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From Saboteur to Politician:

Bolivia’s Cocaleros of El Chaparé

Zachery N. Boyd
UvA ID # 5759455
Conflict Resolution and Governance

Hans van der Veen
Dorine Greshof

August 2008

Table of Contents

List of Acronyms
Part I 13
Part II 19

Part I
Setting the Stage

Part II
From Farmer to Politian 43

Part III
Leading from the Rear 53

The Bolivian Rubik’s Cube 63

Works Sited


In 2006 Bolivia elected, by a free and fair election, Juan “Evo” Morales Ayma. Winning over
50% of the vote, Evo Morales was elected on a platform of indigenous rights, calls for
nationalizing mineral resources, and increasing sovereignty by decreasing a perceived US
imperialist threat. Most importantly Morales campaign relied heavily on calls for an end to the
neo-liberal reforms. However, Morales is not simply a continuation of neo-populist anti-US
politicians of Latin America. He, much to the chagrin of Washington, is deeply committed to the
rights of Bolivians with regard to the cultivation of coca, an illicit crop outside of the region. In
this paper, I will examine to what extent coca production played a role in the election of Morales
and his MAS (Movimeinto al Socialismo/Movement towards Socialism) political party. Theories
of hegemony, sovereignty, civil society and resistance will be examined in a historical context. It
is my aim to explain how the coca growers of Bolivia (los cocaleros) were able to resist the
powerful entrenched elites of contemporary Bolivian politics, as well as Washington’s attempts to
marginalize them politically and attempts to eradicate their crop.
I will explain how los cocaleros resisted hegemony to eventually occupy an important
and influential position within civil society, and how they then transcended civil society to
become the key holders of de facto political power.
I recently spent a few weeks in Bolivia. At the time the, “Evo-mania,” was still in its
honeymoon phase, with everyone collectively holding their breath, unsure of what was to happen
next. Although rather small in a global context, Bolivia’s history is full of useful lessons for the
next phase of globalization. Its neo-liberal reforms and subsequent resistance to neo-liberal
reforms have made Bolivia a testing ground for such reforms and movements. Bolivia and its
socio-political movements provide worthwhile material for study; in a historical context and as a
possible barometer of things to come.

List of Used Acronyms

COB Bolivian Workers Center

COMIBOL Mining Corporation of Bolivia

CRDP Chaparé Regional Development Program

FSTMB Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia

GOB Government of Bolivia

IMF International Monetary Fund

INCB International Narcotics Control Board

LPP Law of Popular Participation

MAS Movement towards Socialism

MNR Revolutionary National Movement

NEP New Economic Policy

PIM Pachakuti Indigenous Movement

UN United Nations

USAID United States Agency for International Development

USDEA United States Drug Enforcement Agency

Introducing Bolivia

Endlessly Spinning
A Land of Perpetual Revolution.

The Plaza of the Cathedral of San Francisco, located in downtown La Paz, is the center
and cultural hub of the city. Protestors, street vendors and tourists often occupy its space. And
this day is no different. The numbers are hard to calculate, they seem to rise from every
direction. And yet more come by the busloads. Banners are waved, signs are held, hats and
shirts are worn, and while some cheer others whistle. “MAS” is written on everything, along
with various slogans of a Spanish persuasion. They snake there way through the often small,
cobble stoned streets. “Evo,” they seem to chant in chorus. The polls have closed, and observers
both national and international have projected a winner. At 54%, Juan Evaristo “Evo” Morales
Ayma of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party is the president elect. (Alboro 2006:
Straight cropped black hair, dark eyes and small of stature; ‘Evo’ Morales, the president
elect looks to be ethnically indigenous. Morales reinforces his indigenous heritage by donning
traditional garb, participating in indigenous ceremonies, and offering thanks to forgotten gods.
Morales speaks of a collective oppressed, a “we of the” indigenous Bolivia, the Quechuas, the
Aymaras and the Guarnties. With 62% of its population identifying itself as, “indigenous,”
Bolivia has the highest per capita indigenous population in the Americas. (Hylton & Thomson,
2007: 13) “The presence of the first indigenous president is…the most important symbolic break
in the last centuries in Bolivia” argues vice president elect, Alvaro Garcia Linera, “[historically]
both indigenous and non-indigenous people had always had an image of indigenous people as
second class citizens.” Thus, although grand in scope, the election of Morales was seen as a
victory for the indigenous, the down trodden, oppressed majority of Bolivia. (Carlsen, 2007)
But, like most stories, at least the good ones, there’s more to it all. Evo Morales isn’t just
Bolivia’s first ‘indigenous’ head of state. He’s also the president of the Chaparé Coca Growers
Federation, a militant collection of coca growers from a tropical lowland province of Chaparé,
located in Northern Bolivia. The coca growers, or cocaleros, of the Chaparé have had a relatively
short but confrontational history with the Bolivian state, with the possibility of light arms clashes

a part of everyday life. Isolated, the region is considered a frontier of sorts, surrounded by vast
and seemingly impenetrable tropical forest. Out of pure necessity for frontier survival, the
growers of the Chaparé are well organized and tightly knit. It is here that Evo Morales and other
cocaleros wove themselves together, first as a community trying to survive, and then into a labor
union and later a political party. Their party, the “Movimiento al Socialismo,” or MAS, would
eventually become a full blown social movement.
The story of the how the cocaleros and Evo Morales ascended to the highest political
office, by ballot box rather than rifle (a distinction of special merit given Bolivia’s revolutionary
history), is a success story of resistance. Using their considerable social capital and network ties,
the cocaleros were able to rise in the realm of civil society. And, when crisis finally hit, when the
masses took to the streets in protest against the crumbling and incoherent Bolivian state, it was
the cocaleros who ‘lead from the rear.’ Although not key to the social movements that eventually
unraveled the presidencies of five presidents in as many years, it was the MAS and Morales who
in the 2006 national election rose to take the state.

The Gift, the Curse

Coca and Cocaine.

Coca for millennia has held a place of importance for the indigenous peoples of the
Andean region of South America. Coca was grown before the arrival of Europeans and it has
since continued to be cultivated. The various peoples of the region have sought its value, either
for traditional religious and ceremonial services, or as a mild stimulant for centuries. Coca has
seen the rise and fall of the Inca as well as the colonization and subsequent independence of those
colonies. Coca, part of the genius Erythroxylum, looks rather unremarkable. Coca resembles or
is a rather unimpressive, coca’s lack luster physical appearance is overshadowed by its chemistry.
The thin, opaque, oval leaves contain a variety of nutrients including calcium, iron, phosphorus,
vitamins A, B2, and E, as well as handful of alkaloids; methylecogine innamate,
benzoylecgonine, truxilline, cuscohygrine and ecogine. (Streatfield, 2001: 1-8) But there’s more,
something far more grand, sinister, and useful lies within the chemistry. Coca is indigenous and
sacred; at the same time an illicit substance. The active alkaloid is Cocaine. Thus, while coca is
both indigenous and natural, is has been labeled a threat, a scourge, a danger. It is both hallowed
and baneful.
Coca is central to any understanding of the indigenous cultures of the Andes. It is the
“sacred leaf” of the Aymara and Quechua peoples, “central to their religion, folklore, medicine

and social relations.” (Morales, 2004: 216-217) Sixteenth century Spanish viceroy to New Spain,
Juan Matiezo de Peralta, described the coca leaf as the life blood of Andean culture, saying, “if
there were no coca, there would be no Peru1.” (Grinspoon & Bakalar, 1976: 9) Coca in many
indigenous languages simply means, ‘plant’ or ‘tree’, and archaeological evidence dates coca
cultivation back to 2500 BC. Originally coca chewing was reserved for those of the royal court
and priesthood. It was a central part of religious ceremonies, and other special occasions such as
weddings. Mama Coca, the divine personification of coca, was depicted as a beautiful woman
who wore a feather headdress; she gave relief and comfort to those in need. Because of its sacred
status, coca usage by common people was limited.
The Spanish arrived to the region and subsequently were disgusted with the practice of
coca chewing. Bulbous cheeks stuffed with leaves were alien to the conquistadors, and since it
was indigenous and non Christian, it was of course savage. Like most things it did not
understand, the Church attempted to ban its usage. This attempt failed and the Church made
peace with the ‘sacred leaf’ by banning its use in religious “pagan” ceremonies, but allowed for
its consumption in a utilitarian form. Finding that taxation and regulation were far easier and
profitable than an out right ban, the Spanish crown and the Church taxed and became the main
distributors coca. This detached its high class imagery, removing its ‘special occasion
consumption,’ but kept its sacred and indigenous symbolism. The Spanish then set about making
sure there was enough coca to go around. Its consumption skyrocketed as it became available for
the common peoples. Coca became a profitable commodity for Spanish overseers.
The Spanish found what the indigenous had known for centuries, that the chewing of
coca produced a variety of effects. Chewing coca alleviated altitude sickness, provided energy as
a mild stimulant, and assuaged hunger and thirst. When silver was found in outlandish quantities
the Spanish went silver crazy, however, the hellish mines proved to be a near death sentence to
those conscripted by Spanish overseers. As they dug deeper and deeper in pursuit of the world’s
most fruitful silver deposits, the heat and sheer exhaustion of endless manual labor killed workers
in droves. To maximize labor, workers were fed coca as much as they could chew; hunger and
thirst were kept at bay and workers could work near inhuman hours. Coca chewing became more
and more common place, as the Spanish, like any common pusher, handed it out, after of course
taxing it. Like milk and cheese, flour and salt, coca became a staple of the indigenous diet.
Although the Spanish colonizers have left, and independence has created modern nation
states, the peoples of the Andes still see coca as a vital piece of their identity. This is no different
in Bolivia, were the past is more than simple nostalgia. Bolivians look at their indigenous culture

with pride, and coca leaf has come to symbolize, “hopes for a more equal and inclusive future...
[drawing on] a rich tradition of uses for the leaf.” (Metaal et al, 2006: 3) This pride and hope
transcends social boundaries, such as class and wealth, and within Bolivia, “Bolivians of all
social classes…take some pride in at least the Inca past, [and] acknowledge…the place of coca in
contemporary indigenous culture. (Leons & Sanabria, 1997: 4) Coca predates colonization and
its resulting domination, and it remains a key identification for the vast number of Bolivians. In a
world of Nike, Coca Cola, Shell, and Microsoft; coca is of the past, it is something that is and
was, and shall remain uniquely ‘theirs.’
The problem however, is that coca leaves are used to make coca paste, which through
relatively simple chemistry becomes cocaine.2 Through a complex network of traffickers, mules,
and dealers, this cocaine eventually finds its way into the affluent West. With supply side
reduction schemes, the west has attempted to limit the amount of cocaine hitting its shores and
eventual streets. Thus the positive identification that Bolivians feel towards their indigenous past
and its coca leaf production has been met head on by powers seeking to put an end to cocaine
The history of cocaine is relatively easy to trace. Unlike coca, knowledge of archeology
is of no importance when looking at cocaine origins. Coca began to be discussed in European
scientific circles as modern chemistry continued to develop. Visitors to the Andes returned with
tales of the wonderful medicinal properties of coca, and scientists, forever looking for knowledge,
began to take note. In 1855 German Chemist, Friedrich Gaedcke became the first person to
isolate and crystallize what he called, “Erythroxylon.” This was a crude mixture of alkaloids from
the coca leaf, including cocaine. However, by 1859, another German chemist, Albert Niemann,
went one step further and became the first person to isolate the alkaloid cocaine from coca leaves
acquired from Peruvian samples. By 1860, Niemann had published his findings and it was only a
matter of time before other chemists set about emulating his findings. The euphoric and blissful
rush produced by consuming cocaine easily found a market for a drug hungry Europe. Cocaine in
various strengths was promoted for a variety of medicinal purposes, including but not exclusively
as a local anesthetic. It was also promoted for pleasure, and many, including Sigmund Freud
preached its positive qualities.3 (Grinspoon and Bakalar, 1976: 19)

This process is remarkably simple, involving crude tools and chemicals that are easily available from any
Agricultural supply store. Rubber boots, gasoline, hand tools and various chemicals are cheap and easy to find. Their
uses are endlessly licit, and so the policing of them for illicit purposes are all but impossible.
One need only spend a few moments on “Google,” or at any library, to find the connections of cocaine and Sigmund
Freud. Freud published a variety of papers on Cocaine, preaching its useful applications for a variety of aliments.
Although it would eventually become somewhat of an embarrassment to him later in life, Freud pushed cocaine on
anyone who would listen.

