioned to not let
journalists take photos only of coca but to emphasize all their other agricultural products and tourist attractions.

day laborers to take advantage of the higher than normal jornales (daily manual labor wages)
for picking coca.
There is no agreement on what factors are causing a production increase
in the Yungas, except that Bolivias economy is bleak and coca is the countrys most lucrative
agricultural product. The adaptable cocaine trade is probably a major factor,
and many
local and national indigenous leaders argue that more than 12,000 hectares are needed to
satisfy the legal market for the leaf.

Despite the obvious increases, many coca growers and townspeople claim that less
coca is grown now than during the feudal era. Large fallow areas on the skirts of the valleys
that used to be hacienda lands seem to offer proof. Don Carlos, 82 years old, a Coroico
merchant of Spanish descent, said there used to be double the amount of coca cultivated
before the Revolution (but he was trying to indict the campesinos for not maintaining the
levels of agricultural productivity that used to exist on the haciendas, so this estimate may be
high). This perception only deepens the anger of the cocaleros toward those who would now
tell them to reduce their cultivation. Because there appears to be a large potential demand for
the legal use of coca leaf in neighboring countriesmost notably in Argentina, where its
consumption is legal but not the transport of the leaf across the Bolivian border (see Rivera
2003)cocaleros would like to be able to more extensively commercialize and export the leaf,
as the elite hacienda owners were able to do for centuries. It is a cruel irony that poor
Bolivians have a crop that provides wide employment at the local level, requires no chemical

The going rate for an 8-hour day of manual laborfor example, harvesting oranges, or painting buildings in townin 2004
was 25 bolivianos, about US$3, while a days pay for harvesting coca leaf could reach 35 bolivianos, especially if the laborer
provided his own lunch. Women are not able to command such high wages, unless they work in Arapata where they are paid
according to the quantity of leaves picked. (I did not pick coca in ArapataI wonder if they took care in picking the leaves
whole for the legal market, or if they can pick larger quantities because they are destined for the drug market. I did pick coca
with Alison Spedding near Chulumani in the Sud Yungas, and we all picked the leaves carefully. In a documentary about
Chapare coca growers [PBS 2003], they simply grabbed the stem of the coca plant and stripped the leaves off quickly; this
appears to me an indication that the leaves are not meant to be chewed or used for tea, for damaged leaves do not keep as
well and fetch a poor price in the legal market.)

At least in part due to the famous balloon effect: when a commodity that is in high demand is destroyed in one place, its
production will merely shift elsewhere. So, eradication in the Chapare may have pushed production to the Yungas. This effect
functions on all scales, for when Bolivias coca was subjected to large-scale eradication in the 1980s and 90s, production also
shifted to Colombia, where most of the cocaine processing and trafficking to the U.S. occurs. Now the U.S. government is
having to fight its battle in the midst of a raging 40-year civil war. Though this setting surely makes it easier to use military
tactics in rural areas, something that Chapare campesinos have been able to resist with some effectiveness.

The 12,000 hectare figure was determined by a study of rural use in the late 1970s (Carter and Mamani 1986), but has not
been updated. Many argue that urban coca consumption has risen greatly since then (partly due to urban migration to Bolivias
four major cities) and that it needs to be re-measured.

applications, gives three to four harvests a year, brings a better price than any other
agricultural good, is widely used for quotidian and medicinal needs, and connects people to
their cultural heritagebut that is outlawed by the international community, even for its
medicinal and nutritional uses.
The Bolivian and U.S. governments have promised they will not use the military to
destroy coca in the Yungas,
but cocaleros there hold no illusions about what their future
would look like if they are subjected to forced eradication. In 2004, given a tense situation full
of unknowns, an alarming precedent, increasing U.S. scrutiny, and the low level of trust
between rural leaders and the national government, cocaleros and their supporters were
exploring a variety of options to avert violence while defending increased legal coca
production. Now with Evo Morales as president, the pressure has decreased considerably, but
tensions are still high over how to deal with increased production, and how to prove to the
U.S. government that Bolivian coca is not headed into the drug trade and is being adequately
controlled according to international sanctions (see AIN 2007b). The Conclusion will address
current coca policy changes under the Morales administration.
While such forward thinking was essential in this context in 2004, serious divisions
between the four major Yungas municipalities emerged over the best way to achieve these
goalsand this at a time when unity would seem critical for crafting an effective solution, and
for demonstrating a unified front against external pressure. At the same time, the creative
energy surrounding the debates over what could be done was inspiring new waysand
reviving old onesto draw regional, national and international attention to the issues
surrounding coca production in Bolivia. This was a most significant historical moment, for
different traditions of democratic, market and NGO participation were colliding and
interweaving, with the strength of the foundation for future sustainability, even now, on all
fronts as yet unknown.
Yet one thing is clear: laws that have been generated by external and elite racist (or at

The Bolivian government signed an agreement with Yungas cocaleros on 15 May 2004 after a blockade in Unduavi (along
the trunk road toward La Paz, the favored spot for staging blockades) stating that it would not forcefully eradicate coca in the
traditional zone. All subsequent agreements reached between Yungas cocaleros and the administration restate this promise,
as in the notorious Unduavi Accord of July 2004, negotiated by La Pazs legal coca market, ADEPCOCA.

least ignorant) bodies to prohibit coca production and trade stand in sharp contrast to the
efforts by coca growers to defend their cultural traditions and economic livelihoods. This
contrast highlights the tensions inherent in Bolivias democratic traditions and between top-
down coercion and grassroots struggle. Coca has been called la promotora de la democracia
(the generator of democracy) in Bolivia (Argandoa 2006:53), but this can only be true to
the extent that the means utilized by the cocalero movement are democratic. Focusing on the
Yungas sindicatos and their methods of resistance and policy promotion during 2004, this
dissertation analyzes the connection between coca and democracy. Because coca cultivation
showed a marked increase in 2003, the status of Yungas coca changed significantly in 2004,
placing a level of pressure on the sindicatos in both the highland and lowland Yungas
municipalities. The leadership of Yungas sindicatos would push themselves beyond former
strategies of regular meetings and the occasional protest march to embrace creative measures
of dialogue and publicity on the national stage, but with tensions and economic stakes
running high, some sindicatos resorted to decidedly undemocratic tactics. This range of
political engagement strategies will be elaborated in the chapter on sindicatos methods.

Reactions in the Yungas to an Increase in Coca Production
In my interviews with community leaders, I asked why they thought coca production
was increasing in and around Coroico (Porqu est aumentando la produccin de la coca
en los Yungas y Caranavi ahora?). Their answers reflected their pragmatic and defiant
perspective on their right to grow coca as an economic necessity, no matter that such
increases were violating Ley 1008 strictures. One said, porque la coca es el sustento diario y
no hay otro producto que reemplace su economa (because coca is our daily sustenance and
there is no other product that replaces this economy). Another explained that Coca es una
planta que nos da sustento para vivir y hacer estudiar a nuestros hijos; otros cultivos dan
una sola vez al ao mientras la coca da todo el ao (Coca is a plant that gives us sustenance
to live and to pay for our children to go to school; other crops give only one harvest a year
while coca can be harvested all year long). In other words, coca provides an income
throughout the year, which allows them to cover their families expenses, such as school

supplies and clothes for their children.
It is clear that the price of coca is high, no other crops are viable as cash-generating
exports, and coca grows readily in the acidic and often depleted soils of the Yungas
subtropical forest ecosystem. While all this is true, it does not acknowledge the role that the
illegal drug trade plays in the current increase in Yungas coca cultivation. I was not able nor
was I interested to uncover the extent of cocaine manufacturing in the Coroico area. Over the
course of the year there were perhaps five radio news announcements of cocaine labs
discovered (and destroyed) by UMOPAR in nearby towns, and the subject was occasionally
though only superficially broached at Central meetings. The standard response to the
question of whether Yungas coca growers are involved in the drug tradewith leaders I spoke
with in both Coroico and Chulumaniwas that cocaleros only grow and bag the leaf, and then
sell it either to a licensed detallista (intermediary) or directly into the legal market in La Paz.
Cocaleros have no idea where the leaf goes or how it is used after that, they say. It was also
universally understood that it is the demand in the U.S., Europe and Brazil that drives the
cocaine trade. Some pointedly suggested that if my country is so concerned with coca
production, then they should deal with drug use in the U.S.
Only one leader with whom I spoke provided insight into the economic influence of
the cocaine business locally: Cuando hay mas pozas de maceracin, la coca sube ms el
precio, pero cuando se hacen pescar o los descubren, rebaja (When there are more [cocaine]
maceration pits [in the area], the price of coca goes up, but when a search is on or the pits are
discovered, the price goes down), he said. Another said he thought the increased amounts of
coca now grown in the Yungas were being taken down into the Beni (to supply hidden cocaine
labs), rather than to La Paz (where the legal market is). Some of this coca may indeed enter
the illegal market without the knowledge of the cocaleros who sell it, since they if sell it to a
licensed detallista who then in turn sells it to a cocaine manufacturer, the cocalero will never
know. The price offered can be an indication of the cocas ultimate destination, but the price
given to cocaleros by fraud detallistas is not always much more than the legal price.

Growers receive only slightly more per taqui (50 lb. sack) for selling their coca to drug traffickers rather than into the legal

Yungas sindicato leaders tried to assure me that they and their communities resist selling
their coca into the drug trade for moral reasons, and because they would not want to bring
negative attention to their town if they were caught. They said that they are very careful about
checking the licenses of the detallistas who regularly travel through the rural areas to buy
bulk coca to make sure it is headed for the legal market.
While hitching a ride in the cab of a camin (a large truck) down to Caranavi one day,
I enjoyed a meandering discussion with the driver and his mate over a series of topics,
including the sale of coca leaf in the country. As a seasoned chofer (truck driver), this man
had a behind-the-scenes insight into the coca leaf business. He told me that one night while
stopped for a refresco outside of Riberalta (a lowland town in the Beni), a pick-up truck full of
bags of coca
pulled up. The couple got out and asked him if he was so-and-so. When he said
no, they looked worried and made a phone call, and soon another pick-up truck showed up.
They loaded the bags onto this truck and then both trucks drove off in different directions.
Obviously, some campesinos do knowingly sell their coca into the illegal market, and
it does not have to be a middle-of-the-night transaction like this one (though this couple
could have been two detallistas making a secret deal). But whatever their actual involvement
in the drug trade today, the fact is that Yungas coca has helped supply the cocaine trade for
many decades, whether anyone wants to admit it or not. I heard tales of large maceration pits
lining the rivers below Coroico during the Garca Meza dictatorship in 1980-81, where Yungas
coca was used to make cocaine for government profit. The regime controlled the price of coca
and required it to be sold only at the government market in Coroico. If people were caught
trying to take their coca to La Paz to sell, they were beaten or arrested by soldiers who
checked all cargo on the old road. Spedding (1994:259-67) goes into great detail on how in the

marketbetween 800 and 1100 bolivianos (~ US$100-140) per taqui, which translates into perhaps 10,000bs (~ US$1250)
per year from one familys cato, or 40x40 meter plot. Illegal or not, coca brings the highest profits in rural areas. It is primarily
the detallistas, the licensed coca buyers/sellers who transport the leaves both from producing areas to the legal market in La
Paz and from the market to authorized merchants, who stand to profit from selling into the drug trade, if they are willing to take
the risk. They can buy coca leaf in bulk for market prices in the rural Yungas towns and then sell it at a much higher price to
drug manufacturers or their agents, for there is little to no regulation of the quantities delivered to the legal market in La Paz.

It is easy to tell when a large bag contains coca because the 50 lb. taqui bags are all the same oblong shape (about the
height of a child, but wide), the compressed leaves make for a smooth package, and that volume of any other product would
be too heavy for one man to lift.

late 1980s campesinos in the Sud Yungas would take their coca to their own tiny pits hidden
in the forest to process the leaves into pasta bsica in order to generate some extra cash
income. And it is unlikely that the maceration pits discovered in 2004 in the forests near
Coroico villages were being operated without the knowledge of at least some in the
community, if not the sindicato leaders.

But I did not see cocaine use among Yungas campesinos as an issue, partly because
cocaine is expensive and considered an unappealing elite drug. I attended many crowded
town festivals, large civic center parties, small community celebrations, and intimate private
gatherings, and I never once witnessed a campesino using the drug or even talking about it.
When Bolivia was engaged as a raw leaf and semi-processed cocaine paste supplier to the
Colombian mafias during the height of the drug trade in the 1980s and early 90soften with
direct involvement by Bolivias elite government officials and facilitated by bribes to DEA
agentsabuse of the chemically contaminated paste became a problem in some areas. It was
popular thenand cheap and highly addictiveto smoke pitillos, tobacco cigarettes rolled
with pieces of paper that have been dipped in cocaine paste.
Laborers in the cocaine labs
were often paid in paste rather than money, which exacerbated the problem (Lons 1997).
Speddingwho has lived in the Sud Yungas for over 20 yearssays she has known a
few drug addicts in the Yungas, but by the early 1990s they had left behind this practice due
to family pressure, mostly from the women: La estructura social del campo es todava
bastante fuerte para combatir este flagelo que azota tanto a la sociedad de los llamados
pases desarrollados (The social structure of the campo [of Bolivia] is still plenty strong to

During a Central meeting in May 2004, responding to recent radio reports on cocaine manufacturing in the Coroico area,
the dirigente mximo asked the sindicato leaders to monitor their communities better to prevent outsiders from coming in and
setting up maceration pits. Other leaders argued for communal control to make sure coca is being taken to the legal market.

Spedding (1994:265-66 footnote, my translation) provides a hilarious explanation for how to smoke pitillos, as related to her
by a campesino. Here is some advice for those who cant resist the customnot recommendedto smoke basein your
apartment, she says, and then quotes the man: You need a candle and an orange. And dont smoke before ten at night,
when everyone else has gone to sleep. Then, light the candle and turn out the light, like this they are not going to notice that
you are awake. The candle also serves to light [your pitillo], because if you dont [use a candle], your neighbors are going to
hear every few seconds the little sound of the matches and thenGoddamned Brasilian matches! You have to use ten just to
light [the pitillo] once. And all the while, cut little pieces of orange rind and let them burn in the candle. That odor will mask
some of the smell of the pitillo, and when the police come (pitilleros always think that the police are going to come in at any
moment), they are not going to find leftover matches everywhere, and when they ask you, What are you doing?, you are
going to say: I have a cough, I cant sleep, and so I am toasting orange rinds to cure my cough. Of course if you smoke a lot
of pitillos, it will give you a cough, so it wont be a lie.

combat this curse that afflicts so severely the society of the so-called developed countries)
(1994:263). Cocaine use is perceived as an activity indulged in by urban and international
elites. Sindicato leaders see it as one of their responsibilities to better inform the global
community that la hoja de coca no es droga (coca leaf is not a drug), which is linked to the
broadly employed sloganand now also Moraless policy mottococa s, cocana no.

As far as this dissertation is concerned, the central issue around coca is the significant
increase in its cultivation both within and outside of the legal zone of the Yungas, which
added considerable import to the political situation and drove the sindicatos to organize more
vigorously. By the end of 2004, so much new coca was under production and so many people
had immigrated from other parts of the country to work the cocales that coca field owners
were having a difficult time both harvesting all their coca according to traditional reciprocal
community relationships and finding the funds to pay the day laborers needed to make up the
slack. In the past, coca cultivation had provided near full employment in the Yungas (along
with the regions secondary economies), yet in 2004, Yungas cocaleros began to feel the pinch
of overproduction as a breakdown of ayni and a dearth of wage laborers. Because of the
drastic increase in coca cultivation, coca growers were being forced to focus more on their
own fields to extract the highest yield, and there were not enough day laborers to meet the
needs of the constantly rotating harvests. The Yungas began to experience a large influx of
both land colonizers and wage laborers from around the country, and coca growers began to
rely more on minka (paying for day laborers) than ayni, which alters greatly the financial
liability of small-scale coca farming.
As alarming as this present shift at first appears, Spedding (2003), drawing on the
work of Harry Sanabria (1993), warns against romanticizing the pervasiveness of ayni as an
historical given. She argues that the tendency is for anthropologists to link increasing
mercantilization or modernization of production directly with a decline in ayni and an
increase in minka, as in ms mercado, menos ayni (more markets, less ayni) (Spedding

Brazilian scholar and anti-abolitionist Anthony Henman, although his classic book Mama Coca(1992 [1978]) adopted this
good vs. bad frame in discussing the coca-cocaine issue, criticized this moralized dichotomy to argue that allowing cocaine to
be demonizedand thus coca production to be labeled as either legal or illegal (as Bolivias Ley 1008 does)only facilitates
the arbitrary eradication of some crops and not others, thus actually increasing the profitability of cocaine production while
making the supply of coca for chewing and other legal uses more erratic (Henman 1990).

2003:11). According to this conceptualization, ayni becomes a marker of a subsistence
livelihood without significant market engagement (ibid.). Sanabria (1993:145-50, cited in
ibid.) argues that there is no empirical data to prove that in the past only ayni existed, or that
if jornales (minka) are used then this signals the disappearance of ayni. It seems, instead,
that there has always been a mix of ayni and minka, and that particular political and
economic factors lead a person to engage in one or the other at different times. The
traditional ayllu and trueque structures support this assessment.
But Spedding (see also Allen 2002:73) makes an important point about the practice
of ayni and its relationship to class hierarchies, such that choosing to engage in an ayni
exchange may have to do with more than pure economics:
Por su propia naturaleza, el ayni se da entre personas en igualdad de condiciones.
Todos los que dan tambin reciben, que implica que todos tienen que ser productores
activos dentro del proceso en cuestin. La minka es esencialmente asimtrica, y por
tanto hay que distinguir entre los que lo dan (van a trabajar) y los que lo reciben
(pagan por este trabajo) que no suelen ser los mismos. (Spedding 2003:12)

By its own nature, ayni [the reciprocal exchange of labor] occurs between people of equal
conditions. Everyone who gives also receives, which implies that everyone must be active
producers within the process in question. Minka is essentially asymmetrical, and thus
one must distinguish between those who give their labor (go to work) and those who
receive it (pay for this work) who are not always the same category of people.

This is a significant point when considering the culture of rural indigenous communities,
because minka tends to create a class stratified society rather than an egalitarian one
whether one idealizes the historical value of ayni or not. Spedding goes on to cite a study by
Gose (2001 [1994]) that shows that campesinos sometimes choose to participate in ayni in
order to demonstrate political equality and mask the economic inequalities that are evident
within a community (Spedding 2003:12). In a similar way, my contribution to the labor of
picking coca, mandarin oranges or coffee was a way of trying to demonstrate my solidarity
with the people of Coroico, even though our economic inequalities were obvious.

These general social dynamics notwithstanding, the present increase in coca

Many people were curious as to my financial situationHow did you afford to come to Bolivia for so long without working?
How much is your rent? Are your parents supporting you? This was a delicate topic considering the average annual income in
Bolivia is less than US$1000 per year (the going rate in the Yungas for eight hours of labor was about US$3for the day, not
per hour). I would explain that I had won a grant that covered my living and travel expenses and that I was using some of it to
hire four UAC thesis students, usually without divulging any specific amounts. Even though I was still a graduate student of
very limited means, I felt and appeared extremely privileged when I was able to buy such luxuries as real cheese, liquid milk,
fresh meat, and the occasional packet of M&Ms.

cultivation in the Yungas seems to be throwing a wrench into the established and understood
labor practices in rural communities. It is undeniable that using ayni allows women to avoid
paying labor costs, and that this is the common practice under conditions of normal
production output. With an increaseand in this case a rapid and dramatic increaseof coca
cultivation, such reciprocal labor cannot meet the needs of larger harvests and perhaps more
pieces of land under cultivation. This is not a statement about increased engagement with
markets, for growing coca is largely a market (domestic export) activity,
with only a portion
of the harvest retained for household use. It is an acknowledgment of an increase in the
demand for labor and the consequent need to look outside the family and community, and
thus pay cash, for such labor.

While this shift puts an added burden on some Yungas sindicato members, it also
represents a new cash-generating opportunity for many campesino laborers who wish or need
to engage more in the cash economy. But coca cultivation itself is a rational economic pursuit
(even though its use may fall in the symbolic or spiritual realms). The increase in coca
production being experienced in 2004 suddenly threw into question the boundaries of legal
cultivation zones, as well as the legitimacy of the legal coca market. If coca is such an
important wealth-generating opportunity in a country with an extremely depressed economy,
how can it be limited to only one protected region? If there is so much new coca production,
but its sale into the legal market is prevented because the colonizers can not obtain licenses,
isnt this new coca being forced into the illegal economy? Why not create new legal uses for
coca products and exports to absorb this increased production rather than try to suppress a
wide scale increase by people who are trying to support their families? But if the legal zone is
expanded, what will happen to those who have depended on coca cultivation as their
economic mainstay for decades if not centuries? These are the central questions that
animated sindicato organizing and debate throughout 2004, and brought the democratic

Coca has always played this role, even in precolonial timesit has been a household medicine and ceremonial plant, as
well as a valuable commodity used to trade for non-local goods for over 4000 years.

This labor demand is being met by increased immigration to the Yungas, both seasonally and permanently, of indigenous
workers from the altiplano and the lowlands, including the Chapare. It is also being met by young men who have either not
married (and thus have not inherited their own land) or who work in mercantile activities in town (and thus do not have the
opportunity to participate in agricultural ayni, such as the owners of shops or poultry farms).

nature of their activities into sharp relief. These concerns also marked a dividing line in the
Yungas during the municipal elections in December of that year as different political groups
vied for popular legitimacy in a changing national political climate.

Between the Vilification and the Veneration of Coca
Dilogo o resistencia: la historia nos ensear el camino (Dialogue or resistance: history will
show us the way).

Comment on how Bolivians will deal with the impacts of Ley 1008 (in Serrano 1991:43)

Ever since the Spanish arrived in the Andes mountains and saw people using and
honoring coca, the symbolism of this most unusual leaf has been manipulated by political
entities around the world that would exploit the leaf for particular economic ends. In effect,
the profits and benefits of the coca economy have in large measure accrued to a handful of
elite private intereststhe Spanish Crown, tin barons, European pharmaceutical companies,
the Coca-Cola Companywhile hardship and abuse have been borne by the mass of Bolivias
(and Perus and Colombias) indigenous population. Its manipulation has produced an erratic
cycling between the vilification and veneration of the leaf as different groups claim it for their
own objectives. In reality, of course, it is neither evil nor a panacea for good, but an ancient
medicinal and ceremonial plant with potentials tending toward both extremes, depending on
how it is used, and on whether it is feared or revered. Coca leaf is thus a potent symbol of both
domination and resistance, the criminal and the sacred, terror and hope.
This dissertation has explained the historical manipulation of coca cultivation and
use by outside and elite interests. After discussing the rise of agrarian sindicatos in the next
chapter, I will show how Yungas cocaleroscurrently split into two factionsare utilizing
local, national, and international democratic institutions to advocate their own political
economic agendas for coca that directly challenge dated imperialist and neoliberal models of
external coercion. I argue, however, that while the current cocalero movement in Bolivia is in
the midst of a struggle to urge the cycle away from vilification and toward the veneration of
coca, this is not necessarily a coherent or well-planned process, nor is it any less of a symbolic

manipulation for self-serving (regional special interest) economic ends. Even so, this trend is
representative of how the appropriation of the public sphere and development agenda by
marginalized sectors of society can be a chaotic process that ultimately demonstrates the
health of an engaged civil society and the strengthening of Bolivias democracy.
This history also plainly shows that coca holds a durable place in Andean cultural and
economic practices. Coca never really stopped being the sacred leaf, even though its public
image has been crudely distorted, for it adds irreplaceable nutritional, medicinal and spiritual
value to the lives of Bolivias Aymara (and Quechua) people. It continues to be deployed as a
symbol of solidarity and resistance among Andean people in their struggles against outside
forces of oppression and exploitation. Yungas campesinos still chew the leaf together at their
sindicato meetings, and they close them by paying tribute to their most venerated icons:
Jallalla Tupac Katari! the leader shouts, using the Aymara word for viva (long live).
Jallalla!! the people respond. Jallalla la coca!Jallalla!!


Agrarian sindicato meeting at a high school in the Yungas. ( Caroline Conzelman 2004.)

AGRARIAN SINDICATO ORGANIZATION: Roots and Reasons in the Yungas
El nico sistema bueno es aquel que corresponde a la cultura que lo engendra, que nace de
ella para conducir sus potencias. Entonces la colectividad se siente cmoda en ese vientre,
tiene un dilogo cotidiano con esa estructura. El sistema debe ser la cristalizacin de la
idiosincrasia de un grupo humano. El sindicato fue un enclave donde sucedi la afinidad
entre sistema y realidad. se fue el elxir de su longevidad.

The only good [political] system is that which corresponds to the culture that engenders it,
that was born of [a culture] in order to realize its powers. In this way the collective feels
comfortable in that womb, it has a quotidian dialogue with that structure. The system must be
the crystallization of the idiosyncrasy of a human group. The sindicato was a place where
the affinity between system and reality came to pass. That was the elixir of its longevity.

Bolivian playwright, novelist, and philosopher Juan Claudio Lechn (2003a:11; 14)

The previous chapter illustrated the significance of both Aymara culture and coca leaf
in the Yungas, as well as the history of the war on drugs in Bolivia. Such a perspective is
essential for comprehending the formation of the agrarian sindicatos in the Yungas and why
they have adopted a range of political participatory mechanisms to defend coca as their

central ritual and economic factor. In this chapter I will analyze the democratic nature of
agrarian sindicalismo in the Coroico municipality by considering Aymara cultural history and
memory, the theoretical roots of European syndicalism, the historical formation of Bolivias
sindicatos, and the meanings of democracy as expressed by a range of community leaders and
sindicato members. I will show how the development of agrarian sindicalismo as a form of
rural community government also represents the rise of indigenous civil society in the Yungas
following the dissolution of the feudal hacienda system. This unique type of sociopolitical
organization challenges accepted theoretical notions of civil society as put forth in
anthropological literature on democracy and development (e.g., Paley 2002; Korovkin 2001;
Fox 1990). This chapter will show how the dividing line between the state and civil society has
become blurred in the Yungas, while the options for democratic popular participation in
municipal politics and development have been enhanced over the past 50 years.
The sindicato agrario system in the Yungas was a product of European syndicalist
theory enacted through Bolivias 1953 Agrarian Reform, and then combined with Aymara
cultural traditions. Each campesino family received a plot of land out of the former hacienda
estate and became a member of that communitys sindicato, which was structured to facilitate
public debate, ensure the equitable distribution of land, water and other public resources,
address internal conflicts, and represent the interests of the community to the next levels of
sindicato organization and the political parties. Corollary community organizations were
formed to address the interests of the teachers, health care workers, and other professionals
who would become part of the rural communities. Because campesinos had suffered under
the oppressive governing systems run by non-indigenous elites in the past, and because
teachers and nurses often spend only one or two years living in a rural community (fulfilling a
service requirement after obtaining their degree from a state college), these professionals are
not members of the sindicatos. However, the sindicatos work directly with the school and
hospital boards and other neighborhood associations. In this way the sindicatos claim a
privileged space in the communities, yet they function to address the collective needs of all of
its residents. A sindicato functions as the community (Barrenechea interview 2006).
These community sindicatos were autonomous yet prebendally embedded in the state

system until 1979, when the national agrarian union CSUTCB (Confederacin Sindical nica
de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, the United Syndicate Confederation of Peasant
Workers of Bolivia) was created to coordinate the advocacy efforts of the countrys agrarian
sindicatos. In the Yungas, the fluctuating yet lucrative and highly symbolic coca leaf economy
has been the central organizing force behind sindicato political activity, as it was for the elite
hacienda society before the Revolution through the SPY. As the central element of Yungas
civil society, this sindicato politics has worked to counterbalance the power of the state and
foreign interestsespecially when facing potential eradication policiesand has facilitated
the rise of the current coca grower social movement. It has also used recent national political
reforms to increase its options for democratic engagement in promoting new policies for coca
leaf. What follows in the next few paragraphs is a short historical summary of the origin of
sindicatos in Bolivia that this chapter will then address in greater detail.
The sindicato model adopted by the Bolivian labor movementbeginning in 1906 in
La Paz and later by both miners and peasantsreflected the international intellectual trends
of socialism and anarcho-syndicalism. Via the solidarity that formed between intellectuals,
the emerging urban middle class and proletariat, and indigenous laborers in the first half of
the 20
century, burgeoning indigenous organizations were able to adopt a more vigorous
stance demanding citizenship rights and freedom from entrenched elite domination in the
political and economic spheres. Syndicalist strategies of political engagement such as protest
marches and strikes entered the national scene in the 1950s as the sindicatos became the
principal engine for civil society representation vis--vis the state. The revolutionary MNR
government at first acquiesced to labor demandswhich were channeled primarily through
the COBin an attempt to consolidate state power. During the series of dictatorships from
1964 to 1982, sindicato activity was subdued but not eradicated, for clientelistic relationships
were established to secure the loyalty and pacification of the agrarian and mining sectors.
With the return of electoral democracy in Bolivia in 1982, sindicato organizing
resumed as the COB sought to reinstate its position of national leadership, and as the
CSUTCB sought to consolidate its sphere of political influence. The neoliberal economic
reforms of 1985 that forced the closure of state-run mines and eliminated tens of thousands of

mining jobs temporarily undermined the power of the COB. Instead of splintering the labor
movement, however, the economic upheaval following these reforms served to bring together
labor groups as they worked to support each other in their efforts to represent the interests of
indigenous people across the special interest spectrum. In the 1980s and 90s in the primary
coca growing regions, the Chapare and the Yungas, agrarian sindicatos found their raison
dtre in resisting the intensified war on drugs and Ley 1008, which served to increase the
power of the agrarian sindicatos in those regions and to bring their resistance efforts to the
national stage. The neoliberal political reforms of 1994 were intended to channel trade union
activity into the new decentralized system of municipal law and to encourage the sindicatos to
focus on municipal level development rather than national level opposition. However, the
Law of Popular Participation (LPP) has served to strengthen the agrarian sindicatos in the
Yungas and the Chapare as they have used its provisions to bring greater legitimacy to their
organizing efforts around coca.
Bolivias radical roots of civil society engagement in the political sphere have helped
give rise in recent years to the leftist trend toward democratic socialism in Bolivia and
across Latin America. By recognizing the unviability of both European socialisms totalitarian
experiments (in which the power of the state was magnified to abusive levels) and Western
capitalisms neoliberal experiments (in which the power of the state was reduced to impotent
levels), Bolivias agrarian sindicatos are attempting to influence the formulation of a political
economic model that combines the best of these ideologiesthe social justice of the former
and the economic pragmatism of the latterinto a national democratic system that more
competently addresses persistent socioeconomic inequalities. Agrarian leaders sometimes
refer to this new model as Andean socialism to distinguish it from European socialism.

With coca cultivation as the primary income-generating crop as well as an ancient
cultural good, the Yungas cocalero movement of 2004 grew directly out of the agrarian
sindicato system as a way to defend the economic interests of the campesinos and counter

The Andean socialist ideal is a modern version of a Utopian vision (for which socialism and anarchism were critiqued in
Russell 1966 [1918]), yet a Utopian vision can be useful as a heuristic and as a goal to shoot for even if its actual achievement
is impossible. This agenda is based on a perhaps romanticized understanding of the Inca state, under which it is said there
was no hunger or poverty due to the planned agricultural surpluses and organized labor distribution throughout the Empire.

unsolicited intervention by the Bolivian government and U.S. interests. The activities of
Coroicos sindicatos that took place around the incendiary issue of coca that year put on
display their democratic practices and ensured a central place for coca on the municipal
agenda leading up the December elections. It became clear that the agrarian sindicato system
represents an alternative yet complementary model of democracy to the neoliberal
representative system at the municipal level, and the gradual interrelation and even
hybridization of the two points toward a more viable political economic system than either
could provide alone. For example, the control social (social control) of the sindicatos
combined with the legal structure of the LPP has the potential to hold elected officials more
accountable to the sometimes conflicting needs of the urban and rural areas of Coroico. Such
accountability could help rectify the historical animosity between the pueblo and the campo
of Coroico, which would in turn increase the effectiveness of local development initiatives.
The ultimate goal of this chapter is to demonstrate how the adoption of the sindicato
agrario system in the Yungas following the Revolution represented the rise of civil society,
and why the sindicato system stands as a legitimate model of democracy. This chapter also
shows how a foreign model of democracy can be appropriated and adapted to a particular
historical and cultural setting. One of the key factors here is timesuch adaptation cannot
take place overnight. At the time of my fieldwork, it had been 50 years since the Yungas
sindicatos were formed, and they now serve as a political vehicle to defend the economic
interests of the campesinos, especially of coca, and as an effective form of community
democracy. On the other hand, Yungas society had had only ten years to figure out how to use
to their advantage the neoliberal reforms of 1994, so the learning curve in this regard is still
steep. However, the December 2004 municipal elections in Coroico (discussed in the
Conclusion) revealed the central position of both coca leaf and sindicalismo in neoliberal
municipal politics.

The Sindicato Agrario as Both Community Government and Civil Society Actor
The anthropologist has a professional license to study such interstitial, supplementary, and
parallel structures [as embodied in everyday action and agency] in complex society and to
expose their relations to the major strategic, over-arching institutions.


Anthropologist Eric Wolf (1966b:1-2, cited in Vincent 1990:334)

Eric Wolf, writing in the 1960s, could not have anticipated the future significance of
the term civil society, but that is exactly what he is referring to in the quote above. He was
arguing that what were then called informal groups or informal social relations had a
functional importance [and were] responsible for the metabolic processes required to keep
the formal institutions [such as armies, factories, or political bureaucracies of the state]
operating (Wolf 1966b:1-2, cited in Vincent 1990:334). In other words, he said, the formal
framework of economic and political power exists alongside or intermingled with various
other kinds of informal structures (ibid.).
When the term civil society was first deployed in the 1980s, it was used to explain the
resistance of social movements against totalitarian governments (Paley 2002:482). Because it
represents a compelling alternative to a centralized state, and because it embodies the
collective power of individual actors, civil society was initially linked to neoliberal ideals about
the transformation of society away from communism. Paley explains how the attendant
terminology of civil societyempowerment, partnerships, participation, and community
involvement (2002:483)was co-opted by such international bodies as the UN, the World
Bank, and USAID to serve their agenda of promoting structural adjustment in Southern
countries. By overlaying a rhetorical veneer of empowered civic actors participating in a
healthy new free market democracy to beautify severe economic reforms externally enforced
that undermined the social support such civic actors had relied on to survive, these
multilateral agencies passed the burden of service provision away from the state and onto the
population in a classic maneuver known as governmentality (cf. Foucault 1991). Theories of
civil society have since been diversified and become central to interdisciplinary analyses of
both democracy (Putnam, et al. 2003; Paley 2001; Brysk 2000; Comaroff and Comaroff 1999;
Putnam 2000; 1993; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Fisher 1997) and development (Blair 1997;
Evans 1996; Fox 1996; Ostrom 1996; 1990; Tendler 1995; North 1993).
Wolf also suggested that anthropologists are well-positioned to study the

phenomenon of civil societyconsidered in the 1960s the terra incognita existing within the
larger political system (Vincent 1990:333). This call is still relevant today, for political
scientists (and economists) continue to generate new theories on democracy and
development but do not normally include an ethnographic component to their research.

