Bolivia: Taking the Coca out of Coca-Cola and Onto the Seal


Photo created by Andres Pucci and depicts a sample seal should it only contain symbols important to specific regions of Bolivia.

Some weeks ago, some Bolivian bloggers became increasingly concerned whether the red, yellow and green of the Bolivian flag might be replaced with the rainbow-checkered flag called with the whipala. This flag is symbolic of the indigenous population in Bolivia and the Andes, and where President Evo Morales receives a large portion of his popular support. Another group that has backed Morales through thick and thin is the coca-growers. The crop, which they cultivate especially in the Chapare and Yungas regions of the country, has become more prominent in the news over the past week and may figure more prominently on the national seal.

Many of these debates regarding the coca leaf are taking place within the context of the Constituent Assembly, which has been given the charge of rewriting the Constitution. Since August 2006, the delegates have been meeting, but little progress has been made. When news does emerge, it is often about topics such as adding the coca leaf to the national seal. Martin Gutierrez, who blogs at Vitrina de Realidad Boliviana [ES] from Buenos Aires, wrote:

Entre tantas necesidades y prioridades que tiene el país, en el medio de temas tan complejos e importantes aparecen estupideces convertidas en temas relevantes que deben ser tratados a nivel de interés nacional. No se cae en este artículo en fomentar la publicidad de ese pedido, sino más bien, mostrar a los lectores el grado de relevancia que se pretende dar a una idea absurda.

Among the many needs and priorities for the country, in the midst of many complicated and important topics, stupid topics appear that become of national concern. This article does not fall into giving more attention to this proposal, but rather to show the readers how much relevance this absurd topic is trying to attract.

He acknowledges that the coca is an important cultural symbol for many Bolivians, but it should not be what guides what is included on the national seal. If that were the case, then other symbols important to many Bolivians, such as the diablada folkloric dance or the latest Miss Santa Cruz, should be included on the seal.

Andrés Pucci, who hails from Santa Cruz, imagined what a similar seal might look like should it appeal to only a part of the country. The result is a seal with an Oriental feel, with animals, vegetation and sights normally seen in the eastern part of the country.

Even though coca is only grown in a relatively small percentage of the country, it has become known worldwide for its role in the manufacturing of cocaine. It also was a crop that helped President Morales rise to national prominence. He still holds the dual position of President of the Republic, but also head of the coca-growers federation. Rolando Lopez of Rocko Weblog [ES] posts the trailer of the documentary called “Cocalero” by Alejandro Landes, which focuses on the presidential campaign of Morales and his close confidant, Leonilda Zurita, who is also a leader in cocalero (coca-growers) circles.

The coca leaf continues to gain national attention. President Morales held up a coca leaf during his address to the United Nations, which did not hinder this tiny leaf from being written about in the mainstream press and other English language blogs. Now, a recommendation by a commission in the Constituent Assembly has found a way to challenge the multi-national and globally known company Coca-Cola. This recommendation indicated that since the coca leaf is sacred to a segment of the Bolivian population, that companies should not use the word ‘coca’ in their names.

However, a lot from this recommendation stems from a perceived hypocrisy in that it has long been rumored that the popular soft drink has or had used coca as an ingredient. Meanwhile, the coca leaf has been listed as a banned product for quite some time. Carlos Gustavo Machicado Salas of Guccio’s [ES] thinks that such a request is a reach, but does not see the harm in asking the company to identify their ingredients to see whether they actually do use coca in their product. The blog from the web portal, Bolivia Web, also thinks there are better and more pressing topics that these commissions should attend to, but also writes that the cola company should acknowledge whether coca is an ingredient in their cola.

Finally, the delegates from the Constituent Assembly have hit the road taking to all nine departments to hear and present ideas for the new Constitution. Miguel Buitrago of MABB lays out the schedule for the next month. He also reported on the outcome of the first of these meetings held in Cobija, Pando, which is located in the Amazon region of Bolivia. Buitrago reported that many of the attendees from the population chanted ‘Autonomy!” which is a common-heard plea from people in this region.

El Alto blogger Mario Duran of Palabras Libres [ES] attended the gathering in person, when it arrived to the classrooms of the public university in La Paz. With tape recorder and digital camera in hand, he and Willmar Pimentel, the webmaster of the page La Constituyente [ES], interviewed various representatives and asked them “which article is the priority for change or inclusion in the new constitution?” Listening to the different delegates representing various political parties, the two heard various points of consensus, such as recognizing that there exists 36 original ethnicities and the need for autonomy, although many differed on how much of that should be political, and how much should be financial administration of resources.

This time, last year:

Water and whether it earned its place listed as a fundamental human right was the topic of the week. One blogger attended the World Water Forum, as a member of the delegation sent by the new Water Ministry. The soybean market would suffer because of a newly signed free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia, which had been a large consumer of this Bolivian crop.