As cocaine became more and more available, its medical uses soon began to lose favor to
its pleasurable qualities. Cocaine was used for every ailment imaginable, from toothaches to
depression, everyone turned to cocaine. It was a chief ingredient in a plethora of ‘snake oils’ and
magic formulas, and addiction followed its abuse. Rather than ‘cure,’ as their promoters claimed,
cocaine, a powerful upper in its own right was paired with alcohol or other downers and the so
called ‘medicines’ simply got their user high, drunk, or both. Slowly but surely, the nations of
the world began to first regulate, and then ban its production, distribution, and consumption.
Originally hailed as scientific breakthrough, and by Sigmund Freud as a “magical substance,”
cocaine became an illicit drug and its users became depraved societal deviants.
Bolivia responded to the western desire for coca leaves by simply produce more to meet
an increasing demand. Coca grew with ease and in abundance, with farmers knowing the ‘ins and
outs’ of coca production. Bolivians during the 19th centaury cashed in on the coca craze, and the
government followed the example of its former colonial and papal masters, taxing its sale and
exportation. The “war on Drugs,” was still some 100 years away, and playing the role of simple
farmer, Bolivians for the most part, were ignorant to the growing abuse of the final product of
their production. A western demand, and an impoverished nation more than willing to produce
whatever was desired, would eventually come to a head, with the world’s powers meeting on the
subject of “narcotics.”
The international community first addressed the issue of narcotics as a problem in need of
a global solution in 1925, when the League of Nations created the “International Opium
Convention.” However, when the League of Nations was dissolved and reformed into the more
powerful and cohesive United Nations, narcotics was once again redressed and expanded to
eventually be covered by the “International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).” Following the
lead of a 1950 United Nations Commission of Inquiry, which concluded “[that] coca chewing
lead[sic]…to genuinely harmful, closely related economic and social effects in both Peru and
Bolivia,” the INCB found coca in need of eradication. Their findings during The Single
Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, called for a goal of an all out abolition of coca-leaf
chewing and the destruction of most coca bushes within 25 years.” (Grinspoon and Bakalar,
1976: 12-13)4 Coca can be grown plentifully and easily in the inhospitable and poverty ravaged
Bolivia. Western demand has kept prices relatively high and constant and production easily

The INCB made no distinction between coca and cocaine, an issue that would come to fan the flames of indigenous
rights and a need to increase western knowledge of indigenous practices as well as to increase a cultural sensitivity.
Although the INCB has done little to change is official position and its coca = cocaine position, there has been an
increase pressure to reexamine the issue of coca, for traditional and none narcotic uses.

meets demand, but, the world has told Bolivia “no.” Thus, what the ancient people deemed a gift
has been more of a curse to Bolivia, as a possible solution within sight but forever out of reach.

The Pauper Sits on His Throne of Gold

Boom follows Bust and Back Again

Bolivia sits below the equator; rising to dizzying and bone chilling elevations along its
Andean plateau, yet swelters in its tropical lowlands. It is a land of extremes with world records
as the world’s highest capital of La Paz at 12,000 feet (3640 m), and some 175 coups since its
1825 founding. It is a land of vast resources, first silver, then tin, and now hydrocarbons. It has
been described as being a “prisoner of [its own] geography,” being both landlocked and isolated,
lying nearly directly in the center of South America. The nine million or so Bolivians have a
GDP of a little over $25 billion(US), with a per capita income of less than $3,000(US), making
Bolivia the poorest of its South American brothers and a rather insignificant player in world
economic affairs. (CIA World Fact book: website 2008) More notorious than prestigious, the
nation has gained a reputation as being backward, unstable, poverty stricken, archaic, corrupt, and
dangerous, even to South American standards. From American train robbing bandits5, iconic T-
shirt revolutionaries6, or various economic aid packages, Bolivia is a place that often marks a
stagnant end. Indeed, with its turbulent history of “boom and bust,” many troubled nations of the
world could find themselves comforted with the thought of, “well, at least we’re not Bolivia.”
Nazi paramilitaries7, conquistadors, narco-traffickers, Incan monarchs and multinationals;
Bolivia has historically been a place to make a quick buck, extracting as much as you can, and
then getting the hell out. Potosi, once the lustrous crown of the Spanish empire, stands as a
definitive example of all that was and is Bolivia. At nearly 15,000 feet (5,000 m), Potosi is often
cited as the world’s highest city. In 1545 the Spanish conquistadors discovered the silver ore rich
Cerro Rico (rich mount). The deposits were so rich that Potosi soon become a “fabled City of
Silver,” with its population eventually peaking at 160,000. Potosi was once considered the
wealthiest city of the new world, now, however things have changed. The once booming mining
city now lies in decay, with its once proud and magnificent churches and colonial architecture in
need of fresh paint and new masonry. The once plentiful silver deposits have long since

Although the facts are rather murky, it appears that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid both died in Bolivia. After a
mining payroll heist, the outlaws were surrounding and killed by the Bolivian military in 1908.
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s revolutionary dreams were extinguished by a Bolivian executioner.
The butcher of Leon, Nazi Klaus Barbie, was hired by Bolivian drug lords as a ‘security consultant.’ Leading a group
of Argentine paramilitaries, Barbie fought off Colombians trying to bully their Bolivian counterparts, ensuring that the
Bolivians received a fair price for their narcotics.

disappeared, having become inaccessible, lying too deep within the earth. The population has
fallen to 1/5th of its pinnacle, mining production and raw economic output has followed. This
example of ‘boom and bust,’ is but one in Bolivia’s long history. (Morales, 2003 pgs 20-25.)

Always the Wrong Horse

South America’s Biggest Loser

Boom and Bust is but one form of a long history of loss for the peoples of Bolivia.
Bolivia has been on the losing end of conflicts and all-out wars with nearly all its neighbors.
Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, have all defeated Bolivia on the field of battle, and
it would seem Bolivia’s only victories are against itself through revolution. Such defeats are
important to understand the historical context in which exists a Bolivian defeatist psyche. A
colonial legacy of domination goes hand in hand with a history of defeat and loss from its
neighbors. Bolivians often look at their South American neighbors with disdain and jealousy,
with Bolivia today, having less than half of its original 1825 territory.8 (Kohl and Farthing, 2006:
43) Aside from areas rich in natural resources, (including lumber, precious, semi precious and
non-precious minerals, as well as various hydrocarbons) Bolivia, most importantly lost its access
to the sea. Following a disastrous war with Chile, the so called “War of the Pacific,” (1879-1883)
Bolivia lost a fourth of its remaining territory and its access to the sea, making it forever
landlocked. (Morales, 2003: 81-83) This fact is not forgotten to the majority of Bolivians who
view the loss as especially painful and insulting. The issue of sea access would come to
importance time and time again, throughout Bolivian history, each time in which, Bolivians view
the loss of territory as yet another example of domination by more powerful nations. Thus, just
as Bolivians view their colonial past as a time of domination and subjugation by superior
outsiders, Bolivians continue to struggle in post colonial times, fighting the same subjugation and
inferiority as before. Simon Bolivar and others once dreamed of a united and liberated South
America, free from colonial domination, with equality amongst its peoples9, but the Bolivian
reality is anything but this dream; the nation of Bolivia, despite its namesake’s wishes, has
remained a poor and dominated nation. The Spanish crown no longer levees heavy taxes on its
inhabitants, but independence has done little to help the many of Bolivia’s poorest peoples.

Bolivia in 1825 held some 2,363,769 km², following defeats by Argentina of 170,758km², Brazil 490,430km², Chile
120,000km², Paraguay 234,000 km², and Peru 250,000 km². Bolivia currently finds itself with only 1,098,581km².
The Bolivar conception of “citizenship,” and equality does not necessarily include the indigenous peoples that
comprise the majority of Bolivia.

When it Rains it Pours
And It’s Always Raining

The constant barrage of ill fortune has left Bolivia as one would expect; fragile, poor,
stagnant and weak. For the vast majority of Bolivians, each decade has followed with some new
tragedy, some new failure. This setting of constant failure and domination has led to a long and
radically defiant ideology. Although Bolivians have been subjugated from all sides, they have
always rebelled, always resisted, always defied. With over 180 revolutions and counting,
Bolivians do not sit idly. Although the majority of Bolivians have remained poor, generation
after generation, dominating classes and groups, whether foreign, local elite, or military, have had
trouble holding the reigns for long. Like a caged rodeo bull, Bolivians have been dominated but
they have bucked and kicked, knocking an endless barrage of riders to the dirt. The elections of
2004 and 2006, with the coming of power of the MAS and Morales are but new chapters to an
impasse of centuries, a people forever dominated but forever resisting.

On the Shoulders of Giants,

Hegemony and Resistance

Civil and Political Society

To understand the rise of the cocaleros and the MAS political party, several concepts
need to be understood in the Bolivian context. Ideas of hegemony and resistance need addressing
as well as the concepts of civil society and various forms of capital accumulation. Various
authors’ conceptions and ideas will be heavily borrowed on, and in the academic tradition tailored
to meet the subject of study and analysis.

Part I

Hegemony in a Nutshell
What, How and Why?