Since the events and public dialogue engaged in by localized civil society groups do not often
reach the mediaexcept for perhaps a community radio station, whether in the U.S. or Latin
Americathe observations of an anthropologist can offer valuable insight into how these
groups counterbalance the power of the state by representing the voice of the people and
offering alternative development discourses and public policy agendas.
This way of framing the role and significance of civil society reflects current political
theory that positions civil society squarely in the role of negotiating, via both horizontal and
vertical network of relationships, the political spaces between citizens and the state. Harry
Blair (1997:24) explains that civil society inhabits the area between individuals (or families)
and the state, and is made up of voluntary groups concerned inter alia with influencing
state policy. Julie Fisher (1997:13), in her analysis of governance in Southern countries,
asserts, The strength of civil society is roughly related to the sheer number of functioning
intermediary organizations between the citizen and the state. In addition to grassroots
organizations and NGOs, she includes for-profit entities that support local development
agendas. Because organizations based on ethnicity are not considered voluntary, labor or
miner sindicatos would fall under this rubric, while peasant sindicatos would not. However,
based on her research with Quichua communities in Ecuador, Tanya Korovkin (2001) argues
that this conceptualization is inappropriate for the Andes because indigenous peasant
communities are the most common vector for public advocacy to the state. It seems that the
scholarship that generated the original theories on civil society were overly focused on
Western societies or did not apply an ethnographic approach.
While Bolivias agrarian sindicatos function as community level government in the

Paley (2002:470 footnote) identifies political theorists who have adopted an ethnographic lens: Brown 1995, Connolly 1999,
Agamben 2000, Fraser 1997, and Honig 2001. Economist Jack Powelson (1998; 1994) does not utilize formal ethnographic
methods, but he purports to have broken with the established norms of economics research and spent countless hours
walking in the slums of every major city in Latin America (except Havana) to talk directly to poor people about their
perspectives on their government and their lives (personal communication).

Yungas, they are also the primary element of the regions civil society. The following accounts,
compiled from my fieldnotes written in July 2004 and June 2006, demonstrate the various
ways that sindicatos serve their communities and interface with the municipal government, as
well as how some sindicato leaders perceive their positions.

Roles and Responsi bi li ti es of Si ndi cato Leaders

Waldo Machacas youngest daughter is five years old, and already she wields a machete like
an expert. While a group of us climb ladders leaned against thorny trees to pick mandarin
oranges in the cool shade of the forest, little Rosa picks up the long knife along the dull edge
near the handle. The hot pink impatiens are legion in this humid environmentpeople call
these flowers trabajadoras mujeres (women workers) because they never stop blooming all
year longmaking a thick blanket on the forest floor. Rosa knows how she can contribute to
this day of work with her father: she bends slightly at the knees and with both hands swings
the machete low and level, lopping off sections of undergrowth. After a while she lays down
the blade and treats herself to a large juicy mandarina, as we all do throughout the dayone
of the many perks of harvesting such an abundant and delicious crop.

Waldo is the secretario general of his sindicato in Capellana, a small town just outside of
Coroico. Working together in his terreno (piece of land) with his family was the perfect way to
enjoy a long meandering conversation about life in the Yungas and his responsibilities as the
leader of his sindicato. Waldo also grows coca and is trying to tap into the specialty coffee
market. He and I had met three months before in March at the local coffee cooperative in
Coroico when I sat in on a member meeting one evening. I was impressed with his wise
comments about the development needs of the region and stayed afterward to talk with him.

I later attended one of his sindicato meetings, at which those assembled discussed (mostly in
Aymara) the road blockade planned for April 4
, organic certification for the communitys
coffee, home improvement projects with the NGO Caritas, and environmental education
promoted by the NGO, Biota. At the end, two new socios (members) were welcomed into the
sindicato by the comit comunal (communal committee, a component of each sindicato that
attends to matters related to coca cultivation and sale). Since the couple had recently acquired
their own cocal and their carnets de productor de coca,
they were able to become official
members of the sindicato, which was symbolized by their donation of two chairs to the
meeting hall. This addition brought Capellanas sindicato membership up to 152.

Waldos role in this meeting was to create the agenda, explain each issue, facilitate the
discussions, and draw up resolutions at the end. He must be in continuous contact with the
international NGOs that operate in Coroico so that he can adequately explain their project
agendas to his socios and how they can participate. Other leadership responsibilities involve
negotiating on behalf of his community with municipal government officials, their provincial
congressional representatives, and the police. Waldo said campesinos are muy humildes
(very humble) and often do not know their legal rights. If they go to the Coroico police to
report something, he explained, the police might tell them that they owe a fee and that if they
dont pay it they will have to go to La Paz to report their issue. People will pay it instead of
knowing they have the right to police protection under the constitution. He will then go talk

I did not find out how this particular couple acquired their cocal, but such land acquisition can take place when a son or
daughter from the community marries and thus inherits a portion of their parents land, or when someone in the community
holds a legal title to their land and sells it. Coca producer licenses in the legal zone are controlled by ADEPCOCA (Asociacin
de Productores de Coca de los Yungas) and are purchased through a sindicatos comit communal.

to the police and say, dont you know what the law says? He defends people in this way.

As a sindicato dirigente, Waldo also helps resolve conflicts within his community, especially
over territorial boundaries. And because sindicatos are recognized as OTBs (Organizaciones
Territoriales de Base, Grassroots Territorial Organizations) under the LPP, he is expected to
attend monthly meetings of the municipal Comit de Vigilancia (Oversight Committee). But
as with most sindicato dirigentes in Coroico, he does not personally participate in this
committee but designates a representative who is supposed to go in his stead. Waldo admits
that he hates his job as secretario general because it makes him an enemy of his neighbors.
He doesnt like having to put himself in the middle of other peoples business. According to
the rotation of leadership in the sindicatos, it was his turn as a responsible adult male in his
community to accept his election to this year-long cargo (post), but he was looking forward to
passing it on to the next person in the November sindicato elections.

Conversely, Enrique Huanca much prefers serving as a sindicato dirigente over being the
mayor. He was the alcalde of Coroico from 2002 until December 2004, and in 2005 he was
elected as secretario general of his sindicato in Marka (for the fourth and last time, as he is
almost 70 years old). The stress of having to respond to the constant demands from all 100
communities in the municipality was taxing, he told me, so he would rather be able to focus
on just his own. And this despite the fact that as mayor he earned the relatively large sum of
2500 bolivianos (about US$300) each month, while sindicato leaders receive no salary.
However, the normal term for alcalde under the LPP is five years, while sindicato dirigentes
usually serve for only one or two years. When I saw him in 2006, he looked far more healthy
and relaxed than he ever appeared during my fieldwork in 2004.

The mayor is responsible for overseeing the equitable distribution of limited municipal funds,
an extremely difficult charge given the many urgent needs of the communities and the
relationships the mayor must negotiate with the NGOs who make up the slack in federal LPP
funds. The dirigentes must learn to be effective lobbyists for the needs of their communities
or else they will not be included in the annual municipal budget. El alcalde es l que da (The
mayor is the one who gives), Don Enrique
explained, y el secretario general es l que
exige (and the sindicato leader is the one who demands). Sindicatos do not collect dues, even
though they are membership organizations, so they do not have funds for community
projects, only la mano de obra (manual labor) of the socios. This is why faena labor
contributions and ayni labor exchanges are so important to the health and even survival of
agrarian communities in the Yungas. And I imagine if you start as early as Rosa did, this kind
of collaborative mentality is simply the normal and responsible way to conduct oneself.

One of the central components of civil society is called social capital, a concept
developed over the past 20 years to express the internal strength or durability of a
membership group, organization, class, or community. Social capital is only one form of
capital which may exist in any of these groups, but it should be understood as a set of
actually usable resources and powers available to the members or the collective based on
the volume that has been accumulated over time (Bourdieu 1984:114). Social capital is

Don is a title of respect for men (Doa for women) common in the rural areas of Bolivia, used with the first name. Seor or
Seora is more common for urban dwellers, and when used with a last name or a position title. So, Enrique Huanca was
called, depending on the circumstance and who was speaking, Don Enrique, Seor Huanca, or Seor Alcalde.

generally defined asand witnessed in the manifestations ofinterpersonal and institutional
trust, reciprocal aid, norms of behavior, and collective action. In Yungas sindicalismo, such
social networks are constructed (and thus social capital accumulated) through horizontal and
vertical relationships and are most tangible at the community and municipal levels. The
Aymara call this principle ayni, the philosophy and practice of mutual responsibility and aid
that is generated by the need to rely on the community for individual survival. It is also the
philosophy by which sindicatos are run: members must volunteer their labor for community
infrastructure projects and faena work in the collective fields in return for the services of the
sindicato leadership for dispute resolution and advocacy for their development needs to the
Central Agraria and the municipal government.
Robert Putnam, in his comparative analysis of democracy in northern and southern
Italy, concludes that if communities can create strong, responsive, effective representative
institutions (1993:6) that mediate between the people and the state, then it is a civil society
that will help to ensure good government. Putnams study argued that southern Italy has a
weaker democratic society than northern Italy because of the dearth of community
organizations and popular participation in public affairs, whereas in the north there exist
many varieties of guilds, societies, collectives, etc. He links this stark difference to the history
of serial conquest and feudalism in the south, and the history of regional autonomy in the
north. He argues that the resulting peasant communities in the south are isolated from each
other and suffer from stultifying vertical social hierarchies and weak internal cohesion; they
are fatalistic, have poor civic engagement, and have failed to develop adequate economic
institutions. In other words, they apparently suffer from a low level of community-level social
capital (trust, reciprocity, mutual aid), which prevents them from collaborating on local
development initiatives and from organizing to participate in the formal political process.
The case of Bolivias sindicatos demonstrates that a history of conquest and feudalism
does not automatically lead to a weak civil society. The Yungas is an excellent place to prove
this point, but the question becomes: How did a vibrant community-based and regional civil
society emerge out of colonialism and feudalism in the Yungas? What was unique about the
sequence of events and the set of cultural circumstances that allowed this outcome to occur? I

argue that Aymara cultural memories and vestigial practices of the ayllu that permeate rural
life in the Yungaseven though it is a diluted form than what exists in the altiplano, but
strongly influenced by this pan-regional connectionhave played a central role in the process
of postcolonial civil society formation. Also central to this process was the malleability of the
European syndicalist model that was imported and adapted by the agrarian unions in Bolivia.
And finally, there appears to be a pervasive yet elusive quality to Andean cultures that reveres
collective resistance to outside domination passed down through historical memory.
Most academic analyses of civil society aim to define and describe who this segment
of the population is composed of and how they come together (and some resort to simply
counting the number of organizations that are present in a society, as Putnam did in Italy),
but this dissertation aims to explain the diversity of methods that Yungas civil society,
through the agrarian sindicatos, use to promote their policy agendas. These methods are
crucial for facilitating the ability of the countrys indigenous majority to gain a greater voice in
both the civil society and political spheres, even when these measures include public protest
and the obstruction of roads to have their voices heard. Thus the sindicatos are contributing
not only to the deepening of democracy in Bolivia, but the redefinition of democracy itself by
reconfiguring how people participate in the political process and in what they designate as
legitimate democratic methods. David Nugent confirms that in the New Politics of Latin
America, democracy is founded in active social subjectsdefining what they consider to be
their rights. [I]t is a strategy of the non-citizens, of the excluded, to secure citizenship from
below (Dagnino 1998:51, in Nugent 1999:3).
How did this situation come about in the most economically poor (next to Haiti) of
Latin Americas countries? What is ironic about the adaptation of any sort of political model
that is intended to lead to a more viable democracy is that there must be democracy to begin
with if such experimentation can even take place. Indeed, civil society goes into remission
during periods of authoritarian rule, though it does not disappear. As we saw in the history of
Bolivia presented here, the entire colonial era in Bolivia was really a protracted stretch of elite
military dictatorship, followed by 100 years of elite caudillismo and republicanism, yet
indigenous people managed to pass on oral histories and cultural practices. A brief period of

indigenous organizing ensued after the Chaco War and the Revolution, but 20 years of
renewed elite dictatorships in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s forced indigenous civil society to
go underground yet again. Sindicatos in general were forced to shut down, their assemblies
were outlawed, and if they were caught organizing or holding meetings, their leaders were
disappeared (at times to remote labor prisons in the Amazon rainforest, never to be seen
Even so, sindicatos continued to meet to take care of community business
someone would act as the chasqui, or runner, to spread the word for the next clandestine
meeting since they could not be announced publicly. The return to democracy in 1982 marked
a significant opportunity for the rebirth of Bolivian civil society to finally address indigenous
peoples persistent marginalization.
Even since 1982, the strengthening of civil society has been a piecemeal process, as
the old elite political parties took control of the political arena and set the agenda for national
development, largely under pressure from external bodies (especially the U.S. government,
the IMF, the World Bank, and the UN). The agrarian sindicatos played an important role in
building civil society in rural areas by providing for the first time a collective voice for
campesinos in the political sphere. But I argue that the concept of civil society as applied to
these sindicatos requires a rethinking of the concept. Since agrarian sindicatos are also a form
of community government, they walk a fine line between being part of the state system and
being popular organizations to confront state power. By formally acknowledging sindicatos as
Organizaciones Territoriales de Base (OTBs, Grassroots Organizations, along with the
Juntas Vecinales and Escolares, urban neighborhood associations, and other localized citizen
groups), the LPP further blurred this boundary. The intent of the LPP was to incorporate
sindicatos into the formal municipal government structure as civil society organizations,
rather than acknowledge them as legal community level governments.
Whereas the sindicatos used to lie outside of the state government systemwhen
their role was more clearly to pressure the government from the outside to force it to attend
to the needs of the rural populace, as the literature recognizes a civil society organization

In Coroico, the stories of what soldiers did to campesinos during this time are disturbing. One woman told me how she
witnessed indigenous men being taunted and intimidated in public, surrounded by armed soldiers who would shove them
around with their rifles in the middle of their circle, and then either let them go, beat them up, or take them away.

now as formal components of the municipal government the sindicatos are legally required to
participate in town council meetings to help set local development agendas. This shift is an
interesting one. Before, the sindicatos acted as semi-autonomous local governments
disconnected from the formal state system, and their role was that of a separate civil society
in holding the state accountable to citizen demands. Now, the communal sindicatos are
expected to act as civil society representatives in the official government structure in order to
end their need to utilize pressure tactics from outside the state system. Yungas sindicatos
negotiate these dual and often conflicting roles, which has sparked heated debate over the
responsibilities of these multifaceted entities.
Furthermore, whereas Bolivian government representatives historically only drew
from the elite population (Aguilar and Spedding 2005:86 footnote #3), agrarian sindicatos
are becoming a new source for Bolivias elected leadership at the municipal and national
levels of formal government. In other words, the experiences of performing well as a sindicato
leader do not lead to a dead end only in local peoples memories, but can lead to being elected
as a municipal government official or a congressman. These changes signify an enhancement
of Bolivias democratic practice, for as Dahl and Schumpeter point out, one of the pillars of
democracy is that the electorate should not only have the right to vote but the right to become
candidates in an election. This right has historically been denied to Bolivia campesinos. The
next sections trace the ideological trajectory of the sindicato model in Bolivia to illustrate how
it has been hybridized with the principles of the ayllu to form a system for community
governance and to legitimate radical forms of popular political participation.

Theoretical Roots of Syndicalism
The multifaceted entity called the sindicato in Bolivia has roots deep in Andean
history as well as in 19
and 20
century European ideology. Sindicato socio-economic
organization and its politics, called sindicalismo, is based on the anarco-syndicalist trade
union model (cf. Rocker 2004 [1938]) as well as democratic socialism (cf. Heider 1994), and
also draws upon the historical memory of the indigenous ayllu (cf. Orta 2001). It is not clear
exactly how these European social theories emerged on the scene in a sparsely populated

country on the opposite side of the globe, but anthropologist Mary Weismantel (2006:94)
notes that communist organizers traveled to the rural Andes for decades, [so] indigenous
intellectuals, like their white counterparts, have been long conversant with the tenets of
socialist thought. Historian Herbert Klein explains that socialist, anarchist, and syndicalist
ideas arrived with the appearance of light industry (and improved transportation and
communications) in La Paz at the turn of the 20
centuryLong delayed, as were all ideas
coming from abroad (1969:60). Spains powerful Confederacin Nacional del Trabajo
(National Labor Federation) in the 1920s was also a likely contributor to Bolivias adoption of
syndicalism (cf. Rocker 2004:54), as were labor organizers from Argentina and Chile (.
Bertrand Russell discusses the international variation in socialist practice in the early
1900s: Before the Russian Revolution [gave the world the impression that its state-centered
socialism was the ultimate model], Syndicalism in France, the IWW [Industrial Workers of
the World] in America, and Guild Socialism in England were all movements embodying
suspicion of the State and a wish to realize the aims of Socialism without creating an
omnipotent bureaucracy. [Later,] anarchism and syndicalist criticisms were forgotten or
ignored[in favor of] exalting State Socialism (1966 preface in Russell 1966 [1918]:5-6).
Once the Soviet model was exposed as a totalitarian perversion of accepted socialist ideology,
less authoritarian models were again pursued (ibid.:6) and syndicalism gained in legitimacy.
There are many similarities between socialism and syndicalismand anarchism lies
somewhere to the left of both with its outright rejection of the State in any form (and will not
be considered closely here)but one key difference is that socialism is primarily a theory that
people have attempted to bring to life with various regime forms, while syndicalism was first
an organizational practice around which people later attempted to develop a theory (Russell
1966:52). This malleability appears to be a great strength of syndicalism, because, while it
generally adheres to much of socialist theory, it is not beholden to any particular theoretical
formulation and thus has the ability to be adapted to different historical and cultural settings.
Syndicalism evolved to defend the producer, as opposed to the consumer, with the original
goal of reforming industry away from the abuses of capitalism (ibid.:54). Syndicalism was
developed by industrial workers during the Industrial Revolution in Europe, so when this

model was brought over the ocean to Bolivia, it was originally appropriated by industrial
workers in La Paz and highland miners (more of a proletariat sector), while indigenous
colonos were often isolated on their remote haciendas and prevented from overt organizing.
Sindicatos were not adopted in the Yungas until after the Revolution of 1952.
Labor union syndicalism was primarily a mechanism for defending the economic
interests of the worker-producers in resistance to a bourgeois capitalist society in the hopes of
fostering the evolution toward socialism (Rocker 2004:57). As such, Europes syndicates were
to embody two related purposes: 1) fight against the (factory) employers to advance the
demands of the workers and raise their standard of living, and 2) train the workers in the
intellectual skills necessary for navigating the technical and economic realms of work, and for
being self-sufficient in the new socio-economic system when the revolution comes and brings
socialism (ibid.). The purpose of syndicalism was not just economic self-reliance but also
democratic governance within the labor unions.
The asamblea (assembly) is the centerpiece of the syndicalist and now sindicalista
model direct and participatory democracy. The Manual de Sindicalismo explains the
grounding philosophy of equality, rights, responsibilities, and transparency essential in
sindicato democracy that is actuated in the assembly meetings:
Es necesario e indispensable para forjar la unidad que se practique amplia y libremente
la democracia interna, conscientes de que todos los trabajadores tienen igual situacin e
intereses comunes. Para ello es necesario garantizar a todos los trabajadores, sin
distincin ni diferencias de ninguna clase, el derecho y la libertad de participar directa
y activamente en todos los aspectos de la vida del sindicato, con igualdad de
oportunidades; pero exigiendo de todos el cumplimiento de sus obligaciones. (Ediciones
Eco 2002:230)

It is necessary and indispensable in forming unity that internal democracy be practiced
fully and liberally, conscious that all workers share an equal situation and common
interests. For this it is necessary to guarantee for all workers, without class distinction nor
differences, the right and liberty to participate directly and actively in all aspects of the
life of the sindicato, with equality of opportunity; but demanding that everyone complete
their obligations.

Detailed manuals exist to guide the assembly leader (e.g., L.G.A.M. 2002), but the practices
followed by the sindicato leaders in Coroico was mostly from having learned experientially as
a direct participant in a sindicato. One factor enhancing the function of Coroicos sindicatos
was a group of informal advisors who dedicated themselves to the effective operation of their

community sindicatos, and also at the Central and Federation levels. Two mestizo men in
particular were ubiquitous at Central and municipal government meetings. One was a grade
school teacher and one was a coffee farmer; both of them had completed college degrees, and
both had gained experience collaborating with local cooperatives. Their counsel was wise and
objectivethey each told me at different times that they had been asked to run for public
office or to serve as a high ranking sindicato leader, but they had declined, preferring instead
to assist the campesinos in achieving their goals in their own right.
While syndicalism was originally developed as a means for class struggle within a
capitalist economy in hopes of creating a socialist society, drawing on Marx, Lenin, and
Trotsky (cf. Trigoso, ed. 2002), its manifestation in the agrarian sindicatos of Bolivia has
taken on the imperative of indigenous identity more than class. Discourses revolving around
class were few and far between in the Yungas, at least those I was privy to, while polemics
about pride in Aymara culture and revolutionary heroes, a dedication to the coca leaf, and the
reinstitution of an Andean socialism dominated public discussion. Such a shift away from
established (read: written, perhaps in Spanish) academic theories, norms of practice, and
ideological goals represents one of the most important ways that Bolivias peasant sindicatos
have appropriated this Western model of democracyyet in doing so they have achieved the
sort of democracy that European syndicalist scholars only dreamed of creating.

Wild Fire of Revolt and Hope: The Emergence of Agrarian Sindicatos in Bolivia
While scholars such as Russell and Rocker were only referring to (and writing to)
Western intellectuals in their analyses of these ideological movements, we can now move this
discussion to the Bolivian context. It is instructive how the syndicalist model was adapted to
the cultural historical particularities of Bolivia. While Bolivian sindicato leaders are generally
not aware of such European theorists as Bakunin, Rocker or Russell, many have heard of
Marx and Trotsky because of the COBs (especially Juan Lechns) embrace of these theorists
in the 1950s.
It seems that the urban intelligentsia in La Paz and Cochabamba (and perhaps

There is still a small but enduring Trotskyite anti-imperialist anti-neoliberalist movement now largely confined to the Santa

Sucre) helped bring socialist and syndicalist theories into the Bolivian context, for there was a
vibrant Marxist student movement in the universities in the 1930s and 40s (Patch 1966
[1960]:325) when the first sindicatos were being formed. After the Chaco War ended in 1935,
Bolivian intellectuals sympathetic to the indigenous cause (as outlined in the history chapter)
helped indigenous leaders in the highland mines and on the haciendas formulate their plans
to create sindicato labor unions (see Alexander 2005; Cuevas 1990; Spalding 1977).
The sindicato model of local governance, economic organization, and activism was
used to collectively resist oppressive economic and social conditions on the haciendas. In
1936, campesinos in the Cochabamba valley province of Cliza established the first agrarian
sindicato (in what would become the town of Ucurea). Since these campesinos had close
contact with town-dwelling mestizos, [they] had become familiar with the norms of mestizo
culture and thus sought to use this form of organization and resistance to end their unpaid
servitude, lease their lands, and improve their social status (Patch 1966:321). These norms of
mestizo culture are not explained here, and it is unclear whether the sindicato system in
particular was adopted because of some sort of academic influence from the townspeople.
This first sindicato was abolished when landowners banded together and took back the
campesinos lands, destroyed their houses, and forced from the community those who would
not resubmit to the feudal system. But this repression backfired: This attack upon the
syndicate members did more than any other one act to unify the Indian population and
awaken it to political life (ibid.). When resistance against the entrenched power of the elite
hacendados were isolated individual infractions, it was swiftly put down. But when the
campesinos were able to organize using the sindicato system and a shared agenda, this
groundswell of the largest segment of Bolivias population was impossible to resist.
After Bolivias 1952 Revolution, peasant communities began to adopt this method of
protest and self-government in their newly freed communities in the Yungas, altiplano, and
Cochabamba valleys. They began to take advantage of their new political rights to organize
more openly and assertively. After centuries of colonialism and feudalism in which the native

Cruz lowlandsI attended one of their fiery meetings when I was in that city in November 2003.

population[had] no part in the political life of the country in which it occupies the lowest
social level and where Indians were considered parasites on the country (Nuez del Prado
1955:2; 4), this new public role took many by surprise, not least the leaders of the MNR. The
most striking and unexpected consequence of the revolution of 1952, says anthropologist
Richard Patch (1966:320), was the rapid and organized emergence of the Indian
campesinos as a decisive force on the national scene. The policy-makers, city-dwellers to a
man, still thought of the campesinos as unorganized, leaderless, and susceptible to coercion.
But this was no longer everywhere the case.
The consolidation of sindicatos in the new indigenous communities on ex-hacienda
lands was encouraged by units trained by the new Cochabamba agrarian syndicate. In mid-
1952, the newly named Sindicato Campesino de Ucurea del Valle, which represented the
hundreds of thousands of campesinos in the valleys of Cochabamba under the leadership of
Jos Rojas, undertook to spread the news of the Revolution and help new sindicatos organize
themselves around the country. Task forces were composed of campesinos and young MNR
students from Cochabamba and were dispatch[ed] to the farthest reaches of Bolivia,
sparking a wild fire of revolt and hope as the campesino movement grew (Patch 1996:322-
23). This next phase of the Revolution was taking place outside of the control of the MNR,
and the hacienda owners realized they could no longer be protected by government decrees to
keep the indigenous colonos in line. The MNR was forced to ratify an agrarian reform agenda
in an attempt to channel this campesino resistance away from complete anarchy and to
preserve the partys reputation as an ally of the peasantry.
Agrarian reform
was not on the original revolutionary agenda of the MNR, for they
hoped that nationalizing the mines and giving voting and citizenship rights to indigenous
people would be enough to foster a gradual transition toward a capitalist agricultural system.
But when campesinos in Cochabamba, the Yungas, and the altiplano seized on the political
opening created by the unrest following the Revolution and began to organize themselves

Agrarian reform is differentiated from land reform because land reform describes the expropriation from oligarchs and
partitioning of large tracts of land into small plots to be distributed to peasant farmers, whereas agrarian reform also includes
that set of institutions (credit, technology, marketing, and the like) that must be supplied by government (Powelson and Stock

from the grassroots to overturn the feudal status quo, the MNR leadershipencouraged by
uflo Chvez, Minister of Campesino Affairs who was in contact with emerging sindicato
leaders (Patch 1966:324)came out in support of the campesino movement. The sindicato
system was then appropriated by this backdoor socialist political party
as a way to provide a
political structure in the ex-hacienda communities, build a constituency among the newly
independent (and increasingly powerful in their numbers) campesinos, and promote
capitalist production in the countryside. The MNR (with the COB) then set about appointing
sindicato leaderssometimes usurping local leaders that were already in powerand training
the new sindicatos in the ways of socioeconomic management (Mitchell 1977:46).
The COB continued to organize the miners and other obrero (proletarian) groups
such as fabriles (factory workers), ferroviarios (railway workers), constructores
(construction workers), and the magisterio (teachers)in the 1950s following the Revolution,
though it was not until 1970 that it had incorporated all the sindicatos obreros into a unified
organization (Trigoso 2002:265). The new sindicatos agrarios were not considered part of the
sector asalariado (salaried sector), so campesinos did not initially benefit from
representation in the COB. The agrarian sindicatos signed the Pacto Militar-Campesino in
1964 in order to secure preferential treatment and protection from the military governments,
even through the series of golpes. In return for personal favors and payments from the
dictatorswhich were openly arranged during invited conferencesthe agrarian sindicato
dirigentes suppressed revolt among their bases. The central government fostered vertical
relationships between peasant leaders and the state rather than horizontal relationships
between peasant unions (Mitchell 1977:127). Since military repression of a powerful
socioeconomic sector is not a viable long-term political strategy, Bolivias dictators had to
mollify the potentially active agrarian sindicatos with bribery. Such blatant cooptation by a

I say backdoor socialist to describe the MNR, because while this party enacted state capitalist reforms and promoted the
formation of sindicatos around the country, this was not the partys original plan. It was forced to moderate its right wing
tendencies after using the mining and peasant sectors to foment popular approval of the Revolution, and after unpredicted yet
unavoidable pressure from these sectors and the COB. Almost like opening Pandoras Box, once the indigenous sectors
recognized their opportunity to make real changes to their lives they were not going to allow the state to dominate them again
so quickly or allow their resources to be exported for the profit of private capital in a new form. Thus, the neoliberal economic
reforms of 1985, which are always declared an about-face for President Paz Estenssoro since he presided over the reforms of
1952, were the fulfillment of the goals the MNR had all along (thanks to Juan Claudio Lechn for insight into this phenomenon).

corrupt government illustrates the potential inherent in the atomized sindicato system for its
leaders to be lured by personal profit away from their responsibility to their bases (Healy,
personal communication). This shows that sindicato leaders are not incorruptible, and as
such that the sindicato system is always potentially at risk of being corrupted by external self-
interested groups, as has happened with some political parties in the Yungas in recent years.
When the Banzer regime began to actively suppress sindicato organizing and harass
campesinos during their protestsculminating in the notorious 1974 massacre of Totorathe
agrarian sindicato leaders broke off their contrived and non-democratic relationship with the
state and finally allied with the COB in 1978 (Trigoso 2002:275). Then the peasant sindicatos
in the altiplano, Yungas, and Cochabamba valleys rallied during the brief democratic opening
after the fall of the Banzer regime to organize a national peasant union, the CSUTCB, in 1979.
This organization represented the recuperation of democratic freedoms, put the brake on
state interference in union affairs, and began the search for a form of political participation
that had its own character (Crdenas 1997).
Campesinos historically had only limited power on the national scene and within the
COB (Mitchell 1977:47), but after the cocalero movement gained national prominence
allying with President Jaime Paz Zamoras Coca Diplomacy agenda in 1989, staging the
1994 March for Dignity and National Sovereignty to La Paz,
and resisting President
Banzers Plan Dignidad in the Chapare in 2000 and in the Yungas in 2001campesinos
earned their place at the forefront of Bolivias social movements in challenging the neoliberal
reforms and offering an alternative development agenda for the countrys rural sector.

From Syndicalism to Sindi cali smo in the Yungas
In the Yungas, the adoption of sindicalismo was a complementary process of top-
down design and bottom-up creation.
As anthropologist Rebecca Abers (1998) argued in

As a result of this march from the Chapare to La Paz in 1994 to bring the issues of the cocaleros to national attention, Evo
Morales was arrested and thus gained notoriety. He was then named Man of the Year (Ticona et al. 1995:69).

The process I describe for the Yungas was similar in other parts of the country, most notably in the valleys of Cochabamba,
though it was quite different in the ayllus of Potos (see Rivera 1990), and mostly non-existent in the Amazonian lowlands,
where extensive latifundia(large-scale landholdings) persist or were granted in the 1960s and 70s by presidents granting

the case of Porto Alegres innovative participatory budget law, it is possible for a top-down
measure facilitated by the state to consolidate democracy at the local level. She calls this
state-fostered civic organizing to show that, contrary to the prevalent neoliberal discourse
that demonizes the state and glorifies civic actors and the market, the state can play an
important role in the development of legitimate social change.
Political scientist Jonathan
Fox (1990) calls this process coproductionbetween societal actors and external (state)
actorsone of his pathways that can thicken civil society, and thus strengthen the practice
and consequence of development and democracy. This dynamic can be seen in the adoption
of both Bolivias sindicato system and the LPPand strikingly not in the case of Ley 1008.
While the MNR party was organizing and developing their revolutionary platform in
the 1940s, the indigenous colonos of Coroico were independently elaborating their own
agenda that, if it could not secure their liberation from the hacendados, it would at least
advocate for the construction of schools and improved housing for their families. In 1945, the
Primer Congreso Indigenal Boliviano (First Bolivian Indigenous Congress) brought together
campesino delegates from around the highlands. One of the first Yungas sindicato leaders
from Coroico, an Aymara campesino named Don Ignacio, went with his father when he was
only seventeen years old. He described how President Gualberto Villarroel presented two
decrees, first to prohibit pongueaje, mitanaje, esclavitud (forced labor by men and women
to the hacendados and their families, slavery). A los patrones les ha hecho entender que no
hay trabajo gratis, que hay que pagar por cualquier trabajo. El otro: tiene que haber
educacin rural. Tiene que haber escuela, la educacin tiene que ser pagada por los
patrones hacendados (He made the patrones understand that there would no longer be free
labor, that they would have to pay for it. And the other thing: there had to be rural education.
There had to be schools [on the haciendas], and education had to be paid for by the
hacendados). But after Villarroel was beaten and hanged from a lamppost in Plaza Murillo in

favors to their clients or in hopes of fostering agribusiness around cattle, soy, cotton, and sugar cane.

In this case (Abers 1998), the local population did not have to already be in favor of the new system. They were taught by
organizers who understood their culture and history, and who were able to explain how the participatory budget would work
and how they could benefit. It took a successful result (a demonstration project [cf. Brower 2005]) in a few places for people
to be convinced they were not being fooled by the next bogus state program, but then it caught on across the region.

La Paz by an upper class uprising against his support of campesino rights, Don Ignacio and
other colonos could not openly organize among themselves on the haciendas: Nos hemos
organizado clandestinamente; en las chacras, en las faenas que hacamos, en los cafetales,
en los cocales, en el recreo hablbamos del asunto poltico del MNR, de la reforma agraria,
todo eso hablbamos (We organized clandestinely; in the fields, in our work parties, in the
coffee fields, in the coca fields, in our leisure time we talked about the political issues of the
MNR, about agrarian reform, all of this we discussed) (personal interview 8/1/04).
Tata Jos was 77 years old when I met him on a bench on the plaza of Coroico one day
in January 2004. I had noticed him many times beforehe walked bent in half with a sturdy
stick, wore old ojotas (the ubiquitous rubber tire sandals) worn to the curve of his feet, and
kept his gray facial hair trimmed in a goatee. He is Aymara but also speaks Quechua and
Spanish. Tata Jos had been a laborer on the haciendas around Coroico growing up and he
still lived just down the hill from the central plaza. One day he told me the story of hearing
about the Agrarian Reform initiative, and how indigenous colonos risked retribution by their
patrones by gathering publicly in the town square. Con este rabio hemos venido a la plaza
de Coroico para organizarnos despues de la reforma (With all this fury [after so many years
of being abused by the patrones] we arrived in the plaza of Coroico to organize ourselves after
agrarian reform), he said. Once the sindicatos were formed after 1953, the goals of the First
Indigenous Congress were realized: Por comunidad hemos decomisado chicotes que tenan
un metro y medio para azote que utilizaban los patrones y jilakatas, todo eso le hemos
recogido de todas las comunidades. Y los patrones hasta entonces, no pegaban a los
jornaleros, y les hacan pagar a los campesinos (In each community we decommissioned the
leather whips of a meter and a half long that the patrones and overseers had used to whip us,
we collected all of them from all of the communities. And the landowners until now do not
beat their laborers, and they have to pay the campesinos).
Indigenous laborers in the Cochabamba valleys had also begun to form sindicatos in
the early part of century, which were capable of bargaining with the government and
exerting leverage upon it (Powelson and Stock 1990:142). This localized peasant power base
helped instigate land reformas opposed to waiting for some outside force to implement it

and was a key reason why Bolivias agrarian reform was relatively successful. Sindicatos were
promoted by the MNR government around the country to provide a political economic
structure for the new campesino villages once the hacienda system was dissolved. But their
motives were not necessarily emancipatory. The MNR leadership also
wanted to prevent the countryside from becoming completely chaotic (food supplies
reaching the cities had already begun to decline). On the Day of the Indian in mid-1952,
[Minister of Peasant Affairs uflo] Chvez called on the peasants for above all, work,
and in 1953 peasant unions were made officially responsible for the planting and
harvesting of crops. It is clear that MNR leaders also sought to build political support for
themselves and their part in a social sector where, whether they had originally sought it
or not, massive new political resources were becoming available. If the new universal
vote decree meant anything, it meant that peasant support might well be critical in future
elections. The MNR was not concerned to mobilize the peasants, but rather to manage
and (up to a point) to neutralize them. (Mitchell 1977:46-7)

It appears that the MNR dominated Yungas sindicatos for longer than they did in the
altiplano, obligating campesinos to vote for the MNR in national elections in return for the
financial assistance these rural communities received (McEwen 1975:150).