  • Just Me

    This is absurd, its clear that people form Santa Cruz which this emblem clearly shows, have an inferiority complex. They fail to understand that a country needs more area, than just that of a simple Minority.

    Having lived in Bolivia for a few years, specifically in Santa Cruz, it was even comical to see them defend their made up traditions.

    The lack of vision to the future in this country clear shows that it shall disintegrate with time, and each little piece that is left over shall be even weaker, than as single country.

    When will they ever learn.

    • Karina Dickerson

      well, you clearly don’t know what you are talking about. These are not “made up” traditions. These is OUR way of life. Next time you have the HONOR of living in Santa Cruz, I would recommend you don’t forget to bring an open mind.

  • Oscar

    To “just me”,

    If you had read the whole article (as well as the daily news fron Bolivia) you would have understood that the division proposal is coming from the President himself (trough his followers of course) who started the absurd debate about including the raw material of cocaine in the Bolivian seal or using the whipala as part of the national flag, or even as the new flag itself.

    The eastern emblem shown in the article is nothing but a response (yes, from Santa Cruz) to such attitude which helps to prove how stupid is trying to represent in the official symbols only a minority within this multifaceted country.

  • Excellent post, Eduardo. I just wanted to let you know that I added to my original post a link to a New York Times article that seems to confirm that the Coca-Cola company uses a coca extract in its soft drinks.

  • Being born in Bolivia, it hurts to think that my people are so seperated from one another. Insted of looking at minor differences we should look at the big picture-our future as a strong nation. However that seems impossible with Bolivia’s current idealism.

  • Pedro Soto

    To “just me”,

    The people from Santa Cruz don’t envy the people from the altiplano, or any thing like that , they just look them down. I don’t understand what do you mean with “made up traditions”?. What are you talking about? The traditional oriental families are proud of their origins and their family names. Why should be different?

  • Vlady

    Bolivia is the best

  • boliviano

    Al creador del escudo. Hay quienes son manejados por unos y otros por otros. Lo que simplemente estamos viviendo es un cambio. Y al parecer los que siempre gozaron del poder extrañan y lloran a diario(sino vean a Carlos Valverde y otros vendidos como Juan Carlos Arana)y cuanto les gustaria que regrese inclusive GONI. Pero a muchos este tipo de personas no les agrada simplemente porque SON excluyentes y tramposos, (sino vean a quienes vendieron ENFE al capitarlizarlo) los ejemplos son innumerables. Pero por ahora el indio esta en el poder, pudo resistir mas de 3 meses. Y al parecer vino para quedarse. Por lo tanto no hay mas que llorar QUE VIVA EL LLANTO CAMBA, Y QUE VIVA CAMBIO Y BOLIVIANO. Pero espero se den cuenta de que esto no es una lucha de Cambas versus Kollas sino ricos versus pobres. Y si ya les lavaron el cerebro, que pena.

  • elmer

    Esto demuestra el regionalismo en mi pais, creando una imagen como esta osea una copia de nuestro hermoso escudo boliviano tranformado en una atrocidad increible esto solamente demuestra como va nuestro querido pais llena de gente ignorante como el estupido q creo esta imagen.
    La supuesta nacion camba es uan nacion manipulada por un prefecto q no save ni donde esta parado, pues solo con el decir agamos guerra los stupidos lo siguen a hacer guerra.
    mi pais esta lleno de ignorantes como los cambas y bloqueadores como los collas cuando saldremos adelante/????

    • Karina Dickerson

      Y los seguidores de Evo no son ignorantes que hacen TODO lo que el les ordena? Acaso no es Evo Morales quien quiere cambiar el escudo boliviano para incluir la estupida wipala? No es Evo Morales quien le esta haciendo la guerra a Santa Cruz? y nosotros que, nos tenemos que quedar con los brazos cruzados y dejar que el haga sus Evadas?

  • Para Elmer, mira hermano, el problema no son los “ignorantes cambas” o los “bloqueadores collas” sino es la manera de etiquetarlos, mira tu forma de hablar, yo pense que pensabas pero por tu forma de expresarte dices te contradices… como tu dijiste a un principio no podremos salir adelante si nos seguimos discriminando por lo que hacen otros.
    Al ver ese escudo uno puede decir que los cambas son del problema, pero no todos los cambas son asi, tenemos que aprender a no referirnos como cambas y collas, sino como Bolivianos y separatistas, ya que en otros departamentos hay separatistas, dejemos la guerra infantil de camba y colla y empecemos a atacar al problema que son los caprichos de los que mas tienen, veamos a favor de nuestro pais y no de los que tienen y quieren mucho

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