Hegemony is a crucial theme in a Bolivian structural analysis; domination has been one
of the few historical constants. The vast majority of the population, throughout their history has
stood in the background, nearly powerless despite their numerical advantage. Hegemony,
following the ideas of its chief theoretical architect, Antonio Gramsci10, explains how one group
“ideologically dominates” another group without the use of constant force, or simply that, “man
is not ruled by force alone, but also by ideas.” (Bates, 1975: 351)
Following a Marxist tradition, Gramsci11 explained how hegemony allows the ruling class
to not only control the means of production (that being economic domination) but also the
cultural ideologies. Hegemony is an expansion of class domination, with the “ruling class
dominating not only the means of physical production [but also] the means of symbolic
production.” It is the recurring presence of domination in the realm of ideas with the ruling class

Gramsci spent over 10 years of his life in a fascist prison cell, where Italian fascists declared he should remain for 20
years so his “brain would stop functioning.” Rather than stop, Gramsci wrote some of his most famous works from his
cell. His so called, “Prison Notebooks,” despite his jailors wishes, have been exhaustively studied becoming part of the
political philosophy canon.
Translated from Italian, often sporadic and unrefined, much of Gramsci’s work is host to a variety of wide ranging
and diverging interpretations. Much of his work, written from prison while being supervised by political and
philosophical advisories, is thought to be intentionally vague. Being ambiguous allowed Gramsci the opportunity to
continue his philosophical debate while imprisoned.

attempting to maintain “control over the ideological sectors of society---culture, religion,
education, and the media… [which] allows it to disseminate those values that reinforce its
position.” (Scott, 1985: 315)
In order to maintain a social order, a ruling class must create a ‘cultural hegemony;’ they
must impose their world view of their natural dominant position over the led. Cultural hegemony
allows for a dominant group to remain in a position of power without the constant use of force.
An established cultural hegemony ensures social peace and “regulates the coercive apparatus of
the state to the background.” (Scott, 1985: 316) This helps to explain how the everyday practices,
beliefs, assumptions and normal day to day interactions of a culture can be dominated by a
particular group. Once laid as a foundation to a complex system of domination, a secured
cultural hegemony maintains social order through norms and accepted ‘givens.’ What then
becomes customary, what is normal and what is the correct social order, will then be
unchallenged. Thus since the dominant ideology will be understood as standard, anything
counter to the dominant hegemonic ideology will be considered unnatural. It is in this way that
cultural hegemony helps to establish and maintain a dominant order.
Coercion or the threat of its use remains in the background, but the everyday interactions
and power relations remain relatively unchallenged within an established hegemony. Hegemony,
Gramsci believes, is “based on the consent of the led…which is secured by the diffusion and
popularization of the world view of the ruling class.” (Bates, 1975: 352) Gramsci argues, that the
ruled have in a sense consented to be ruled, and that the system of domination and its resulting
social order are reinforced through hegemony. Hegemony thus “involves an active belief in the
legitimacy and superiority of the ruling group,” Gramsci implies that the ruled have “accepted”
the social order as a given. (Scott, 1985: 316) The use of force may be present but can be in the
background, while the foreground of domination will be the everyday interactions as prescribed
by the dominant ideology. Consent is a “complex mental state…mixing approbation and apathy,
resistance and resignation,” (Lears, 1985: 570) and while complete and total consent is not
necessary to maintain hegemony, (the use of force still lies in the forefront) the appearance of a
‘legitimate’ consent is. Following Marx’s prescription, that “the ruling ideas of each age have
been the ideas of its ruling class,” (Marx-Engles Digital Library: Website) Gramsci’s theory of
hegemony explains how and why ideas come to reinforce the methods of domination, allowing
for a convenient and less confrontational method of control.
Hegemony is necessary to maintain social order, and to maintain the system of
domination itself. Without an established hegemony, the system of domination would be weak
and rely on the use or threat of force. Busying themselves through a continual use of force, a

police state would be forced to endlessly monitor its subjects, who only act in accordance to the
dominant position when directly threatened. This could work for a time, but an established
hegemony of ideas-- that is, a cultural hegemony-- allows for those in power to govern, subject
and rule far more easily and effectively. Following Gramsci’s analysis, one can understand how
power and culture interact in a given society. Gramsci’s ideas of a cultural hegemony help to
“address the relation between culture and power under capitalism,” (Lears, 1985: 568) that is,
how culture can be made hegemonic, and how the controlling of ideas is but another tool in the
dominant class’s toolbox of authority. While it may be coercion that forms the wooden base of a
structured society, it is the nails of civil society, of culture, that hold it all together.

The Great Societ[ies]

Political and Civil

Gramsci expanded and further elaborated Marxist ‘superstructure,’ or framework, by

adding political and civil society as well as the state to the analysis. The base of Gramsci
superstructure, society, is the realm where domination takes place. Gramsci’s more complex
superstructure linked Marx’s material view (economic domination) with human experience (that
is, culture) helping to further explain how domination actually worked. The dominant class
exerts its power over the superstructure society through both political and civil society. However,
it does so through drastically different means within each realm respectively.
Civil society according to Gramsci is composed of ‘private organisms’ of the
superstructure, including “schools, churches, clubs, journals and parties… [All of which]
contribute in molecular fashion to the formation of the social and political consciousness.” (Bates,
1975: 353) Civil society is the realm of society where the people can cooperate with the state, or
where they may rebel against it. The various networks that make up civil society allow for
members of society to come together with “shared objectives… [with shared] norms and trust…
[which] enable participants to act together more effectively [within the state].” (Putnam, 2002: 1)
An active and healthy civil society can act as a check on the state apparatus. However, in
Gramsci’s analysis civil society is used by the empowered as an instrument of hegemony.
Established norms of civil society, even with active rebelling against the state, still work within
the hegemonic framework. Civil society operates in conjunction with the state; while the state
may operate as the skeleton or frame of society, it is civil society that is the various organs and
vital parts of society’s body.

Political society on the other hand is composed of public institutions of the government;
the courts, laws, police, and the army. It operates through direct or threatened domination. Its
will or laws are followed because of this threat. Within society, political society makes up the
backbone, creating a rigid infrastructure on which the superstructure operates.
The coming together of political and civil society, of the ‘two great floors,’ Gramsci
argued, is what forms the state. Within the superstructure of society, civil and political societies
combine to make the state an “apparatus used to control the masses in conformity with a given
type of production and economy… [and that the state is] a balance between political society and
civil society.” (Lears, 1985: 570) The state, following Gramsci, is but a tool to maintain the
system of domination.
Domination over another group is achieved through hegemonic control of both civil and
political society. Cultural hegemony allows for institutionalized domination without the constant
use of force, creating a system of domination that appears legitimate. Society is the manifestation
of the state and is both civil and political society intertwined. To maintain a dominant status over
other individuals, dominant groups enforce hegemony over both realms. In the realm of political
society they create laws that are enforced through coercion; within civil society, they create social
norms and ideologies. When hegemony is stable, in both civil and political society, there is a
sense of peace and social order within society. The key to a successful hegemony is a mixture of
ideological and economic domination; to achieve this, the dominant must “develop a world view
that appeals to a wide range of other groups within the society… [With] interests [that] are those
of society at large.” (Lears, 1985: 571) Although domination and subjugation are present, the
peace is maintained through a mixture of consent and fear. Once successfully created, public
opinion will reflect legitimacy through general content. Public opinion then, is “the point of
contact between civil society and political society…between consensus and force. (Bates, 1975:
363) If successful, a cultural hegemony will help those in power further rule and dictate; having
acquired domination over civil and political society.
Hegemony, Gramsci argues however, is “not a static, closed system of ruling class
domination,” rather it is a constant process with, “counter-hegemonies remain[ing] a live option.”
The legitimacy of counter hegemonies will be uneven compared to the dominant hegemony, and
will be a reflection of the system of domination. What degree of legitimacy and success a
counter-hegemony may receive is subject to various realities. In one Gramsci interpretation,
cultural historian T. J. Lears argues that Gramsci’s cultural hegemony is flexible, with ‘closed,’
and ‘open’ versions. Within a closed version, Lears argues, the creation of a counter-hegemony
will “lack the language necessary even to conceive concerted resistance,” and that the subordinate

groups may be “unwitting accomplices” to the system and may even behave and act in ways
against their best interest. On the other hand, Lears continues, “an open version [will have] the
capability for resistance [which] flourishes and may lead to the creation of counter hegemonic
alternatives.” The placement of a given culture in either an open or closed form of counter-
hegemonic resistance, Lears argues, will depend on the particulars of the “historical moment” and
that “the line between dominant and subordinate cultures is a permeable membrane, not an
impenetrable barrier.” (Lears, 1985: 573-575) The dominant ideologies and the dominant values
within the hegemony are legitimized through public discourse and compliance, however;
subordinate groups may be operating in ways counter to the hegemony when they are able, given
the realities of the situation.

Hegemony Threatened
Down, But Not Out

Just as the various economic and social interactions within the hegemony are shaped by
the dominant will, the creation of counter-hegemonies is shaped by the constraints of the
disempowered. As Lears argues, Gramsci allows for a flexible understanding of counter-
hegemonies and resistance, with open and closed versions, reflecting the realities of a situation.
As modern nation states reflect, a strong hegemony will remain dominant during even the most
uncertain times of crisis; the great financial crashes of the early 20th century and the collective
carnage of World War One and Two, shook the great modern nation states but an entrenched
hegemony made it relatively ‘business as usual.’12
Gramsci calls great moments of threat to the established hegemony “organic crisis.” An
organic crisis, Gramsci says, “is manifested as a crisis of hegemony, in which the people cease to
believe the words of the national leaders.” (Bates, 1975: 364) However, even in such times, a
powerful hegemony will be able to position itself the victor; and while an organic crisis may be a
direct result of a grand “failure of the ruling class,” in Gramsci’s view, such crisis can help
further entrench the dominant class. (Ibid, 364-365) The ruling class, as has been the historic
case, will combat the crisis by trying to unite through nationalistic or patriotic means. In doing
so, the use of the cultural hegemony against the crisis may help to further entrench the hegemony

There were of course many reversals and upheavals of the old order. Revolutions swept a great deal of the world, but
the reality of the situation dictates that the vast majority of the old order remained after the catastrophic events of the
early 20th centaury.

Revolts, uprisings, large scale strikes, and other forms of resistance by the exploited
masses may occur from time to time within Gramsci’s; hegemony, however through history, “the
daily hegemony exercised by the ruling classes generally managed to prevent…eruptions of
popular anger.” (Vanden, 2007: 17) The dominant ideology, through its hegemony, is able to
keep the peace, excluding radical revolutionaries; the masses seek to work within the limits of the
established hegemony.

Resistance to Hegemony
Black, White, and the Grays In-Between.

Consent and force lie at opposite ends of Gramsci’s hegemonic model, with consent a
necessary attribute to the maintenance of hegemony. Domination without consent is not
hegemonic; it is not the ruling of ideas. To understand why the masses do not revolt within
Gramsci’s framework, we must assume that the masses have to some degree, consented to be
subjugated and dominated.
However as critics of Gramsci have noted, such a view is rather bi-polar in nature, with
open rebellion and times of crisis on one end of the spectrum, and hegemonic stability on the
other. Gramsci’s model is useful for understanding the nature of domination, but Gramsci’s
rationalism is limited in its attempts to find an overarching pattern within culture; historic
realities and experiences make binary schemes problematic. (Lears, 1985: 586-593) Gramsci’s
model may also over emphasize the weakness of hegemony over the strength of counter-
hegemony, and resistance.
There remains a plethora of gray areas in Gramsci’s structured hegemonic model. What
is assumed to be a successful and flexible hegemony, may in fact be fallacious in reality; that is,
what is taken to be an established hegemony may only in fact be so on the surface, existing only
in the public realm. The distinction between public and private is necessary to understand the
nature of resistance and the establishment of counter-hegemonies.
Hegemony may appear strong and competent on the surface or in ‘public life’, but it may
in fact be lethargic, sickly, and feeble; its legitimacy may rely solely on its physical and
threatening apparatus. If the public life of hegemony is superficial, relying on the state apparatus
for enforcement, then the hegemony’s legitimacy will be weak and consent will be artificial. In
the private realm, within civil society, individuals and groups can actively and aggressively
operate around the hegemony, while still operating within its framework. Resistance to the
hegemony may be part of a daily routine and small in scale. Such resistance may not directly and

openly challenge the hegemony, but it reflects the weakness of the system. Although the
ideologies of the people are not dominated, the fear established by the enforcement side of the
ruling class may create incentive to stay within the hegemony. By definition, such hegemony
would not be considered hegemonic; order would not be a result of a shared conception of what is
correct, but rather based on fear of reprisal. On the surface all may seem well, with resistance to
the hegemony being private and away from the public view. But, when crisis develops such as an
‘organic crisis’, the masses may question the established order, private resistance to the
hegemony may rise to the public realm, and may seek to openly challenge the established
hegemony. The gray-areas of hegemony allow for resistance that is neither open nor public;
rather they are private and may be operating through civil society away from watching eye of
political society.