But Don Ignacios view of the MNR was not so harsh. He explained that their agrarian
sindicatos had the same goals as the MNR at the timewhich had passed the reforms
following the Revolution to establish the universal vote, rural education, nationalization of
the mines, and agrarian reformso the sindicatos were able to organize without repression
from the state. El MNR y el sindicalismo, hemos tenido que marchar juntos. El plan de
poltica del MNR coincida con nuestros planes sindicales. Porque era el nico partido que
ha defendido al campesino, al obrero, mineros, fabriles (The MNR and sindicalismo, we had
to move forward together. The political plan of the MNR coincided with the plans of our
sindicatos. Because it was the only party that defended the campesino, the worker, the miner,
the factory worker). This relationship also meant that the new sindicato leaders also acted as
local party leaders (Heath 1969:187). Don Ignacio was thus the Jefe de Comando Provincial
del MNR de Coroico (the Chief of Provincial Command for the MNR in Coroico), at the same
time that he was the Ejecutivo de la Federacin Provincial de Nor Yungas (Chief Executive of

Such paternalism persists in the Yungas today. During the campaign of the municipal candidates for mayor and town
council in November 2004, the founder of a newly formed party, the UN (Unidad Nacional, or National Unity), visited Coroico to
promote the local candidates, as is customary. Since this guy, Samuel Doria Medina, owns Bolivias largest cement company,
he donated 1200 bags of cement for Coroicos soccer stadium, which was at the time undergoing a major renovation and with
municipal funds running out. I asked one of the shop owners in town if he would vote for UNs candidates in the municipal
elections; he said, Clarowe have to return the favor of the gift of cement.

the Provincial Sindicato Federation of the Nor Yungas).
Not everyone took a positive view of the shift toward sindicalismo in Coroico. Don
Carlos, an 82 year-old man of Spanish descent who was born in the town of Coroico, the son
of a jeweler who grew up working in negocios (business, trade) around the Nor Yungas,
recounted to me his view of the changes since the Revolution. Ha transformado mucho
(Things have changed a lot), he explained. Ms flojo se han vuelto el campesinoya no
trabajan, ya no producen agricultura, y no tiene ninguna plata para sus casas (The
campesinos have become more lazythey dont work anymore, they dont produce agriculture
anymore, and they dont have any money to improve their houses). He is implying that now
without the mayordomos and jilaqatas that were charged with directing the work of the
colonos on the haciendas, campesinos do not work as they should and have allowed the
productivity of the region to falter. But this perception is not borne out by the facts.
Even though the indigenous colonos in the Yungas had suffered through centuries of
feudal oppression like the other regions of Boliviaincluding the altiplano, the Cochabamba
valleys, and the tropical lowlandsthey had been able to grow some cash crops on their
usufruct lands, hire laborers (peones, or landless workers) and to move to follow the labor
market more freely than in other areas (Lons 1967). Therefore, the market economy
revolving mostly around coca leaf, coffee, and fruitswas already a normal part of their lives,
not a novelty that suddenly appeared after land reform (Powelson and Stock 1990:136). This
point is significant because it helps show why agrarian reform was successful in the Yungas,
and why the peasant unions that were institutionalized after reform were able to insert
themselves into the regional economy by creating new market and credit structures so
effectively (see McEwen 1975; Lons and Lons 1971).
As economists Powelson and Stock (1990:139) arguebased on a literature review of
post-reform analysesbecause of the relative regional autonomy among the Yungas peasant
unions in the years after agrarian reform, the peasants established connection with
specialized agricultural markets, and their ability to provide credit within their communities,
Yungas campesinos were able to increase their agricultural production and domestic exports,
increase their trade with other regions of the country in local markets, and improve their diet

and economic standing. In other words, agrarian reform did benefit Yungas campesinos and
their trade unions, partly because of their prior organization and economic status, and in a
way that strengthened their participation in the national economy and political system.
Meanwhile, most landlords were forced off their land, and many moved to the town
of Coroico to control the merchant markets (Heath 1973:81-82). The current urban-rural
animosity that exists in the Coroico municipality can be traced to this claiming of the town by
the displaced elite and their effort to control the trade of goods. One town merchant, a
mestizo woman who has lived in Coroico since long before the reform and can speak Aymara
from her days trading with the indigenous colonos before Spanish became so prevalent,
explained to me, Before the reform, the Indians were well-behaved, they submitted to us
blancos. They would sell us their crops being very polite, bowing, like this. She bowed
forward, with her head down and arms lifted up together, as if serving royalty. They
respected us then. Now they just want to make trouble and are always asking for thingsvery
impudent, they are.
In the Nor Yungas few comunidades originarias survived the colonial and republican
erasin what would be the Coroico municipality only Marka persisted (Soux 1992:403)so
most indigenous people were subsumed into the hacienda system (Aguilar and Spedding
2005:75; McBride 1921:26). Those independent Aymara agrarian communities mentioned in
such accounts as J. Moraless (1929) existed primarily in the Sud Yungas. This point may also
help explain why sindicalismo has been so useful as a socio-political organization in Coroico,
since there are no other indigenous entities in competition with the sindicatos for the
allegiance and participation of the campesinos. With Agrarian Reform in 1953, in order to be
formally recognized as free communities and receive land titles from the state, the ex-colono
indigenous populations had to organize themselves into sindicatos. Thus sindicalismo was
considered como elemento imprescindible de la liberacin campesina (as an essential
element of campesino liberation) (Aguilar and Spedding 2005:75), for they did not have
another living form of traditional organization to fall back on. As has been shown through
sociological research in parts of the Yungas, the establishment of a sindicato led to productive

local government and improved political status for peasants (McEwen 1975:23-4).

While some ayllu-style community groups are maintained in the highlands of Bolivia,
ayllus do not exist in any ancient pristine form, but they do persist among the Aymara as an
historical memoryand a powerful one, precisely because [the ayllu] demonstrates both the
alterations and diminishments that Native communities have suffered, and their determined
capacity for survival, flexibility, and resistance (Weismantel 2006:86). Many traditions that
originated in the ancient ayllu system are practiced today in rural Yungas communities: ayni,
minka, trueque, rotation of leadership, collective labor parties (faena), redistribution of
lands, communal lands to support sindicato leaders and those in need, collaborative relations
with other communities, and kinship ties and community loyalty over individual rights, not to
mention the Aymara language and reverence for Pachamama and the Apus (grandfather
mountain spirits). Thus I argue that newly freed Yungas campesinos used the sindicato
modelwhich had been developed in a different time and place and for a different central
purposeas a template to create their initial community structure following the upheaval of
Agrarian Reform. They then integrated their traditional values and cultural normswhich
had been preserved either in practice or in cultural memoryto create a system for
community governance that went beyond just issues related to labor to encompass all issues
related to communal life. Thus, under the guidance of Aymara peasant farmers and with some
training from MNR militants, the European syndicalist paradigm of proletarian activism and
radical protest was transformed into a structure for community-based democracy.
Bolivias rural sindicato system was swiftly adopted by new peasant communities
after the Agrarian Reform because indigenous peasants had already begun to organize
clandestinely within and between haciendas, and because the sindicato model provided a
workable sociopolitical structure that could be applied to different settings. Aymara and

The new sindicatos posed a threat to the integrity of some indigenous communities, especially those who had maintained
their ayllu leadership up until that point. While providing a forum for local participation, the new sindicato leaders were often
mestizos appointed by the state. These mestizos were not considered appropriate for the job since they were not elected and
did not represent the indigenous majority. Rivera Cusicanqui evaluated the ayllus in northern Potos that had survived in their
traditional form since pre-colonial times. The new unions in the 1950s undermined this system of authority and perpetuated a
colonial-style agenda by creating clientelistic contacts between the state and local elites, controlling state resources through
the use of force, and redistributing land to wealthy mestizos (Rivera 1990:104-5). Furthermore, the Indians were expected to
deny their native identity in order to become equal to the mestizo and criollo minority (ibid.:107). The sindicatos in Potos
ended up being shallow, formal, and far removed from the norms of community life (ibid.:109).

mestizo peasants were resourceful and entrepreneurial in establishing new marketplaces in
some parts of the Yungas, such as in Arapata, whereas in the town of Coroico the markets
were dominated by displaced hacienda elites (Lons and Lons 1971). As they worked to
organize their sindicato leadership and participate in new markets, Coroico campesinos faced
forceful resistance from these town elites, something that is still remembered by the first
sindicato leaders. The creation of new sindicatos continued in the Yungas until about 1965
(Colque and Spedding n.d.),
a date that corresponds with the first military dictatorship and
the beginning of cooptation and repression of campesino organizations.

Community Sindicato Organization in the Yungas
Sindicalismo provided Yungas campesinos with their first opportunity to direct their
own community politics in relation to other agrarian communities and the state. Under the
feudal system, politics were controlled by the hacendados and pertained primarily to the
immediate hacienda on an internal level. Colonos from one hacienda were prevented from
communicating and organizing with other haciendas (although more so in the altiplano than
the Yungas), and the hacendados controlled the regional economy through the SPY. In the
new agrarian sindicatos, nine leadership positions were adopted, to be elected democratically
in order to trabajar, luchar y velar por intereses de un bien comn de comunidad (work,
struggle, and be responsible in the interest of the common good of the community)
(sindicato document from Carmen Pampa). Typical sindicato membership in the Coroico
municipality is around 25 to 30 land-owning families, or 100 to 150 individuals.
The maximum authority is the Secretario General (commonly known as the
dirigente, or leader), who is charged with convoking and guiding the monthly community
assemblies, and with ensuring the general healthy functioning of the community. There is a
vice-Strio. General (called the Secretario de Relaciones) who is available to take over for the
dirigente in his absence, and six other Secretarios to address the everyday needs of the
community: Actas (Minutes, to manage the documentation of community meetings, votes,

By the late 1960s, there were estimated to be 7500 sindicatos around the country (Mitchell 1977:46).

etc.), Justicia or Conflictos (Justice or Conflicts, to deal with territorial or familial conflicts,
though the dirigente is called on for major issues), Educacin (Education, to coordinate with
the dirigente to address the educational needs of the communitys children and those of the
teachers), Vialidad (Roadways, to coordinate and implement community projects to clean
and maintain the local roads), Hacienda (Treasury, to administrate the economic resources of
the community and collect quotas), and Deportes (Sports, to coordinate sporting events in the
community and between other communities). The last position are the Vocales, messengers
who transmit information from the members to the Secretarios and vice versa.
According to the hierarchy of cargos (positions), young or inexperienced members
are elected as a Secretario de Educacin, Vialidad, Hacienda, or Deportes before they can fill
the positions of Secretario de Justicia, Actas, or Relaciones. A secretario general has usually
demonstrated his or her leadership in several cargos before being called to stand for election
to this high office. Following a successful term as secretario general, a leader can be elected to
serve a two-year post as the dirigente of the Subcentral, which represents a collection of
between five and ten sindicatos in one small area. Next up the hierarchy is the Central, which
relies on the same list of leadership positions but applied to the healthy functioning of all the
sindicatos in the municipality (such as the Coroico Central or the Coripata Central). The
provincial Federacin arbitrates conflicts between campesinos or sindicatos that could not be
resolved at the local level, and also defends the economic interests and coordinates the
resistance efforts of the entire province (such as the Nor Yungas or Caranavi) in relation to
COFECAY or the CSUTCB. By organizing meetings, seminars, and congresses, the Federacin
becomes la expresin del campesinado frente a los dems sectores sociales (the expression
of the campesino sector with respect to all other social sectors) (Colque and Spedding n.d.).
After the Revolution, the sindicatos took on a series of necessary community
functions to replace the dissolved haciendas (see for example Stefanoni and Do Alto 2006;
Spedding 2005; Garca L. et al. 2004; Trigoso 2002), which include:
Distribute plots of lands to each family and oversee land partitions and inheritances;
Coordinate community projectsmostly having to do with infrastructure, such as
keeping roads clear or building a schoolby regulating labor contributions;
Maintain mechanisms of authority to resolve disputes between members and

administer punishments and fines; and
Educate las bases (the people) and prepare leaders who can capably represent the
needs of the community to the municipal government, state officials (such as the
provincial subprefecto), and the national labor union CSUTCB.

Sindicato leaders also maintain legal documents in ordersuch as those pertaining to land
ownership from Agrarian Reform and subsequent lawsand mediate all manner of demands
and disputes. In addition to fulfilling such obligations as the donation of ones labor to
community projects, sindicato members are required to attend monthly community sindicato
meetings and to participate in organized protests, such as marches and bloqueos. The
underlying philosophy of sindicatos is that the privilege of membership comes with both
shared rights and responsibilitiesanother example of the application of ayni.
Eventually the campesino sindicatos would build their own national hierarchy of
advocacy organizations parallel to the state and complementary to the more militant miner
The campesino sindicatos were affiliated with the miner sindicatos in the COB
(Central Obrera Boliviana) and their own weaker Confederacin Nacional de Trabajdores
Campesinos de Bolivia (CNTCB) until 1979,
when campesinos had gained enough political
autonomy to create their own central organization, the Confederacin Sindical nica de
Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB, The Only Sindicato Confederation of Peasant
Workers of Bolivia). With the return to democracy in 1982, sindicatos were again permitted to
meet openly, and by this time the threat of coca eradication was the central topic of concern
in the Yungas and elsewhere (ibid.). Thus the present period of democratic governance in
Bolivia coincides with the present period of the U.S. war on drugs, two phenomena that
have dramatically affected the resistance strategies and proposals of the Yungas sindicatos.
Aligning the sindicato leaders with the political party system immediately after
Agrarian Reform was at first an accepted component of the new system as a way to continue
the revolution, but it was ultimately not successful in bringing adequate support or benefits

In this dissertation, when I use the term sindicato by itself, I am referring to campesino sindicatos; if I mean to refer to the
miners organizations, I will be specific and say miner sindicato. The agrarian sindicatos, by adopting more of the community
ayllu mentality and governing structure, were different than the miner sindicatos that operated more like trade unions with a
Marxist revolutionary bent.

Between 1978 and 1979 there was a brief period of democracy in Bolivia, after General Banzer allowed elections and
before the Cocaine Coup of 1980. This window allowed the sindicatos to organize openly and formalize their demands as an
independent national labor union.

to the communities. There was very little state funding that reached the local level to carry out
an agrarian reform that would lead to increased productivity in the countryside. This failure
was partly because the MNR was more interested in controlling the peasant leadership and
suppressing mobilizations than in bolstering the new peasant social sector. Thus Yungas
campesinos enjoyed increased control of their own affairs in the 1950s because, not in spite,
of the disorganization of the MNR (Mitchell 1977), and perhaps because the government
could not easily send in the army to this topographically precipitous region with such poor
road infrastructure to enforce the partys agenda (Powelson and Stock 1990:142).
This fits with Powelsons (1988) assertion that national initiatives work best when
they fit into institutions that already exist at the local level. While most accounts of the
formation of Bolivias sindicatos emphasize the role of the MNR and urban intellectuals in
bringing the sindicato idea and structure to the campesinos after the Revolution, Yungas
campesino leaders I spoke with explained the process as being much more organic with
grassroots momentum (see also Colque and Spedding n.d., on the process in the Sud Yungas).
As we have seen in the case of Coroico, the hacienda colonos were already developing their
own plans for resistance by the time Agrarian Reform was acknowledged by the state, so
adopting the sindicato style of community organization was an easy and desirable next step.
Adopting a political party structure or allegiance, however, was not, since these peasants had
been excluded from any national level integration or political participation prior to this point.
This relationship between the sindicatos agrarios and political parties remains
contentious as leaders are accused of secretly being allied with a party just to receive special
personal favors or payments. Publicly, sindicato leaders are reluctant to admit such
affiliations, but in the months leading up to the municipal elections of December 2004, such
connections became clearand served to created animosities within and between Yungas
Centrales. Even when directly asked on the radio in May, the Central Coroico dirigente denied
being a member of any political party, even though he would be one of the most important
organizers for the MAS party by October. Therefore, even though party loyalty was part of the
initial structure of the sindicatos, the campesino base has never fully embraced such alliances
that cause their leaders to cater to elite interests of the central government over their base,

especially without transparency and some form of accounting.

Una Palabra: Democracy According to Yungas Campesinos
While academics of all stripes have submitted their theories on what democracy
means and how it can be used, the fact is that democracy is such a malleable concept that it
must be defined in each situation for it to have any meaning or use at all. This dissertation has
evaluated such scholarly conceptions, and it will show how Yungas sindicatos practice their
politics according to their particular historical and cultural context. Inherent in these
practices, though, is the meaning of democracy as understood by Yungas campesinos, and
how the democracy of their agrarian sindicatos compares to that of the Western neoliberal
model. A great divide exists between both campo and pueblo on a local level, and the majority
indigenous society and the tiny elite society on a national scale. Bolivian sociologist (and now
vice president) lvaro Garca Linera sought to distinguish between liberal democracy and
community democracy following the 2003 Gas War rebellion:
La democracia liberales un modo de constitucin democrtica de ciudadana
correspondiente a sociedades que han pasados por procesos de individuacin modernos,
fruto de la predominancia de la lgica industrial que ha erosionado las fidelidades
normativas y los regmenes de agregacin de tipo tradicional, cosa que en Bolivia ha
sucedido slo parcialmente y seguro no suceder en los siguientes 50 aos. (Garca L.

Liberal democracyis a form of democratic citizenship corresponding to societies that
have passed through processes of modern individuation, the product of a predominant
industrial logic that has eroded the normative loyalties and rules of traditional
collaboration, something that in Bolivia has occurred only partially and surely will not
occur for another 50 years.

In other words, there exists a fundamental divide between the way the state operates as a
democracy and how Bolivias indigenous ayllus and sindicatos operate as a democracy.
The sindicato system represents the rural indigenous version of politicses otra
Bolivia (it is another Bolivia), as one community leader put itso I interviewed a variety of
sindicato and other rural community leaders around the Coroico municipality to capture their
thoughts on the meanings of democracy and community. The baseline question I posed was:
Qu significa democracia, en sus palabras? Bolivia tiene democracia? Porqu y porqu
no? (What does democracy mean, in your own words? Is Bolivia a democracy? Why and why

not?). Some had clearly never considered this question, while others were ready with cogent
replies. When answering whether Bolivia is a democracy, most said yes, but many added a
caveat to show that it is not a pure or real democracy, but only a limited version of one.
One said, S, Bolivia tiene democracia, pero es una democracia indirecta (Yes, Bolivia has
democracy, but it is an indirect democracy), and another said, En Bolivia hay democracia,
pero no nos dejan participar, hay un grupo que no nos dejan a nosotros el conocimiento (In
Bolivia there is democracy, but they dont let us participate, there is a group [of elites] that
does not allow us to be informed). Julia Paley noted a similar habit among the Chileans she
worked with and called this democracia entre comillas (democracy in quotes) or con
apelidos (with last names) (2001:5), meaning democracy that must be explained or qualified
in some way.
In order to define variants of democracy, though, there must be some pure form that
people are consciously or unconsciously using as an ideal. In Coroico, many people believe
this authentic form can be found in the sindicatos: Democracia sindical es la forma mas
pura porque elegimos nuestros dirigentes por voto directo de mayora, y todos
participamos (Sindicato democracy is the most pure form because we elect our leaders
directly with a majority vote, and everyone participates), said a Central Agraria leader who
grew up in the village of Suapi outside of Coroico and who works in information technology in
La Paz. Rules of individual conduct are determined in each sindicatoor at the level of the
Central concerning higher level leadershipand this is also seen as an important component
of a communitys well-being, arrived at via democratic means: Tenemos un reglamento
interno de acuerdo a las faltas que tiene, ya sea leve o grave, de acuerdo a eso se le castiga,
para que haya orden y respeto en una comunidad (We have an internal set of rules according
to the infractions that [someone] makes, be it light or serious, and according to this
[regulation] the person is punished, so that there is order and respect in a community).
Other definitions of democracy coalesced around the themes of voting and
participation, especially the ability to eject incompetent leaders before their terms are over
and the right to use popular pressure to force a change in leadership:

Democracia sindical significa elecciones y castigos consensual (Sindicato democracy
means consensual elections and punishments).
En una democracia se eligen las autoridades segn lo que opina la mayora, porque
la base es lo importante y la base es lo que cuenta; un dirigente sin base no tiene
apoyo tampoco (In a democracy the authorities are elected according to majority
opinion, because the people are the important thing and the people are what counts;
a leader without a base [behind him] does not have support either).
Entramos de acuerdo a una reunin todos y ah sacamos las normas, y de acuerdo
se aprueban durante la gestin (We all come together in a meeting and here we
develop norms [of behavior and expectations for leadership], and according to these
[the leaders] must abide during their term in office).
La mayora tiene que exigir una re-eleccin por presin si el dirigente hace falta
donde la mayora se expresa, viene el cambio ya (The majority has to demand a re-
election by popular pressure if a dirigente does something wrongwhere the majority
expresses itself, change will surely come).

The idea of demanding a re-election, especially by popular pressure, runs counter to the
dominant Western theory of democracy
as indelibly expressed by Schumpeter (1973
[1942])that holds that citizens only have the right to wait until the next election to choose
not to re-elect a leader. Under this assumption, there is no room for popular pressurebut
also no acknowledgement of the historical marginalization of the majority of a population in
which resistance outside the electoral system was the only way to be heard. The ahistorical
nature of this Western theory of democracy is one of its greatest weaknesses, and also
illustrates one of the most significant differences between representative and syndicalist
democratic models in Bolivia.
While this dissertation does not specifically discuss Bolivias first national
Referendum concerning the export of natural gas that took place on 18 July 2004, it was an
historic occasion that sparked much debate on the meaning of democracy around the country.
The following account from my fieldnotes illustrates one example of the way that a Western
model for democratic governance can be reframed by Bolivias indigenous inhabitants, not
only in a way that makes the process more sensible to this historically marginalized social
sector, but also in a way that inspires a renovation of ancient Aymara traditions.

California states political system is an example of an alternative form of Western democracy, for governors may be ejected
by popular recall, if enough signatures are gathered. Governor Gray Davis had to step down in 2003 because of such popular
pressure (in this case, from part of the elite business community); the resulting election for governor produced dozens of
candidates, from which Arnold Schwartzenegger was chosen.


Boli vi as Nati onal Referendum as Anci ent Aymara Tradi ti on

For the past month, public discourse in this country has been dominated by passionate calls
for S! or No! Holding a Referendum fulfilled part of President Carlos Mesas promises
to the nation upon taking office the previous year at the culmination of the Gas War. It was to
ask, for the first time in Bolivias history, the peoples opinion on an issue of national
importance as a means to formulate government policy. The issue was the same one that
sparked the massive protests of September and October 2003 and drove Snchez de Lozada
from office: whether to export Bolivias natural gas, and if so, how to negotiate the sale, how
to use it to maximize Bolivias leverage with neighboring countries, and how to utilize the
revenues. The sticking point was whether or not the gas pipeline would be built through
ChileBolivias old enemyor Perua much more expensive option.

The Mesa administration composed the text of the referendum with advisors out of the public
eye, which immediately lent an air of secrecy that the people did not trust, even though this is
the norm when governments formulate referenda questions. Complicating matters, there
were five questions, not one, and each one was so long and convoluted that even well-known
academics spent hours on national radio shows debating their meaning.
sponsored regular radio spots to explain certain terms or vocabularysuch as abrogar, to
abrogateto a largely illiterate populace with Spanish as a second language. Tempers flew
over whether people would be able to truly understand what these questions were asking, and
whether the administration would be able to implement such ambiguous proposals after the
votes were in.

Sindicato leaders around the country mobilized to educate their bases and facilitate voting in
the Referendum. In Coroico, the Central dirigente organized a two-day symposium in the
civic center with invited speakers coordinated by the MAS party. The discourse celebrating
the recent downfall of Bolivias elite political party system and emphasizing the strengths of
the sindicatos (as well as other indigenous organizations around the country) was edifying. As
one scholar inter-translated his talk between Spanish and Aymara, he appealed to the pride in
Yungas Aymara traditions: Aymara communities know well what a referendum iswe can
teach the government how to consult with the people. This model of our communities
[referring to both the ayllu system and the sindicatos] should be the model for how to manage
el pueblo bolivianothe government should not only consult us over the gas issue, but over
every issue and law. Our leaders in our communities have always asked the people what they
want and what they think before implementing new policies.

This point was startling to me and others around me at the symposium, as we made the
comparison between the modern (and alien in Bolivia) political practice of holding a national
Referendum and the ancient indigenous practice of consulting las bases on all issues. This
convergence of such a central tenet of democratic practicerelating this modern initiative to
ancient cultural traditions and showing how the traditions can improve the modern formis
a great example of a potential hybrid form of democracy in Bolivia. Such hybridization not
only can strengthen existing practices and improve upon modern (read: accepted) models of
political participation, but it can allow people to feel agency and pride in participating in it
since they know that they are in fact bringing their national democracy full circle to intersect
with their traditions.

Such as on former human rights ombudsman Ana Mara Romero de Camperos weekly radio show Debate del Pas
broadcast on Red Erbol, a nationally syndicated radio program.

The democratic character of Aymara communitiesfrom the traditional ayllus to
present-day altiplano communitieshas been documented by many Bolivian social scientists
(e.g., Alb 2003; Patzi 2003; Calani 2003; Ticona A. 2002; Rivera 1990; Rojas 1994; Colque
and Spedding n.d.). Historian Sinclair Thomson (1996) demonstrated that in response to the
century Aymara insurgency in La Paz against colonial rule, Aymara communities created
a new democratic political structure and culture centered around community organization
and autonomy. He argues further that this establishment of democratic principles have been
carried over until todaynot perhaps fluidly or continuously, but at least to the extent that
democratization and increased political initiative at the base of Andean society have been of
lasting value (Thomson 1996:360). Thomsons assertions highlight the legacies of Aymara
communal agency, participation, sovereignty, historical memory, social justice, and, most
importantly, self-rule (autodeterminacin)key factors central to Yungas rural communities
today and subsumed into the agrarian sindicato system.
Among the campesinos I spoke with in Coroicos rural communities, democracy is
understood less as a particular structure of rules and laws and more as a sense of well-being
and freedom of movement and expression that one feels as a member of a society. Legal
structures on which people can rely are partly responsible for allowing people to enjoy a sense
of well-being, though they are not as visible on a day-to-day basis as the joys and hardships of
rural life. If anthropologists are good at studying the quotidian emotions and thoughts
surrounding the meaning and experience of democracy, political scientists are good at
studying the specific structure and impact of the formal institutions of democracy. Should
there not be a link between democracy and a sense of well-being if we consider democracy
such an important condition to strive for? This connection is related to he link between
democracy and the economy, which is exactly where Bolivians make their demands on their
national system of democracy. In other words, in Bolivia where the majority of the population
has been excluded from the benefits of the elite political system and the massive export
economy for over 400 years, indigenous people are likely to link a successful democracy with
an improvement to their economic well-being. If the latter does not follow from the former,
then it is not really a democracy that they live under but a new dictatorship in different guise.

The primary role of Bolivias agrarian sindicatos has been to advocate for such a clear
connection between the countrys political system and its ability to provide economic benefits
and stability to its citizenry. At the community level, out of which sindicatos grew and from
which they derive their power, popular participation is direct and immediate. The assembly
provides the venue for regular face-to-face communication between the people and their
leaders, which allows for greater accountability of leaders to members economic condition,
transparency of the political process and in accounting, and access to information (cf. Stiglitz
1988). Trust is built up or broken down over how well the sindicato leaders are able to
adequately represent and attend to the economic needs of the community by advocating for
them through other sociopolitical entities such as the municipal government, international
NGOs, and the agrarian trade union hierarchy. In the Yungas, this means primarily attending
to and improving the economy of coca and potentials for its industrialization. And by rotating
leadership positionswhich most sindicatos combine with electionsnot only are the leaders
actually part of the communities they represent, they are subject to the same economic
conditions as the rest of the community, for their career is not government administration but
subsistence farming like everyone else. In other words, sindicato leaders operate under the
expectation that they had better perform as well as possible during their one-year posts, for
the next time around they will be subject to the leadership behavior of their neighbor.
Thus the effectiveness of the sindicato system is mutually reinforcing over the long
termexcept when those elected to office consider their one-year posts an opportunity to
profit personally from their temporary positions of power. This abuse of the peoples trust
certainly happens from time to time, which contributes to the myth of a dictadura sindical
(sindicato dictatorship) which alleges that sindicato leaders are opportunistic overlords
obsessed with the personal influence and financial benefits they can amass during their short
periods in office. But there are powerful disincentives to such behavior, especially the ability
of members to force out of office corrupt leaders, fines and sanctions as determined
collectively in the estatuto orgnico, and the shame and loss of status such a leader would
have to bear as a member of the community following such behavior.
Because campesinos have become accustomed to such direct democracy that carries a

known individual and community impact, when they consider their nations political system,
it appears to be an alien entity outside the realm of their control. People are allowed to vote in
planned electionsthough until 2002 most candidates were not indigenousbut it is difficult
to hold their national leaders accountable after they enter office. Decisions concerning the
nations economy and distribution of resources are made outside the public eye according to
unknown international pressures and expectations. And when the economic condition of the
majority of the population does not improveindeed, it worsens (ODonnell 2001; ECLAC
2000)after 25 years of this so-called democracy, the Bolivian people are calling foul.
These concerns are fostering a return to the discourse of socialism in terms of social
service provision, but instead of being a retrogressive trend, it is a marker of modernity in
Bolivia as indigenous representation increases at both the state and municipal levels. I argue
that a component of this neoleftist shift is related to the philosophy that indigenous officials
bring with them to elected office based on their formation in the agrarian sindicato system.
Don Ignacio, one of the first sindicato organizers in the Yungas, has witnessed the changes
over the past 50 years from his vantage point in Cruz Loma, a small town down the road from
Coroico. Desde mi comienzo de lucha, como yo entiendo de la poltica y del sindicalismo, mi
poltica propia es del socialismo (Since I started in the struggle, as I understand politics and
sindicalismo, my own politics is socialism). He continued:
Con el socialismo pretendemos igualdadbajar esos salarios altos, de los jerarcas,
bajarlos, y aumentarlos a los obreros. El gobierno tiene que pagar educacin rural,
educacin urbana. Todo tiene que pagar el gobierno el gobierno ya tiene sus
impuestos bien recaudados para invertir, sus gastos para administracin del gobierno.
Nuestra poltica de aymara es socialismo, izquierda socialismo. [Pero] ahorita los
aymaras campesinos no estn preparados. Hay campesinos de 30 40 aos, tiene una
educacin bsica, no han llegado a secundaria o a la universidad. Entonces, eso es lo
que perjudica. Cuando ya esta nueva juventud, ya van a salir preparados, entonces esa
nueva juventud van a captar lo que es el socialismo. (personal interview 8/1/04)

With socialism our goal is equalitylower the high salaries of the party leaders and
government officials, lower them, and increase those of the workers. The government
should pay for rural education and urban education. The government should pay for all of
these servicesbecause the government already has collected tax money to invest, the
expenses they have to administer the government. Our Aymara politics is socialism, leftist
socialism. [But] now Aymara campesinos are not prepared. There are 30 and 40 year
old campesinos who only have a basic education, who have not attended high school or
university. So, this is what puts [our movement] in jeopardy. When this next generation
of young people has entered society with a good education, then this new generation is
going to grasp what socialism really means.

This ideology of socialism for agrarian sindicatos is not only linked to an economic
rationale but to a philosophy of governance that is rooted in direct democracy, transparency,
and accountability via the assembly modelas we saw in the original syndicalist model in
Europe. When Don Ignacio talks about this form of sindicato politicswhich he practiced for
four decades as a dirigente from the community up to the provincial levelhe envisions it as a
template for Bolivias national government. One day I asked him, En su mente, si usted fuera
el dirigente de todo el pas, y quisiera hacer un sistema ms justo, qu hara? (In your
mind, if you were the leader of the whole country, and you wanted to create a more just
system, what would you do?). He replied:
En una democracia justa, antes de lanzar un decreto, el gobierno tiene que sacar un
proyecto y hacer conocer a todo el pueblo. Si estn de acuerdo o no estn de acuerdo, el
gobierno tiene que resolver esos decretos en el Parlamento, en el Palacio de Gobierno. Si
no consultan a las bases, ah noms se equivocan. Por eso es que tanto el Gobierno tiene
problemas. Porque sacan leyes injustas, decretos, en el Ejecutivo, sin consultar al
pueblo. Donde no hay justicia, no hay paz. Eso dice la Santa Biblia. Entonces, en Bolivia
hay choque, contra la clase laboral, los campesinos. Por eso hay problemas. Entonces,
todo tiene que ser en base a consultas populares para sacar una ley desde el
Parlamento, el poder ejecutivo, entonces, Bolivia marchara como una taza de leche.

In a just democracy, before launching a decree, the government needs to present a project
idea and let the population know about it. Depending on whether they are in favor or not,
the government has to resolve the decrees in the Parliament or in the executive office.
When they do not consult the people, this is where they fail. This is why the government
has so many problems now. Because they implement unjust laws and decrees from the
executive without consulting the people first. Where there is no justice, there is no peace.
This is what the Holy Bible says. So, in Bolivia there is conflict, against the working class
and the campesinos. This is why there are problems. So, everything has to be based on
popular consultations to promote laws from the Parliament or the executive, and if they
did this, Bolivia would function like a glass of milk [smoothly].

