“The worst enemy of humanity is capitalism. That is what provokes uprisings like our own, a rebellion against the system, against a neo-liberal model, which is the representation of a savage capitalism.” Evo Morales
Political campaigns in America are gloriously, gushing spectacles of gluttony, waste and consumerism. I’ve lost count of just how many millions the current American candidates are blithely flushing down the toilet in their orgiastic bids for the grab fest known as the presidential election. I’ve never understood what all the excitement is about, but there you go….
It was in this mood of watching the millions roll all the way down to the ballot box that I came across the excellent documentary Cocalero. This film explores the humble and frequently painstaking campaign of Evo Morales’s successful bid for the Bolivian presidency in 2005. Morales, leader of the Movimiento al Socialismo party, an Aymara Indian, and the former president of the Chapare Coca Grower’s Union, became the first indigenous president of Bolivia.
In its War on Drugs (this war has probably taken second place now to the War on Terror), the U.S. government funneled millions down to Bolivia to squash the Coca crop. Since this is the indigenous and poverty-stricken Indians’ way of making a living, the situation rapidly became ugly. Death squads, tortures and disappearances paved the way to Coca eradication, but the Indians didn’t give up easily–they organized and fought back. Morales as President of the Coordinating Committee of the Six Federations of the Tropics of Cochabamba became a fierce opponent of the government’s anti-coca production position, and he began running for political offices.
Cocalero follows Morales’s successful bid for the presidency–from his haircuts, his use of the internet, all the way to the union organizers who patiently teach roomfuls of largely illiterate Indians how to vote and how to interpret the entire election process. Other interviewees wax about the benefits of the Coca leaf, and one Indian argues that Coca Cola still contains elements of the leaf. We see union meetings that end with a collective yell, “Death to the Yankees,” and the sort of overwhelming grassroots support from the unions who help get Morales elected. But lest we imagine that all is bright and sunny in this election process, one scene shows the tree to which delinquent union members are tied and left to the ants if they fall short in their union participation.
One of the best aspects of the film is that it shows the vast gap between the Indian population and rest of Bolivia and the inherent racism against the native population. Some scenes follow Morales on his election trail, and the camera captures the horrified reactions of many Bolivians as it becomes clear that Morales may win. One of the film’s best scenes takes place when Morales makes a speech to the country’s military leaders. Sitting in their uniforms with those characteristic dark glasses, some look uncomfortable and some look down right pissed-off, but Morales is unperturbed, and he’s certainly not intimidated when faced with the bastion of right-wing authority.
Cocalero really should be watched as a companion piece to another documentary, Our Brand is Crisis. This latter film follows the 2002 campaign in Bolivia that pitted Goni against (amongst others) Morales. Millionaire Goni employed GCS, an American consulting firm to help repackage his tarnished image (he was President from 1993-1997) and to get him reelected. Like most multimillionaires, Goni is amazingly out-of-touch with the native population, and yet like all politicians he tries to manipulate his campaign to convince the voters that he’s the country’s saviour. Directed by Alejandro Landes, Cocalero is in Spanish with subtitles.