Part II

Scott’s Resistance
The Hidden and the Public

The works of the prominent American political scientist, James C. Scott focus on the
nature of domination and more importantly on its antithesis, resistance. In his classic work,
“Weapons of the Weak, Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance,” Scott draws on data collected
from fieldwork within a traditional peasant society in a small Malaysian village. Scott attempts
to understand how and to what lengths traditional agrarian peasants and other subordinate groups
resist hegemony within a particular system of domination. His studies follow the day-to-day
actions of the disempowered within a system of domination. Rather than focus on state policies
of domination or cases of all out open rebellion, Scott looks at how the dominated engage and
resist within the system. Scott goes to great lengths to understand the difference between what he
deems the” public transcript” and “private transcript” (or on-stage versus back-stage) The
differences are rather simple; what people say and do in public as opposed to what they say and
do in private. The public transcript, Scott argues, is what is done in the open, ‘on-stage’ for all of
society to see. In the realm of resistance, a public transcript is resistance that is open and direct to
the established order. On the other end of the scale, the hidden or private transcript is done
without the eyes of society watching. It is what is said and done behind closed doors, back-stage.
It is a secret transcript, and it reflects social network groups, kinships and families.

As argued earlier, society contains a political and civil realm. Resistance to dominant
ideologies in this superstructure is best understood using multileveled approach. Private and
public are two realms in which a rebellious subject may operate, and a transcript is tailored to
meet the given realm. Public transcripts of resistance are direct and confrontational, actively
engaging and rebelling against political society and its physical manifestation, the state.
Rebellion in the private transcript is done through civil society, and may be done so through the
many layers and levels that make up civil society. What is said or done at a town hall meeting
can and will differ from what is said in the home or at a private club house. Public and private
transcripts help to further understand resistance by adding civil and political society to the mix;
paired with examinations of histories and individual realities, personified resistance to a given
system of domination can be better understood. What is said and done outside the watching eye
of authority is important in understanding resistance. (Scott, 1985: 25-27)
Scott argues that resistance to an established dominant order, to a given hegemony, is
constant and multi layered. There are many forms that resistance may take, and as Scott claims
the “forms of resistance…reflect the conditions and constraints under which they are generated.”
Scott goes beyond understanding resistance as being simply revolutionary guerrillas engaged in
total and open resistance against the state; rather he expands on resistance, stating that if
resistance is “open it is rarely collective, [and] if they are collective, they are rarely open.”
(Scott, 1985: 242)
There are several reasons why resistance is usually conducted clandestinely within the
private transcript, off-stage, whether by one individual or with a small and anonymous group.
Firstly, Scott argues that the historic nature of the domination itself should be addressed. What
are the historic patterns, and how has the dominant order come about? If an established order has
come about through a relatively slow process, the changes will be more gradual, helping ensure
that resistance will less likely be open. Hegemony gradually established will be less ‘in your
face,’ that is less obvious in nature. The personal livelihood (i.e., job) of those disempowered
will not be changed radically if done so slowly. If changes are sudden and revolutionary in
character, those who are subjugated will be more prone to open revolt, since their means of
existence will be directly challenged.
A second obstacle to all-out, collective, open and public resistance is the complex
divisions that domination creates. Victims and beneficiaries are constantly being created and
changed, and a person’s lot within a given situation or structure may change in an instance.
Aside from class there are other links that cut across society: kinship, friendship and faction all
play a part in a person’s identification. Open, collective revolt may not benefit all members of a

given class, or society as a whole. Thus collective opinion and collective action are rarely
Another obstruction to open resistance is “not so much an obstacle…” Scott argues, but
rather the existence of a “viable alternative.” (Scott, 1985: 245) If the hegemonic system is
soundly established and dominant, exerting force from time-to-time when necessary, it may
appear to be impenetrable, making drastic and open rebellion seem fruitless. Rather than
confront the system in a hopeless struggle, resisters seeing no other feasible options may choose
an alternative route. With no viable alternative, resisters may choose to partake in an avoidance
protest, to simply leave, or vote with their feet. Such protest is far less risky than open protest,
and thus remains a relatively attractive option to public and collective revolt.
A fourth obstacle to a public transcript of open revolt is what Scott attributes to Marx as
“the dull compulsion of economic relations.” (Scott, 1985: 246) Such ‘dull compulsions’ include
the realities of survival, such as the day-to-day need to earn a living. Personal and household
survival may rely principally on working, not openly revolting.
Lastly Scott argues that not all barriers to open and collective resistance are vague and
complex, lying at the background of our understanding. Repression and fear of repression are
real to the everyday realities of a given dominated group. The fear of repercussions, the real and
personal fear of threats to a person’s well being, will subdue the majority of ‘would be’ resistors.
Such fear pushes resistance underground, into the private realm. Coercion is not a complex
concept and what is theoretically in a person’s best interests may be forgotten when faced with
the realities of gun, brawn, and other weapons of hegemony. As Scott argues, resistance cannot
be fully understood without addressing domination, or systematic routine repression:

Routine repression does its work unobtrusively: an arrest here, a visit from the
Special Branch there, an indirect warning…are all that is normally needed to
create boundary markers that no war peasant would deliberately breach… [This
creates] fairly stable boundaries of permissible dissent …These boundaries –
created, shifted, and occasionally reinforced by historical experience—serve to
inhibit certain forms of open protest and defiance. (Scott, 1985: 277)

Nevertheless rebellion occurs, constantly and relentlessly; those who would appear to be
pushed to the margins, subdued by force and hegemony, are in fact the keys to open revolt.

Text-Book Revolt
Rebellion 101

Rebellion and revolt are often understood in simplistic terms. Revolt is often understood
in a binary language, as between war and peace. There is of course middle ground and
beginnings; open revolt does not suddenly spring forth, random and violent. Rebellion, as
aforementioned, is severely constricted by certain realities and obstacles, both historic and
Primitive resistance, as it can be called, forms “the stubborn bedrock upon which other
forms of resistance may grow.” (Scott, 1985: 273) Primitive resistance does not have to be linked
to a larger outside political movement; rather it can be personal and anonymous. Such resistance
does not seek to form revolution, nor does it not seek to challenge a dominant hegemony, but it
still reflects the overall theme of resistance and rebellion.
Primitive resistance can be sporadic and nameless. Subordinates can and do act out in
ways that would seem to not directly challenge the system of domination at all. Even in the most
severe and hopeless established hegemonic scenario, such as de-jure slavery, a slave may still
rebel in a low risk way. A slave may rebel without thought of political symbolism by simply
breaking a tool from the master’s shed. Such an act can not be understood without realizing its
resistant nature, no mater how primitive or apolitical it may appear. Sabotage, vandalism,
personal boycotts, feet dragging, or pretended ignorance, all constitute as relatively low risk acts
of token resistance. A single and anonymous Luddite may smash the gears of the machine, but
this act of token resistance is a far cry from open rebellion and Molotov cocktails. Symbolic in
nature, such acts reflect a private transcript of insubordination, and would likely not be
considered to be open conflict. These acts of primitive resistance help to form a base for all of
resistance. Within the context of coercion and historic realities, acts of token resistance are
relatively safe. As opposed to open rebellion, primitive rebellion can occur while not
jeopardizing the actor’s means of subsistence that is their daily livelihood. (Scott, 1985: 272)
Although literally the least one could do, inaction is itself a form of resistance. Not acting, not
doing, not prescribing to what should be done, is an act of rebellion. Resistance can be petty and
it can be small, but it takes many rain drops to eventually wear away a monolith.
Resistance to the dominant order thus may exist in small forms, appearing relatively
harmless and innocent. Resistance may be so day-to-day, that it becomes routine, reflecting a
counter ideology that acts within the dominant ideology, but never in step with it. Routine
resistance is a “never ending attempt to seize each small advantage…to probe the limits of the

existing relationships…to see precisely what can be gotten away with.” (Scott, 1985: 255) Daily
attempts to ‘make the best of a bad lot,’ within a system of domination, involve a plethora of
options to indirectly challenge the order. Acts such as poaching and deliberate law breaking, may
seem to be selfishly motivated, but symbolically reflect a rebellious ideology that does not
prescribe to dominant ideology.
A public transcript of conformity and working within the system does not reflect consent
to the system of domination. A “refusal to embrace a vague and threatening revolutionary
future… [does not imply the] embrace of the established order… [but rather represents a] making
the best of a bad lot.” (Lears, 1985: 582) Historic realities play a vital role to resistance and an
establishment of counter hegemonies. The vast majority of resistance to hegemony lies in the
private realm, within civil society. Direct, open and collective challenges against established
hegemony are hindered by various obstacles; in public, in the realm of the state, resistance is
secretive. However, indirect, closed and private resistance can be relentless, constantly
challenging the dominant hegemony. Counter hegemonies do not burst forth openly challenging
the dominant system. Rather, they simmer and stew away, waiting for the right combination of
‘organic crisis’ and routine resistance. When a “[time] of crisis or momentous political change,”
occurs, such forms of resistance--the mundane, the trivial, the token—can, “be complemented by
other forms of struggle that are more opportune.” (Scott, 1985: 273) Long, well nurtured, hidden
transcripts of rebellion are what lead to a successful open rebellion; a successful counter-

Hegemony Countered
Cocaleros Rise

Hegemony and resistance play a crucial part in understanding the historical realities of
Bolivia. The election of MAS and Morales help illustrate how civil society can overtake political
society, given the right mixture of historic realities. The cocaleros, MAS, and Morales,
weathered a perfect storm of realities that radically reshaped the Bolivian political and social
landscapes. Through a combination of continuous public and private rebellion and organic
crisis’, the cocaleros, MAS, and Morales, were able to overtake civil society and then eventually
political society to become the all-out leaders of a new counter-hegemony. This new counter-
hegemony did not come from the top down, as has been the historic case for Bolivia, but rather
came from the bottom up, from civil society, or as Latin American political scientist, Harry E.
Vanden argues:

In contrast to the radical revolutionary movements of the past few decades, these
new [revolutionary] movements do not employ or advocate the radical,
revolutionary restructuring of the state through violent revolution. Rather, their
approach is to work within civil society and push government and society to their
limits to achieve the necessary change and restructuring. (Vanden, 2007: 21)

The dominant hegemonic ideology of modern Bolivia did not exist for the cocaleros of
the MAS political party. State power was held by elites, but their world view, their hegemony,
was never agreed to by the cocaleros. Their never-ending resistance in its many forms tells a
story of complete and total rejection of the dominant ideology. As we shall see, the creation and
implication of an ideological hegemony in Bolivia, has been a near impossible task. The Bolivian
state existed on the point of a bayonet, and while elites dominated the financial centers, the
courts, and other centers of hegemony, they never dominated the realm of society. A dominant
cultural hegemony was never established fully, consent and acceptance were never given; the
huddled masses and wretched refuse of Bolivia understood perfectly well what the system was
doing to them, that they were forever and always on the wrong end of the stick. Open revolt was
dangerous, but resistance took a variety of forms, and many groups from a divergent population
partook when able. Weapons of culture, economy, and society, were used in place of artillery.
The cocaleros are but one group who were forced to bow before a coercive dominant political
ideology, but never to hegemony. What is important and unique regarding the MAS and the
ascension of Morales, is the fact that it was successful in the political realm. The dominant
hegemony fell to a counter-hegemony, by ballot box rather than rifle, by the peasants rather than

Setting the Stage

The Government
The Miners, and the Coca Growers

Domination and resistance exist in both realms of society, and as has been previously
explained, a successful control must exert rightful - or at least legitimately perceived – control of both
civil and political society. In order to control society, order must be held within both the civic and
political realm. Stability then relies on combination of the use or threat of use of force to maintain the
political state, and the controlling the hearts and minds of the populace. As Scott states:

[If] there were a dominant, hegemonic ideology…the beliefs and values of the…
[elites would] penetrate and dominate the worldview of the poor so as to elicit
their consent and approval of an… [order] which, materially, does not serve
their objective interests… [The dominant hegemonic ideology’s] function would
be to conceal or misrepresent the real conflicts of class interests… to make of the
poor, in effect, coconspirators of their own victimization. (Scott, 1985: 318).