This ingrained practice within sindicalismo of always consulting las bases to allow
them to give their opinion on issues that concern the functioning of their communities is one
of their primary markers of a just democracy. There existsat least in theoryan open
avenue of communication from las bases up through the hierarchy of sindicato leadership,
and then back down again. This is one of the primary means for generating legitimate
proposals, inspiring popular participation (in meetings, protests, or elections), and ensuring
transparency and accountability in sindicato leadership. This kind of communication marks a
sharp division between sindicato democracy and Western representative democracy, in which
elected leaders leave their communities to carry out their work in the Parliament (Congress)

and abandon their responsibility of popular consultation.
When Dionicio Nuez, an Aymara cocalero from the Sud Yungas who was elected as
one of the regions first indigenous diputados (congressional representatives) in 2002,
appeared at the Coca Summit in La Paz in September 2004 to speak about his policy
proposals regarding coca, he received whistles and taunts from the auditorium of Yungas
sindicato leaders. One man shouted, You dont seem like a representative of las bases!
Another said, It is very lamentable that our parents have died in the struggle for our rights as
indgenas, and you are not working with the people. You are just enjoying your salary in La
Paz. Baje a las bases! (Come back down and talk to the people!) This is what we are asking.
Nuez defended himself, saying, I remember feeling that way when Chamba [the previous
diputado] was in my place, but we spend so much time in the Parliament debating legislation
and attending international conferences. Unfortunately this means being out of touch with las
bases, and vice versa. This is why I cannot attend road blockades anymore either; I dont want
to politicize our movement. There arent enough indigenous diputados in the legislature, so I
have to be there to influence our policies (my fieldnotes 9/23/04).
Such arguments were not convincing to the campesinos, for they fear the elitization of
their indigenous representatives more than they value the necessary distancing from their
communities. In other words, electoral democracy is not sufficient to create the sort of
political capital necessary for Bolivias government to develop effective policies. Democracy is
not simply a set of rules for how representatives are elected; many in Bolivia believe that it
should also relate to how those representatives continue their relation with the people after
they are elected. Yungas campesinos consider consistent popular consultation a central
responsibility for their leaders. This factor is one of the key ways they would like to see their
national government changed, which would create more of a hybrid form. As Zander Navarro
(2007:41) puts it, democracy should be transformed from a mere institutional arrangement
to a politicized process. With Evo Morales as president, his base will expect such popular
consultations before laws are signed or decrees implemented.
After the return of democracy in 1982, the MNR alienated much of its indigenous
base when it reversed its philosophy in 1985 with Victor Paz Estenssoros Supreme Decree

21060, the Nuevo Plan Econmico (NPE, New Economic Plan). The NPE initiated the
economic neoliberal reforms then beginning to sweep the hemisphere, with the counsel of Paz
Estenssoros Minister of Planning, Gonzalo Snchez de Lozada, and Harvards upstart
economist, Jeffrey Sachs. Alter Don Ignacio had sung the praises of the MNR during the
Revolution, he expressed his displeasure with how this party abandoned its base. He said,
Ahora ya no, porque ahora han nacido nuevos partidos, y todos esos partidos son
contrarios a la economa campesina, de los obreros. As son esos partidos. As que hay
choque entre los partidos y el sindicalismo. Ahora, el nico partido es el MAS, defensor de
los obreros y el campesinado. Los dems son contrarios a nuestros economa, poltica, social
(Now [I do not support the MNR], because new parties have been formed, and all of them are
against the economy of the peasants, of the workers. This is how those parties are. This is why
there is a major division between the political parties and sindicalismo. Now, the only party is
the MAS, the advocate of the workers and the campesinos. The others are against our
economy, our politics, and our society).
Another related theme Yungas campesinos constantly brought up when discussing
Bolivias condition of democracy is the common knowledge that the U.S., the IMF, and the
World Bank have for decades played an inordinately powerful role in influencing Bolivias
governing elites as well as its economic policies. Since these policies have also perpetuated
elite presidential rule while implementing structural adjustment and repressive coca
eradication policies that have harmed primarily indigenous people, many Yungas campesinos
are suspicious of the validity of Bolivias democracy. A sindicato leader from San Pablo
observed, S Bolivia tiene democracia, pero estamos marginados por otros pases, otros
pases nos gobiernan por fuera y en Bolivia casi no se ve mucho la democracia (Yes, Bolivia
has democracy, but we are marginalized by other countries, other countries govern us from
afar and in Bolivia you dont see democracy very much). This is not a unique phenomenon to
Bolivia, nor are we in the U.S. immune to external pressures that influence our governors
without public transparency. In Bolivia there is a pervasive sense that, yes, they have a
democracy because campesinos are now legal citizens and able to vote for candidates in
national electionsand because they are no longer being oppressed by feudalism or

persecuted by dictatorships, both still in the current memory of the populacebut many feel
that their participation and rights as citizens end there (cf. Len 1995). Once elected to office,
presidents and congresspeople often respond to foreign interests and make policy decisions
and international trade agreements behind closed doors.
But as we have seen, liberal (electoral, procedural) democracy with full citizenship
rights can and must serve as an elementary foundation for the building of a new practice of
democracy that integrates the system of rights and responsibilities with more autochthonous
national traditions. Most campesinos in the Yungas are not arguing against electoral
democracy or even against the 1994 neoliberal reforms. In fact, I observed more of a universal
approval of the LPP across socioeconomic groups and between the pueblo and the campo of
Coroico than with any other issue. For example, when I asked one sindicato leader what he
thought about the LPP, he said, Es la nica ley que favorece a todo el mundo en Bolivia (It is
the only law that benefits everyone in Bolivia). Yungas campesinos are arguing, however,
that this system can be much improved, indeed must be strengthened and deepened to
incorporate a more comprehensive set of rightsnot just civil rights (protections from the
state, i.e., freedom from repression) but also social and economic rights (the ability of a
democracy to reduce inequality and improve the standard of living).
Throughout the longest period of democracy in Bolivias history, 1982 to the present,
indigenous campesinos in the Yungas have been utilizing the sindicato system to lobby for
such changes, but primarily from outside the official state system. They have relied upon the
democratic traditions inherent in their sindicato community governmentsthe assembly
model of governance, consensus, communication and provision of informationto organize
resistance measures necessary to insert their voices in an expanded public sphere that
includes not only community radio but also the streets and highways of the nation. With
nonviolent methods of protest (marches and road blockades), as well as with organized forms
of public dialogue (summit meetings and trade fairs), the cocaleros have built up a social
movement that challenges the outside influence of the United States in Bolivian government
policy and demands control over the development agenda of their constituents. These
methods of popular political participation are the subject of the next chapter.


Yungas road blockade at Unduavi in April 2004. ( Caroline Conzelman 2004.)

AGRARIAN SINDICATO DEMOCRACY: Yungas Sindicato Politics in 2004
[C]ontemporary movementscherish the hope of real progress being achieved by the
communities, and they see a chance of building a new social order in which they can help
resolve the contradictions of capitalism and correct the ethical inconsistencies of bourgeois
democracy. The governing principles of social movements[are] internal democracy,
participation by the grass roots, open meetings, collectivization and rotation of leadership,
and absolute administrative transparency.

Todaymany of the movements are beginning to propose or demand programmatic or
structural changes for society at large. Many of the advanced movements have begun to
assume the role of the traditional parties more directly and efficiently, marking out a
greater area of democratic participation. Moreover, the movements as such can continue
to be political alternatives and to lead the way in the necessary search for new ways of
doing politics.

Orlando Fals Borda (1992:303; 305-06)

Fals Bordas assessment of the state of Latin Americas social movements in the early
1990s correctly describes the burgeoning cocalero movement in the Chapare at the time, in
which indigenous campesinos had begun to use their sindicato structures to organize efforts

to resist the militarization of their communities and forced eradication of their coca after the
imposition of Ley 1008. The cocalero movement in the Chapare not only drew upon the
strength of their communities and indigenous traditions
in building the movement, but
eventually formed a political party (the MAS) to represent them directly in the formal political
structure. Evo Moraless rise to power followed this path within the movement from sindicato
leader to congressman to president of Bolivia.
Academics studying indigenous movements in the 1980s considered the cocalero
movement to be peripheral and focused more closely on the movements of the miners unions,
the emerging lowland indigenous groups, and environmentalists (Healy 1991). However, after
the neoliberal economic reforms of the 1980s, the miners movement (which also relied upon
their sindicato system and their altiplano indigenous heritage) collapsed and the cocalero
movement became the strongest union movement in the country. Such success confirms the
predictions of some anthropologists that the peasants of Latin America would outperform the
proletariat in reforming the capitalist system (Wolf 1969; Greaves 1972; cf. Nash 1997). The
emergence of the Yungas cocalero movement since 2000 further proves this point.
Alison Spedding, a British anthropologist who has lived outside of Chulumani in the
Sud Yungas for 20 years, is the preeminent academic authority on coca in the Yungas.
has witnessed the rise of coca politics in the Yungas since the 1980s, which has followed a
distinct, although related, process from that of the Chapare. She says of Yungas peasants:
People who otherwise have little or no interest in national politics eagerly follow the
changing winds of government pronouncements on coca, and peasants publicly chew
coca on main streets and in plazas as part of protest marches, asserting the use of the leaf
as a cultural symbol in opposition to middle-class racist prejudice against Andean
culture. This has created a political consciousness. Some theorists of the Bolivian labor
movement have identified the coca growers as the new vanguard of the revolution,
replacing the miners who are presently in eclipse. (1997:135, emphasis added)

By revolution, Spedding means organized indigenous struggle, not armed insurgency, to
overturn Bolivias economic and other policies that have historically favored elite over

The 1992 census showed that 90% of the campesinos who colonized the Chapare from the highlands spoke an indigenous
language (Alb cited in Ticona et al. 1995:66).

Speddings prolific writing and series of collaborative projects with Bolivian researchersespecially under the auspices of
PIEB (Programa de Investigacin Estratgica en Bolivia) and Instituto Mama Huaco (Investigaciones Antropolgicas)provide
a ready arsenal of history, culture, and statistics to explain any aspect of cocas cultivation, trade, use, or abuse.

indigenous interests. This word has taken on further significance with the rise of cocalero
leader Evo Morales in national politics, for his proclamation of a democratic revolution
distinguishes Bolivias current social movements from its and other Andean countries
previous forays into armed guerrilla resistance during the 1960s and 70s. This chapter seeks
to evaluate the democratic nature of Yungas agrarian sindicatos and their methods of political
This chapter will explain the dynamics of the Yungas cocalero movement, with an
emphasis on the Coroico municipality, in relation to the regions changing political
circumstances in 2004. To achieve this goal, this chapter will 1) elucidate the three most
essential and effective forms of sindicato democracy used by Yungas sindicatosAssembly,
Protest, and Dialogueand 2) show how sindicatos are enhancing both their democratic
nature and their economic leverage by engaging in new forms of municipal representative
politics via Development and Elections. These varied methods of political engagement
demonstrate the strength of the sindicato communities as well as the adaptable nature of civil
society in the Yungas.
An embedded component of this chapter is its focus on how the value of coca leaf
within the Yungas cocalero movement shifted in 2004a discussion which will facilitate the
analysis of sindicato methods of political engagement. These methods demonstrate how coca
leaf is being symbolically deployed and economically manipulated to garner national and
international attention to the demands of indigenous campesinos. Sindicato assemblies,
protests, and events to facilitate public dialogue are being used to promote a new
international image and new global markets for coca leaf. The increased influence of agrarian
sindicatos in municipal governance and development also carries these same aims. Bolivians
are struggling to find a niche in the global economy now that the primary raw material
exports of silver, tin and rubber are no longer viable, and while its vast natural gas reserves
are being developed. Bolivias severe topography and lack of infrastructure hinder the
transport of goods: only 5.5% of the countrys non-urban roads are paved, while most are
rough dirt roads used to connect small rural production centers to each other (CAF 2001).
The country has only a tiny industrial sector which must compete with cheap imports of

Chilean, Brazilian, U.S., and Chinese foodstuffs, electronics, and clothing. And, the large
majority of peoplealmost 70%, a figure that was already high at 58% in 1985 (cited in
Hylton and Thomson 2005)work in the informal economy, where they enjoy little job
security, wage stability, or social security benefits.
A promising export potential appears to be coca leafnot processed into cocaine but
into nutritional, cosmetic, and medicinal products or as the raw leaf for chewing and tea. Coca
leaf grows in acidic and depleted soil in a variety of climates, is easy to transport with only
basic infrastructure, currently enjoys the highest price of any other agricultural good, and
links the highlands to its indigenous cultural roots. Cocalero movement leaders are
collaborating with Bolivian and foreign scholars, NGOs, politicians, and entrepreneurs to
develop and promote the industrialization of products for export that capitalize on cocas
many properties. Bolivian cocaleros are engaged in a struggle to alter the international image
of coca leaf from demonic drug to sacred plant in order to liberalize market opportunities.
And they are working toward this potential by utilizing both sindicato and municipal (and
now national) democratic institutions.
Such an agenda has traction in Bolivia because coca leaf is part of the countrys
national heritage, a cultural entity that everyone is familiar with. Bolivians from all social
strata understand that coca leaf itself is not a drug, even if they consider chewing the leaf a
reprehensible or exclusively indigenous practice. Even the Hotel Europa, the most modern
high class hotel in La Paz, makes a show of serving mate de coca when its international guests
arrive. Kevin Healy explains that, compared to Peru, Ecuador and Colombia which all have
seacoasts and more diversified economies, the Andean-ness of Bolivia as a land-locked
nation with prominent highland Aymara and Quechua cultures makes it easier for cocaleros
to advocate for the legitimacy of coca production and to resist measures of control (Healy
1988:106-07). Dr. Andrew Weil visited Peru and Bolivia in the mid-1990s and noticed that
Indian customs are more widely accepted by the general populace [in Bolivia] than they are
in Peru. Many Bolivian students and intellectuals use coca, not just as tea but also as a chew.
And Bolivia has never had a psychiatric establishment that was swayed by European ways of
thinking about coqueros [coca chewers] (Weil 1995:78). Thus the cocalero movement does

not face the hurdle of convincing the national public of the legitimacy of at least the idea of
industrializing coca-based products, if not the economic feasibility.
It does, however, face a large and so far insurmountable hurdle of convincing the
international public of the legitimacy of this potential. One of the central goals of the cocalero
movementand now the Morales administrationis to secure the declassification of coca leaf
as a Schedule I narcotic drug at the 2008 UN Vienna Convention. The logic is that by easing
the restrictions on the international transport and marketing of coca leaf and its derivative
products, Bolivians will be able to finally capitalize on one of its most important native
agricultural products to strengthen the national economy. Such a legal shift would also help
to remove the stigma of Bolivia as a country mired in illegal drugs and narcotrafficking. The
extent to which the cocalero movement is able to utilize legitimate democratic institutions
and avoid the use of violence, corruption and clientelismin its struggle to promote such an
outcome will be crucial to its overall success.

Rise of the Yungas Cocalero Movement: To Defend or Not to Defend Ley 1008
Since the 1980s, the peasant sindicatos of the Chapare have sustained a forceful
resistance to the Bolivian states agenda to not only eliminate coca production in this region
according to Ley 1008 provisions. Through this contestation, coca became a powerful symbol
and medium of counter-hegemonic action and discourse, and also created a revived sense of
indigenous common identity (Sanabria 1995:84). Sanabria predicted that the state will feel
obligated to use violent means to douse this peasant fire, mostly because the government is
dependent on U.S. aid (ibid.:99). Some observers argue that Chapare cocaleros created such
an effective social movement because of their habitus comunal, resulting from their unique
articulation of campesino, indigenous, and miner memories, which became their source of
ideological, cultural and organizational sustenance (Stefanoni y Do Alto 2006:38; cf.
Bourdieu 1984:101). Such a foundation allowed these sindicatos to transcend the traditional
trade union role of lobbying for their economic interests to outside powers by transforming
themselves into a local proto-state power. The source of sustenance in the Yungas cocalero
movement is equally if not more cohesive because of its deep cultural and economic history of

the traditional coca zone, which may have the potential to generate an even more potent and
effective social movement.
One of the most important aspects of the sindicato model of democracy is that the
elected leaders are responsible for defending and ensuring the economic well-being of their
community. This is part of the legacy of the syndicalist trade union model adapted to serve as
the structure for communal governanceespecially in an agrarian setting, rather than the
more narrow proletarian context for which it was created. As such, campesinos in the Yungas
consider it a central component of their politics that their economic interests are taken care of
by their elected leaders. This more holistic livelihood orientation differs sharply from the
Western model of democracy that requires free and fair elections yet says nothing about
how a communitys (or a nations) resources are managed or its profits (taxes) distributed.
Sindicatos do not collect membership fees or taxes, but land rights are managed, and project
funds and collective labor are supposed to be used for the benefit of the community, not just
the leaders and their cronies via backdoor private deals. As sociologist and Latin Americanist
William Robinson (2007:33) argues, In this way, removed from the discourse and the
agenda [of Western democracy] is the matter of who controls societys material and cultural
resources, how wealth and power are distributed locally and globally.
Defending the economic interests of the Yungas campesinos through such direct
democracy now means defending the coca economy. Don Ignacio explained this fundamental
role: defender la economa del campesinado. Ahora es la defensa de la coca, porque nico
es. El campesinado vive de la coca. Otros productos que producen aqu, como ctricos o el
caf, no tienen valor, no tienen precio. Lo nico es defender la coca para asegurar la
mantencin de la familia. Esa es su funcin aqu en los Yungas (defend the campesino
economy. Now it is the defense of coca, because it is the only thing [we have]. Campesinos
lives from coca. Other products that are produced here, like citrus or coffee, do not have
value, cannot fetch a good price. The only [thing to do] is defend coca to assure the
maintenance of the family. This is the function [of the sindicatos] here in the Yungas)
(personal interview 8/1/04).
The year 2004 was thus a volatile one for sindicato politics in the Yungas, for the

threat of increased U.S. intervention loomed as coca production steadily rose. While forced
eradication was carried out in the Chapare during the 1980s and 90s, demand for cocaine in
the U.S., Europe and Brazil went up and the street price of the drug went down (see Walsh
2004). Demand for traditional uses of the leaf in Argentina and other Latin American
countries also seems to be increasing (Rivera 2003). Partly as a result of these two factors,
coca cultivation is now spreading rapidly in the Yungas. Many virgin forest areas are being
colonized by people looking to capitalize on cocas high market price (in comparison with
other agricultural goods) in the midst of a depressed national economy. The four dominant
Yungas Centralesrepresenting the sindicatos in the municipalities of Coroico, Caranavi,
Coripata, and Chulumaniused all of their available resources in 2004 to address this
mounting threat to the Yungas economy.
Complicating matters, however, the traditional status of Yungas coca is becoming a
highly contested idea. According to Ley 1008, the legal production area is limited to places
where coca was grown in Inca times, which is understood as lying mostly across three
municipalities in the Nor and Sud Yungas provincesCoroico, Coripata, and Chulumaniyet
the line has never been clear and does not even include all of each municipal territory. The
12,000 hectares are supposed to be contained within this area, and until about the year 2000,
they apparently were. But with coca cultivation increasing both within and outside of the legal
zone, there seem to be more than 12,000 hectares under cultivation within the legal area, and
perhaps equally as many in the surrounding areas.
This situation created a legal and logistical nightmare for everyone involved: existing
laws in 2004
were ill-equipped to deal with such a dramatic increase in a lucrative crop in
the midst of an economic depression, and there is very little trust between the many social
and political groups. Proposals for promoting legal exports of coca leaffor example, by
industrializing the production of derivative commodities and making trade deals with
consumer behemoths like Chinato maintain the increase in the leafs cultivation have
existed for years, but their economic ramifications have not yet been adequately evaluated.

In 2005 and 2006, the administration of Evo Morales has changed several of the countrys laws in order to address this
problem. These changes will be addressed in the conclusion.

The dearth of concrete information on how much coca is being produced and where,
and on how much is being legally consumed in Bolivia and elsewhere fueled a sense of rising
panic in 2004on the part of the cocaleros who fear they will be punished for doing
something they consider rational and legal, on the part of the Bolivian government that must
prove it is meeting eradication quotas to receive continued U.S. funding, and on the part of
the U.S. Embassy in La Paz which must demonstrate to the administration and Congress in
Washington that it is effectively fighting the drug war. No one in the Yungas wants to attract
the kind of militarized eradication that families and communities in the Chapare have been
suffering under for 20 years. Averting a crisis, even with Morales as president, depends on
how the different actors and organizations are able to use or create legitimate political and
economic structures to address the inequities in the nations coca economy and promote a
new international image of coca leaf.
This deep concern produced the fissure in the Yungas cocalero movement in 2004
and continues today. The fundamental problem is a difference of opinionand economic
rationale and political expediencyover whether coca growers in the traditional zone of the
Yungas should protect their legal status and thus their economic stronghold at the expense of
the newly colonized areas nearby, or whether they should adopt a more nationalistic attitude
and fight for the legalization of coca leaf cultivation in the entire country. By July of 2004, the
apparent unity of Yungas cocaleros was dissolving. Two branches grew out of the same social
movement, due in part to political rivalries between sindicato leaders from different
municipalities, but also due to differing opinions of how to respond to the increase in coca
production. One side looked to the legal coca market ADEPCOCA (Asociacin Departamental
de Productores de Coca, Departmental Association of Coca Producers) in La Paz to protect
Yungas coca, while the other side allied with MAS to promote coca production on a national
scale. A series of bloqueos and counter-bloqueos ensuedand, almost as disruptive to the
agricultural and tourism economies of the region, numerous threats of bloqueosin which
the two factions sought to garner government attention and signed agreements to legitimize
their particular agenda. At some points, physical confrontation between municipalities was
only narrowly avoided. By September, new alternatives were sought to bring together

sindicato leaders from all Yungas Centrales and the new colonization zones, including the
Chapare, in an attempt to unite Bolivias cocaleros and to facilitate a more productive
dialogue between their leaders.

Relationship between Yungas Sindicatos and other Campesino Organizations
Before continuing onto the discussion of the methods employed by Yungas sindicatos,
a brief explanation of the regional level organizations with which the cocaleros and their
sindicatos allied in 2004 as the cocalero movement developed. COFECAYConcejo de
Federaciones de los Yungas de La Paz (Council of Federations of the Yungas of La Paz)was
created in 1994 with the intention of unifying the agrarian federations of the two Yungas
provinces. The founders envisioned COFECAY as a sort of intermediate level of organization
between the provincial Federaciones and both the Federacin Departmental de La Paz
which is dominated by the concerns of the altiplano (a much larger and more militant sector
of the department)and the national agrarian union CSUTCBwhich Yungas campesinos felt
did not pay enough attention to their concerns regarding coca (Aguilar and Spedding 2005:86
footnote #4). COFECAY was also an attempt to reproduce the successes that the Chapare
federations had had in forming the Concejo de las Seis Federaciones del Trpico de
Cochabamba (Council of the Six Federations of the Tropics of Cochabamba) to promote their
interests around coca on the national stage (ibid.).
This new Yungas syndicalist organization, with support from municipal government
officials and sindicato leaders, also sought to develop new empresas colectivas sociales
(collective social businesses) throughout the Yungas as the region gained in economic
importance with the rise of the tourist economy and the construction of a new highway to
connect the region to La Paz and the Amazon (Carranza 2001:103-4). Its original platform
rejected Ley 1008 as a United States neoliberal imperialist project, and advocated for the
decriminalization of coca cultivation in the countryan agenda that coincided with the MAS
agenda in the Chapare. By the early 2000s, coca production levels in the Yungas were on the
risepartly as a result of Banzers violent Coca Cero (Zero Coca) eradication effort in the
Chapareand the region began to attract increasing attention from the Bolivian and U.S.

governments. USAID began its first Yungas alternative development program in Caranavi
(where colonization for new coca production was growing) in 2002, and the public rejection
of Ley 1008 strictures grew in response to this intervention by the U.S.
By 2004, the parts of the Yungas region most allied with COFECAY were those
experiencing an increase in coca cultivation, for they relied on this Confederation (which
represented all of the Yungas provincial lands, not just the legal zone) to defend them as
legitimate producers not associated with the cocaine trade. But some sindicatos in the
traditional growing region decided they wanted to protect their exclusive legal right to grow
coca, even if it was at the expense of others carving out a living with coca in Yungas soil
outside the legal boundaries. The ADEPCOCA directorship in 2004 was composed mostly of
leaders from the municipalities of Coripata (in the Nor Yungas) and Chulumani (in the Sud
Yungas)and some from Cruz Loma, the part of the Coroico municipality most dependent on
coca and closest to Coripataand since they controlled the legal market, they were especially
concerned to protect their economic inheritance and prevent future eradication efforts. Thus,
in 2004 the directors of ADEPCOCA formed an advocacy arm of the legal market, called the
Consejo de la Autodefensa de la Coca Tradicional y Histrica (Council for the Self-Defense of
Traditional and Historical Coca), to defend Ley 1008 and the traditional coca producing zone.
This new organizing body contributed to the divisions that progressed throughout the
year, forcing Yungas cocaleros and others to take sides with either COFECAYLa Asunta,
Palos Blancos, Caranavi, many in Coroico, among othersor the new AutodefensaCoripata,
Inquisivi, and parts of Chulumani in the Sud Yungas. Taking sides meant facing off in the
highly chargedand constantly shiftingideological milieu surrounding the coca economy in
Bolivia. Measures of political pressure included mass meetings, protest marches in the
capital, and road blockades in the Yungas region, all resulting in proclamations submitted to
the press and government officials demanding that coca production be either limited or
The next sections of this chapter will explain the principle methods of popular
participation and dialogue that the sindicatos used during 2004, proceeding from community
and provincial meetings and road blockades, to the Coca Summit and the Coca Fair in La Paz.


ASSEMBLY: Reciprocity and Participation
Aruskipasipxaanakakipunirakispawa (We must always communicate with one another).

Aymara axiom expressing the traditional Andean philosophy of community

During the period of Athenian political experimentation in ancient Greece,
democracy meant rule by the people, and consisted of regular meetings of all citizens (which
only included men) to hear speeches on current issues and then vote on new laws (Dahl
1998). This was not a representative democracy, as exists in the U.S., where citizens vote for
leaders to make decisions for the populace, but direct control of the political system by the
people. Plato warned against the chaos that is produced by such a method (for example,
consider Californias onerous referendum system), but since the majority indigenous
populace in Bolivia has been largely excluded from participating in national representative
government, indigenous campesinos highly value such popular participation and consider it
the best way for them to have a voice in the politics that affect their lives.
The sindicato assembly has been called la institucin ms democrtica del mundo
(the most democratic institution in the world) (Trigoso 2002:iii) because of the detailed
rules according to which they are carried out, the equitable participation by all members, the
ability of the people to hold their leaders accountable, and the practice of educating all
members to enhance their ability to participate productively in the community and beyond.
The Yungas sindicatos regularly utilize community radio stations to inform their bases and
stimulate dialogue within the municipalityan element of communal governance that also in
line with European syndicalist theory. The three radio stations in Coroico are Radio
Uchumachi (independent), Radio Coroico (funded by the municipal government), and Radio
FIDES (a franchise from the national network). I asked the community leaders I interviewed
about their sources of information, and every one said they listened to Radio Uchumachi
every day. Radio Yungas from Chulumani also reaches some outlying communities in the

Approximate translation. This is one of the longest words in the Aymara language, made by adding ten suffixes to the root
noun aru, meaning word.

Coroico municipality and fostered a greater sense of unity within the Yungas region as a
It is also not an easy task to make claims about whether a sindicato or a municipal
government or political party is democratic or not. It is all in relation to what or where
elseor perhaps one can make comparisons between each of these different forms of political
organization. Bolivian sociologist Fernando Mayorga (personal interview 10/14/04) holds
that sindicatos are more democratic than political parties, because en el partido hay secreto,
en el sindicato no hay secreto (in a [political] party there are secrets, [whereas] in a sindicato
there are no secrets). This helps us understand President Moraless plan to eliminate
corruption in the national government, a government which has been controlled by elite
political parties since the late 1800she is attempting to incorporate the morality of the
sindicato into the MAS government.
One of the most potent tropes of the year 2004 was the fall of the power of the
traditional political parties, and the rise of the power of citizen groups and sindicatos.
Political parties were seen to have undermined the integrity of the sindicatos, making
sindicato leaders more beholden to national party interestsand payments, apparentlythan
to their constituents. Parties are seen to have a different ideology than sindicatos; parties are
seen to have interests far removed from the local people and their communities, who receive
token gifts at election time to secure their votes and nothing thereafter. They are seen to be
primarily a clientelistic vehicle for the political promotion and enrichment of particular
individuals and their special interests.
The ideology of the sindicatos is considered more organic, in that sindicato leaders
are held directly accountable to the people in their community or region. As such, the
interests of sindicatos tend to be more specific to the region and the rural economy, and to
short term goals that may be reached in a year or less (guided by longer term visions). As
people describe it in the Yungas, the purpose of a sindicato is to luchar para los derechos del
pueblo opresado, la clase baja, los obreros y los del campo (to fight for the rights of the
oppressed people, the lower class, the workers and those from the rural areas) (conversation
with a group of women 7/31/04).

Furthermore, sindicato leaders are expected to represent the interests of these groups
at the national level, to the COB or CSUTCB, which have better access to the national
government. For example, one woman said to me, voicing her frustration with campesinos
exclusion from national politics, was Ley 1008 written with our [rural coca growers] input?
No. More significant still, the responsibilities of the sindicato leaders are directly related to
what the people demandtheir leadership should be vinculante (binding), as this woman put
it, which had particular meaning in 2004. The national referendum on natural gas in July
2004 was called the Referendum Vinculante (as opposed to consultativo [consultative]),
Carlos Mesas way of sending the message that he would do exactly what the people told him
to, based on the results of their votes on the Referendum. If a sindicato leader does not fulfill
the word of the people, the members will pressure him, and if he still does not, then they will
take other measures, up to ejecting him from his cargo (office, term as leader).
But the upshot is a rise in tension between the pueblo and the campo, with each side
feeling victimized by the other and deserving of more respect/justification for the hard work
they put into their survival. According to one local sindicato advisor (a respected mestizo man
with many years of experience in coffee production and union organizing), la dictadura
sindical (sindicato dictatorship) is alive and well in the Yungasa scathing denunciation of
such a potent model of democratic participation. He cited as evidence the pressure being put
on campesino voters leading up to and during the municipal election by sindicato leaders with
authority, in which campesinos were chastised for supporting MIR and made to feel as if they
could only vote for MAS. The principal candidate for MIR in Coroico told me that he heard
that some cocaleros were being threatened with the revocation of their coca producer licenses
if they voted for MIR instead of MAS. In a democracy, noted the respected advisor, people
are allowed to choose the candidates they prefer. This kind of pressure is unacceptable.
While fines (multas) for not completing your responsibilities to the community are
acceptable, he said, he denounced the practice of imposing a fine or taking away a persons
land if a sindicato member does not participate in an organized bloqueo, for example, as an
abomination of acceptable conduct in a democracy. Such a damning reputation as a dictadura
sindical is something many campesino advocates would like to prove inaccurate, and while I

did not witness examples of such repressive or coercive behavior, I heard this accusation
enough times to believe that it has some merit. Perhaps sindicatos entrance into municipal
politics will help weaken the hold such practices have on peoples conduct.
The monthly meetings of the municipalitys Central Agraria bring together the
sindicato leaders from the 99 rural communities in Coroicos civic center to work through the
current list of issues, hash out opinions, ideas, and concerns, vote on action items, and create
resolutions. These meetings operate democratically like the Greek polis model, where each
person in attendance has the right to speak and to vote directly (voz y voto), and where issues
can be publicly debated and resolved based on consensus. Women are considered equal
members, but they do not enjoy quite the respect that the men do in this setting; a woman
wanting to make a comment is frequently allowed to stand with her hand raised while all the
men are attended to first. One influential woman sindicato leader from Trinidad Pampa
lamented that the ancient Aymara practice in which women were considered co-holders of
leadership positions together with their husbands in the cargo rotation of the ayllu, is no
longer in existence. Aymara women today in the Yungas are expected to carry out their
responsibilities in the home and the familys fields, she said, but not to be interested in
politics. However, there is a separate womens campesina Federation that coordinates with
the more dominant sindicato Federation at the provincial level.

Coca in the Public Sphere
Because of the many quotidian uses of coca leaf, and because of its fundamental role
in Yungas agricultural livelihoods and practices of ayni, coca holds a central place in the
symbolic and ceremonial realm of these Aymara communities. The most common public use
of coca is during sindicato meetings, in the communities and at the Central and Federacin
levels. Chewing coca together at these meetings creates a sacred atmosphere that not only
generates cohesion but also seals the pact of collaboration (Mayer 2002:179). Coca leaf plays
a practical role in these meetings as well, for its stimulant and nutritional properties allow
people to stay alert and focused on the agenda, especially when they extend through the lunch
hour and into the late afternoon (a common occurrence). As anthropologist Enrique Mayer

observed in his work with Quechua communities in highland Peru, During these meetings,
coca serves the additional purpose of sharpening the senses, permitting concentration, and,
when consumed with care, creating a sense of internal peace and tranquility that is
indispensable for intellectual work (ibid.).
Typically, on the head table at the front of the meeting room lies a colorful woven
wool blanket (called an aguayo) on which a pile of the small green leaves has been placed
together with a bunch of loose unfiltered cigarettes. People wander up to take a handful of the
leaves before sliding onto one of the wooden benches to get settled for the long meeting
ahead. The women turn up the outer layer of their skirts to cup them, while the men turn over
their hats to hold the leaves or add them to a small plastic bag already filled with them in their
pocket. I put my handful in the cuff of my t-shirt and then take a pinch of leja, a gritty black
paste made of lime and ash, from the man next to me and pass it on.
We chew coca together as the meeting begins, an informal ritual that gives people a
chance to greet each other, ask about products and prices at the weekend market, and see
who is in attendance. It is also a subtle yet potent reminder that Yungas campesinos depend
on each other for their survival. Signfica amistad, compartimiento (Coca signifies
friendship, sharing), I was often told. Yo me siento feliz por ver que hay una produccin
que se utiliza en la mesa, porque todos la utilizamos (I feel happy when I see that there is a
product that is commonly used on the table, because all of us use [coca], one sindicato leader
explained to me. En las reuniones, la coca da algo ms de seriedad, es mas formal (In our
meetings, coca adds an element of seriousness, it makes the meeting more formal), said
another. Adding them to our mouths one by one, we work up a good-sized wad of the
moistened leaves in our cheeks and gently masticate them with the bit of lejaswallowing
the green salivafor an hour or more before extracting the darkened mass of leaves and
throwing it on the floor or the ground. Coca is never thrown away in a trashcan, for the leaves
must always be returned to Pachamama.

Aside from this acknowledgement of Pachamama, Yungas campesinos do not maintain the heightened ritual surrounding
the chewing and sharing of coca in their communities, such as the ancient practice of making a kintuof three perfect leaves
arrayed like a fan in the fingertips and blowing across them as a blessing to Pachamama. In fact, when I first arrived in Coroico
and performed this polite gestureafter having read many ethnographies describing the practicethe people around me

My willingness to join in this practice, many people told me, made people feel more
comfortable with me and generated trust in my presence in their midst, for they could tell
that I understood, especially as an American, that coca leaf was not a harmful drug. In fact,
people would sometimes ask me, with a glint in their eye, So, what does chewing coca make
you feel like? Do you think coca is cocaine? just to hear me affirm that no, I dont think coca
is the same as cocaine. One day, after a workshop in Coroico we had just attended, two
women from Coripata interviewed me for their local radio station because they wanted to air
the voice of a gringa who chews coca. Holding out their Walkman-style tape recorder in front
of my face (as all community radio journalists in Bolivia do), one said, I saw you chewing
(acullicando) coca at the meeting with us. How do you like it? Does it feel like a drug?
These women were also interested in what I was studying and what I thought about
the Yungas and the prospects for forced eradication there. Then they wanted to know, What
message are you going to bring back to the U.S. about coca and the Yungas? My response to
this question was the same as my response to the common query, Why does your
government hate us so much? I said that, unfortunately, most people in my country do not
understand what coca leaf is (they usually think I am talking about cocoa), could not find
Bolivia on a map, and have never heard of the impacts on Bolivian campesinos that the U.S.s
drug war causes. People in the U.S. generally do think that coca is no different from cocaine,
judging from the wry looks I received when heading to the fieldYoure going to Bolivia? To
study coca? Have fun, people would say, tapping the side of their nose. I then told the two
women journalists that I would educate my fellow citizens in a variety of ways about the real
history, uses and cultural importance of coca leaf in the Andes, and hopefully help my
government understand this as well. Since such goals fit with the cocaleros agenda to change
the image of coca leaf internationally, my intentions were always met with nods of approval.
Local interest in my unusual (i.e., non-tourist) presence in the Yungasworking in
their cocales, attending their sindicato meetings, hitching rides in their pick-up trucks, eating
the mid-day meal in the comedor popular (the inexpensive local market food stalls), walking

laughed and thought I was being quaint. See Carter and Mamani 1986 on Aymara traditions with coca in the Bolivian altiplano,
and Allen 2002 and Mayer 2002 for descriptions of these traditions in Quechua communities in the Peruvian Andes.

along rural roads by myself, plus my ability to speak some Aymaraled to a variety of
invitations to speak publicly on the radio, at meetings of local organizations and co-ops, and
at the community college. But when outside of the Coroico municipalitywhere people had
not seen me around and were not as accustomed to having tourists in their townit was more
difficult to convince cocaleros that I was a researcher and not a U.S. government operative.
The following story recounts a meeting I attended after only a month in the field, and sheds
light on the local history, the sindicato assembly structure, and my place in both.

Observati ons of a Gri nga at a Si ndi cato Meeti ng
Tory and I wandered the streets of Santana before the provincial Federacin Agraria de Nor
Yungas meeting, chatting with people along the way as usual.
This town is deeper inside the
coca producing region than Coroico, hours away from trunk roads and rarely visited by
foreign tourists. We happened upon an old hacienda compounda vestige of the feudal
system that controlled agricultural production in the Yungas before towns were built by freed
indigenous peasants, or campesinos, after the 1952 Revolutionand as we strained to get a
glimpse over the wall, a couple came along with their big red plastic bags of freshly picked
coca leaf and went inside through the gate. Just before they closed it I caught their attention
and asked if we might have a look around inside. They nodded and continued with their loads
around the corner.

We stepped slowly into the compound. The crumbling low adobe dwellings lining the path
might have looked just the same a hundred years ago, with rusting tools stacked outside and a
puppy picking at the leftovers from breakfast. We moved on to admire the vines laden with
bright flowers overhanging the large blue house, when a small door off to the side caught my
eye. It was open a crack, and I went to confirm my suspicion: there was the haciendas
original kachi, the large slate patio used to dry coca. The couple that had let us in were
scattering handfuls of the leaves onto the flat stones to soak up the morning sun, and we
stood to watch their practiced motions and listen to the sound of the leaves rustling against
each other.

Standing in the back of the truck that morning for the hour-long ride to Santana with 30
campesinos from Coroico, all of us jostling with the rough road and lively conversations, I felt
happy about the solidarity I am building with this community. We all crowded into local cafs
for a typical lunch of vegetable soup and plates of chicken, rice and potatoes, sharing coconut
soda at tiny linoleum tables. The Coroico group then went to meet up with members of other
sindicatos while Tory and I explored the town. When we headed up the hill to the schoolyard,
the meeting was getting underway.

At one end of the concrete soccer field, one of the leaders was reading aloud the afternoons
agenda off a chalkboard. Some had secured spaces in the shade of the field house near the
head table, while the rest of us lined up on the step bleachers in the baking sun. After a few
minutes, I was asked to come to the microphone and explain our presencetwo red-haired

Tory was a linguistic anthropology major from the University of Colorado Boulder, a student from my Globalization and
Anthropology course (S03). I helped her win a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity) grant from CU so she could
come with me to Bolivia for three months to do an ethnographic study for her honors thesis and be my research assistant. She
graduated summa cum laude in December 2004 and won the Distinguished Colorado Undergraduate Student Award.

freckle-faced girls writing in notebooks and taking photos in the middle of a cocalero meeting.
My introduction was met with smiles and nods, and though my heart was pounding, I was
glad to clarify what we were doing there. They have every right to ask and no real reason to
believe what I say, since we represent the forces they are struggling against. As I scribbled
notes and looked out toward the mountainsides replete with coca terracing, the meeting
proceeded through the first few items.

Sindicato meetings such as this are run in an open fashion and led by the input of those in
attendance; people just have to take the initiative to stand up and speak. At times they have to
work to get the attention of the leaders to be called on, something the women have trouble
with, Ive noticed. People have no qualms about interrupting each other, but generally a
speaker is allowed to carry on for as long as it takes to get through his litany of observations
and opinions. This method is not deliberative, as comments are not necessarily followed by
discussion of that point. Remarks just pile one on top of the other, and there is no one who
keeps notes on what is said. Decisions are made when people have no more to say, and one of
the leaders announces what he perceives to be the general consensus. He asks whether there
is agreement, some in the crowd mumble or call out yes, a resolution is created, and the next
topic on the agenda is introduced.

In the middle of one mans commentary two hours later, I noticed him gesturing specifically
toward Tory and me. He was talking about the attention being paid to the Yungas by the
American Embassy in light of U.S. satellite data publicized a few months ago showing a sharp
increase in coca production in this sprawling region. A large structure called the Rinconada is
being built along the highway between La Paz and the Yungas, and people worry that it is to
be a military installation, which could signal the start of overt and possibly violent pressure to
eradicate coca here. The speaker expressed his discomfort with the fact that two people from
the United States were listening to all their remarks, and since they were about to broach the
subject of how to respond to this unwelcome situation, he suggested that we be asked to leave.
This volleyed the responsibility to the three men running the meeting. The leader of the
Federacin noted that, hypothetically, anyone here could be a spy, but he agreed that they
should not risk allowing us to stay in case we were in fact agents of the CIA or DEA.

Everyone turned their heads in unison as he shifted his gaze to us and said, So we must ask
that you vacate (desocupar) this meeting. I nodded with what I hoped came across as
respectful deference. I put away my notebook, pen, newspaper, camera, and banana peel, and
with a wave and a thank you, we walked into town and caught a ride back to Coroico.

I had to ward off feeling rejected, or embarrassed, even though this was not the first time I
had been barred from a sindicato meeting on account of my nationality. In this instance, since
I had only been in the area for a month, the young Central leader from Coroico whom I had
only just met could not risk standing up for me in a crowd of more radicalized cocaleros from
a different municipality. I respect their choices in how and when to accept me; the
responsibility is mine to develop relationships with them, and to prove that I am seeking a
balanced understanding of the situation. Even at the meetings I do attend, I have to weather
cold looks of suspicion from people I dont know. I just smile warmly and try to look relaxed,
and keep my notebook and camera in my bag. If I can strike up a conversation with whoever
is looking at me askance, this defuses the tension. After I explain what I am doing here, a
discussion of U.S. foreign policy usually ensues, and then questions about how much it costs
to live in the U.S. and what kinds of jobs are available for Bolivian immigrants.

These acronymswhich stand for the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the Drug Enforcement
Administrationare universally known by people here, said with Spanish pronunciation (as in, la caand la da).

This section was taken from Conzelman 2006a, written in May 2004 about this meeting that took place in March 2004.

After living in Coroico for three months, more people had become used to seeing me
poking around. I was often invited to sindicato meetings and was able to participate in their
camaraderie. I was frequently asked with genuine concern how my work was going, with
tidbits of advice or insight thrown my way. The reality is that coca growers simply must take
precautions in this very real and very deadly war that is being waged on poor agriculturalists
in Bolivia by foreign military and economic coercion. If ever I received apprehensive looks, or
when someone only half-jokingly suggested that I was a spy, I made it clear that I was not a
government representative. While in Bolivia, I openly disagreed with our foreign policy that
subjects people in other countries to intimidation, suffering and upheaval for a grave social
problem that actually exists in my country. This political hypocrisy is not lost on people there,
since they can witness its impact on a daily basis.

Emerging Debate: Limit Coca Cultivation to the Yungas or Allow its Legal Expansion?
Sindicato governance in the Nor Yungas in 2004 was thus faced with an especially
difficult challenge. U.S. satellite data had just been released in December 2003 indicating a
substantial increase in the levels of coca production in the broad Yungas region.
As demand
for cocaine increased in the U.S. and Europe in the 1980s, many of the displaced mining
families stepped up their production of coca leaf as part of a pragmatic livelihood strategy.
U.S. foreign policyseeking to eliminate the illegal supply of coca in the Andes as a means to
lower the consumption of cocaine in the U.S.resulted in violent eradication measures that
punished indigenous farmers, undermined what had become a strong independent rural
economy, and helped generate a severe national economic recession. These repressive
measures as well as the persistent global demand for cocaine have helped spur an increase in
coca leaf production in and around the legal zone of the Yungas over the past five years. Many

U.S. satellite data released in December 2003 indicated that there are 23,562 hectares of cocales in the broad Yungas area
(La Prensa 3/12/04), almost twice the number allowed under Ley 1008. This figure was sharply disputed by regional leaders.
These data show an increase of 26% of coca production, while in June 2004 the United Nations released data arguing that the
increase is more like 18%. Either way, the fact that coca cultivation is expanding is undeniable, for new cocales cut out of
virgin forest are visible from any road. The municipalities experiencing large scale colonization for coca cultivation include
Caranavi (formerly part of Coroico, it became its own municipality and province in 1992), and Palos Blancos and La Asunta in
the Sud Yungas. Caranavi is still considered part of the broad Yungas regionsince it used to be part of the Coroico
municipality and is in the same ecological zone as the lowland parts of the Sud Yungaseven though it is technically not in
either the Nor or Sud Yungas provinces.

also argue that the legal market for the leaf is now larger than Ley 1008 recognizes, as the law
was based on data from the 1970s (Carter and Mamani 1986) that no longer reflect Bolivias
current demographics and consumption patterns. As a result of recent studies documenting
this increase,
international concern has shifted from the Chapare to the Yungas. The U.S.
stepped up its alternative development (coca substitution) initiatives in the region in 2002,
while many cocaleros began demanding an expansion of Bolivias legal coca market to
accommodate the increased production and untapped potential for industrialized exports.
The Centrales Agrarias of Coroico and Coripata (the two municipalities composing
the Nor Yungas province) were trying to repair their relations after a two-year period of
division, and they knew they needed to unite around their common agenda to defend their
right to grow coca and to demand attention to badly needed development. The first meeting I
attended of the provincial Federacin Agraria in Cruz Loma the weekend of 14-15 February
2004, more than 100 leaders and members from the two Centrales gathered to discuss their
agenda for the upcoming year, and to choose a new executive leadership. By the end, the
meeting was being called el congreso de unidad (the congress of unity) for the way people
worked to supersede conflict and build a common platform from which to move forward.
It was significant that this was the first congress called after the national upheaval of
2003; several of the leaders thanked the people for their participation in the protests of the
previous February
and October
, and they hailed their success in botar (kicking out) el
gringo Gonzalo Snchez de Lozada. It was also significant that representatives from the COB
and the CSUTCB were present, which sent the clear message that Yungas campesinos were
important to the national unions, and that their concerns and ideas were being heard.
This tenuous but hopeful unity among Yungas campesinos was significant for several

A United Nations study (reported in La Razn6-21-06) found that while net coca production in Bolivia has gone down,
cultivation in the Yungas increased by 5% from 2004 to 2005. Although the Bolivian government surpassed its self-imposed
national eradication quota for 2006and ahead of the schedule the U.S. wantedonly 48 of the 5070 hectares were
eliminated in the La Paz Yungas (AIN 2007).

Referring to Black February in 2003, when people protested in La Paz to reject Gonis plan to raise taxes in accordance
with IMF orders.

Referring to Black October 2003, when people protested in La Paz to reject Gonis plan to export natural gas through Chile,
which culminated in Gonis abandonment of the presidency and his escape from the country to Miami in the U.S.

reasons. It was considered necessary for la defensa de la hoja de coca (the defense of the coca
leaf) in the face of the imperialismo (imperialism) of Ley 1008 and in order to facilitate
proyectos integrales (integrated projects) that incorporate coca into a more comprehensive
approach to local development. Unity was also considered a necessary precursor for the
consolidation of power in the rural areas to reject neoliberalism and remake national policy
especially in relation to natural resource usein their own interests. This unity was called for
in the name of Aymara revolutionaries Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa, our ancestors who
gave their lives to make a better and more just society, as Coroicos Central leader put it.
sta es la hora, he continued, y vamos adelante (Now is the time, and we are going
Comisiones (committees) were formed to discuss and prepare positions on their
primary concerns: el estatuto orgnico (organic statute, developed with each new executive
body to determine the roles and functions of every leader), la poltica sindical (status of
sindicato politics, including financial oversight, public dissemination of information through
the radio, judicial oversight of land issues, and maintaining Aymara cultural identity), coca
(differentiating the leaf from controlled substances, calling for organic coca cultivation, and
looking into legal markets for coca), tierra y territorialidad (status of their land and territory,
such as resisting corporate control of their lands and rejecting environmental laws that
prohibit them from clearing forest for new roads), and economa social (social economy, such
as improving education, health care, agricultural support, roads, and libraries). The new
executive of the Federacin summarized the priorities of the province: Las veinte
subcentrales tienen que trabajar en la lucha a conseguir la estabilidad econmica, la
integracin carretera, y el respeto de la hoja de la coca (The twenty subcentrales have to
work in the effort to obtain economic stability, highway integration, and the respect of the
coca leaf). While this broad agenda represents well the interests in sindicatos across the
Yungas, the unity displayed at this sindicato Federation assembly was not to last. The next
section on protest will continue to relate this emerging dynamic, and will show how the
Yungas cocalero movement began to split into two factions in 2004.

PROTEST: Yungas Road Blockades as Democratic Tradition
Movements arise only from the immediate and practical necessities of social life, and are
never the result of purely abstract ideas. But they acquire their irresistible force and their
inner certainty of victory only when they are vitalized by a great idea, which gives them life
and intellectual content.

Rudolf Rocker (2004 [1938]:19)

En Bolivia hay poca democracia porque no hacen caso las autoridades, no hacen valer casi
lo que uno opina, solo cuando se les presiona (In Bolivia there is little democracy because the
authorities dont care, they dont value what people think, only when we pressure them [will
they listen to us].

Sindicato dirigente from Coroico municipality, 2004

Within the neoliberal ideal of representative democracy, social conflict is to be kept to
a minimum if not eliminated altogether in order to allow for the efficient conduct of a
societys personal and economic life according to a well-structured political system. Even
according to Marx, while class struggle is necessary, it is only a temporary period through
which an unjust capitalist society must travel in order to reach a stable and equitable socialist
system. However, some consider conflict to be a healthy and productive component of
political participation, not something to be smothered or overcome. The political theory of
agonism embraces this idea of democracy and differentiates such productive social conflict
from the rational process of consensus building (Mouffe 2000; Navarro 2007). According to
indigenous sindicato politics in Bolivia, protest is a fundamental means of democratic
participation, both to make their voices heard after centuries of marginalization, and to
influence the formation of regional and state development policies. Thus, while sindicato
democracy is predicated on the assembly model which provides the setting for the
membership body to reach consensus, it also allows for productive conflict and demands that
democracy create a safe environment for this form of political expression without the fear of
One of the most controversial yet arguably effective measures of popular
participation and political pressure used by Yungas coca grower unions is the road blockade,
or bloqueo. Road blockades in the Yungas reveal the significance of cocas economic value to
the rural indigenous economy in Bolivia and to what extent agriculturalists are willing to go to

defend its cultivation. Participating in a bloqueo, especially in the precipitous topography and
extreme weather of the subtropical Yungas, is not like taking an afternoon off to join a protest
march in the city and wave some placards. It requires a willingness to put oneself in the direct
line of fireoften literallyof government forces, and many days of hardship away from
remunerative work and the comforts of home. It is a sacrifice of individual time and energy
for collective goals, and has been for decades an important vehicle, particularly for the
cocalero movement (see Healy 1992), for the insertion of an indigenous voice into national
politics in the face of persistent state oppression and marginalization.
Bloqueos are an ancient method of resistance in the Andes, used most famously by
the Aymara during the Tupac Katari Rebellion against the Spanish in 1780-81. They were
adopted by the mining labor unions to protest the violent military dictatorships of the 1970s
and demand a return to democracy. Even after the return of electoral democracy in 1982,
bloqueos have been an indispensable tool for the cocalero movement to gain the attention of
and strike deals with the national government. Because there has been only negligible
indigenous representation in the formal politics of the municipalities, provinces, and the state
until the past decade, bloqueos have been one of the primary means for the marginalized
indigenous population to have a voice in the public sphere.

The organized resistance by Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa in Bolivia contributed to
a broader Age of Andean Insurrection in the late 1700s, and has influenced the form and
rhetoric of Aymara uprisings against cultural oppression up until the present day. Historian
Brooke Larson points to the Andean peasantry as illustrative of the power of subaltern groups
to resist colonial and elite domination and to carry the memory of cultural heroes:
[E]ven after interminable centuries of colonial rule, it was the Andean peasantries of
highland Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia who rose up against symbols of colonial
oppressionin the 1770s and 1780s [and] forever changed the configuration of colonial
power, at the top, and local indigenous polities and forms of ethnic mediation, at the
bottom of society. Collective peasant memories of rebellion and repression, although
discontinuous and latent for much of the nineteenth century, lay buried just under the
surface of quotidian consciousness until well into the twentieth century. In moments of
political crisis and rupture, local indigenous peoples might tap into those long-term
historical memories, or they might conjure Inca or Andean utopias, as armament in local

Protest marches by all forms of sindicatos and other special interest groups have also been an important means of
contributing to public debate around the country. This chapter will not address this form of protest for concerns of space.

struggles for land and justice. (Larson 2004:4-5)

The Willka Rebellion of 1899, which was attuned to indigenous aspirations of autonomy,
equality, and cultural respect in the tumultuous aftermath of Bolivias liberal reforms,
seemed to have been informed by Aymara oral histories of Kataris insurgency (ibid.:238).
This rebellion, however, was the last of Bolivias colonial era uprisings in which an isolated
indigenous sector would attempt to force sociopolitical change without also attempting to
build a common ground with other social sectors (Rivera 2003:73). The katarista-indianista
movement of the 1970s was a more organized nonviolent political effort to articulate to a
broader audienceeven utilizing the bourgeois institution of political partiesthe long-held
desire for Bolivia to be recognized as a plurinational and multiethnic state (Rivera 1993:28).
When Coroico sindicato leaders pay tribute to Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa, they
are making a direct connection between their current struggle against national elite and U.S.
intervention and their long tradition of bold resistance to outside forces of domination. This
Aymara heros memory is invoked to motivate their continued struggle for cultural legitimacy
and national sovereignty, and against the servitude, exploitation and misery that persist in
Bolivia even after the passing of many centuries (Carranza 2001:18). Thomson (in Vargas M.
2003) notes that the uses of the wiphala as a symbol of indigenous struggle and of the
community assembly as the venue for reaching collective decisions about whether to
participate in a mobilization illustrate the cultural and political character of Bolivias
insurrectionary tradition.
After the Aymara insurgents were defeated in 1781, a group of Spanish emissaries
traversed the perilous trails of the Yungas on horseback to ensure that the katarista rebellion
was sufficiently quelled. Segurolas journal account notes that on their way to Coripata, while
they did not encounter any rebels, they were waylaid at several points by many piles of
stones that had been placed by bands of holdout insurgents to obstruct their travel: Segu
hasta Coripata, sin que se me opusiera ninguno, y solo en las alturas del trnsito
encontramos bastantes montones de piedras, disposicin que haban hecho para
oponrsenos (Segurola 1872:181). These early Aymara road blockades in the Yungas may
have been inspired by methods invented for Kataris rebellion, or perhaps they are an ancient

form of resistance in such treacherous topography. There do not seem to be records
indicating whether the Aymara used this strategy to resist the Inca or the original Spanish
Conquistadores, but scattering stones and shattered boulders over thoroughfares is used now
as a way to block roads in protest across the Bolivian highlands. As recently as the Gas War of
2003, Aymara cocaleros used this technique to shut down the trunk road leading out of the
Yungas to stand in solidarity with the protesters in the altiplano and around La Paz. But the
most common way to block off roads in the Yungas is with the physical presence of masses of
people and their large vehicles.
Popular protest is one of the signature means of resistance advocated by European
industrial syndicalism, but the methods have been adapted to better fit the Yungas context.
Instead of boycotts or labor strikes,
road blockades are the preferred method of non-violent
protest by Yungas sindicatos, but the goals remain the same: to gain an edge in negotiations
with government officials, and to call attention to their needs and demands via the public
media. Road blockades are better suited to the extreme topography of the Andes, where roads
snake along the contour lines of sometimes sheer vertical cliffs and can be easily obstructed
by the bodies and trucks of several hundred campesinos without arms or special equipment.
It is important, however, that the blockaders plan ahead to have enough food, water, fuel and
shelterwhich is why women are important participants because they can be preparing the
meals while others confront the soldiers or negotiate deals with officials.
Blockades are also preferable to work stoppages or consumer sanctions because of the
nature of peasant labora labor strike or a boycott, while effective in an industrial setting,
would primarily damage the agricultural workers themselves. Who would notice or care if a
bunch of campesinos decided not to harvest their oranges for a week, or if they called for a
national boycott of their own coffee exports?
The idea is absurd.
In a factory, a labor

While hunger strikes and sit-ins in government offices have played a significant role in the Chapare cocalero movement
since the 1980s (Healy 1988) and in protest efforts by other special interest groups such as teachers and university students,
these measures were not utilized nor even considered by Yungas cocaleros in 2004.

Boycotts by the U.S. farm worker movement have been successful in changing labor practicesfor example in the Uvas
no! grape boycott in the 1990s by the AFL-CIO to draw attention to the despicable treatment of migrant agricultural laborers in
California and Texas farmsbecause these are big business farms that operate according to industrial factory logics.

strike costs individual workers a few days wages (which are usually minimal anyway, which is
part of the point of the strike) while primarily impacting the profits and reputation of the
factory owners. In a road blockade, the idea is to damage the reputation of the government by
levying negative publicity around state policy generation or implementation.
In order to mount a blockade, peasant labor is theoretically flexible enough to allow
some family members to take several days away from the work of the household and fields, as
long as there are others to pick up the slack for them while they are gone. Some families may
elect to organize a rotation to take turns participating in the blockade in order to spread the
responsibility around, though some campesinos opt to pay the multa (fine) for not
participating, especially if they are in the middle of a harvest.
Another reason why road blockades became such a common method of popular
expression and political participation for indigenous groups in Bolivia stems from the
countrys racist laws that persisted until the 1970s. Indigenous people were not allowed to set
foot in the main government plaza in La Paz much less enter government offices to speak with
officials. Campesinos and miners often did not wear shoes or speak Spanish, so they were
callously discriminated against if they came to the capital. Thus the strategy of gathering
together in a group (for protection, courage and impact) in the countryside and demanding
that government officials come to them is entirely logical. The power to temporarily shut
down the economy of a regionwhether in an important agricultural zone like the Yungas or
a central tourist area like Lake Titicacaforces the government to respond to these otherwise-
ignored economically-poor peasants.
The fact that most peasants are unarmed means that there is little threat of violence
at these protests, other than accidents caused by falling off the road or from dynamite
exploding in someones hand (set off for its deafening effect and to lend an air of defiance, not

Even if a complete work stoppage in all of Bolivias coca fields were to be coordinated by all cocaleros at the same time to
protest the demonization of coca and demand government concessions, it would still only hurt the campesinos themselves
because a) there are no bosses or corporate owners who would be affected, b) mestizos and elites do not chew coca and so
wouldnt care if the supply of coca were cut off, c) no state taxes are generated by coca exports (coca is not allowed to be
legally exported) so the political elite would not care if the flow of coca leaf were curtailed, and d) the campesinos are the ones
who chew coca, so they would have to suffer the consequences of a reduced supply. (Even the drug traffickers in Bolivia are
not organized into mafia that could exert pressure.) This is why road blockadeswhich shut down the entire economy of the
area and the flow of agricultural goods to the capitalare central to the cocaleros strategy of garnering government attention.

to destroy infrastructure or kill people). It is important to point out that Bolivias cocalero
movements (in both the Chapare and the Yungas) are not and have not been allied with
Marxist or other militarized guerrilla groups, as is the case in Peru and Colombia. In the
1980s while Bolivias government initially resisted forced eradication, these two countries
used armed repression and aerial spraying, driving peasant coca growers to seek protection
from the Shining Path or the FARC and other paramilitary factions (Spedding 1989:9). Healy
explains that Bolivias coca growers pursued non-violent pressure and defense tactics. While
managing their conflicts with the state during the 1980s, they learned to work within the
democratic rules of the game (Healy 1988:110).
While this dissertation maintains that such organization of agrarian sindicatos in
response to the pressures of the drug war signals the strengthening of democracy in Bolivia,
others do not agree. A U.S. official of high rank in Bolivia, who did not want to be named or
associated with his office, told me with great displeasure that the U.S. essentially created Evo
Morales because of its interventionist coca eradication policies and its unwillingness to
collaborate with the coca growerswhich is true to some extent. Not in the sense of removing
the agency from Morales or the Chapare cocalero movement out of which he rose, but in the
sense of providing the reason around which they were forced to organize and thus consolidate
their sindicato activism. The same can be said for the Yungas movement now. Thus it would
seem that if the U.S. wanted to de-escalate the conflict over coca in Bolivia, it would seek an
approach based on the reasoned and respectful understanding of the cultural and historical
roots of coca cultivation and use.
Don Carlos, the 82-year old mestizo ex-businessman in Coroico, was also disdainful
of the unrest that the sindicatos seem to cause, accusing them of being corrupt and not
working well with the national and international governments ever since their formation. The
campesinos around Coroico have been muy rebeldesllegan a aborrecer a los blancos (very
rebelliousthey came to loathe us white people). Si no hubiera sindicalismo, Bolivia
estuviera [sic] tranquilo, mejor progreso hubiera [sic], y todas las naciones europeos nos
ayudaran con ms fuerza (If syndicalism did not exist, Bolivia would be peaceful, there
would be more progress, and all the European nations would help us much more actively),

lamented Don Carlos.
Since the bloqueo is arguably the most effective mode of peasant union political
organizing (Healy 1988:110), it was liberally applied to attempt to resolve the difficult
questions of coca production zones and the legal market. While bloqueos are sometimes
effective in addressing pressing issues and gaining national government response, they are
equally as likely to foster deepened political conflict and economic distress. The problem is
that the method for its success is also the means for wreaking havoc: blocking the main
transportation artery arrests the nations attention, but it also slows the regions economy and
the export of goods to the capital.
Yungas sindicatos exploit the regions national economic importance to force top
government officials to come to them on the road and negotiate an agreement, because the
government will feel under pressure to normalize the flow of goods to the capital and for
export. However, Yungas campesinos themselves also feel the impact of a bloqueo, for they
are not able to transport their harvests and goods to La Paz, and regional merchants are
negatively impacted without access to their supplies. Tourist agencies, hotels and restaurants
also suffer, for tourists are unable to visit the region during a blockade. Sometimes even
worse are the repeated threats of blockades as sindicato leaders jockey for attention to their
regional issues in hopes of both demonstrating their political importance and perhaps
resolving the issue without having to carry one out. Such negative attention to a region can
keep tourists away for far longer than the actual time period of a bloqueo. Thus, the prevailing
criticism of this method of resistance and negotiation among rural and urban people alike in
Coroico is that los bloqueos daan a nosotros mismos (blockades harm ourselves).
Especially during the coffee harvest in June and July and the citrus harvest between
June and August in the Yungas, road blockades can cause campesinos to lose a weeks worth
of profit if they are unable to carry their produce to La Paz to be sold before they rot. This
immediateand often broadimpact on the regional economy is a serious concern, for
peasant agriculturalists, merchants, and the tourist industry all must weather a temporary
downturn in their income-generating opportunities, often for unknown periods of time as a
bloqueo proceeds with limited access to information about the progress of negotiations. Even

just the threat of a bloqueo can be economically damaging, for tourists avoid the area not
wanting to get trapped in, and merchants put off their buying trips not wanting to get shut
out. As the cocalero leaders fought between themselves and the government in 2004, many
blockades were scheduled to begin at 0:00 hours on such-and-such a day in hopes of forcing a
negotiation beforehand, but without the intention of being carried out. Municipal officials in
Coroico were constantly on edge about whether or not an announced bloqueo would take
place, which caused much fretting over whether tourists would be able to come for town
festivals and how much revenue would be lost.

This significant negative economic impact and potential counter-productivity pose
important questions about the viability of this method of protest, and is a reason why Morales
and others aim to reduce or eliminate the need for such methods of pressure by further
incorporating indigenous agriculturalists into the formal political system. At the same time,
such protest measures are a source of pride among the Aymara, who connect their present-
day actions to their long history of resistance efforts. Road blockades keep them visible in the
public eye and help educate and generate pride in their children about their ancestors and
cultural history. They are also a pragmatic way to circumvent their exclusion from elite
politics. This contradiction will not likely be resolved any time soon but may lead to a long-
term transition away from bloqueos as the hallmark of sindicato organized protest as
indigenous actors become direct participants in the formal political system.
It is also problematic when several sectors mount road blockades concurrently in
different parts of the country. This occurred several times in 2004each protesting group
demanded that a government official come to where they were gathered to negotiate, while
each one was shutting down a different major transport artery. There is a raging
disagreement among Bolivians over whether or not sindicato methods of resistance and
protest are democratic or not. On an almost daily basis throughout 2004, the national

Inaccurate news reports from La Paz were also problematic, illustrating how little understanding of the rural areas of the
Yungas that journalists have even in the nearby capital city. For example, when Caranavi was staging its blockade along the
trunk road in June, national television and radio news shows reported on the bloqueo in the Yungas, even though Caranavi is
no longer part of the Yungas provinces and lies far down the valley from Coroico. Because Coroico was preparing for a major
tourist event that weekend, municipal officials in charge of the festival were panicked that no one would come, thinking that
they would not be able to get there.

newspapers ran articles, interviews, editorials, and opinion pieces debating the idea from
many different angles. The October 2003 Gas War shocked many people that indigenous
people would be powerful enough to stage a resistance that can force out a president (all of
Bolivias 189 golpes de estado were carried out by elites and their control over the military).
The vitriol levied against Bolivias prominent indigenous leadersespecially Evo Morales,
Felipe Quispe, and Jaime Solares (leader of the COB)by Bolivias journalists and
editorialists more than counterbalanced any praise heaped upon them. As a sindicato leader
from Chovacollo near Coroico said, Democracia significa un pas en paz, tranquila; Bolivia
tiene muchas movilizaciones, entonces no parece que haya democracia (Democracy means a
country at peace, calm; Bolivia has a lot of mobilizations, so it doesnt seem that there is
democracy in Bolivia). However, because of the perceived potential for military eradication
measures in the Yungas, such bloqueos were considered crucial to the political strategy of the

Road Blockades in the Name of Coca
As opposed to the U.S.-funded militarized repression that has afflicted the Chapare
since the 1980s, there has been only one effort to forcefully eradicate coca in the Yungas. In
June 2001, President Hugo Banzer sent troops from the Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta (Joint
Task Force, a military unit created in 1998 with U.S. funding and training to carry out coca
eradication missions) into the Yungas to destroy 1700 hectares of excess coca, what the U.S.
said then existed beyond the legal 12,000 hectares. Unannounced, the soldiers set to hacking
the plants out of steep hillsides in La Asunta, a remote region outside of the traditional zone
of the Sud Yungas. While cocaleros used their sindicatos to organize a resistance directly in
the cocales of La Asunta, hundreds of cocaleros, merchants, students, truck drivers and other
social sectors, gathered in Chulumani to protest this violent affront to their livelihoods
(Huanca 2001 [also reproduced in Aguilar and Spedding 2005]; see also Rivera 2003). They
challenged the constitutionality of the maneuver and expelled the soldiers to await further
dialogue. The collective diplomatic resistance of the cocaleros was an impressive display of

the solidarity that exists around the threat of forced eradication in the Yungas.
But this
attempted invasion of campesino lands without negotiation set Yungas cocaleros on alert that
their protection under the law could come to an end: Cunto tiempo de paz les queda a los
yungueos? (How much peace time do yungueos have left?) (Huanca 2001:15).
By early 2004, coca production was on the rise in and around the Yungas region, a
situation that dominated all other concerns debated within the sindicatos that year. The
construction of a cluster of buildings called the Rinconada (located near the Cumbre between
the Yungas and La Paz) was advancing, and tension began to mount among sindicato leaders
over whether or not it was to house a military barracks. This structure seemed to represent
shifting Bolivian and U.S. policies and the potential threat of direct militarized eradication in
the Yungas. Even though its planned construction had not been a secret and sindicato leaders
had declined invitations to participate in meetings during the development phase (as I was
told by several municipal officials), their reaction was one of indignation and fear. Since all
cocaleros and their sindicatos in the Yungas, whether inside or outside of the legal zone, are
against any form of militarized eradicationespecially given what has happened in the
a coordinated effort was mounted to bring together agrarian union members
from both the Nor and the Sud Yungas on April 4
to pressure the Bolivian government to
halt construction of the Rinconada.

The Apri l 2004 Unduavi Road Blockade

Colorful wiphalasthe flag of indigenous unity in Boliviafly from the windows of dozens of
enormous trucks and buses which are parked along the narrow road that snakes up the
mountainside on the eastern slope of the Andes. Groups of men and women are walking
toward the barricade of soldiers across the road that prevents people from marching further
up toward the Rinconada. The left edge of the road plunges into the deep valley below, where
the freezing mist has retreated for the moment. A crowd is gathered in front of a truck on
which Eusebio, the young Coroico Central dirigente, stands delivering a rousing oratory. In a
mix of Aymara and Spanish, he is encouraging people to stand up for their right to grow coca,
to not fear government repression, and to trust in the strength of their indigenous traditions.
He raises his fist in a gesture of solidarity: Jallalla Tupac Katari! he yells. Jallalla!! the
crowd yells back. Jallalla Bartolina Sisa!Jallalla!! Jallalla la coca!Jallalla!! Then

This was by no means the beginning of Yungas mobilizations in the name of coca; Yungas cocaleros have also often
supported and joined Chapare cocalero protests and marches (see Lens and Sanabria 1997). Yungas municipalities have
experienced alternating phases of unity and disunity throughout their history.
Since the drug war began in the 1980s, 37 campesinos and 27 soldiers have been killed in the Chapare (AIN 2007b).

he climbs down and everyone moves on to join the other protesters.

Campesinos in the Yungas today are concerned that their government, under U.S. influence,
might be planning to undertake measures to forcefully eradicate coca in this traditional
region. They are alarmed enough that hundreds of people came together along this road near
Unduavi to mount a protest against their government. During the sindicato meeting in
Capellana yesterday, a man said it felt like they would be walking to their deaths by facing the
military like this, clearly harking back to memories of an era not so long ago in which they
would have been exterminated like so many pesky cockroaches flooding toward the capital.
But they live under a democracy now, not a dictatorship, the dirigente said. At six oclock this
morning, participants assembled in Yolosa to crowd into camiones (trucks) labeled with their
subcentral affiliation and flying wiphalas out the passenger windows, like football teams
going off to a competition. When the trucks from the Nor Yungas had traced up the curves of
the old road, and trucks and flotas (large buses) from the Sud Yungas had ascended the road
from Chulumanieveryone withstanding a thunderous storm with heavy rain and cold
windsthey were met by at least 100 UMOPAR and military soldiers blocking their way to the
Rinconada and were forced to stop at Unduavi (where the Nor and Sud Yungas roads meet,
several kilometers from the Rinconada).