Looking at the realities of the Bolivian political landscape, and with the experiences of
los cocaleros themselves, we can see that such a dominant hegemonic ideology has rarely, if ever
existed. Hegemony over Bolivia has been historically weak, with a revolving door of would-be
revolutionaries and reformists. Elites, foreign and domestic, civilian and military, have tried to
impose their dominant world view on Bolivians. And while political society and the state have been
held by a host of shady regents, power hungry autocrats, vile dictators, and crooked politicians,
societies other realm, its civil side, has been far from homogenous. There has been a wide range of
counter-hegemonic movements that have attempted to resist state control. However, the election of
Morales and MAS has been a historic first. Rather than take on the dominant hegemonic ideology
head-on, the MAS chose a new route. Firstly, the cocaleros fully rejected the prescribed dominant
hegemonic ideologies. Secondly, they created their own counter-hegemony, which was perceived to
be legitimate and able to function in place of the dominant hegemony. And lastly, they were able,
because of their historic successful resistance; to grasp the reins of power when society as a whole

rejected the dominant hegemonic ideology. To understand the nature of cocaleros resistance, we must
first turn to the question of coca cultivation in the Chaparé. That is, “why do they grow coca in the
first place?”

A Place to Visit, But Not To Grow

The Peasants of the Chaparé

The coca growers of the Chaparé are a tough breed; like the weeds they toil to remove,
the cocaleros are survivors. The lowland region is located in the north of the central Province of
Cochabamba. Simply known as “el Chaparé,” the bulk of the area is valley rainforests, highlighted
by the Chaparé River. The one hundred and seventy eight mile (278km) river is a tributary to the
Amazon. The provincial capital of the region is the small city of Sacaba, and the town of Villa Tunari
offers a place for eco-tourists and crusading volunteers to gather. The region often described as,
“rugged,” “immensely difficult,” or simply “rough,” is far from ideal. Poor tropical soils, relatively
few natural resources, and extreme humidity make the region naturally hostile for human settlement.
As a tropical rainforest, the region has some of the highest rainfall totals on the planet, making erosion
and floods a constant threat. Tourists or other visitors would find themselves partaking in the
traveling cliché of “a nice place to visit, but wouldn’t want to live there.” Historically the region has
been economically desolate, but over the last 40 years has earned itself a bit of a reputation.
Prior to the mid 20th century, the Chaparé was sparsely populated, and isolated from the rest
of the country13. Following the successful egalitarian minded revolution of 1952, the so called
Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (Movimento Nacionalista Revolucionario) or MNR, settlers
were encouraged to brave the elements and colonize the province. Agrarian reforms instituted by the
MNR gave land to the landless, making peasants into small share farmers, and creating an incentive to
settle the Chaparé. (Morales, 2003: 146-151)
Peasants began to trickle into the region responding to government initiatives, with immigrant
totals reaching 24,000 by 1967. Within a few years the number would swell six fold, reaching
142,000 people by 1976. Despite its poor soils, colonists flocked to the Chaparé seeking land and an
opportunity to farm marketable crops, to make a living. Some 62% of Chaparé settlers were landless
prior to resettlement; and they came from the poor urban centers as well as larger hacienda farms to
the east.. Of the 38% of settlers who had land previously, half had only one hectare or less. By

By the mid 20th centaury it still took 8 days travel to reach Cochabamba, the largest and most proximate
city to the Chaparé. The rout, which would appear at a glance of a map to be within close proximity to its
department capital, was so underdeveloped and over-run by vegetation, that machetes and 4X4 are
requirements for entry.

braving the unknown Chaparé pioneers found themselves rewarded, with 88% of the settlers holding
some 5-15 hectare. Thus following government agrarian reforms, colonists flocked to a once
inhospitable region; rain, humidity, and poor soils were braved in order to have the opportunity for
family small holdings. (Gregor, 1993: 2-7)
Early colonizers planted bananas, citrus, rice, corn and yucca, with small plots of coca and
sugar. However, the new farmers found their crops to be restricted by the Chaparé itself. Soils were
highly acidic and contained little organic matter and essential nutrients such as nitrogen and
phosphorus were low by agricultural standards. Poor soils, when paired with the erosion caused by
excessive rains, made farming all the more difficult. Weak soils made production fall after only one
harvest, as the first harvest took what little there was from the soil. Farmers began to plant in cycles
that produced a livable mix of cash and sustenance crops. Fruit and coca were grown to supplement
the income of farmers and their families; however, following the cocaine boom of the 70s and 80s,
coca radically took over small holdings: between 1976 and 1982, coca production increased by 1,100
percent. (Gregor, 1993: 5) The once obscure region became a hot international topic.
Responding to government incentives to settle in the hostile Chaparé region, peasants eked a
living the best ways they could. Housing was primitive with “a typical peasant house consist[ing] of a
mere roof supported by a few pillars to protect the family from the rain, a hearth floor and no side
walls.” (Thoumi, 2003: 113) The abundant but difficult land provided peasants with problematic
opportunities to become farmers, working on their own small share land holdings. Although the soils
were poor, the climate harsh, and the location remote, the Chaparé was the best place for desperate,
tough men and women to raise a family.

The Boom and the Bust

Economic Uncertainties and Historic Realities

Landless peasants moved to the Chaparé in a steady and continuous fashion. The
migrant population built communities of mutual aid, addressing common plights and dangers to
subsistence. Small loans, both domestic and international, in the form of various aid packages sought
to help farmers establish an existence in an inhospitable land. But the Bolivian reality of boom and
bust, saw crop after crop fail, helping to ensure a perpetual cycle of need. The first crop to fail the
Chaparé was cotton. A short lived world cotton price boom in the early 1970’s provided an incentive
for farmers and the Bolivian government to invest in the cotton industry. By 1974 the primary lender
to Bolivian agriculture, the Agricultural Bank of Bolivia (Banco Agricola), invested some 52 percent
of its reserves into the cotton industry, by the following year world prices collapsed. (Streatfeild,

2001: 235) Farmers found their cotton cash crops unable to pay the loans taken out on their behalf,
many in Chaparé were left in ruin. Following the collapse of cotton, farmers next found their maize
crops under attack, when a series of droughts ruined crops.
Citrus and other fruits were a popular cash crop for farmers in the tropical zone. The
climate was ideal, but the realities of the Chaparé would defeat attempts of building a large and robust
fruit harvest. Roads are poor in much of the Chaparé making transportation is difficult. Fruits and
other perishables rot and spoil under the tropical sun. Refrigeration of course solves the problem of
spoiling, but the infrastructure for such methods was unimaginable for poor rural farmers. Farmers
often lacked the bare necessities of life, and such luxuries as refrigeration were unattainable. Thus
fruit as an option was made unattractive due to realities of the Chaparé.
There however was another cash crop small share farmers could turn to, one that grew
quite easily and naturally, one that was culturally embedded in their indigenous being. Coca was the
answer for Chaparé farmers. As opposed to other possible cash crops, coca provided vast advantages,
as one farmer has explained, “coca just grows..It’s a weed. [You] don’t have to worry about markets
and diseases. It always gets a good price.” (Lupu, 2004: 410) Coca, according to various studies, is
four to nineteen times more profitable than other cash crops. It grows abundantly and naturally in the
poor soils of the Chaparé. It provides several harvests a year, giving farmers continuous yields. It
dries easily, becoming light weight and easily transportable14. When compared to alternatives, coca is
an easy choice for a farmer seeking to earn extra income for his household. The cash earned from
coca can be used to buy additional household items, and provide the family with a more secure
outlook. Subsistence crops provide the base of the farmer’s crops, but in-between these crops, little
patches of coca are raised and harvested, giving a farmer some leeway in the unwelcoming Chaparé.
For reasons of simple economy, farmers turned to and relied on coca, to supplement their meager

Coca Cultivation
A Total Social Fact

Farmers needed little assistance in producing coca, investment for the crop was minimal,
and the ‘know how,’ was easily obtained. Coca production in the Chaparé mirrored indigenous social
structures, and production was tied to identity. Alison Spedding has described coca production in
Dried coca can be carried on ones back or on small livestock, such as donkeys, alpacas, or llamas. The trails are old,
well used, and ideal for foot traffic. Although much slower than automotive transportation, such trails are much more
ideal for the realities of the Chaparé.

Bolivia, as a “total social fact,” with coca being tied to “local ecology and social structure[s] of the
peasant family and community.” (Spedding, 1997: 48) Echoing and reinforcing cultural ties: coca is
more than economics, it is also symbolic. The planting of coca fields is an event for the community,
with workers from various families partaking in the work. New immigrants to the Chaparé found
communities of other migrants, willing to (for modest compensation) help them plant new coca fields.
Community in the Chaparé was important for two reasons. Firstly, community was a necessity due to
the realities of the Chaparé, farmers had to work together in order to survive the Chaparé. Secondly,
community was culturally important to the farmers. Identity was tied to the whole, not the individual.
The family was the first group one belong to, and the community the second. An individual did not
exist outside of the group, and individualism was generally thought as creed based and looked down
upon. Coca cultivation reinforced these ties.
In order to plant new fields of coca, farmers would need to seek the help of the
community. Planting new coca first starts with “jathiña,” the dig. Plots are cleared of rocks and other
farming obstacles and the work is toilsome and heavy. Adult men from all over the community are
hired as informal laborers in a tradition predating Spanish colonization. The Andean practice - similar
to other agrarian societies - involves reciprocation and gift exchange, with beer and meals being
provided to laborers along with small wages. Laborers then work in groups of two, often father son
pairs. The farmer, whose coca fields they are readying, works side by side clearing and shaping the
land, making it better suited for coca cultivation. Thus community and solidarity is necessary to
effectively ready a new field. (Spedding, 1997: 52-58)
Coca production also involves the family household. Multiple harvests allows a family
full year- round employment with “men plant[ing] the fields and weed[ing] them, [while] the women
and children harvest them.” (Spedding, 1997: 51) All members of the household work in tandem, to
help ensure economic security for one another. Coca production, while relatively easy compared to
other crops, is labor intensive requiring household cooperation. When paired with the need for
communal help to establish the fields, one can understand how coca reinforces the Andean indigenous
understandings of community and solidarity. The Chaparé forced settlers to work together for
survival, and coca cultivation reinforces these ties of survival with a crop that symbolically and
physically demands commonality.