The heavily armed soldiers with bulletproof vests and gas masks stood across the narrow road
several men deep. The buses and trucks lined up along the road, and people spilled out to
confront the soldiers. People were yelling and throwing stones and trying to force their way
through to reach the focus of their protest, when one persons rock hit a soldier on the cheek,
snagging skin and drawing blood. With that, the soldiers retaliated with a barrage of gas
canisters, shot from their guns at the crowd of people. One man told me that 40-50 canisters
were launched as people went screaming and running to escape the gas lacrimgeno (tear
gas). But there was nowhere to run on the cliff-lined road, no way to escape the saturating
poison except to jump over the edge, which led people into sharp bushes and onto rocky
ledges as they skidded over rocks. Four people were wounded this way, one seriously so.

The ordeal lasted about 30 minutes, and then the shaken multitudes waited, without food or
drink, for six hours until one of the presidents ministers arrived to address the assembled
masses and attend to their demands. The mood was by no means festive, but neither was it
overly solemn. Coca leaf was chewed liberally and cigarettes were passed around, but there
was no alcohol. No one had brought food, water or warm bedding because the gathering was
only intended to be a preliminary show of force to see whether there would be enough
participants from all regions of the Yungas, and in hopes that an accord with the government
could be reached quickly. By the afternoon people had grown hungry and tired. Some people
slept side by side underneath the huge trucks, stretched out on blankets right on the highway.
The pick-up truck that showed up with a man handing out sandwiches was mobbed, as was
the Leche Pil truck with someone tossing out bags of milk.

Finally at 2:30, Minister of Government Alfonso Ferrufino arrived from La Paz in a fleet of
shiny SUVs, put on his sport coat, and climbed into the back of a military truck to speak to the
packed crowd over a megaphone. Only about a quarter of the people were able to hear his
address, and the rest milled about down the road out of earshot and out of view, where rumor
and circumspect circulated. I decided to extract myself toward the end of Ferrufinos speech,
since I was pressed into the front of the crowd of irritated people who I felt had no reason to
trust a gringa. I excused my way through the throng for a minute, then stopped to listen a bit
more and assess my strategy. Just then a tiny Aymara woman with a bulging aguayo on her
back worked her way past me, and I turned and followed in her wake.

The Minister of Government tried to convince the assembled masses that the Rinconada was
not being built for the Bolivian military but for transit police, human rights offices and a

health center to serve travelers through the area.
He assured them that President Carlos
Mesas administration did not intend to forcefully eradicate coca in the Yungas and that their
focus would remain on alternative development and voluntary eradication to reduce the
excess coca in the area. David Greenlee, U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, had also affirmed this
general strategy, he said. But the cocaleros standing there listening to Ferrufinos speech
retorted, How many people do you know who have voluntarily destroyed their coca fields,
their best means of providing for their families? It is not going to happen here! Any threat to
the stability and sovereignty of coca production in the Yungas is perceived as a direct threat to
peoples very survival, as well as an attack on their cultural traditions and history.

Because Ferrufinos palliatives were considered unacceptable, the sindicato leaders decided
that an official bloqueo would be necessary. Since they share an interest in resisting
militarized eradication and halting the construction of the Rinconada, there was a heightened
feeling of solidarity between the Sud and Nor Yungas. Some men and women who had come
from far away villages had brought the necessary equipment and were able to stay overnight
at Unduavi. The majority, however, had come up prepared only for a short demonstration in
hopes of resolving the issue with minimal confrontation, and they loaded back into the
camiones for the ride home to collect food, water and cold weather gear for a more extended
stay in this forbidding high altitude location. Standing in the back of Julios camin for the
three-hour trip down the new highway to Coroico, we were treated to a stunning view of the
rise of the full moon over Mount Uchumachi, with the tiny lights of Coroico sparkling on its
shoulder and the deep Andean valleys branching out in the gray blackness.

This collaborative resistance between the Nor and Sud Yungas turned into a four-day
road blockade that shut down transportation between the highlands and the lowlands along
one of the countys primary trade corridors. On April 7
the sindicato leaders signed a three-
point agreement with Ferrufino in which the government promised to halt the construction of
the Rinconada
indefinitely, to not eradicate coca in the Yungas, and to open a discussion of
the development needs of this broad region. The government also agreed to pay the hospital
expenses of those who were injured in the confrontation on the first day. When the protesters
loaded back into their trucks and flotas to return home, the more than 500 vehicles that had
accumulated on either side of the blockade were able to regain freedom of movement. There
was, on the one hand, a sense of agency and victory among the cocaleros for having achieved
their goals, but on the other hand, a lack of confidence among some leaders in the
authenticity of the governments intent to follow through on the agreement.

Soon after this bloqueo, ads began appearing on Radio Uchumachi singing the praises of the puesto de control (military
check point) at the Rinconadaits facilities will allow people to escape the cold and protect their health if, for example, a
woman is going into labor and is unable to reach La Paz in time. Is she supposed to just have her baby by the side of the
road?, the ad asked.

Whereas the Rinconada stood as a symbol of U.S.-imposed drug war policies of repression and distrust in 2004, by 2006,
after only one year of Moraless presidency, this military barracks stands practically abandoned, and vehicles are no longer
required to stop for inspection (Chvez and Cariboni 2007).

This distrust stems from another disadvantage of the bloqueo as a reliable and
effective form of protest. Because of the economic impact of a bloqueo, the government is
likely to agree to whatever the protesters are demandingespecially after several days or a
week of stoppagejust to allow the flow of traffic to resume. There is very little ability on the
part of the campesino leaders to hold the government accountable for following through on
these agreements, signed under duress and sometimes based on idealistic demands.
Ultimately, an extreme measure like a blockade, if not used judiciously and sparingly, can be
counterproductive, not only to the long-term objectives of a movement, but to the individuals
who sacrifice their time, energy and income to support such measures. Some complain that
this method is reasonable during a dictatorship when civil society has been silenced and
repressed, and when there are no other ways for citizens to have a voice in the political
sphere, but that it is too disruptive to the economy and peoples lives to be a regular much less
democratic mode of popular participation.
Because of the all-or-nothing nature of a bloqueo, it is time-consuming and energy-
intensive for the participants as well as the government officials who must travel to the point
of protest to negotiate. When different regional and special interest groups attempt to
demand government attention to their needs with this strategy all at the same time, political
paralysis can set in around the country. A cycle of bloqueos and counter-bloqueos in the same
region can also be instigated if it seems that this method of pressure is the only way to force
the government to attend to a groups interests. This issue was the situation as this issue
unfolded in 2004 over the mercado paralelo (parallel coca market) and the increasing
colonization of land in the Yungas by Bolivian migrants from Chapare and the altiplano.
Two high-profile events to facilitate dialogue and planning for the next steps of the
cocalero movement in the midst of the controversy were organized in 2004 by Yungas
cocaleros and experts experienced in these efforts. They took place in La Paz and garnered
significant media attention. The next section will discuss these two events.

DIALOGUE: The Coca Summit and Coca Fair in La Paz
Gracias a la coca estamos organizados (Thanks to coca we are organized).
Sindicato leader from the Coroico municipality, 2004

In the Andean valleys of Bolivia, people have manipulated the symbolism and
economics of the coca leaf for political ends at least since Inca times, through the colonial and
republican eras, and into the modern neoliberal period. Coca became increasingly politicized
during the late 20
century and is now one of the central elements of President Evo Moraless
political philosophy and national development plan. But this rise in importance did not occur
overnight. As we have seen, agrarian sindicatos have utilized primarily non-violent
democratic methods to organize and promote their development agenda that includes coca as
a central element. In addition to assemblies and protests, the cocalero movement has used
seminars and expositions to facilitate public dialogue among diverse social and political
actors over the fate of the coca leaf.
The defense of coca leaf is often used as a rallying cry for national sovereignty
understood as a rejection of imposed U.S. foreign policy terms of coca eradication and
substitution, and economic mandates by the IMF such as tax hikesand is thus directly
linked to the promotion of the nationalization of Bolivias gas reserves and other natural
resources. The pronouncement by La Campaa Coca y Soberana (The Campaign of Coca
and Sovereignty) in honor of the intercultural coca chewing (acullico, or here, akhulliku) fair
in El Alto in October 2004 frames the issue this way:
Now that we have completed one year of the struggle for [natural] gas and national
dignity, we want to return to the theme of sovereignty recognizing the unity, strength,
and clarity that the grassroots organizations showed to incite this heroic struggle, always
in the company of akhulliku. El akhulliku, or as they call it elsewhere, pijcheo or coqueo,
is a force for culture, politics and identity that we have to bring to light and defend, just
like was done and is being done with gas, land, and water. Akhulliku is the constant
companion in work, in community and urban celebrations, in studies and night life in
Bolivia. It is time not only to celebrate coca leaf, but also to create a much broader
struggle for sovereignty integral to our land and territory. (my translation from pamphlet)

The six agrarian federations of the Yungas also make this connection, as they did in a
resolution reached in August 2004 in Irupana: We declare ourselves in a state of emergency
mobilized in defense of our sacred coca leaf and our natural resources such as the

nationalization of hydrocarbons in defense of our national sovereignty (COFECAY
Resolution signed 28 August 2004). Underlying declarations such as these is the foundational
ideology of COFECAY (Consejo de Federaciones Campesinas de los Yungas de La Paz),
printed at the bottom of their official letterhead: Por la memoria de los mrtires Tupac
KatariBartolina Sisa, los Hijos vuelven a recuperar COCA PODER Y TERRITORIO (In
memory of the martyrs Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa, their children return to recuperate
coca, power and territory).
In 2004, Yungas agrarian sindicato leaders conceived and carried out the first
Cumbre de la Coca (Coca Summit) and the fourth Feria de la Coca (Coca Fair) in La Paz to
raise national and international awareness of their concerns and ideas surrounding the
contentious coca leaf. These events represent an expansion of democratic legitimacy for the
movement (both in the Yungas and the Chapare), for they helped foster informed dialogue
about potential coca policy changes, facilitated strategy sessions to develop proposals, and
made strides toward altering the popular image of the leaf. Cooperating with ADEPCOCA and
the MAS party, as well as with an international consortium of NGOs and scholars, Yungas
sindicato leaders demonstrated their ability to collaborate with non-indigenous and non-
sindicato bodiesanother important step along the way to increased democratic legitimacy
and influence on the national and international stage. I argue that the creativity, effort, and
diplomacy involved in bringing about these national-scale events are an example of the
emerging hybridity of democratic practices by agrarian sindicatos in Bolivia because they
were a move away from the entrenched methods of la lucha (struggle based on protest), and
demonstrated their ability to collaborate with government officials and foreign actorsand
also their ability to proactively and diplomatically initiate such efforts.
Even though these methods of public debate are not new to the cocalero movement
for example, peasant federations in the Chapare in 1987 convened a series of seminars to
generate alternative coca control measures to oppose the proposed Ley 1008 (Healy
1988:115)the national scope of the 2004 Coca Summit and the Coca Fair made them both
the first of their kind in Bolivia. The Yungas agrarian sindicatosspanning the Nor and Sud
Yungas as well as Caranavi and Chaparewere not necessarily united in their goals, but both

events were considered successful by their respective organizers (personal communication).

Cumbre de la Coca
The Primer Cumbre Nacional de la Coca (the First National Summit on Coca) in
September 2004 was organized by the leadership of ADEPCOCA (the legal coca market in La
Paz) to provide a forum to discuss the future of legal coca production. This two-day
conference was held in the law school auditorium of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres
(UMSA) in La Paz; more than three hundred people attended. Even though ADEPCOCA had
their own agenda for Yungas coca (their protectionist stance was pointed out during an open
discussion), the Cumbre was an inclusive gathering of all sides. In preparation for the
Cumbre, the directors of ADEPCOCA issued statements of intent to be broadcast in the
media. The general goal of this summit was summed up by director Alberto Mamani. After
explaining the succession of UN conventions, which first categorized coca leaf together with
cocaine as a Schedule 1 narcotic in 1961, he says:
Antropolgicamente, todo esto es muy interesante, pero apenas es la superestructura
ideolgica montada sobre un consenso cultural que es mucho mas amplio. Por lo que
entendemos que todas estas posiciones legalistas de parte de la ONU y sus
organizaciones especializadas, sobre las convenciones vigentes, seran totalmente
cambiables de la noche a la maana si la opinin pblica internacional cambiara.

Anthropologically, this is all very interesting, but this is only an ideological
superstructure mounted on top of a cultural consensus that is much broader. For it is our
point of view that all these legalistic positions on the part of the UN and its specialized
organizations, including the existing conventions, would be completely changed
overnight if the international public opinion [on coca leaf] changed.

To help alter public opinion of the leaf and show that the peasant sindicatos were
unificados y bien organizados (unified and well-organized), the ADEPCOCA directors
convened the two-day summit in order to develop propuestas-soluciones (proposal-
solutions) for the industrialization of coca into medicinal and other legal products, and for the
revision of Ley 1008. Their ultimate goal is to achieve cocas declassification as a Schedule 1
drug by lobbying the 2008 United Nations Vienna Convention, toward which this event was
el primer paso (the first step). This adjustment to international law would open global
markets to the export of coca leaf and its legal derivatives, and would allow the cocaleros to

recuperarnos la dignidad de ser Bolivianos (recuperate the dignity of being Bolivian).

The first day consisted of a series of formal presentations by Yungas cocalero leaders,
scholars, nongovernmental organization representatives, and political figures, including MAS
representatives. The commentary was candid about the immorality and failures of the drug
war, the power imbalance between Bolivia and the U.S., the violence of the Bolivian state
toward coca growers, and the injustice of economic policies that prevent cocaleros from
industrializing and exporting coca products. Now is not the time to be lazy, said Human
Rights Permanent Assembly president Sacha Llorente,
calling on those present to turn this
summit into the first solid steps toward depenalizing coca leaf. Philosopher Ral Prada

pointed out that persons other than cocaleros are controlling the thinking around coca and
cocaine, and that the issue is more about power than anything else. The U.S. creates enemies
out of the other based on their fantasmas [illusions, phantoms] when they need to be
struggling against their own problems, he said. The best aspect of October [2003] was that
victory was achieved not by dirigentes or political parties, but by las bases [the people], who
reminded us what control social [social control, direct democracy] is.
Other speakers included famous Aymara anthropologist Marcelino Mamani,
infamous British anthropologist Alison Spedding, MAS diputado (representative) Dionicio
Nez, several Bolivian directors of Yungas regional NGOs, and several directors of
international NGOs from Belgium, Australia, and Peru, and other Bolivian investigators.
What seemed most significant was that while nothing any speaker said was completely new
information for these sindicato leaders, the fact that all of these comments were made in the
same place in succession lent a sense of legitimacy to what campesinos are always talking and
wondering about in the coca fields, in the markets, in their community meetings. And the idea
is that these dirigentes would take all of these comments and ideas back to their bases and
thereby build a more informed and confident movement around the issues of coca leaf.

The quotes in this paragraph were taken from my notes of the opening comments at the Cumbre on 23 September 2004.

Llorente (at the age of 36) was named Bolivian Ambassador to the U.S. by Evo Morales in 2006, but he had to decline the
position due to family matters.

See also his full analysis of how October 2003 linked to Bolivias history of social movements (Prada 2004).

On the second day, dirigentes from each Yungas municipality gave short polemics,
and participants were divided into work groups to discuss the central themes of the summit
and come up with recommendations for future action. The five themes, all in relation to the
specific issues of coca, were the Asamblea Constituyente (Constituent Assembly), the 2008
UN Vienna Convention, Reduccin de Daos y Salud Pblica (Damage Reduction and Public
Health), Despenalizacin y Legalizacin (Depenalization and Legalization of Coca), and
Movimientos Sociales (Social Movements). The common sentiment that emerged from these
round table discussions was the desire to unify and organize Yungas cocaleros so that they
can effectively advocate their agenda to the government, NGOs, the U.S., and the UN. The
document Conclusiones de la Primera Cumbre Nacional de la Coca prepared by
ADEPCOCA makes it clear that a comprehensive scientific studyBIEN analizado (WELL
analyzed)of Bolivias legal consumption of coca leaf as well as of all existing official
convenios is needed to enable the cocaleros to make clear and strategic proposals in their
future negotiations. In other words, the cocalero movement is striving to become more
professional and grounded in scientific analysis as it transforms itself from a marginalized
radical social movement trying to make their views known and pressuring the government
from the outside, into an organized, legitimate popular movement that is positioned to more
directly control both the public discourse and national politics.

Feria de la Coca
In October 2004, a week-long event called the Feria de la Coca y Soberana (Fair of
Coca and Sovereignty) was held in El Alto, organized by a consortium of organizations and
research institutions, including COFECAY, FEDECOR (Federacin de Regantes de
Cochabamba) and THOA (Taller de Historia Oral Andina, Andean Oral History Workshop).
The idea for the fair was to lend legitimacy to the traditional, nutritional and medicinal uses
of coca and to provide a forum for interested parties to network and strategize. Another goal
was to build an alliance between producers and consumers by giving consumers la palabra
to talk about how they use coca and in what products. The 2004 Feria was originally
conceived with the input of MAS congressmen (notably Sud Yungas representative Dionicio

Nez), but in the interest of not politicizing the event their role was downplayed.
Stalls were set up around the perimeter of the spacious La Ceja fairground where
representatives of the different coca producing regionsincluding the Chapare and newly
colonized areas of the Yungas such as Palos Blancos and La Asuntaset out bags of their coca
leaves for sale and promoted coca orgnica.
Other booths were staffed by book publishers
and authors, artists representing the beauty of rural livelihoods, people selling t-shirts and
fomenting discussions about the drug war, and those promoting uses for coca leaf that could
be industrialized. Several different stalls featured vino de la coca (coca wine), medicinal and
cosmetic products using coca derivatives (such as an anti-depression tonic, antibiotic skin
ointment, anti-blemish face cream, shampoo, and [very green] toothpaste), and a wide variety
of pastas and baked goods made with coca flour.
Concurrent speakers, films, and folk music
were presented at different locations in La Paz throughout the week.
Strangely, even though the fair was held for five days in the heart of indigenous El
Altos marketplace and posters around La Paz advertised the event, the Feria de la Coca was
poorly attended. Even so, the exchange of ideas and information by those who did attend was
dynamic, and the general goals of the fair seemed to be met. It was noteworthy that cocaleros
from Coroico, Coripata, and Chulumani did not exhibit their coca leaf, though a few leaders
came to tour the booths. When I asked some of them about this conspicuous absence later,
they said that they did not consider it necessary to advertise their coca since these
municipalities lie with the traditional zone and are already well-known. Another reason may
have been that they did not want to support the newly colonized and illegal areas, even
though these three municipalities were well represented at the Cumbre de la Coca with
similar goals.

Theoretically, coca orgnica is grown without the use of chemical fumigants, though some admitted to applying chemicals
even though they labeled their coca as organic. The development of an organic certification process for coca has been
discussed, but so far does not seem to be a priority in the movement. However, some data show that up to 95% of coca grown
in the Yungas is sprayed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and without regulation (according to a 2004 study by Biota in
Coroico). This raises serious public health concerns, since this coca is directly chewed and made into tea, and environmental
concerns, since these chemicals saturate the soil and flow into groundwater and rivers in a fragile ecosystem.

Coca flour is made by grinding the dried leaves into a fine powder, and can be used to replace up to one-fourth of regular
flour in bread, cakes, pasta, and cookies (nutritionist Mara Eugenia Tenorio [see Montao 2004] is well-known for her recipes;
see also Moscoso 2006). The idea is that the vitamins and minerals in coca can augment the nutritional value of these baked
goods, which is especially important for those with limited means for achieving a healthy diet.

The primary impediments to this agenda are the lack of planning and funding, and
even the lack of current initiatives to secure investments. The vision for coca industrialization
in the Yungas is stuck in the discourse phase, where it has languished for more than a decade
(Silvia Rivera, personal communication 2004).
One of the most powerful sentiments
underlying the drive toward industrialization of the coca leaf is, ironically, rural
agriculturalists historical, spiritual, and practical connection to their land. In their minds,
industrialization is a way for coca growers to stay on their land and in their rural
communitiesin other words, a way for them to perpetuate their current agricultural and
cultural lifestyle, not as a way to transition to a proletarian or urban one. Most envision the
factories built in the Yungasperhaps to be run as cooperatives by the cocaleros themselves
(with what funding no one was sure)but no one I spoke with wanted to actually work there.
Their children, however, may be another matter, as cultural norms change and desires for
financial and social differentiation increase with modernization and globalization. While
improvements to health, education and road infrastructure are priorities for their
communities, an agricultural livelihood is so far considered preferable over a move to the
town of Coroico or La Paz.

One community leader from the Afro-Bolivian village of Tocaa provided another
reason why industrializing coca products would be beneficial to the Yungas region: Yo creo
que la industrializacin de la coca ac en los Yungas nos sacara de muchos problemas que
atravesamos. S, me gustara tener una fbrica para beneficiarnos mejor y no tener que
llevar la coca hasta la ciudad, y sabramos cul es el destino de nuestra coca (I think that
industrializing coca here in the Yungas would solve a lot of the problems we are experiencing
now. Yes, I would like to have a [coca] factory to benefit us better and to not have to carry the

There is also an emergent trend toward industrialization for national and international export of such products as peanuts,
citrus marmalade and coffee. In Coroico, a community coffee cooperative, CENCOOP, has been in operation for 38 years, and
with recent support from USAID has expanded its operations to prepare high quality beans for export into the booming
international specialty coffee markets. Most of the lower grade coffee is exported to Chile to be made into instant coffee.

Though of course there are plenty of individuals and families who have moved to more urban areas, with mixed
experiences of satisfaction and prosperity. Many Aymara couples relocate to the town of Coroico in order to provide a more
modern life and a better education for their children; many even prevent their children from learning their native language and
experiencing an agricultural livelihood, even with relatives who still live in rural communities. Urban occupations for such
couples include operating a staples store, internet caf, restaurant, or tourism operation. I do not have data on such trends in
the Yungas.

coca all the way to the city[of La Paz to sell it], and we would know exactly where our coca is
going). In other words, rather than having one legal coca market in La Paz control the trade
of the leaf, campesinos in the Yungas could take their coca directly to the local factory to sell.
Such an arrangement would also ensure that their product does not enter the drug trade, and
would counter the distrust from the outside world about the true intentions of these Yungas
cocaleros. The following section explores recent efforts by the most powerful element of this
outside worldthe United Statesto encourage Yungas cocaleros to do anything but grow
coca, regardless of the economic repercussions, structural inequalities, and cultural
contradictions in these alternative development programs.

ALTERNATIVE DEVELOPMENT: Coca and Cocaine Politics in the Yungas
He looked sadly at his dead coca bushes as if they were the corpses of his children. It seems
such a shame. Money is all very well, but it doesnt last. Coca, on the other hand, is a long-
term investment.

Clare Hargreaves (1992:46)

As the history chapter discussed, immediately following the Spanish conquest in
1532, coca was declared the devils leaf and its use and cultivation were outlawed. However,
once the Spaniards discovered how lucrative the trade in the leaf could be to supply the
indigenous miners in the highland mines, they took over its production and markets. From
the colonial era until Bolivias Agrarian Reform in 1953, Spanish and mestizo elite hacienda
owners in the Yungas and a few smaller pockets in the Bolivia Andes were the primary
beneficiaries of the coca economy. The advocacy trade organization Sociedad de Propietarios
de Yungas (SPY, Society of Yungas Landowners), established in the late 1800s, defended the
lucrative coca economy of the Yungas hacendados against international efforts to curtail or
eradicate coca cultivationstill supplying indigenous chewers and also by then linked to the
global trade of cocaine for recreational and pharmaceutical usesalso until Agrarian Reform.
The abolition of the feudal hacienda system that returned the Yungas territory and thus its
coca economy to indigenous ownership coincided with intensified efforts by the international
community to limit if not erase coca production from the Andes. In other words, once coca

had fallen out of the control of the elite landowners and had stopped being produced for
concentrated private profit predicated on forced labor, only then was coca in Bolivia
considered a legitimate target for coordinated and coerced eradication. When indigenous
campesinos control their own land as semi-subsistence small family farmers and dominate
the markets for the trade of coca as a way to support autonomous rural communities, coca is
suddenly treated as a threat to society. This incongruity is quite apparent to Yungas
campesinos today, and helps to generate resistance to the current agenda of the United States
that seeks to replace coca cultivation through alternative development.
Did this contradiction arise because Aymara campesinos are not able to advocate for
themselves to the international community as well as the SPY did? Or did it arise because
there is an inherent racism in international conventions regarding coca leaf and indigenous
cultures? Through my research I came to believe it is a little of both. What is most disturbing
about this scenario are the politically coercive and heavy-handed military tactics that the U.S.
uses to enforce its interests against these economically-poor farmers. It is also discouraging
that there seems to be so little historical or cultural knowledge represented in such drug war
policies whose primary motive is to stop Bolivian people from cultivating a crop that is of
paramount economic benefit to their families and of central cultural value to their
communities. But what is encouraging about this scenario at the same time is that Yungas
sindicalismoas evidenced especially by the Coca Summit and the Coca Fairis beginning to
demonstrate the political clout that the SPY once had to influence policy, and to gain the
respect of the international community as it works to alter the diabolical image under which
coca suffers on the global stage.
The primary platform of this alternative development (i.e., coca substitution) agenda
in the Coroico municipality today rests on improving tourist facilities and generating specialty
coffee exports. Both of these plans were developed by people within USAID who are very
sensitive to the culture and rural economy of the region, and who are dedicated to helping
Aymara campesinos increase their income levels and improve the sustainability of their
household economies. In other words, the implementers of these alternative development
plans are good people with good intentions. The problem is that they are forced to operate

according to an imperative passed down from the U.S. Congress that prohibits their also
working to assist Yungas campesinos with coca production or in any way supporting the coca
economy there. The fact that USAID financial and technical assistance is not conditioned
upon eradication of coca fields in Coroico (as it is in the Chapare and Caranaviand USAID
does not have projects in Coripata or Chulumani) only slightly ameliorates the often
vehement negativity surrounding these initiatives.
During my fieldwork in Coroico, I investigated the process of USAIDs alternative
development agenda in this municipality through a variety of events and interviews. In
September 2003 I attended the three-day Catacin de Caf (Coffee Cupping Competition) at
the Hotel Jasmines; in May 2004 I witnessed the Declaratoria del Turismo (Tourism
Declaration) in the town of Coroico; in October 2004 I attended the Taza de Excelencia (Cup
of Excellence) specialty coffee competition in Coroico (renamed from the previous year); and
in June 2006 I attended the special visit by U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia David Greenlee for
the dedication of several USAID-funded facilities at the UAC and in Coroico (medical
laboratory equipment and a coffee bean processing plant at the college, and a campesino
hostel in the town). I also interviewed a series of development specialists and project
directors who work for USAID and its contractors in Bolivia and Washington, DC, and I
collected data on the opinions of these projects held by Coroico town merchants, campesino
farmers, municipal government officials, coffee cooperative directors, event coordinators,
tourism operators and guides, and sindicato leaders through my participant observation and
structured interviews. I also collected reams of documents on tourism in Coroicobrochures,
strategic plans, zoning models, and the like. All this makes for an interesting and important
set of data (that I plan to utilize in a future publication), however, in this section I will only
discuss the contradictory dynamic of tourism in Coroico and the shifting opinions that were
expressed by rural campesinos in 2004. Through this discussion the democratic potentials of
sindicato methods of political engagement will be elaborated to show how they are working to
represent the economic and cultural interests of Aymara campesinos by influencing public
opinion and municipal-level development initiatives.

Agroyungas and Other Failed Efforts to Replace Coca in the Yungas
Alternative development is a euphemism for coca substitution, and usually involves
injections of foreign capital from the U.S. treasury or the UN to jump-start an agricultural
endeavor to lure coca farmers away from their lucrative crop. The history of such efforts in
the Chapare has produced mixed results at best (Farthing 2007; Ledebur 2005; MAPA 2004;
AIN 2002; Farthing and Kohl 2005; J. Painter 1994), while the Yungas has endured fewer but
no less disappointing projects. Alternative development projects linked to coca eradication
objectives in the Nor Yungas of Bolivia have been relatively ineffectual over the past 20 years.
With the Agroyungas coffee substitution program, for example, as soon as coca farmers took
out loans to replace their fields with coffee for export, the international price for the beans
plummeted, leaving farmers in debt (Lons 1996). Every analysis of Agroyungas concludes
with the same assessment of failure (Lupu 2004; Lons 1996; SEPARATA 1991; Spedding
1989). As Bolivian political scientist Ramiro Barrenechea told me, Agroyungas was a disaster
no matter what perspective you take (6/29/06).
An essential element of Yungas Aymara communities that was greatly debilitated as a
result of Agroyungas and other sorts of development projects is the self-sufficiency of these
communities. We have seen how following the Revolution Yungas peasants undertook to
organize themselves and fashion economically viable communities out of the ashes of the
oppressive feudal system they had endured for centuries. Then, even in the midst of military
tyranny, these sindicatos took advantage of the rising price of coca leaf in the 1970s and 80s
to coordinate their own development projects for their communities: networks of secondary
and tertiary roads, piped water, electricity, and vibrant commercial activity (Spedding
1989:4). When outsiders have come in to this region and attempted to impose projects
according to their own agendas, they have not only failed miserably, but they have disrupted
and even harmed local forms of development, as the example of Agroyungas illustrates. Such
interference with the self-determination of indigenous communities not only insults the
intelligence of these experienced agriculturalists and usurps their process of self-directed
change already underway, but it risks making them dependent upon external funding and
ideas. When the very self-sufficiency of these communities is undermined, they stop doing

things for themselves and are forced to demand more from the state and NGOs (Barrenechea
personal interview 6/29/06). Alarmingly, with the implementation of the LPP, this is exactly
the situation that Coroicos sindicatos are in, which has given more power to the agendas of
the NGOs and USAID because they can contribute far more funding to regional development
projects than the municipal government can.
The edited volume by Lons and Sanabria (1997) is an indispensable compilation of
articles by social scientists who aim to clarify the cultural and economic importance of coca,
and to expose the insidious nature of U.S. foreign policy in Bolivia. Barbara Lons describes
the UNs $21.8 million Agroyungas project in the late 1980s which sought to replace coca with
coffee. It was a dismal failure as coffee is ill-suited to Yungas ecology, and as the project
directors received more benefits than the peasants. Hans Salm and Mximo Liberman warn
of the environmental impacts of alternative development. Alison Spedding draws upon her
long tenure in the Yungas to describe the intricate social structure of coca growing
communities, while Elayne Zorn explains how coca reinforces cultural traditions and ethnic
identity. Kevin Healy shows how the conflict over coca and cocaine has actually served to
unite diverse sectors of the nation around a common cause, Linda Farthing notes the social
impacts of Bolivias anti-drug Ley 1008, and Eduardo Gamarra explicates the unequal power
relationship between Bolivia and the U.S.
The most recent far-reaching alternative development effort in the Yungas was the
UN program Lons describes, and most other articles on the subject concern eradication in
the Chapare, a very different ecological and cultural region. However, the eradication agenda
for the Yungas has increased in intensity since the military attempted to destroy excess
cultivation in 2001 (Huanca 2001). The LPP was not in effect during previous development
projects, so my research will be able to document current initiatives and the extent of local
control, especially as those within and without the region strive for peaceful resolutions to the
menacing objectives of the U.S.

In my conversations with Yungas campesinos in 2001, they asked outsiders to recognize that coca is not a drug, and to
understand the appalling consequences of US drug policies on people in the Andes. They suggested that the US focus on
reducing its own demand for cocaine, and consider legalizing it. But given the inevitability of continued crop substitution efforts,
they ask that there be adequate compensation for changes to their livelihood, sufficient funding for training and technical

Alternative development has been largely ineffectual in the Yungas due to inadequate
funding, the economic unviability of coca substitutions, and the lack of local involvement
(Lons 1997). Even so, NGOs contain some of the best means for agriculturalists to access
credit (via PRODEM or Bancosol; cf. Rhyne 2001), new technology and agricultural
assistance (via ACDI/VOCA or Chemonics, e.g.), and social services (via the Catholic agency
Caritas or the Spanish NGO Ayuda en Accin, e.g.). NGOs work in concert with municipal
governments, and the LPP stipulates that there be local representatives from NGOs and
sindicatos (community trade unions) to comprise the new Comits de Vigilancia (Oversight
Committees). Despite recent development failures, Bolivias LPP promotes a new level of
popular control over local projects, a potential that is only just beginning to be realized.

Tourism vs. Coca in the Yungas
Besides coca, the principal source of income in Coroico is tourism (Costa 1997), so
elaborating plans to improve both service provision and adequate infrastructure to
accommodate an increase in the flow of tourists seems logical. But after the failures of
previous alternative development efforts, does promoting tourism to Coroico represent only
the latest development fiasco, or a new beneficial option? From my first week in Coroico,
tourism was the primary topic in any discussion of development in the municipality. Evident
from the first meeting I attended (2/6/04) was a divide between the pueblo and the campo on
how an increase in tourism to Coroico would benefit the 99 rural communities. One astute
participantan elementary school teacher who acts as an informal advisor to both the
sindicatos and the municipal governmentexplained, We have been working on our
Municipal Development Plan (Plan de Desarrollo Municipal, PDM) for five years now, and if
tourism is increasing but human development (desarrollo humano) is not, it will be a debacle
(fracaso). He defined human development as investment in schools, health centers, art, a

assistance, improved access to markets, and direct participation by campesinos in all development initiatives. They also
discussed reviving Coca Diplomacy schemes that would bolster national and international markets for legal coca products,
such as toothpaste, flavoring, medicine, and tea. (Bolivian anthropologist Silvia Rivera [2003] has documented the black
market for Yungas coca leaf in Argentina, demonstrating that there is potentially a large market for coca leaf in Latin America
and beyond.) And they spoke approvingly of highway improvements, industrialization, and popular participation in a liberal
democracy. However, given Bolivias history of violent repression, stultifying elitism, and allegiance to foreign entities over its
own citizens, most doubted that any real change will come about.

library, even hygienic bathrooms. The municipality of Coroico was officially named a zona
turstica (tourist zone), but he called it a zona productiva turistica (a productiveread:
agriculturaltourist zone) to underscore that rural areas must be included in Coroicos
development planning.
A common refrain among many is that an increase in tourism to the pueblo of
Coroico will support the campo as well, for all the towns of the municipality are linked
together in una cadena de beneficios (a chain of benefits). The hope is that if more tourists
visit the town of Coroico, more campesinos can benefit by selling their agricultural products
to the stores, hotels, and restaurants, selling goods like empanadas or artisanry, working in
the hotels and restaurants or as tour guides, or starting related businesses. In other words,
tourism has the potential to be a positive sum game for townspeople and campesinos (and the
tourists themselves, ideally
), but most campesinos I spoke with are not in favor of
bolstering tourism because they do not see how their lives would be favorably affected by it.
Eagerly jumping on the tourism development bandwagonor, it could be said,
designing, fueling, and steering the bandwagonis USAID in its scheme to draw people away
from growing coca by funding alternative ventures. Its operative in the Coroico municipality
until December 2005 was MAPA (Market Access and Poverty Alleviation), a development
consulting firm funded by Chemonics International, Inc., a USAID contractor from
Washington, DC. MAPA Valles (Valleys) was created in September 2000 to promote
alternative development in the Chapare coca growing region and surrounding Cochabamba
valleys. In 2002 it expanded its operations to Coroico and Caranavi to try to contend with the
rise in Yungas coca production. MAPA was asked by USAID to pinpoint key areas for
potential economic growth in these Yungas municipalities. Two themes emerged: specialty

Sadly, several violent attacks on women, both foreign and local, have occurred over the past few years in Coroico. A
visiting European woman disappeared while hiking alone to a waterfall, a local Afrobolivian woman was raped and killed in a
neighborhood below town, and an ex-patriot European woman was raped along a trail above town while her two male
companions watched helplessly, having been beaten and tied up by the attackers. It is unclear who the perpetrators were or
their motivations. Some hostels now post signs explaining what has happened and warning people to walk the footpaths only
in groups. During my first few weeks in town, I was warned on a daily basis to be careful walking the 20 minutes home alone.
While not a pressing issue yet, if individual safety, or even the sense of it, is compromised, Coroicos allure to tourists could be
damaged. This issue does occasionally emerge in public forums.

coffee exports and tourism
(tea would be added later).
In 2001, a public meeting was held in the Coroico alcalda meeting hall to discuss
USAIDs agenda and hear from local people their development priorities. According to MAPA
Valles Chief of Party Bruce Brower (personal interview 10/19/04), the USAID representatives
(of which Brower was one) were clear about their agenda and priorities. They explained that
MAPA was an organization funded by USAID to promote alternative development projects to
replace coca cultivation, but that these projects would not be conditioned upon eradication
(thus distinguishing them from other USAID projects in the Chapare and Caranavi that are
conditioned). Their priorities were to improve the unimpressive coffee economy in the
Yungas and to promote tourism development as opportunities for people to raise their
incomes. This meeting, said Brower (2005:53), was about as tense as a meeting can be
without turning violent. Given the controversial reputation of USAID in the Chapare regions
coca eradication policies, such hostility is not surprising.
New MAPA Yungas director Marcelo Levy later helped the municipal government,
with input from community representatives, to create a list of ten potential projects for the
municipality, with the stipulation that one of them be urban planning. These included
developing a zoning plan for Coroico, improving urban infrastructure with solid waste
and water treatment facilities, and building a bus terminal to better receive traffic
from La Paz. The idea was that USAID would strengthen the ability of the town of Coroico to
handle an influx of tourists before it began promoting more tourism to the area (Brower
interview). This concern was linked to USAIDs corollary effort to obtain for the Coroico
municipality legal government recognition as the nations first official tourist destination, for
which they hired a Bolivian to navigate (for almost two years) the legal process of Ley 2640 to
secure the designation.
These project goals were approved by a town council vote in February 2004. To cover

Because of Coroicos historical attraction to both national and international tourists, and because it is more accessible to La
Paz, and because it has not demonstrated the level of cocalero militancy against the presence of NGOs that Coripata and
Chulumani have, this municipality was targeted by USAID as its showcase for non-conditioned alternative development

If completedit was still under construction in 2006Coroicos solid waste disposal system will be the first of its kind in
Bolivia. Not even La Paz has solid waste treatment; all effluent flows down the valley into the deadened river.

the infrastructure expenseswhich MAPA does not offer, being an agricultural extension
agencyanother Washington, DC, USAID contractor was brought in to spend US$800,000 in
the town of Coroico.
This amount is many times more than the annual funds that the entire
municipality receives from the LPP, flaming the fire of outrage among campesinos that
resources are being overly invested in the urban area. USAID and others reason that investing
Coroico first will have a trickle-out effect that will end up benefiting the rest of the
The week leading up to the Declaratoria del Turismo on 21 May 2004, USAID ran ads
on Radio Uchumachi explaining the purpose of the event and the ten urban projects that
USAID is funding to promote Coroico as a Zona Turistica: Como el eje central de su
desarrollo, said the announcer, Coroico muestra el camino de cambio (As the central axis
of its development, Coroico shows the way of change). All discussion of the Declaratoria on
the radio focused on encouraging people to show up for the limpieza (town trash pick-up,
coordinated by elementary school, high school, and UAC student groups) on the 20th and
about the new wooden shop signs, paint for town buildings, plants for the plaza, streetlights,
street signs, trashcans, and repaired curbs that MAPA was helping to pay for. There was very
little public discussion, however, of what the results would be of this celebration and why
people should be enthused over it. It seemed the USAID organizers considered the benefits of
tourism to be self-evident, but at a lunch meeting with a group of municipal officials the day
before the event, they told me that tourism will do nothing to help rural communities, and
that they would much rather have agricultural assistance. The director of the UAC, Sister
Mary Damon Nolan, maintained that tourism would only benefit a small percentage of people
in the rural areas. Some might be able to sell a little more coffee in Coroico to tourists, but
such nominal opportunities are not going to change anyones life, she said. Subprefecto Jose
Salinas, a thoughtful and optimistic local official,
countered these negative views on the

When I asked Brower why the U.S. invests so much money in international aid programs, he said that it is because 50% of
the value of agricultural and other export products are tied up in transportation costs, and since the U.S. owns most of the
international transport infrastructure, these aid funds greatly benefit U.S. corporations.

The positions of Prefectoat the departmental leveland Subprefectoat the provincial levelwere appointed by the
national administration until 2005, when elections were called for the first time in an effort to increase regional accountability

radio and explained that this celebration is only the beginning, for the Declaratoria del
Turismo is something that we have to work on in the future and use to develop other projects
for the benefit of our municipality.
The campesinos I knew from rural villages often talked about the racism that
permeates the town of Coroico. This resentment among campesinos fuels their scorn for NGO
and tourist dollars that seem to benefit only the town of Coroico and never reach the rural
areas. Some told of how they have been insulted in stores for speaking Aymara. One friend of
mine told me how she was carrying her two-year-old girl on her back in her aguayo when she
went into a store to buy a few supplies. The child was sucking on a lollipop and she dropped
the wrapper on the floor. Before my friend could even notice, the shop owner berated her for
not knowing how to raise a child with manners and for desecrating her shop.
Such unpleasant behavior engenders bitterness and distrust on both sides, and
contributes to the often low participation by rural community members and their leaders in
municipal meetings and events. This low participation, in turn, causes town residents to view
campesinos as apathetic, freeloading, and even lazy. And when decisions are made without
adequate campesino input and seem to work against their interests, campesinos cry foul.
Sindicato leaders only rarely attend the CV meetings that are supposed to take place each
month in Coroico according to the LPP, mostly because they already attend their monthly
Central Agraria meetings (for which they are fined if they fail to attend), and because the
Central acts as the primary civil society body to represent their interests to the municipal
government. Thus there exists a fairly ingrained conflict of interest on both sides, in the
pueblo and the campo, which is self-perpetuating.
The poor attendance by campesinos at the Declaratoria was a case in point. Rural
residents did not feel welcome, and did not feel that the tourist designation reflected their
community interests. In my interviews with sindicato leaders from 12 different rural
communities, the only leaders who attended were from Tocaa, which is the home of the
popular cultural center and of the most popular Saya Afro-Bolivian youth band (which

and autonomy.

performed at the celebration). In other words, the village of Tocaa is intimately tied to the
tourist industry already, so it was only logical that their leaders would attend. The other
leaders explained that they didnt know they were invited, or that they had heard about it on
the radio but thought it was only for the town residents, or that they wanted to go but didnt
because a veces nos hacen pisar el palito (sometimes [townspeople] make fools of us).
Along with persistent racism, the hacienda era still conjures memories of
discrimination toward indigenous people in the Yungas, so to expect campesinos to venture
into town to attend a formal ceremony with high-level government and U.S. officials without
a specific invitationespecially at night when there would be no sure way of getting homeis
unreasonable. Perhaps the MAPA coordinators were not aware of the custom of delivering
personal signed invitations to community leaders if their presence at an event is desired. If so,
this omission demonstrates the superficial nature of MAPAs presence in the Yungas. If not,
then other reasons could have been that the space in the town plaza could not accommodate
larger numbers of attendees (the plaza was fairly packed, especially during the evening music
performances), or that transportation could not be provided. Either way, the result was to
deepen by a degree the pueblo-campo divide, and to reinforce the image that tourism was an
exclusively urban investment.

Coroi co: A Muni ci pali ty for Touri sts or Agri culture?
In the thick cold mist that filled the valley and obscured the town one Saturday morning, I
walked to the Coroico Civic Center for a municipal sindicato meeting of the Central Agraria.
Over a hundred people were gathered in the oblong concrete block room with rows of wooden
benches facing the raised platform where the leaders were lined up. Bags of coca leaf were
passed around, and some lit cheap cigarettes for one another. The Centrals leader had called
this meeting to discuss three items: how to deal with cocaine processors or narcotraffickers
caught in the Coroico municipality; the national Referendum questions announced by
Bolivias president the day before; and Coroicos new status as an official tourist municipality.
This last point caused particular consternation. The Declaratoria del Turismo (Declaration of
Tourism) celebration had taken place the previous day, the 21
of May, in Coroico, and most
rural leaders said they had not been formally invited to participate, either in the development
of the initiative or in the event itself.

The Declaratoria ceremony was an over-the-top event, complete with visiting third tier
government officials, rhetorical speeches, photo ops, and an evening of live music on a stage
in front of the cathedral. The event was preceded by a week of frenzied activity to make over
the town: painting the edifices on the main plaza and surrounding streets, hanging new rustic
wooden store signs, repairing curbs, posting new faux-antique street signs, and staging a

massive trash pick-up. These efforts were paid for by MAPA and coordinated by MAPA and
the new municipal office on tourism. Daily wages were paid to those working on the
renovations, and shop owners were asked to foot the bill for their fancy new signs.

Whose vision is being enacted here, the campesinos demanded to know? How are rural
communities going to benefit from tourism? And why is all this money being spent to
improve the town of Coroico when the rural towns need agricultural assistance? At the end of
the Central meeting, a resolution was passed proclaiming Coroico an agricultural
municipality, not a tourist municipality. This was a symbolic measure meant to rally Coroicos
rural communities around a common sentiment, namely, rejecting the practice of USAID
orchestrating unpopular programs in their midst, or at least doing so without their
participation and without transparency.

But not everyone at the Central meeting was pleased with this resolution. Profe Abdn, a
teacher from Trinidad Pampa who acts as an advisor to the Central, shook his head as we
talked afterwards. Muy grave, he said in frustration. Very serious (or, what a bummer). He
had repeatedly taken la palabra during the meeting to try to persuade people to maintain
their perspective on this issue. He said they should consider tourism as an opportunity that
can be advantageous for some of them, and that they need not abandon their agricultural
identity in order to benefit from tourism. He said that agriculture and tourism can be
mutually beneficial. His words were not heeded by the sindicato leaders this time.

In my interviews with Coroico community leaders throughout the year, tourism came
in dead last in their list of development priorities, behind every other necessity they
envisioned for their communities. I asked these leaders to rank order their priorities out of a
list I had created based on the public discourse I had witnessed at Central Agraria meetings,
public debates on Radio Uchumachi, municipal government meetings, and around the town
and rural areas. The following is the order in which they appeared in the final count, in which
I added the points that each option earned (between one and ten, so that the lowest score
reveals the highest priority):

Question: Clasifique los proyectos de desarrollo posibles en su comunidad 1es lo ms
importante, hasta 10 (Classify the development projects that would be possible in your
community 1 is the most important, until 10)

40 Mejorar o construir caminos vecinales y ramales
(Improve or construct secondary and tertiary roads)
42 Mejorar el sistema educativo (infraestructura, instruccin)
(Improve the education systeminfrastructure, instruction)
47 Industrializar la coca para incrementar las exportaciones
(Industrialize coca to increase exports)
50 Mejorar el sistema de salud
(Improve the healthcare system)
61 Implementar educacin bilinge (espaol y aymara)
(Implement bilingual educationSpanish and Aymara)
61 Mejorar la produccin agropecuria

(Improve agricultural and farm production)
61 Mejorar los caminos troncales
(Improve primary trunk roads [highways])
67 Fomentar el caf especial y orgnico
(Develop specialty and organic coffee production)
81 Implementar clases de ingls por los nios y jvenes
(Implement English classes for children and youths)
95 Atraer ms turismo al municipio
(Attract more tourists to the municipality)

It seems to me that the public efforts by USAID to promote a seemingly Western
agenda (Lets make Coroico look more quaint and have nicer amenities for foreigners, this
agenda seems to say) have obscured the potential benefits of tourism because it is presented
as a way to get people to stop growing coca. In the eyes of many, then, tourism is a threat
rather than a boon to their economic livelihoods. MAPA ha hecho un error (MAPA has made
a mistake), says Eusebio. Tourism should not replace coca production but support it. As
Yungas leader, writer and lawyer Gabriel Carranza emphasizes, Necesitamos desarrollo CON
coca, no para hacer desaparecer la coca (We need development WITH coca, not to get rid of
coca). Yungas campesinos see coca as a mother (una madre) that allows us to raise a
family, or as el primer pilar que nos sostiene (the primary pillar [of life] that sustains
Any discussion of development in Coroico without addressing the uses and potentials
of coca was incomplete. USAID workers had to constantly defend their development projects
as specifically not conditioned on coca eradication, and that they respected Coroicos status as
a legal coca production zone. But Yungas cocaleros were not always convinced.
USAIDs development policies also run blatantly counter to the ayni concept so
central to Yungas communities. As Marcel Mauss (1990 [1950]) pointed out about the
dynamics of gift exchange, bestowing a gift on someone is rarely an act of altruism, in which
nothing is expected in return. Instead, it is a deliberate act in the negotiation of relationships,
in which reciprocation is expected and even required if the initial receiver intends to maintain
his dignity and social standing in society. Over time this back and forth builds long-term

The next part of this comment from a campesino during a meeting in the alcalda (6 Feb 04) was, and without [our
cultivation of coca] the Yungas would be empty but maybe filled with gringos. I heard this kind of suggestion, only partly
tongue in cheek, throughout my fieldwork. It expressed a pervasive fear that underneath all the rhetoric about helping Yungas
campesinos live a better life without coca, the U.S. really wants to eradicate coca in the Yungas in order to force people off
their landsthen foreign private investors will buy up all their land cheaply. Then coca will be declared legal, and foreigners
will make a fortunejust like they always do at the expense of the Bolivian indigenous people, they say.

relationships of mutual aid and trust. Compared to this, then, the standard development
practice of a wealthy entity donating aid money or technical assistance puts unfair pressure
on the poorer receiver to reciprocate, and is a bastardization of appropriate social conduct. As
anthropologist Mary Douglas put it, A gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity [between
the giver and the receiver] is a contradiction (1990:vii).
Knowing that they can never repay the funds that flood in for alternative
development projects in the Yungas, coca growers are duly suspicious of the true purpose of
this money. What will they have to give back to the U.S. if not money? When a top U.S.
Embassy official made a point of saying in a Declaratoria speech (in Coroico, 5/21/04) that
USAID donations are not contingent on people in Coroico doing anything in returntrying to
quell the suspicion that their funding is tied to coca eradication conditionalitieshe further
complicated matters by creating a dangerous imbalance of power. As Eusebio said indignantly
on Radio Uchumachi the following day, Could it be that we have held out our hand for this
money? No! We didnt ask for this, so that the U.S. could come here and tell us what to do! In
such a situation, the giverthinking himself magnanimous or imagining the receiver as
incapable of reciprocatingholds tightly the reigns of power by keeping the receiver in a
lower social position.

Los Buenos, los Malos, and los Gringos Campesinos
But as the year progressed and campesinos became more concerned about the
unstable Yungas economy, some sindicato leaders came out in support of tourism. Even
Eusebio ended up softening his view of tourism in Coroico. While leading the meeting in May,
he accused USAIDs promotion of tourism to the municipality of being a camouflage for
alternative development (which it is, but in fact there is no camouflage). He and other
sindicato members felt that tourism stood in opposition to their production of coca. There
was also more tension then around the perceived potential for militarized eradication, which
was building up toward a burst of bloqueos in June. But when I spoke to Eusebio in August,
he was more reflective, saying that campesinos are opposed to tourism because they don not
see how they would benefit from it. If tourism is to be a productive venture, he said, rural

leaders want to make sure their communities are in control of any initiatives and that they
have viable ways to participate. And they want coca to be a part of the tourist experience so
foreigners can learn to treat coca with respect. Eusebio called his ideal turismo solidario
(solidarity tourism), or tourism that gives foreigners a way to understand better their link to
the Bolivian people, and vice versa. As an ultimately realistic leader, Eusebio recognized that
the municipality does not need to choose between agriculture and tourism but to figure out
how to benefit from both. His personal role had also shifted, from the fiery sindicato leader
railing on the government and the U.S. from the outside, to a more pragmatic advocate for
working with the government and even U.S. entities to consider how tourism might be useful.
A popular idea among many campesinos is to build a small coca museum in Coroico
that offers a real-life coca picking experience to complement the already notorious and
excellent Museo de la Coca in La Paz. In rural communities with some sort of tourist
attractiona waterfall, swimming hole, or hiking traillocal leaders and residents speak in
positive terms about the benefits that tourism could bring, either by profiting from the
opportunity to sell snacks and drinks along the road or walking paths, or by acting as guides
to the sites. The local community college has even added a new career track in ecotourism to
train local guides. As one person put it, El turismo es una llave para algunas comunidades
que se van a beneficiar del turismo (Tourism is the key [for development and increasing
income] for some communities that are going to benefit from it).
The opportunities for tourists to experience the environment and culture of the
Yungas are myriad, yet little publicity exists to draw foreigners out of the town of Coroico into
the rural towns and attractions. Coroico is a celebrated stop on the gringo trailit has its
own section in the Lonely PlanetBolivia, after allbut that is all it usually is, a stop, rather
than a stay. Coroiqueos would like to attract travelers to their town and rural areas in order
to bolster a depressed economy, but the means for promotion and investment in tourist
facilities remain limited. Some rural residents have designed elaborate plans to attract
tourists to their villages. For example, one woman in Cruz Loma takes groups of tourists on a
short hike through the coca fields to her in-laws land, on which lies an old hacienda and its
kachis where they can pick oranges, have a picnic, hear stories about the local history, and

learn about coca cultivation.
A particularly creative idea was from a man from Capellana who wants to create a
place on his land for tourists to pitch their tents and use a decent bathroom. Then he would
take them on tours of his coffee and coca fields and teach them about the agricultural cycles.
He even wants to allow them to go through the process of picking the juicy red coffee beans
off the plants (possible in June and July), and then peeling, drying, and roasting them until
they can drink a cup of fresh coffee. But this is not a scheme just to make a livinghis primary
goal is to raise enough money to fund transportation for the children in his village who must
walk an hour or more to school in the next town down the road.
He is also passionate about
teaching foreigners about the local Aymara culture, especially coca leaf. The primary obstacle
to making this idea a reality is the lack of funding, for NGOs will not fund individual ventures.
But not everyone is thrilled about encouraging tourists to come camp out in their
fields. There is a local expression that perfectly captures their frustration at the kind of
tourism they feel Coroico attracts to no great benefit: gringo campesino. This amusing
moniker describes both budget backpackers and the ubiquitous traveling artisans who sell
their beaded silver wire necklaces and Amazon seed earrings on the plaza. A Coroico
solamente van gringos pobres, dicen (Only poor gringos
go to Coroico, they say), said one
municipal official, explaining the complaints she hears from town residents. Por ejemplo,
ellos no consumen. Ni hotel, ni nada. Solamente compran un pan, un pltano, un pan con
palta. Y esos pasan todo el da, y no aportan a nuestro municipio (For example, they dont
consume anything. Not a hotel, not anything. They only buy a piece of bread, a banana, some
bread with avocado. Those types pass through here all the time, and they dont support our
In other words, some people would rather attract tourists who can stay in a nice hotel
(rather than just a cheap hostel or rented room, as most do), spend more money on meals and

This concern was often expressed in the Yungasthe injustice of children, often without breakfast, having to walk long
distances to school, then being too tired and undernourished to concentrate or do well in their classes, and then having to walk
home exhausted only to contribute to the family labor and study.

Gringo, while originally referring to a North American, is a term used broadly in Bolivia to refer to any obviously North
American or European, a white person as opposed to a Latin American or person of African descent. It is not necessarily
pejorative, though it can be used that way at times.

store-bought gifts that will end up reaching more people, and stay for longer to gain an
appreciation for the area. Not los ricos (rich people, a category inviting scorn), they say, but
los buenos (good or decent people), those who want to hacer realmente turismo, be real
tourists and not backpacking cheapskates who come just to party and traen mala imagen
(bring a bad image) to Coroico.
Interestingly, potential negative impacts of tourism to the municipality of Coroico
were not often discussed; the debate mostly revolved around whether more tourism would or
would not benefit the campesinos economically in comparison to the town of Coroico. Some
ethnographic research on tourism focuses on the resulting environmental damage, and some
focuses on negative sociocultural impacts (McGoodwin 1986
). When I asked community
leaders during our interviews to talk about the damages that tourism can bring to their area
(Qu daos causa el turismo al medio ambiente, a los campesinos, a su comunidad,
etc.?), their responses fell into three equal themes: no damages, an increase in trash and
plastic bottles, and negative behavioral influences. The most vitriolic responses, though,
centered on the concern that their young people were being negatively influenced by urban
and Western tourists who are accompanied by their money, leisure time, and supposed
penchant for doing drugs. Tourists from La Paz bring their vicios y malos costumbres (vices
and bad habits), said Franz, a sindicato leader from Suapi. Extranjeros (foreigners) bring
the use of marijuana, which puts Bolivian growers and sellers at risk, and some local youth
start using it. Even though tourism has been a central component to life in the Yungas for
decades (for example, a large luxury hotelnow known as the Hotel Gloriawas built on the
crest of the town of Coroico in the 1930s to accommodate visiting dignitaries and the mining
elite), there is some resistance to the idea of foreigners becoming too integrated into everyday
life in Coroico.
The worst kind of tourist to Coroico, however, according to some, are the bicicletistas,

McGoodwin dubs the rapid and destructive changes that can result from opening access to pristine areas the tourist-
impact syndrome. The four sociocultural impacts are: 1) loss of political and economic autonomy, including loss of real
property; 2) loss of folklore and other important institutions of traditional folk culture; 3) social disorganization; and 4) hostility
toward tourists (McGoodwin 1986:132). In the Mexican town he studied, the most severe effects dissipated as the areas
reputation cooled, but the community was irreversibly changed. He argues that outside influence during the planning stages of
tourist initiatives could help avert the most damaging effects; this idea is upheld by such studies as Healys (2001).

the bicyclists who ride down the old road. It is not as if anyone has anything against people
riding bicycles to or in the area, or that anyone resents the attention they bring to Coroico, or
even that anyone wants them to go away. The problem is that most of the bicicletistas are on
packaged tours and spend little money or time in the town itself. And it doesnt help that the
tour companies have started calling it The Death Road (usually in English), adding a note of
sensationalism that irritates local people. Each year, hoards of foreignersperhaps 24,000 in
all (MAPA statistics 2004)careen down the old road from La Paz toward Coroico on
aluminum mountain bikes and arrive caked in dust and hungry. They are picked up by their
tour companys van at the bottom of the valley and whisked to a secluded spotoften the
Hotel Esmeralda above the town of Coroico overlooking the Andean panoramafor a shower,
a swim, and a buffet lunch. Then they are taken back up the old road to La Paz that same
afternoon to arrive in time for dinner and a good nights sleep.
To many people in Coroico, merchants and government officials alike, this is a lost
opportunity. They feel cut off from this massive flow of tourists to their town, unable to take
advantage of the income generating possibilities they represent. While the Hotel Esmeralda
and the other two or three hotels that receive the bicicletistas are supplied by local chicken
producers, bakers, and farmers, and employ local people to work in their restaurants and
guest facilities, the popular refrain is to say that the bicicletistas dont spend any money in
the town. One municipal proposal in 2004 was to levy a US$1 tax on all bicyclists who enter
the town of Coroico to be used for urban infrastructure improvement projects. By 2006, this
idea was still under discussion, and the tour operators I spoke with in La Paz considered the
idea an insurmountable bureaucratic obstacle and an annoyance to tourists. Ironically,
bicicletistas represent the sort of real tourism that some people in Coroico desire because
they go to nicer hotels and bring an image of adventure and activity, rather than just the
pursuit of marijuana and beer, to the area because of the nature of their endeavor.

ELECTIONS: Law of Popular Participation
Especially when compared to the controversial and widely reviled Ley 1008, Bolivias
Law of Popular Participation was a welcome and positive step toward a healthier nation. This

law is considered one of the only good things to come from this conservatives two
contentious administrations. This dissertation shows that the institutionalization of the LPP
in Coroico has served as fruitful terrain for public discussion of current local issues, the
implementation of localized development agendas, and the incorporation of rural indigenous
peasants into the municipal government. It also shows, however, that the inherently
insufficient funds that come from the LPP to Coroico are not able to satisfy the long-term
development needs of both the pueblo and the campo of this municipality, and that this has
created a dependency on the international NGOs that have permanent projects in Coroico.
Since the most prominent NGO in the region is USAID (though of course it is not an NGO;
its Washington, DC, contractors that work in the Yungas are MAPA and ACDI/VOCA)
providing more funds to the Coroico municipal government per year than it receives as its
share of the LPP fundsthe pressure to replace coca crops with more acceptable
development projects is significant,
and engenders more animosity toward the foreign
policy of the U.S. in rural areas.
While research elsewhere in Bolivia shows that campesinos still feel disenfranchised from
local democratic processes (Andersson 1999; Dudley 1997), those in the Coroico municipality
applaud the principles of the law and the possibility of participating more directly in local
development projects, and they are interested in alternatives to coca if adequate funding and
consideration are afforded them.
When I asked her opinion of the LPP, Sister Damon, director of the UAC, said that its
primary flaw is that it only generates popular participation to the extent that people are
presented with a range of options from which they are allowed to choose. It does not,
however, promote the right for all citizens, especially indigenous campesinos, to receive a
decent education and thus engage in true participation, in which they would be able to create
their own concept of development toward their own vision of the future. This important point
shows another way that the theories of development and democracy overlapparticipation is
a central concept to both, and since the LPP concerns participation in both governance and

Since Coroico is within the legal coca growing region, according to Ley 1008, USAID may not impose eradication conditions
on its development aid monies to this municipalitythough it does require the destruction of coca crops for the receipt of aid in
neighboring Caranavi and other illegal areas.

local development, exploring this idea is useful here.
B. C. Smith (1998) outlined five forms of participation in development projects:
utilization (of services provided), contribution (of labor, materials, or money), enlistment (of
community members to help), cooperation (between locals and development agents), and
consultation (of locals by development agents). Each strategy results in a different degree of
local power over the project as each is more or less participative, but consultation is the
weakest form, because the right to comment on local plans is merely the right to advise, not
to decide (Smith 1998:198; echoed in OECD 1995:10). Smith maintains that communities
may still gain empowerment even through the weakest forms of participation. Robert Dahl
(1998:37) argues that one of the standards in the democratic process is enlightened
understanding, which he explains as, each member [citizen] must have equal and effective
opportunities for learning about the relevant alternative policies and their likely
consequences. According to Sister Damon, Dahls concept of learning does not go nearly far
enough, for learning about what policy options exist is not equivalent to contributing to the
formation of these policy options. She would also reject Smiths acceptance of consultation
and other weak forms of participation as wholly inadequate as long-term strategies for
ameliorating trenchant socio-economic inequality and diverse rural development needs.
However, Sister Damons criticism also highlights a central feature of a healthy democracy,
that of the public controlling the policy agenda (cf. Dahl 1998:38).
The final section of this chapter will consider how the 2004 municipal elections
highlighted the conflicting development priorities of Yungas municipalities, but also how the
LPP is opening an important avenue of popular political participation that the sindicatos are
learning how to utilize as they continue to explore new and creative options for defending the
coca economy in the Yungas.

Municipal Elections December 2004
The acrimonious division that developed within the Yungas cocalero movement was
most apparent in the December 2004 municipal elections for mayors and town councils. The
fundamental problem was a difference of ideologyand economic rationale and political

expediencyover whether cocaleros in the traditional zone of the Yungas should protect their
legal status and thus their economic stronghold at the expense of those in the Chapare and
the newly producing areas, or whether they should adopt a more nationalistic attitude and
fight for the legalization of coca leaf cultivation in the entire country. Not surprisingly, the
protectionists allied with the first position created locally-rooted citizen groups, called
agrupaciones ciudadanas (established in accordance with a law passed in July 2004 under
Carlos Mesa), to represent them at the municipal level, while the nationalists in favor of the
second tactic elected representatives aligned with the MAS party.
Both factions have a similar agenda that endorses the industrialization of coca leaf in
order to protect agricultural livelihoods, strengthen the regional economy, and promote
international exports. This agenda is linked to several other shared goals: 1) focus on
development with coca, as opposed to coca substitution; 2) depenalize the export of the raw
leaf for chewing and tea; 3) develop medicinal, cosmetic, and nutritional products that use
coca derivatives; 4) alter the international image of coca leaf with an eye toward declassifying
coca as a narcotic at the United Nations 2008 Vienna Convention; 5) denounce the
fabrication and trafficking of cocaine; and 6) promote the participation of cocaleros and other
indigenous agriculturalists in local and national politics.
The key differences between the two factions, however, are significant. The
municipalities that voted for agrupaciones ciudadanas
to protect the traditional production
zone are those that are more centrally located in the high valleys of the legal area and have
deeper historical connections to coca cultivation. Their primary goal is to ensure the strength
of the coca economy in their region in order to maintain their dominance in the legal market
in La Paz. They argue that the more tropical lowland environment of newly colonized regions
can support a wide variety of products, which thus obviates their need to grow coca. As such,
the protectionists support Ley 1008 (with some minor alterations), alternative development
in illegal areas (but not militarized eradication), and oversight by Bolivian police and military
forces to apprehend cocaine manufacturers and traffickers in order to show that legal

RCOCA (Revolucin Cocalera Yunguea, a reconfiguration of the local MIR party) won a majority in Coripata (though MAS
was a close second), and Adepcoca (an agrupacin ciudadana with a separate Personera Jurdica than the coca market) won
in Chulumani (MAS did not even have a candidate there).

cocaleros are not involved in the drug trade. In the 2005 presidential elections, many in these
municipalities supported Jorge Quirogas PODEMOS (Poder Democrtico y Social) party,

the one favored by the U.S. and dedicated to the continuation of Bolivias Ley 1008 and
neoliberal reforms.
This situation, which intensified during the December 2004 municipal elections,
divided Yungas cocaleros into two factions: protectionists (from the traditional zone) who
want to defend their localized niche economy, and nationalists (mostly from the more
recently colonized areas in and around the legal zone) who want to expand the coca economy.
Because of the extreme topography and depleted soils of the highland Yungas, the
protectionists argue that coca is their only viable crop, and that the more tropical lowland
environment of newly colonized regions can support a wide variety of products. On the other
hand, the nationalists (a much larger group) are eager to erase the inequity that Ley 1008
established in allowing only one region to profit from the lucrative coca economy.
The Yungas municipalities that voted in the MAS party to lead their local
are largely the ones that are experiencing the greatest influx of colonists from
around the country and thus the benefits of the coca economy for the first time. As such, they
reject the differentiation of legal versus illegal zones, the interference of the United States in
Bolivian sovereign affairs through coercive aid or alternative development programs,
military intervention, and the limits placed on who is allowed to sell coca leaf into the legal
market in La Paz. The nationalists end goal is to sustain the current increase in coca
production by promoting a broader coca economy that can support the livelihoods of the
cocaleros as well as those in secondary and tertiary economies (such as teachers, nurses,
merchants, entrepreneurs, truck drivers, road and construction workers, etc.) that evolve to
sustain a prosperous rural economy on a large scale. The majority in these municipalities

According to personal communication with local leaders. The Corte Nacional Electoral website ( does
not list results for municipalities; in the La Paz department, which includes both Yungas provinces, PODEMOS won 18.1% of
the vote, compared with 28.6% nationwide. In the Cochabamba department, which includes the Chapare, PODEMOS won

MAS won a majority of votes in Coroico, Caranavi, Irupana, La Asunta and Palos Blancos in 2004.

voted for Evo Morales for president.
As president, Morales aims to permanently eliminate
militarized eradication as a way to reduce internal conflict and reclaim Bolivias national
sovereignty. His agenda honors cocaleros as agents of their own development and draws them
into the process of curbing the cocaine trade in order to end their role as either passive
recipients or opponents of outside initiatives.
Both sides have legitimate economic rationales and social justice concerns. Both are
proactively exploring creative ways to support coca production and avoid violent eradication
measures. Both are collaborating with Bolivian and foreign academics, researchers, lawyers,
and nongovernmental organizations to develop strategies and policies. Both are committed to
democratic participation, which includes the time-honored Bolivian labor union tactics of
public demonstrations, protest marches and road blockades. And both use coca as the sacred
leaf to symbolize their indigenous Andean identity and thus to legitimize their policy
However, neither side has a model to predict the impacts of industrialization and
trade liberalization not to mention decoupling coca from the cocaine market on the price
of raw coca leaf, or whether a production increase can sustain the current high market prices
and thus the rural livelihoods the cocaleros enjoy. Another major factor in the success of these
agendas is the execution of a national study of the production, sale and legal uses of coca leaf
which could be used to justify an increase in coca cultivation. Such a survey is crucial and
has been advocated by Morales in the Bolivian Congress for years but ensuring peoples
honest cooperation will be difficult. And finally, environmental and health impacts must be
taken into account as new cocales are cut out of fragile rainforests on steep slopes, and soil
and water are polluted by the toxic petrochemicals that are being applied to coca crops with
alarming frequency. New President Morales, even though he currently enjoys a broad popular
mandate, will need to pay special attention to Yungas cocaleros and the particulars of this
region, since the cultural history and economics of coca cultivation there are very different
from the Chapare.

According to personal communication with local leaders. In the La Paz department, MAS won 66.6% of the vote, compared
with 53.7% nationwide. In the Cochabamba department, MAS won 64.8%.


From Sindicato to Neoliberal Democracy in Coroico
The results of the 2004 elections in Coroico in which campesinos won the majority
confirm that the cocaleros, through their agrarian sindicato organizations, have become
central players in municipal politics. They succeeded in transforming their community form
of democratic governance into a force to be reckoned with on the municipal stage, as well as
at the provincial, departmental, and national levels. Moraless win in 2005 represents the
next step of the cocaleros success in changing the way that Boliviansas well as people
around the worldconceptualize what democracy means and how it can be practiced. This is
a major accomplishment in a country that has for decades followed international norms of
democratic engagement with foreign governments that maintained the marginalization,
exploitation, and disenfranchisement of the rural indigenous population. Coca growers and
miners are the most prominent elements of his party base in Bolivias new era of
collaboration between special interest groups, or social coalitions as Garcia Linera (2006:82)
calls them.
The most important elements of this shift were in the use of the concepts of civil
society, the public sphere, and participation. In other words, Coroico cocaleros changed the
way we can conceptualize these concepts both as theoretical ideas and as actual practices.
First, civil society refers not only to NGOs and other voluntary membership organizations,
but also to indigenous society itself and the social movements it creates. Second, cocaleros
wrested the use of the public sphere away from elite policy makers by demanding that they be
listened to on the streets in their protests and road blockades where they speak and negotiate
for themselves, not just on national radio or in newspapers where their voices can be
distorted. And third, cocaleros introduced their own form of participation in municipal
politics and development by demonstrating the legitimacy of the popular assembly and again,
public protest. That the community radio stations in Coroico and some international NGOs
were instrumental in leveraging the voices of the cocaleros and facilitating both public debate
and the popular vote shows that electoral success of marginalized groups is a collaborative
endeavor between diverse elements of civil society.