A Country in Free-fall
Bolivia and the NEP

Bolivia, as with much of Latin America, suffered during the so called, “lost decade,” a
time of economic slowdown highlighted by a stagnant economy and hyperinflation. The early 1980’s
were a time of chaos for much of Bolivia. During the first half of the 1980’s, “Bolivia’s gross national
product dropped by 20 percent and open unemployment doubled.” (Healy, 1988: 19) Chronic
economic mismanagement and the collapse of tin pushed the nation to the brink. On the ropes, and
near complete breakdown, the government instituted a series of historic reforms.
The reforms, followed the so-called neoliberal “Washington Consensus,” called for an
increase in “privatization and capitalization…[to] foster more dynamic growth.” The government of
Bolivia opened itself for outside, private investment. Government held industries were privatized,
spending was slashed, and the subsidies were ended. The result was highly successful. Prior to the
reforms, inflation had hit 20,000 percent in 1984, the following year, government reforms had
curtailed inflation to a comparatively more tolerable 60 percent. Through the following years, the
government continued to limit spending and attempted to promote foreign investment. By 1990,
inflation was at 18 percent; less than one one-hundredth its historic 1984 peak. (Alvarez, 1995: 128)
The New Economic Policy, or NEP, as it would become known, was not without its own
problems. Indeed, for each sector of Bolivia the reforms would have far-reaching and severe
consequences. For business, labor and agriculture, for the government and privileged, and for those at
the lowest rungs of society; the NEP affected everyone. Although the consequences of the NEP varied
by a person’s place within the society, it nevertheless helped to secure Bolivia and create a more
economically stable state. The state, presiding over an economy not crippled by runaway inflation,
was better able to exert its will on its populace. However, much of the stability caused by the NEP
measures threatened the sovereignty of the nation, and indeed made the government accountable to
outside powers. To receive the aid they drastically needed, the Government of Bolivia (GOB) was
forced to follow drastic US and International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands, and with, a “drying up
of foreign credits and deteriorating terms of trade…[and with an] increased leverage of the IMF and
the international financial community…Bolivia had few options other than to participate in the global
economy under neoliberal rules.” (Andreas, 1995: 77) Bolivia then, with promises by international
lenders of economic recovery, restructured its economy in line with neoliberals.
The famous NEP reforms sought to stabilize the economy by restructuring it along neoliberal
policies. Subsidies would be cut and tariffs would be removed, all in the hopes of attracting foreign
investment and hard currencies. NEP reforms were painful, drastic, and fast, however the gains they
sought were slow at best, as foreign investment did not pour in. Although hyperinflation would be
curbed, progress trickled slowly to those at the bottom. As the NEP attempted to right the failing
economy, there seemed to be one “escape valve”: cocaine. It was the illegal underground cocaine

industry that both provided hard currency for the government, businesses and banks, and also jobs for
hundreds of thousands of desperate citizens. At the base of industry, were the cocaleros engaging in a
form of “narco-compartive advantage.” (Healy, 1988)

Coca to Cocaine
The Chaparé and the World

Coca production, culturally and economically makes perfect sense to the residents of the
Chaparé. Growing harmoniously with poor soils and peasants beliefs, coca production was a steady
cash crop choice for farmers of the Chaparé. However, things would become increasingly messy, as
other countries began to enter the field.
Cocaine rose in popularity as a hip and sexy drug, all the while the drug business
modernized. As the chic drug continued to attract affluent party-goers, traffickers in the third world
grew wise to possibilities of sky high profits. Billionaires, cartels, and a complex networks were
created. Through a complex chain small land holding coca farmers were connected to larger and
larger system of drug manufacturers, traffickers, pushers, and users.
As cocaine became an increasingly popular drug the demand for its raw ingredient coca
rose to new and unimaginable numbers. Colombian cartels began to show up in the Chaparé, offering
to buy all the coca the farmers could produce. Landing in small aircraft, Colombians made the short
flight and having made a successful transaction, they left with loads of dried coca and coca paste15
destined for cocaine laboratories in Colombia. Seeing an opportunity, the farmers grew as much coca
as they could. Cocaine was a foreign idea to Chaparé settlers, and posh night clubs of New York and
Las Angeles might as well be outer space to rural farmers. Thus farmers had no problem growing
larger amounts of their traditional crop, and selling it to nontraditional.
Coca production in the Chaparé tripled during the 1980’s. The ascent of cocaine during
the 1970’s and 1980’s was not the only factor that drove coca production. As analysts Noam Lupu
explains, there are three Bolivian crises that helped to usher in the Bolivian “coca boom.” Firstly, “a
seven year drought beginning in 1983…effectively eliminated rain-fed agricultural production
[throughout the country].” Coca, being a hearty weed, easily survived droughts, and as the drought
killed off other cash crops, coca remained continuously overtaking other crops. Secondly,

Coca Paste is the middle product of coca and cocaine. In order to make cocaine, the coca leaves need to be first
dried, and then mashed with a variety of chemicals, to form a raw paste. The vast majority of cocaleros have no part in
coca paste production or cocaine production. Although both forms of coca are far more valuable than the dried leaves,
there exists a considerable amount of increased risk. Punishment for coca paste production is far more severe than
illicit coca cultivation, furthermore those that make coca paste control the market, openly threatening anyone that
would dare produce coca paste on their own.

hyperinflation began to rock Bolivia, as decades of poor economic production, investment, and policy
took hold. At its peak Bolivia experienced some of the world’s historical highs, with some 20,000%
in 1985. To combat hyperinflation, Bolivia turned to harsh neoliberal reforms, which radically
affected all aspects of Bolivian society. And lastly, tin and natural gas prices collapsed in 1985 and
1986, the two natural resources were Bolivia’s major exports. (Lupu, 2004: 412) The result of rising
coca demand caused by increasing world cocaine consumption, when paired with these crises, was a
drastic increase in coca production. The Chaparé region became the epicenter for coca cultivation,
partly because of its status as a frontier. As the country spun dangerously out of control with
hyperinflation, failing crops, and other boom-bust cycles, settlers fled in droves to the new beginnings
and opportunity the Chaparé could give. More Bolivians became cocaleros, joining Chaparé settlers
in communities built on solidarity and mutual aid. Settlers would become increasingly suspicious and
resentful of the state, as well as increasingly independent and autonomous while eking out an
existence relatively free from state assistance. This culture of antagonism and independence towards
the central state would increase with the migration of Bolivians historic counter hegemonic culture,
the rebellious miners.

The Tin Men

The Defeat of the Miner

Bolivia’s tin miners fled to the Chaparé to trade their pick axes, shovels and mine carts
for the life of a farmer after their industry collapsed. The Bolivian tin mining industry was once the
illustrious export jewel of the nation and formed the bedrock of its economy. Following the steady
decline of its silver mining industry, Bolivia discovered vast tin reserves. The tin industry would
boom with the advent of canning, and Bolivian tin encased the world’s foods. Tin mining and mining
in general was hard and dangerous work, molding a worker in a particular form. The culture of
miners, historically and globally, can be described as “classically…deeply entrenched [with a]
passionate sense of solidarity, masculinity, and historical consciousness…[with] an equally pervasive
awareness of class identity and exploration.” (Sanabria, 2000: 58) Tin miners in Bolivia were no
The first Bolivian miners unions began to formally organize in the early 1900’s, and by the
1930’s they had firmly established themselves as a political bloc. In 1944 the largest miners union,
the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia/

Miners were often radical Marxist, armed and openly rebellious to management. Statues and monuments erected in
their honor often portray miners with a pick in one hand, and a rifle in the other

FSTMB) was formed. After the 1952 nationalist revolution, the MNR nationalized the mines, forming
a state mining company, el Corporacion Minera de Bolivia (COMIBOL17) which in turn employed
FSTMB miners. The miners had been a key to the success of the revolution, and, having united with
Bolivia’s other large trade labor group, the Central Obrera Boliviana (Bolivian Workers Center/COB)
had come to hold considerable power over labor. Acting as a powerful economic and political bloc,
the miners represented a large proportion of Bolivian workers. Acting as the predominant counter-
hegemony, miners would engage in and call for large scale strikes, road blocks, and other forms of
protest, often bringing the entire country’s economy to a halt.
Miners in Bolivia acted as the chief check on the hegemony of domination of the lower class
strata. Within political society miners organized through large and militant unions, holding
considerable economic clout. When miners’ livelihoods were threatened, miners could and would call
for large work stoppages. These strikes brought a substantial amount of the country to a halt. In
addition to this direct confrontational method miners acted out in a variety of ways. The hidden
transcript of miners, following Scott’s model, is a transcript of back-stage rebellion that was constant
and relentless. While miners would, from time to time, organize massive strikes, road blocks, and
other public forms of resistance there also existed a private rebellion of “tardiness, absenteeism, ore
thefts, and other forms of labor indiscipline.” (Sanabria, 2000: 59) The onstage and public transcript
would show miners as subservient wage laborers, who were highly organized and class conscious,
although subservient, they held enough economic clout to be taken seriously. The private and hidden
transcript would then also show a culture of constant rebellion that severely limited the hegemonic
powers’ ability to exert its dominance over the miners. The public and the private, the social and the
political ability of the miners to act out and act as a counter-hegemony made their resistance thriving
and legitimate despite their disadvantageous position as petty laborers.
The miner’s status as a serious counter-hegemony would come under attack, and the once
immensely powerful group would find themselves demoted to place of unimportance. Soon after the
MNR revolution state managers attempted to lessen the power of the unions; planners began a thirty
year “remarkably consistent discourse…stressing [the mines] lack of profitability and drain on the
national treasury.” (Sanabria, 2000: 61) The various governments that temporarily held power, both
military and civilian, closed state mines and cut wages, attempting to lessen the miners hold on
political power. The miners responded as they always had, and had limited success in slowing their
demise. However, by the end of the 1970’s, private mines had overtaken state-run COMIBOL mines,
both in terms of raw output and in economic productivity.

COMIBOL, or Mining Corporation of Bolivia (Corporación Minera de Bolivia), at its pinnacle was the world’s
second largest tin producer.

In October of 1985, world tin prices collapsed, and everything for the miners changed.
During the same year the government of Bolivia, realizing things were spinning dangerously out of
control, instituted its series of drastic economic reforms, “ NEP.” These reforms and the collapse of
world tin prices severally threatened the livelihood of Bolivian tin miners.
The steady assault of privatizing state-run mines had rendered the miners less able to
mount a genuine resistance to NEP reforms, and when the prices of tin collapsed, the miners were
helpless, since “the fall of tin prices drastically undermined miners’ traditional economic and hence
political leverage.” (Sanabria, 2000: 66) Mines that attempted to strike were simply closed, their
workers laid off, since they were no longer profitable. Furthermore, many elder miners with
rebellious historic tendencies were forcibly retired. Price subsidies were removed from consumer
staples, and the food and supplies that eventually reached the mines doubled and tripled their previous
prices. Facing the “dull compulsion of economic relations,” miners simply could not afford not to
work. However, as the state attempted to end the tailspin that had engulfed the Bolivian state, the
hemorrhaging mines were to be closed, or sold off to private companies. The once prominent
COMIBOL by 1986 had lost more than 80% of its work force.

The Miners Resistance

A Failure of Resistance

Referring back to Scott we can further understand how the miners were unable to remain a
legitimate counter-hegemony. When tin prices collapsed the miners lost their key economic leverage.
In 1952, after the successful MNR revolution, the miners were the “self appointed vanguard of…
[roughly] 6,000…[they claimed] to represent a workforce that numbered 53,000…[furthermore]
miners produced 95 percent of exports and provided 45 percent of government revenues.” (Hylton and
Thomas, 2007: 78) When this economic clout was lost, miners found themselves relatively powerless.
Many mines were not profitable; work stoppages at such mines were ideal to the NEP,
negating their effectiveness as a form of resistance. The unions, once the miner’s chief source of
political resistance, lost their power as the miners increasingly lost their footing as the leaders of labor.
The miners were, after all, only a fraction of the work force18, and with the fall of world tin prices they
had lost their economic importance. The government split the unions, by signing agreements with
labor from other industries, alienating the miners from other labor groups. Furthermore as the nation
fell into a deep and far reaching economic crisis, would-be allies of the miners were tied up in their

At their peak, when tin miners produced 95 percent of Bolivian’s exports, the tin miners represented only 5 percent
of the Bolivian workforce.

own ‘dull compulsions of economic relations.’ And while the coca growers could have been a useful
ally to the miners, becoming increasingly militant and organized, “the plight of the mining camps was
[too] far removed from the concerns of the coca cultivators because they were engaged in their own
struggles against the state.” (Sanabria, 2000: 67) As the state became stronger and focused on NEP
reforms, private forms of resistance failed to achieve the results they once had. While the miners
attempted to continue their counter-hegemony, they found the state more and more willing to exert
direct force on them.
A powerful political hegemony evolved as the state forcibly removed and closed miner camps,
and while a social hegemony would be necessary to achieve a complete hegemony, the organic crisis
brought on by the collapse of tin, allowed the state to retool itself, using increasingly violent forms of
coercion to maintain a stability committed to NEP. In August of 1986 the miners organized a last
ditch effort to have their grievances addressed. As 5,000 miners attempted to march on La Paz, the
government grew weary of a possible miner led coup, when the numbers swelled to 10,000 as other
peasants joined the miners, the state declared a state of siege. The military surrounded the protesters,
“blocking the flow of food and drink.” Demoralized, defeated, hungry, and thirsty, the “miners
abandoned their attempts to reach La Paz.” (Sanabria, 2000: 68) By blocking protesters, the GOB
showed its willingness to use force against the miners, and while marchers claimed to be marching in
peace, the GOB showed such mass protests would not be acceptable. Many miners went elsewhere,
abandoning their trade. With no viable alternative, numerous miners sought a new way of life and
engaged in an avoidance protest, voting with their feet to the Chaparé.

Alternative Development
An Anemic System of Failure

The United States had been eyeing Bolivian coca production for some time before
President Reagan declared a new and rejuvenated “War on Drugs.” Supply side reduction became the
first weapon of Reagan’s assault on cocaine. To reduce cocaine, US policy makers sought to reduce
the production of coca, curbing the problem at what they perceived to be the source. Following the
end of the totalitarian regime of Garcia-Meza19, the US began to renew attempts of coca crop
reduction. The first attempts were in the guise of aid from American, United States Agency for

The Garcia-Meza coup of 1980 is often called the “Cocaine Coup.” Garcia-Meza’s reign lasted roughly one year,
but was responsible for an estimated 1,000 deaths. The regime to the relief of Washington was fiercely anti-
communist, however Garcia-Meza and his officials were deeply involved with cocaine traffickers, neo-fascists, and
former Nazi Clause Barbie. The connections to cocaine trafficking went straight to the top with some of Garcia-
Meza’s top officials currently sitting in US prisons serving trafficking sentences; Garcia-Meza himself is currently
serving a 30 year sentence for human rights violations.

International Development (USAID) program. The agreements first signed in 1983 reached the
Chaparé in the form of the “Chaparé Regional Development Program,” (CRDP). CRDP and other
alternative development programs, as they came to be called, sought to aid coca farmers by
“compensate[ing] producers within the framework of an export-oriented model” (Argañarás, 1997: 63)
Incentives and technical assistance would be given in return if farmers reduced their coca crops.
USAID programs such as CRDP seemed an ideal solution to the problem of drugs. Drug production
would be lowered because the raw source of drugs would be lowered. At the same time poor peasant
farmers would receive aid and would be given the opportunity to make a more ‘honest living,’
removing them from the drug trade.
Alternative development appeared to be sound logic—coca was a more attractive crop
than other crops, so if other crops were made more attractive than coca farmers would respond by
planting alternative crops—however, alternative development was far from successful. Alternative
development programs were often hastily and poorly designed. Furthermore, resources were
squandered or allocated in an asinine fashion.
One often cited example of poor planning was the construction of a new road that was
intended to be used by farmers to export alternative crops. When USAID representatives asked
farmers if the road was working, locals reported that the road was so well constructed that, “the
previous evening…a small airplane had landed on it.” (Thoumi, 2003: 324) The plane, presumably
full of traffickers and cash, is but one example of unintended negative consequences brought by poor
Farmers were told to invest in fruits, such as passion fruit, but the refrigeration units needed
for transportation never arrived. As farmers responded to the incentives, taking loans with promises of
profitable crops, they destroyed their coca crops to receive aid. But as they watched horrified, their
new crops rotted in the sun. Farmers were promised that alternative crops would be better than coca,
but simple economic variables were not researched. The new crops were unable to compete in
international markets and the domestic market, in the midst of horrific hyperinflation, could not afford
luxury cash crops.
To further hamper alternative development programs, lines of command were not clearly
defined. The United States seemed to write policy that the Bolivian government was in charge of
implementing, with little communication between the two governments. US policy often undermined
Bolivian sovereignty, and Bolivian officials often took advantage of dollars. Spending was inefficient,
with an endlessly rising bureaucratic overhead. To the farmers who received aid, it appeared that the
only people being aided were officials in La Paz and Washington. When the UN entered the fray in
1989, with its own alternative development plan, just who was writing and implementing policy

became even more confusing. However the result was always the same: alternative crops that could
not compete with coca. But still many farmers uprooted their coca, after being mislead or lied to
outright. As one angry mislead cocalero turned watermelon farmer explained, “there is no market to
go to, and the roads are bad.” (Lupu, 2004: 411) Farmers simply turned angrily back to coca, losing
trust in governmental officials and policies. Alternative crop after alternative crop failed. The
realities of the region had shown settlers that coca was the crop of the Chaparé. However, US policy
makers and their Bolivian lackeys would not give up. The US demanded that Bolivia continue to
reduce its coca production, in order to receive USAID in the forms of loans and subsidies. Bolivia
was forced to take a more hard-line approach.
Having little to no luck establishing hegemony over Chaparé cocaleros, the government
was forced to rely on power to push through policies. Washington and La Paz both sought to lower
the amounts of coca being produced. Cocaleros on the other hand sought what was best for their
personal livelihood, which was to grow coca.
The cocaleros of the Chaparé actively and continuously resisted a hegemony that deemed
their crops to be illegal. While farmers went along with alternative development, they only did so
because of promised monetary gains. Farmers grew fruits and coffee, not because coca was wrong,
but because they were told it would make them more money. When the alternative crops failed,
farmers did not hesitate to go back to coca. Furthermore, farmers that did partake in alternative
development, rarely, if ever removed all of their coca crops. They simply removed “excess” coca,
coca that was old or sickly. After its first year, despite US backed efforts, CRDP had failed to reach
targets of 70 percent coca eradication. After millions of dollars, the US led and Bolivian implemented
program had achieved a far from stellar reduction of a mere 4 percent. Seeking to quickly quash the
epidemic, Washington demanded from La Paz more drastic measures.
Forced eradication became the tactic after alternative development failed to achieve the
results the US desired. The USDEA, (United States Drug Enforcement Agency) drew little to no
distinction between coca and cocaine within areas it deemed as ‘non-traditional’20. The war on drugs
extended to the Bolivian small share farmers of the Chaparé, threat of force and outright force would
become methods to curb the drug epidemic.

Law 1008
Hard Lined and Hard Pressed

Regions such as the Chaparé, were argued to be non-traditional coca regions. Bolivia has historically
grown coca more or less in the same traditional areas. Settlers to the Chapare and other regions were
argued to be growing non-traditional coca destined to non-traditional, illicit markets.

The Bolivian government, having failed to meet US eradication targets and under
increasing American pressure, grew tired of the coca growers of the Chaparé. The US government
decided to ‘help’ the Bolivian government answer the question of excess coca. Recognizing that coca
was a traditional and natural crop and that 100% eradication was impossible, a set amount of coca was
to be allotted for traditional uses. Excess coca crops were to be made illicit. These excess crops were
grown primarily in the Chaparé. The zone, it was argued, was colonized by settlers during the previous
40 years; historically it was not a coca growing zone. The coca grown then, being non-traditional, was
thus illegitimate, and destined for nontraditional and illicit markets. The US withheld 50% of its aid to
Bolivia, until the Bolivian Congress acted, and act they did. In 1988, to appease US demands, the
Bolivian Congress passed the harshest coca legislation to date. The law, known as Law 1008,
“directed that all coca should be eradicated in the Chaparé… [with] just 12,000 hectares in the Yungas
[region] for legitimate production.” (Streatfeild, 2001: 397) Coca there was legally declared to be
“surplus,” and was “to be eradicated gradually after compensating peasants.” (Thoumi, 2003: 115)
Furthermore, all coca planted after Law 1008 was declared to illegal. However, farmers had
experienced similar ‘compensation for coca eradication’ before. Many had been burned by alternative
development, and were unwilling to part with coca; still others were simply hostile to government
meddling and decrees.
The US made the issue all the more confrontational by attempting to align voluntary,
compensation-driven alternative development with an increased militarization of antinarcotics efforts.
In 1990, the commander-in-chief to the Bolivian armed forces revealed that US Ambassador Robert
Gelbard had stated that US military aid to the GOB would be conditional, based on the GOB
willingness to have its military actively participate in counternarcotics efforts. These efforts included
coca crop eradication. (Argañarás, 1997: 64-65) Thus while the public transcript was that of voluntary
compensation, the private transcript included the use of coercion and force.
Law 1008 then sought to eventually eradicate all coca in the Chaparé. It sought to do
this by combining ‘voluntary’ eradication with alternative development programs and compensation.
Farmers were to receive $2,000(US) for each hectare they destroyed, with the idea that the $2,000 was
to be assistance to switch to alternative crops. After their renewed eradication efforts, the government
would claim to have eliminated some 10,000 hectares of “excess” coca in the first 3 years.
Furthermore the “excess” coca the government claimed, had been voluntarily eradicated. However, as
Harry Sanabria has argued, such ‘voluntary’ eradication efforts in the Chaparé have simply been
coercion. And while US officials and their Bolivian counterparts have pointed to decreased coca
cultivation in the Chaparé as being voluntary Sanabria argues that such claims are “deceiving at best…
[and are] concealing an array of repressive and coercive acts.” (Sanabria, 1997: 176) What the

Government was to discover however, is that cocaleros of the Chaparé were united, and more than
willing to resist.
While the on-state actions of the GOB were based on voluntary and just compensation,
the back-stage actions of the GOB were based on coercion. However, the cocaleros resisted to both
on-stage and back-stage attacks on their crops. While the government attempted to establish
hegemony over the cocaleros, the cultivators were united against the GOB. Challenging publicly
when able, and covertly constantly.