Anthropologist Nancy Postero argues that Bolivias neoliberal reforms have provided
a number of resources and tools (2007:18) that indigenous people have utilized to pose
important challenges to the workings of global capitalism (ibid.:17). She takes an approach
similar to this dissertation in offer[ing] a contrast to most characterizations of the effects of
neoliberalism, which tend to generalize about its negative or positive effects without
examining the complexity of how subjects engage with it (ibid.). By showing how Yungas
cocaleros, through their sindicatos, have utilized the opportunities brought by the 1994 Law
of Popular Participation to promote their agenda for the coca leaf as both cultural heritage
and economic resource, I illustrate how Bolivians are taking advantage of an expansion of
political rights to further their civil, social, and economic rights.
A central goal of this dissertation has been to illustrate how and why the sindicato
system represents an alternative philosophy and practice of democracyconsidered an
alternative since neoliberalism is currently the dominant model in Latin America. It also
argues that the combination, or hybridization, of these two models in the Yungas has led to
the mutual strengthening of both the neoliberal and the sindicato model. The Yungas agrarian
sindicato system draws its principles in part from the ancient Aymara ayllu system, as well as
from international socialist union models. This trend makes for an interesting indigenous
parallel history to counter and balance the dominant elite history, contributing to Bolivias
development of democratic and economic viability. With the election of President Evo
Morales in 2005, these parallel histories merged at the national level; my ethnographic
research in 2004 was a rare window into this creative process behind the scenes.
By studying the interconnection of coca leaf and democracy in the Coroico
municipality in 2004, I tapped into the central issues affecting the Yungas region, in both
rural indigenous communities and the more socio-economically mixed towns. Ultimately, my
ethnographic research forecasts the current political situation in Bolivia with Morales as
president, and also the continuing troubled relationship between the U.S. and Bolivia. The
study of democratic reform from any disciplinary perspective is a timely endeavor, what with
todays interventionist style of U.S. foreign policy and the tarnished legacy of neoliberal
reforms in Latin America. But an ethnographic angle is even more imperative because of the

central role that history and culture play in the idiosyncratic adaptation of any given political
model. What the experience of the agrarian sindicatos in the Yungas demonstrates is just how
significant this particular context is in the formation of civil society and in the configuration
of popular participation in both communal and representative democracy.


Long live self-determinationgraffito along a Yungas road. ( Caroline Conzelman 2004.)


Nayaw jiwkta, nayxarux waranq waranqanakaw saytasipxani (I die now, but over me will
rise up thousands and thousands).

Aymara Revolutionary Hero and Martyr Tupac Katari upon his execution by Spanish
generals following the anti-colonial rebellion around La Paz, 15 November 1781

On the day of Evo Moraless inauguration as president of Bolivia on 22 January 2006,
thousands of campesinos gathered in the Plaza de los Heroes in La Paz to celebrate, amid the
giddy feeling that Kataris 1781 prophecy had come to pass (Stefanoni and Do Alto 2006).
This dissertation adds an important piece to the puzzle to explain Latin Americas recent rise
of the new Left. There has been a proliferation of analyses across the academic and
policymaking spectrum over the past two years in an attempt to assess the significance and
longevity of the leftist resurgence. Some argue that this new Left is actually more moderate,
and indeed constrained, than many would assume (Cleary 2006:36), and that the old loaded

ideologies of socialism and populism no longer apply to the current political agendas
(Schamis 2006:32). What my research in Bolivia shows us is that the rise of the new Left is, in
part, a result of the selective combination of ideologies based on a cultural imperative, rather
than the strict adherence to an imported theory. Thus we can see a new hybrid form of
democracy evolving within this democratic revolution. Economist Matthew Cleary (2006:41,
italics in original) captures this phenomenon:
Where the left has truly broken with its past is in terms of strategy. Most significant leftist
groups, including communist and socialist political parties, no longer advocate violence,
revolution, or other antisystemic approaches to resolving issues of social justice. Instead,
they have made a conscious decision to compete for elected office. To be sure, many
social movements across the [Latin American] region remain committed to contentious
forms of protest politics, including strikes, demonstrations, and roadblocks. But
increasingly, these methods of protest are seen as a legitimate form of civil disobedience
within a democratic system, rather than a direct challenge to the system itself.
Furthermore, these strategies are increasingly used in conjunction with electoral
contestation rather than as an alternative.

My research shows that Yungas peasant sindicatos have increased the legitimacy of
Bolivias social democratic ideology owing to their long tradition of rural community
governance combined with advocacy efforts as primary civil society actors within the more
recent neoliberal system and the LPP. They employ a variety of democratic methods of
popular participationassembly meetings, protest marches, road blockades, national events
to facilitate dialogue, and electionsto increase their control over the regional and national
development agenda for coca leaf. This concerted and sustained political engagement
contributed to the success of indigenous political parties and ultimately to the election of Evo
Morales in December 2005.
Morales has made it clear that his rise to electoral power did not come about
haphazardly, or because the elites in power wanted indigenous people to be better
represented in the centralized system, or because a group of professionals created his MAS
party. It came about because the Bolivian peopleel pueblo bolivianowere engaged in the
issues and organized to participate through the sindicato system. Their struggles for water,
natural gas, and coca helped raise the consciousness of the Bolivian people to see that they
could effect a change to national policy, but democratically, not with violence (Stefanoni and
Do Alto 2006:137). This final chapter will review the central findings of this dissertation and

will explicate its major contributions to the anthropological literature. It will conclude with a
discussion of the current status (as of early 2007) of the Yungas cocalero movement and of
coca leaf policy in the Yungas under the Morales administration.

Summary of the Research and Major Contributions
My ethnographic fieldwork in the Coroico municipality of the Yungas region of
Bolivia set out to address the following questions: 1) How did the agrarian sindicatos become
such a unique force for community governance and civil society engagement in the Yungas?
2) What forms of democratic popular participation do they use to engage in the political
process? 3) How do these strategies contribute to the democratization of Bolivia? 4) How
effective has the movement been in standing up to a non-democratic foreign policy process
and promoting a development agenda for coca leaf that respects local economic and cultural
priorities? In order to best frame these questions, I primarily drew upon the theories of
democracy in political science and anthropology, Latin American peasant studies, and
participatory development, as well as modernization and dependency theories, nationalism,
and social movements. These theoretical approaches allowed me to evaluate the complex
historical and political processes subsumed in the questions above in a way that advances our
understanding of how Western political models can be adapted to a foreign setting by
combining them with autochthonous historical cultural practices and values. They also
allowed me to analyze how one central socioeconomic factorcoca leafcan impact the
methods of political engagement to influence regional development policies.
Following a discussion of these primary thesis questions, the project setting,
methodology, and theoretical orientation, I outlined a history of Bolivia and the Yungas in
order to provide the necessary context for understanding the historical oppression of Bolivias
Aymara population through 300 years of Spanish colonialism and 200 years of elite
republicanism. It also brings us to the present phases of neoliberal reform, social movements
around Bolivias natural resources, and the rise of the new Left. This account demonstrates
the strength of Bolivias indigenous traditions that have inspired resistance efforts throughout
this history of cultural devastation, land expropriation, labor exploitation, and political

marginalization. Aymara revolutionary heroes such as Tupac Katari, Bartolina Sisa, Mateo
Flores, and Zerate Willkaand now Evo Moralesserve as models of resistance to outside
forces of domination. Finally, this history illustrates the abiding relationship of the Aymara
people to their cultural traditions of the ayllu and coca leaf.
To provide the necessary context for the Yungas region, I detailed the Aymara
cultural traditions that influence the organization of rural communities and inspire their
engagement with the political process in their municipalities. In addition to the Aymara
language and the persistent practices of ayni, minka, trueque, and faena, the techniques of
coca cultivation and the quotidian and ritualistic uses of the leaf are of central importance to
these communities. These phenomena have created a setting very different than the Chapare,
where coca is also grown in Bolivia but has been recently linked to the drug trade. Through an
evaluation of Bolivian and international drug prohibition laws, I illustrate the complicated
nature of the war on drugs and its impact in the Yungas region. This outside imposition of
policies and militarized intervention have helped to galvanize the democratic organization of
the agrarian sindicatos in order to defend the coca economy in the Yungas.
I then discussed the roots of European syndicalist theory and how it jumped around
the world to Bolivia following the Revolution of 1952. I traced the trajectory of how
syndicalism became sindicalismo as this model of labor union organization was combined
with the practices of the Aymara ayllu and adapted to meet the exigencies of semi-subsistence
livelihoods to become functioning structures for rural community government, called
sindicatos. I showed how the agrarian sindicatos became the dominant form of civil society
organization in the Yungas after the fall of feudalism. I explained how the meaning of
democracy is conceptualized by Yungas campesinos, and how sindicalismo has influenced
their visions for the future of Bolivia as a social democracy with greater popular consultation,
accountability, transparency, and social service provision than the neoliberal system
stipulates or allows.
Finally, I analyzed the primary methods of democratic popular participation that the
Yungas sindicatos use to insert the voices of the campesinos in the public sphere and
influence development policies at the municipal and national levels. These strategies were

modified from the original syndicalist model but also draw upon the principles of liberalism
to utilize the structure of electoral democracy. The three methods are the community
assembly, popular protest, and national events to facilitate dialogue on coca leaf policy. All
three of these methods were used during the rise of the Yungas cocalero movement in 2004 as
coca cultivation in this region increased, and served to bolster the resistance efforts of the
sindicatos against the possibility of militarized intervention in the war on drugs. However,
there is a growing divide within the Yungas cocalero movement that reveals the complicated
dynamics of the coca economy. I concluded this discussion with an explanation of the
December 2004 municipal elections in which sindicato leaders affiliated with the MAS party
won a majority of seats in Coroico.
The four central arguments that emerge from these discussions indicate the major
contributions I am making to the discipline of anthropology through my research in Bolivia.
First, I further our understanding of how Western models of democracy are adapted by
indigenous people in a particular historical cultural setting. The history of agrarian
sindicalismo in Bolivia shows that when a dialectic between the state and civil society is
allowed to develop, and when a new political model is both promoted by the state and valued
at the grassroots, the resulting hybridized political system is better able to serve the political
economic needs of the population. Relatedly, if such a dialectic and concurrent top-down and
bottom-up process is not allowed to developfor example, when a political model is imposed
by the state as in the case of feudalism, military dictatorship or the drug war, or when civil
society desires a political change that the state will not allow as in the case of socialismthen
a system that impedes the healthy functioning of a societys political economy often results.
Second, agrarian sindicalismo in the Yungas shows us how the line between the state
and civil society can be blurred. These sindicatos function as both a structure for community
governance and as the central civil society actors in relation to the municipal and national
government. As community governments, sindicatos ensure the productive functioning of the
rural communities. As civil society actors, sindicatos help to hold municipal and national
government officials accountable and to promote development priorities regarding the coca
economy. Our social theoriesin the realms of both development and democracythat

assume a division between the state and civil society do not allow for such hybridity. My
ethnographic analysis of hybrid democratic structures and practices evident in Yungas
sindicalismo allows us to reconceptualize the meaning of democracy by more responsibly
accounting for its diverse historical and cultural components. This perspective honors the
long political traditions of indigenous cultures as well as their agency in adapting and
influencing dominant national political systems.
Third, my research explicates why coca leaf is the central cultural, spiritual,
medicinal, nutritional and economic component to life in the traditional (and legal)
cultivation zone of the Yungasit is a total social fact. Thus coca is the primary element that
drives the politics in the area, as it has been throughout the era of the haciendas, through the
elite vehicle of the Society of Yungas Landowners (SPY), and via the sindicatos and the
burgeoning cocalero movement. Coca provides the fundamental reason to defend the peasant
economy and to promote its legal uses on the international stage. Its multifaceted importance
also explains why alternative development efforts in the war on drugs have been a
resounding failure and have only succeeded in fomenting resistance by the sindicatos.
Participatory development theory within anthropology can be used to show why such an
outcome is not surprising in the least.
And fourth, this dissertation argues that the methods of agrarian sindicato
organizationassembly, protest, and dialogueare democratic. This conclusion runs counter
to what neoliberal political theory advocates, but it resonates within the emerging scholarship
of the new Left social movements in Latin America. In light of the long-term adaptation of the
sindicato model to the Aymara traditions of the Yungas, these methods have been developed
and refined over time to provide an effective means for broad-scale democratic participation.
This model of sindicato democracy requires us to consider the process of conflict as a
legitimate component of a healthy democracy, and to allow for a greater conception of
citizenship and socioeconomic rights to be progressively defined by the population.
Political anthropologists have been formally studying democracy for only the past two
decades, and already the amount of literature on the subject is impressive, especially in
relation to Latin America. Our strength is in our ability to live up to the very nature of our

multi-disciplinary field and incorporate the theories of political science, economics,
geography and sociology into our analyses of the historical adaptation and current
manifestations of political systems. This is what I strove to do in my research. That we are
also able to live in one place for an extended period of time is a luxury which should not be
taken for granted. This experience allows us to incorporate a multiplicity of voices into our
research and develop the authority of place and relation from which to speak. But we should
also not lose sight of the fact that our researchany researchis inherently incomplete and
inadequate. Nancy Scheper-Hughess appeal for a good-enough ethnography (1992) rings
true, and I hope that this dissertation qualifies.
As a final component to this dissertation, I will briefly discuss the aftermath of the
political changes that took place in 2004 to round out the historical trajectory so closely
followed in this research. The election of Evo Morales in 2005 was a result of the effectiveness
of the cocalero movement and the redefinition of democracy that it helped to establish. It is
interesting to witness how the next phase of hybridization in Bolivia is taking place between
sindicalismo and neoliberalism, fomented in part by the municipal elections of 2004 which
showed that indigenous dirigentes and organic intellectuals that had developed their
leadership skills in the sindicatos were able to win elections to government office across the
nation. This shift is a welcome signal of the expanding political rights for Bolivias historically
marginalized indigenous population. I also explain the next phase of the cocalero movement
and the changing coca policies under the Morales administration.

Bolivias Hybrid Political System and the Rise of Evo Morales
[T]he election of Morales has understandably epitomized the winds of change for national
and international pundits. Bolivia, in short, is living a fundamentally transformational

Anthropologist Robert Albro (2006:409)

Bolivias current political democracy is rooted in almost 200 years of elitism,
clientelism, racism and corruption in the national government of the republic. Even though
indigenous people gained citizenship rights in the 1950s, they were able to do little more than

vote and then get out of the wayunless they were affiliated with the COB or were willing to
join a guerrilla movementuntil the 1980s when the first indigenous representatives began
arriving in La Paz. Sindicatos and their national labor unions in a parallel national hierarchy
struggled to pressure the elite governments from the outside for concessions and favors, but
working and living conditions for the nations indigenous majority changed in only minimal
ways during the second half of the 20
century. Candidates for elected office were culled from
a tiny herd of privileged urban creoles and mestizos. Two anthropologists specializing in the
convolutions of Bolivian politics insightfully, and cynically, characterize the traditional path
to government office:
Muchos de los ms notorios ministros de Estado de nuestro tiempo empezaron sus
carreras polticas en las ms prestigiosas universidades bolivianas al formar parte de
oscuras cofradas revolucionarias donde se iniciaron en los misterios de poder: lecturas
de principios ideolgicos (para dar buenos discursos mitineros), debates tericos
(chicaneara retrica), el poder de la democracia popular (armar buenos aparatos para
imponerse en el gritero asamblesta), estrategias polticas (contubernios y prebendas),
y liderazgo (caudillismo), todo muy til para la profesin parlamentaria de la
democracia boliviana. (Aguilar and Spedding 2005:86 footnote #3)

Many of the most notorious state ministers of our time began their political careers in the
most prestigious Bolivian universities to become part of obscure revolutionary guilds
where they were initiated into the mysteries of power: readings of ideological principles
(in order to give good speeches at political rallies), theoretical debates (rhetorical
chicanery), the clout of popular democracy (to arm oneself with effective devices in order
to insert oneself into the clamor of sindicato assemblies), political strategies (distortions
and special privileges), and leadership (strongman tactics), all of this quite useful for the
parliamentary profession in Bolivias democracy.

While solely contemptuous of Bolivias contemporary elite politics, this description represents
well the disdain for the central government held by many campesinos in the Yungas. Even
though sindicalismo is considered by some to be a more pure personal form of democratic
governance than impersonal representative democracy, experience in sindicato governance
has not generally been a way to initiate a career in national politics. However, as this
dissertation has shown, the agrarian sindicatos are breaking this entrenched pattern of
Bolivian political formation by establishing a new source of political leadership. The
municipal election results from December 2004 illustrated this shift as the MAS party won
the majority of seats in the Coroico town council and the position of alcalde. Moraless rise
from sindicato leader to congressman to president also demonstrates this change in a
startling way.

This electoral success marks a shift from sindicatos serving as a means for resolving
only community and regional level issues and occasionally pressuring the central government
from the outside, to sindicatos serving as a sort of training ground for future political leaders
who can gain experience on the local level and the harsh environment of a rural community
and thus postulate a political career within the formal democratic system of the Congress and
even the presidency. This shift marks the next experiment in the hybridization of Bolivias
democratic models.
The election of sindicato leader-cum-congressman Evo Morales in 2005 represented
a convergence of the sindicato political system and the neoliberal system of government. In
his inauguration speech in January 2006, Morales explained that the methods of political
participationmarches, strikes, and bloqueosthat campesinos had enacted through their
sindicatos to advocate for better health, education, employment, and natural resource
management had not produced the desired policy changes: Because the sindicato
mechanisms were not sufficient, the Bolivian campesino movement dared to resolve these
problems politically, electorally. Thus rose to power the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS)
party as their political instrument (speech transcribed in Stefanoni and Do Alto 2006:139).
In other words, sindicato politics are only effective to a pointto raise awareness of
issues important to Bolivian campesinos (and other workers as the case may be) and try to
pressure the government into adopting changesbut if people really want to resolve their
problems more effectively without having to wait for the government to respond to their
demands, they can involve themselves directly in the political process by aligning with a
political party and winning support through elections. This is an example of the power of
centralized politics as structured by the Western or neoliberal representative system and
how indigenous groups perpetually marginalized by the state have been able in recent years to
insert themselves into this system for their own benefit. The LPP created a democratic
openingby facilitating municipal elections and thus local government accountabilitythat
pragmatic and organized indigenous groups are taking advantage of in Bolivia.
Morales and others argueas do some prominent U.S. political figures, though not in
celebration (off-the-record comment in a personal interview in La Paz)that the resistance

generated over 20 years in response to the U.S.-backed militarized coca eradication policy
served to organize and strengthen one of the most important social movements of the country
(ibid.:41; Healy 1991). Por la coca soy Presidente (Because of coca I am President), Morales
has said (La Razn 18 June 2006:A3). The sindicato structure that had evolved since 1953
was the central organizing impetus of this movement. Each local sindicato gave its individual
members a forum for expression and leadership, and the regional organizational levelsthe
Centrales, Federaciones, and Confederacionesgave the collective body of cocaleros a way to
organize resistance efforts against a state program that did not reflect the interests of the
cocaleros. In other words, the cocaleros used the parallel hierarchy of the sindicato structure
and the national influence of the CSUTCB to promote their agenda when they were still
largely excluded from representative democratic politics.
Because of widespread human rights abuses and the undermining of Bolivian
sovereignty with the drug war, a movement grew around a series of demands to not only free
Bolivia from U.S.-imposed eradication measures, but to fight for a change to the UN
classification of coca as a narcotic. Morales ran on this platform and won a clear majority of
votes in the December 2005 presidential elections. Once again, coca leaf finds itself at the
center of a political agenda, for the first time controlled by the indigenous people. They now
have the chance to wield its symbolism and economic power in new directions. With a UN
legal classification of the leaf, Bolivia would be able to export nutritional, medicinal and
cosmetic products that use coca derivatives as well as the leaf itself for chewing and tea. Such
industrialization of the leaf is the primary long-term goal of many of the countrys coca
growers, for they hope to be able to maintain their lucrative rural livelihoods, accommodate
the recent dramatic increase in the leafs cultivation, and bolster the regional and national
economy. Coca growers and their unionsand now in conjunction with municipal officials
and the national governmentare addressing the complex issues surrounding coca
production, trade and consumption, as well as the nations unstable yet evolving foreign
relations, by collaborating with Bolivian and foreign academics, researchers, lawyers, and
nongovernmental organizations to develop strategies and policies. The ultimate goal is to
utilize legitimate political and economic institutions to promote a new image and new legal

markets for coca around the world.

The Future of the Bolivian Cocalero Movement

We have seen how Yungas cocaleros divided into protectionist and nationalist
factions in 2004, yet how each faction has worked to promote a similar agenda that
capitalizes on the industrialization of coca leaf products as the cornerstone of regional
development. Since the 2005 presidential election, however, Coripata and Chulumani seem to
be aligning more closely with MAS, and ADEPCOCA has reorganized to a MAS party
Even at the 2004 Cumbre de la Coca, while Ley 1008 was defended by
ADEPCOCA and some sindicato representatives, the work group addressing the Asamblea
Constituyente concluded that the national legalization of coca is the best way to unify the
cocaleros in their demands. Anthropologist Alison Spedding, herself a cocalera near
Chulumani as well as a professor at UMSA, argued in her presentation that the categorization
of land into legal and illegal areas is imprecise and causes social conflict, thus Ley 1008
should be abolished (see Spedding 2004). These trends suggest that the nationalist stance
may be gaining in popularity in the Yungas, which may narrow if not obliterate the divide that
was apparent in 2004.
Especially given Bolivias entrenched tradition of clientelistic politics, it seems
inevitable that different cocalero interest groups will attempt to demonstrate their allegiance
to Morales and the MAS, at least at first, in the hopes of securing political favors and
appointments. Yungas agrarian leaders who are in favor of national legalization will likely
gain prominent positions in departmental and perhaps even national government, as the
protectionists struggle to reconstruct the legitimacy of their cause or abandon it altogether.
With Morales in power, the vector of vitriol will temporarily be oriented away from the state,
cocaleros traditional target. However, such a honeymoon rarely lasts as presidents are unable
to please all elements of a broad social movement. Morales will surely face public
confrontation from Yungas cocaleros if his nationalization scheme for coca falters or becomes

This section is taken from Conzelman 2006b.

According to personal communication with local leaders.

impossible to defend in the face of vigorous U.S. opposition.
The history of social movements, especially the radical kind that Bolivia is
experiencing, shows that achieving success in the form of national political representation
often leads to the division if not demobilization of the movement, not least because of the
dramatic shift in power relations (Zibechi 2005). On the one hand, a unified front from a
broad base is difficult to sustain, and on the other, government power connives to corrupt as
high level leaders gain new insider status and lose touch with their base. Add to these
suppositions the fact that Bolivians are weary of delays in the provision of social services and
economic returns after centuries of elite corruption and exploitation, and a devolution of
cocalero activists into divergent camps according to their particular demands is not hard to
envision. Bloqueos and protest marches have been essential to the cocalero movement in
Bolivia since its inception in the 1980s in the Chapare and are not likely to be given up. They
are the methods of resistance established by the original agrarian and mining sindicatos, and
were used by the principal indigenous historical heroes. Morales may eventually find himself
the target of such mass mobilizations.
The collaborative approach that cocalero leaders have taken in their development
with coca agenda lends authority and stability to the movement. They have sought support
and assistance from academics and public figures, both Bolivians and foreigners, some of
whom will become political advisors and emissaries in the new MAS administration. Several
international NGOs, such as ENCOD (European NGO Council on Drugs and Development)
and TNI (Transnational Institute), have worked with cocalero leaders to help develop their
agenda. Since the U.S. government has at times characterized Andean coca growers as
terrorists, especially Evo Morales (Rieff 2005:76), cooperation with these professional
advisors and international bodies will help legitimize their political economic agenda. This
legitimacy is exactly what Bolivian cocaleros will need to make their case at the UN 2008
Vienna Convention for the dissociation of coca leaf from cocaine and the declassification of
coca as a narcotic. With a new legal designation it may become possible to export coca leaf
and its industrial products on a global scale.
The economic implications of national legalization are as yet unknown, but it is clear

that, at this point, a majority of Bolivian cocaleros agree that industrializing and exporting
coca leaf and its legal derivative products hold great promise for the development of a more
prosperous indigenous class while bolstering the national economy. Even so, the conflict
between the two factions of Yungas cocaleros in 2004 demonstrates that it will be a
considerable challenge to unify Bolivians around one agenda and achieve the successful
transformations that the cocaleros envision, especially while endeavoring to lessen the
influence of U.S. foreign policy on Bolivia affairs.
President Morales will need to demonstrate 1) that he is willing to consider opposing
views within the cocalero movement and strive to create consensus, in both the Chapare and
the Yungas, 2) that he has a reliable economic model for an increase in production and export
of coca leaf and derivative products, based on a legitimate study of the production, trade and
consumption of coca, and 3) that he is working to control the cocaine trade, perhaps with
innovative nonviolent tactics. To succeed in these endeavors, Morales and his administration
will need to learn to speak two languages fluently: one to explain to the cocaleros and other
Bolivians the complexity of international finance and diplomacy, and the other to explain to
the international community the wisdom and aspirations of Bolivian cocaleros.

Coca Leaf Policy under the Morales Administration

President Evo Moraless policies on the cultivation, sale, and manufacture of coca leaf
are inspiring a variety of economic opportunities in Bolivias rural areas on the eastern slope
of the Andes Mountains. Coca is an ancient crop valued in Bolivia for its medicinal and
nutritional properties, as well as for its deep historical roots in Aymara and Quechua
traditions. As it is also the source of cocaine, coca policy draws constant public scrutiny. In
zones previously considered illegal under the U.S.-backed anti-narcotics law Ley 1008,
peasant farmers are now allowed to grow a limited amount of the leaf for personal traditional
consumption and small-scale trade. Whereas coca leaf used to be sold only through one legal
market in La Paz, licensed farmers can now sell small amounts of the leaf directly to

The following sections are taken from Conzelman 2007a.

consumers. The cocalero movement is setting its sights on tapping into international markets
with new investment in factories to manufacture export goods processed with coca
derivatives. And, perhaps most significantly, Morales and his administration are actively
diversifying their sources of foreign aid to help support these new projects, a pragmatic move
which seeks to end the unilateral influence over coca leaf policy that the United States has
exercised for more than two decades.
All of these changes offer a boost to Bolivias legal coca economy, one of the nations
most important economic sectors. A strong agricultural economy also positively impacts the
secondary and tertiary sectorssuch as health care, education, construction, and
transportationthat develop around it. However, this expansion of coca production also
threatens to undermine the prosperity of the cocaleros in the traditional cultivation zone, for
their exclusive protection under Ley 1008 to grow and sell the leaf has now ended. This
abrupt change is exacerbating a division within the broad coca grower movement with which
Morales will need to contend as his policies continue to be elaborated. As we have seen,
Bolivian cocaleros are not a uniform group, as is often implied in international media
coverage. The cocalero movement contains at least two factions whose interests often conflict.
However, there are important commonalities across the movement that hold the potential for
a unified agenda.

Changes to Yungas Cocas Legal Status
True to his campaign promisesand given his clear mandate having won 54% of the
voteMorales has implemented several initiatives to even out and ameliorate the social and
economic impacts of the increase in coca production in the Yungas. On June 17, 2006, the
president announced his rationalization and commercialization plans to leaders from all
six Yungas agrarian federations (La Razn 6-18-06). The rationalization plan eliminates the
division of Bolivian territory into legal, transition, and illegal zones by allowing each family in

current coca growing areas to grow one cato of coca.
The commercialization plan allows
licensed growers to sell their coca directly to consumers instead of having to sell to
intermediaries who have until now controlled most of the transport and sale of the leaf. These
reformswhich essentially eviscerated Ley 1008expand the cultivation territory allowed,
undermine the control of the legal coca market in La Paz,
and permit campesinos to use
small quantities (150 pounds every three months) of coca leaf to trade directly for other goods
and services. However, these changes may make it more difficult than it already is to regulate
how much coca is being grown, sold, and used in both the legal and illegal markets due to the
decentralized nature of this new individual autonomy. An effective system of licensing and
monitoring will need to be developed.
Another important development in the Yungas region under the Morales
administration is the restoration of two factories in Coripata and Chulumani (and a new
installation in the Chapare) for the industrialization of coca leaf products for export. These
factories were built in the 1980s with funding from the newly formed ADEPCOCA legal
market in La Paz, but they fell into disuse from a lack of government and international
funding during the escalation of the U.S. war on drugs that prioritized the substitution of
coca crops. With new funds from the Venezuelan government, these plants are beginning to
manufacture bagged coca tea and coca baking flour.
Finally, Moraless Viceministry of Coca is negotiating with Yungas cocalero leaders a
proposal for the gradual and systematic cooperative eradication of excess coca cultivation
(beyond one cato per family) in the Yungas and surrounding areas (La Razn 7-29-06).
paradigm shift here is that instead of imposing sometimes violent eradication measures or
cocaine lab bustswhich only provoke an insidious cycle of pressure and resistancethe rural

One cato is a 40x40 meter plot, a size deemed sufficient to generate coca for personal use as well as a small cash flow by
selling it into the legal market. The legal cato of coca was originally negotiated for the Chapare in 2004 by MAS congressman
Evo Morales under the Carlos Mesa administration.
There is also a small legal coca market in Cochabamba sanctioned under Ley 1008. In 2004, cocaleros from Caranavi (a
colonization area near the Yungas) began negotiating for permission to sell their coca into the legal La Paz market, sparking a
controversy that Morales is still working to resolve.

For a comprehensive description of Moraless cooperative eradication plan being implemented in the Chapare and parts of
the Yungas region, see Ledebur.and Youngers 2006. Consult this report also for more information on policy changes affecting
the Chapare region.

antinarcotics police, UMOPAR, is now actively educating Yungas cocaleros of their rights and
responsibilities in these endeavors and inviting their input and collaboration (Chvez and
Cariboni 2007). Moraless new approach to fighting the drug trade aims to increase its
efficacy and lessen violence. It should also obviate the need for massive cocalero
mobilizations, such as the road blockades that were so prevalent in 2004, by treating
indigenous people with respect and inviting them to participate directly in the process.
The idea is that by adding new commercialization and industrialization options and
by limiting the amount of coca that each family grows, it will be possible to allow more
families to benefit from growing coca. It is also the hope that by providing more legal market
alternatives, the expansion of coca cultivation to more areas of the country will not only
prevent coca from entering the drug trade, but will allow it to form part of a new national
economy that can support more indigenous communities. Furthermore, industrialization of
legal coca products has the potential to benefit coca growers in both traditional and newly
colonized zones, as well as others who will become involved in the factory work, distribution,
and marketing, on the national and eventually international levels.
It is important to understand that Morales is, in part, simply providing formal
recognition of the socio-economic practices that are already being carried out by a large
segment of the populationa segment that has been historically excluded from the benefits of
dominant Western economic models. In other words, he rejects criminalizing people who
grow coca leaf as a means to support their families, or who use the leaf to trade directly for
other goods (as has been practiced in the Andes for millennia). Laws that reflect and honor a
broad grassroots shift in everyday practice are far more constructive than those that attempt
to force a change in peoples habits to fit some externally imposed ideal.

The Opportunities and Challenges that Lie Ahead
While President Morales is addressing these complicated and contentious issues with
a level of creativity that has inspired wide national and international support among NGOs,
businesspeople, academics, and activists, Yungas cocaleros who are not in favor of
broadening legal coca cultivation and markets continue to oppose these initiatives. Those who

have until now enjoyed the exclusive right to grow and sell the leaf are facing a major change
to their livelihood, and their position will affect the process of debate and reform during this
The Yungas is a testing ground for Moraless effectiveness as a leader, for he needs to
be able to unite the different factions of coca growersone of his major constituencies
behind his coca decriminalization agenda. Traditional cocaleros complain that the presidents
commercialization and rationalization resolutions allow cocaleros from previously illegal
zones to increase production and create new markets for the leaf before an adequate
economic assessment of these changes has been made or publicly debated. While Morales has
been calling for many years for a study of current non-narcotic coca consumption patterns (in
Bolivia and surrounding countries), and while the European Union has demonstrated an
interest in funding it, the study has yet to be carried out. Basing his policy changes on sound
economic planning would increase their legitimacy in the eyes of Bolivians and international
bodies as well.
The plan to reduce coca cultivation to one cato per family throughout the country,
rather than continue the ineffective norm of delimiting one ill-defined zone (in which a
maximum area under cultivation per family is not stipulated), has the potential to actually
reduce the total amount of coca leaf produced while maintaining its high commodity price. A
central goal of the Morales administration is to improve its ability to fight the drug trade
without resorting to the violent measures so liberally applied under previous administrations.
Instead of engendering resistance from cocaleros when they are treated like enemies of the
statewhether in the Chapare or the YungasMoraless approach has the potential to build
on the common ground that exists on both sides of the movement to inspire collaborative
reduction of excessive coca cultivation, prevent profiteering by a protected minority, and
divert coca from the cocaine trade.
After two decades of enforcing its militarized coca eradication policy with impunity,
the U.S. government is struggling to redefine its role in Bolivia. It is demanding that Morales
repeal his rationalization and commercialization reforms if Bolivia wishes to be certified for
its annual U.S. foreign aid package. White House anti-narcotics policy chief John Walters has

said, The level of current cooperation [by the Bolivian government] is not like it was in the
past. More coca and more cocaine is not good for Bolivia. Bolivian Minister of Foreign
Affairs David Choquehuanca countered by explaining, Here in Boliviacoca leaf is life,
cultural tradition, sustenance, social vitality, unity within the [indigenous] community, the
symbol of our identity and the soul of our people (La Razn 6-27-06). Recently, however, a
Wall Street Journal opinion piece proclaimed that Evo Morales is an anti-American
extremist who is hyping the impact of the U.S. war on drugs in his bid to become a dictator
(OGrady 2007). Unfortunately, reaction in the U.S. to Bolivias changing coca leaf policy
continues to be based more on uninformed fear than reasoned understanding.
Morales and his administration need to continue to elucidate to the international
community the difference between coca and cocaineas Morales did in his speech to the UN
General Assembly in September 2006particularly as Bolivian representatives plan to lobby
for the declassification of coca leaf as a narcotic at the 2008 UN Vienna Convention. They
also need to make clear Andean peoples deep cultural roots in democratic governance, the
legitimacy of the cocalero movement, and that after 500 years of sometimes brutal oppression
by Spanish colonizers, elite governors, military tyrants, and foreign governments, Bolivias
politically engaged indigenous majority is not liable to allow their first indigenous president
to become a dictator. The process of negotiation over coca leaf policy under way in the Yungas
and the rest of Bolivia is a case in pointagrarian leaders are using democratic means to
publicly debate their ideas, resist foreign control, and hold Morales accountable for the
viability of the legal coca economy.


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