Public Transcript
The On-stage and Public Rebellion

When alternative development failed to curb coca production the Bolivian state, acting in
accordance to USDEA wishes, used stronger tactics. Farmers had been tricked, misled, and
abandoned by alternative development; crops and thus profits had rotted in the sun, and leaving
farmers, on the brink of dire poverty, had been the biggest losers. Government funds had been wasted,
and the settlers of the Chaparé had grown weary of ineffective foolish policies. When officials began
to appear, bearing not development plans but orders to destroy coca crops, cocaleros were pushed
against the wall. Although outnumbered, out gunned, and out funded, cocaleros made stand after
stand against those that would destroy their crop. Highly organized, the settlers of the Chaparé-- both
old and new, traditional farmer peasant and former miner alike-- are galvanized by an identity
wrapped in a culture hostile to outside threats. Los cocaleros of the Chaparé resisted wherever able.
When law 1008 was announced, the cocaleros responded with force. When coca
growers’ unions organized and staged a 15,000 person road block, surrounding the city of
Cochabamba, the apparently powerless peasants cut a significant amount of Bolivia off from the rest
of the country. The coca growers, by the early 1990’s had formed into a full blown movement.
Bolivia’s traditional unions began to lose power, fractionalizing and declining, as was the case for the
COB and FTSMB; but the coca growers had united into, “60,000 strong [around]…a young Evo
Morales…[they] offered the only vibrant national popular resistance to [Bolivian perceived] US
imperialism.” (Hylton and Sinclair, 2007: 97)
Defense committees were also organized, to resist against coca eradication efforts. Rather
than confront coca eradication officials, dubbed, “Leopardos” by peasants, members of the
committees were on a constant state of alert, “ready to sound the alarm,” when officials approached.
Peasants would gather with the hopes that a concentration of peasants would provide sufficient
deterrent for eradicators. With little chance of physically confronting armed and trained Leopardos,

the peasants deployed a new tactic: the elder women of the groups would openly challenge, via insults,
and shouts, the officials. Hoping to shame officials, the women would challenge the Leopardos,
questioning their orders, their authority, and their loyalties to culture and race. However, such
methods were hard to employ, since officials traveled by fast moving helicopters and Land Rovers.
Nevertheless, the peasantry banded together and, ” held their ground.” (Sanabria, 1997: 186)

Private Transcript
The Backstage Rebellion

By using Scott’s framework work we can see how the “institutions of repression” limited and
helped to shape the cocaleros resistance. As Scott argues there are “various levels and forms of
resistance: formal-informal, individual-collective, public-anonymous, those that challenge the system
of domination-those that aim at marginal gains.” (Scott, 1985: 299) Cocaleros used a variety of
methods of resistance, all which show a transcript of non-conformity to a hegemony they felt to be
Peasants first uprooted old, weak and sick coca fields. These fields were worth more uprooted
and dead than alive, and officials surveying the destruction knew little about coca cultivation, making
it easy for peasants to selectively destroy bad crops. When offered $2,000 per hectare, many peasants
happily chose to destroy their worst fields. Many peasants then took their $2,000 and reinvested in
new, healthy coca fields.
Another key strategy undertaken by peasants was to undermine coca eradication by
“simultaneously cut[ing] or uproot[ing] coca shrubs in one settlement and plant new ones in other
settlements.” (Sanabria, 1997: 187) Thus while they appeared to be voluntarily eradicating their
crops, they were simply cashing in, taking advantage of the financial incentives while keeping their
crop totals the same.
While Chaparé peasants could not directly challenge governmental officials they would, from
time to time, engage in sporadic low risk attacks on eradication teams. Peasants would
indiscriminately fire upon officials and vehicles from far away under cover of jungle. When vehicles
or other equipment used by eradication teams were left unattended peasants would commit small acts
of sabotage, often slashing tires or breaking instruments. Peasants would pour dirt into gas tanks, or
offer officials foods they knew to be spoiled. Such “microtactics [were] designed to circumvent
efforts to undermine their livelihood…[and to slow] down the work of eradication teams.” Cocaleros,
by the thousands used such low risk tactics, “at every possible opportunity,” and while petty acts of

sabotage and hit and run attacking, were often sporadic, they were part of a “broader strategy that…
blocked widespread state efforts against them and their crops.” (Sanabria, 1999: 552)
Peasants also engage in what Scott calls “a war of words.” Peasants would constantly tell
stories and rumors of mistreatment by eradication teams. Their rumors, many of which can be
assumed to be apocryphal, get repeated over and over again, becoming a powerful weapon of
resistance. Officials were accused of stealing from peasants, using their authority to arbitrarily take
from peasant households. Peasants heard story after story about officials acting in a “devilish
manner,” acting unreasonable and outside the law. Many peasants told stories of another peasant, who
had destroyed his coca only to be cheated out of compensation of fallen hard times. Being “damned if
you do, damned if you don’t,” peasants saw no advantage in cooperating with officials. Thus peasants
dragged their feet, and did what they were instructed to do, only at the last minute, straining state
efforts by forcing officials to constantly babysit cocaleros.
Backstage rebellions, and everyday forms of resistance in the Chaparé, are techniques of
resistance that were best suited for the cocaleros. As Scott explains backstage resistance and the
peasantry are a perfect fit together.

“Such techniques of resistance are well adapted to the particular characteristics

of the peasantry…scattered across the countryside, often lacking the discipline
and leadership that would encourage opposition of a more organized sort, the
peasantry is best suited to extended guerrilla–style campaigns of attrition that
require little coordination. (Scott, 1985: 35)

The cocaleros culture of opposition, independence, and community, helps to create a

“popular culture of resistance,” and when the whole community is involved, according to Scott, it
“becomes plausible to speak of a social movement.” (Scott, 1985: 35) This social movement, based
on an identity and connection to the coca plant helped the cocaleros of the Chaparé to create, not a
counter-hegemony, but rather their own hegemony.
As Scott criticizes Gramsci’s visions of a consented hegemony of the peasantry, we can
see it is not merely acts of open rebellion that show a transcript of resistance towards the dominate

“Gramsci is…misled when he claims that the radicalism of subordinate classes

is to be found more in their acts than in their beliefs. It is more nearly the
reverse. The realm of behavior---particularly in the power lade situations--- is

precisely where dominated classes are most constrained. And it as the level of
beliefs and interpretations where--- they safely be ventured--- that subordinate
classes are least trammeled. (Scott, 1985: 322)

Thus we can see while “everyday forms of resistance make no headlines,” (Scott, 1985:
36) they exist in the backstage, creating a private transcript that shows a constant and steady rejection
of hegemony. While the public transcript tells of governmental policies enforced by a democratically
elected government, and peasants voluntarily eradicating their illicit crops while being justly
compensated, the private transcript shows rebellion and rejection.

By the Barrel of a Gun

Hegemony Lost and Counter-Hegemony Formed

If a dominant hegemony must exert control over both the economic modes of production, and
the production of ideologies, following Gramsci, we can then see that no such hegemony existed vis-à-
vis the cocaleros of the Chaparé. Time and time again coercion was the only apparatus of
enforcement. Having failed to achieve any sort of consent from the cocaleros to be ruled, the
government used force, making it less and less legitimate in the eyes of many Bolivians. The
traditional elites and the GOB, backed by US and other western aid, would ride the storm and hold
onto power for a time. But, organic crisis, after organic crisis would prove to be too much, while the
GOB was able to stabilize and strengthen its political society, its civil society was preparing to run
amuck against a fragile hegemony.
USDEA’s alternative development via a ‘barrel of a gun’, is but one examples of a
Bolivian history of out-side domination. Washington’s relentless pressure on the GOB “reinforce[s] a
trend toward curtailing…[Bolivian] sovereignty…thereby affecting [it’s] security and the margins of
political stability.” (Gregor, 1993: 23) For the majority of Bolivians, who lack a formal secondary or
higher education, such historic realities are ingrained. A rich and complex oral history traces the
history of Bolivia as a nation and peoples dominated by outside powers. From the Inca, to the Spanish
and to the United States, Bolivians often see themselves as powerless and dominated. As the GOB
was forced to comply to US pressures, the people found their government to be less and less
legitimate; this is especially true in the Chaparé. Bearing the brunt of USDEA led policies in
opposition to their own interests, Chaparé settlers found themselves becoming deeply and openly
hostile towards the GOB, which they saw as a lap dog of Washington and Bolivian wealthy elites.

Finding the imposed hegemony to be illegitimate, cocaleros became more and more willing to act
against it, firmly establishing them within a strong, united counter-hegemony.

From Farmers to Politicians

From the Jungle to La Paz

The Battle Continued

If it can be said that the rugged nature of the Chaparé reinforced a culture of solidarity
amongst peasant settlers, then coca eradication efforts drove peasant farmers into militant and
highly organized networks. Peasant coca growers unions, known as “sindicatos,” serve a variety
of functions for farmers. They act as the de facto government, presiding over issues of land
claims and other disputes. Furthermore they address many community development issues.
Peasant sindicatos have succeeded in building powerful alliances with one another, to the point
that some estimates put their membership numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
The sindicatos of the Chaparé are organized on a community level, falling under larger
and larger branches of organization called “centrales,” until eventually being organized into six
large “federación.” The six federacións represent approximately, “45,000 families [and are
subsequently] organized into almost 700 local unions [or sindicatos],” with the two largest
federations, the “Federation Especial de Trabajadores Campensinos del Tropico de
Cochabamba” and the “Federation de Carrasco,” residing over roughly 85% of Chaparé
cocaleros. (Farthing and Ledabur, 2004: 37) In the absence of a strong state presence the
sindicados act as local government, with authority to levy fines and exercise power over
members. Peasants pay annual dues, of roughly $1(US) a month, and participate in local
meetings. Each sindicato elects and sends members to larger congresses, creating a well-
balanced and direct form of representation. Power, following the traditional indigenous Andean

model, is rotated and shared, giving equal time to members of both sexes21. While their western
counterparts have created career politicians, cocaleros have created a peasant government based
on traditional values of justice and jurisprudence. (Healy, 1991)
Since the MNR revolution of 1952, the peasantry of Bolivia has made ever-increasing
advance in political participation. Among its reforms, the agrarian revolution brought voting to
the masses, removing literacy requirements. Furthermore the revolution encouraged peasant
communities to, “organize unions with local, regional, and national representation;” these unions
then gave peasants an “independent [and] permanent voice in public affairs.” (Healy,1988: 107)
When strong-armed military governments came to power in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the rural
networks held fast and as the only route towards democratic governance, their numbers,
influence, and power swelled, becoming a “bona fide national interest group.” (Healy,1988:
Highly organized, inclusive, and structured in a grassroots fashion, cocaleros have
“resist[ed] state policies and programs which threaten[ed] their local economies.” (Healy, 1991:
87) The harder Washington and La Paz pushed, the more antagonized the peasantry became;
creating widespread anti-US sentiments and hostility towards the GOB, through the Bolivian
Losing respect for their government representatives in La Paz, the cocaleros of the
Chaparé created a strong and autonomous peasant organization. Many of the residents’ sole
contact with their government was government eradication teams showing up to enforce
mandates: flying in USDEA funded helicopters, implementing laws against their livelihood and
culture, the officials did not seem to represent the cocaleros. Inclusive and united around ideas of
culture and shared histories, the cocaleros directly challenged state hegemony. Coca has been
turned into power, “political power…and the cocaleros have learned how to use it.” (Kurtz-
Phelan, 2005: 105)

A Tropical Wonderland
The Hopeless Zero Option

Unable to directly confront cocaleros head-on, the GOB tentatively created a truce.
Under US pressure, the GOB had drafted and began attempts to implement Law 1008. However,

Authority in traditional Andean cultures was a shared burden, and was often a heavy weight on those in power with
no attached privileges. Political service in the traditional Andean world is considered a right of passage and a duty.
Political office was temporary, with no hereditary claims to power, rather you citizen did their duty and then passed it
along to the next member waiting in line.

meeting intense resistance, both direct and indirect, the government realized that a standoff had
been reached.
In 1993, realizing that the current policy’s eradication targets through voluntary
eradication and alternative development were doomed to failure, newly elected President Sanchez
de Lozada, under ever-increasing pressure from Washington attempted to reinvigorate eradication
efforts. When Sanchez de Lozada announced a 10-point plan that would reaffirm his country and
administrations “strong position against narcotraficos and excessive cultivation of coca,” (Leons
and Sanabria, 1997: 31) While the president and his supporters argued that they were only
seeking to uphold the law, the cocaleros fearing that forced eradications were inevitable
organized massive marches on La Paz. The government, fearing a coup, was forced to declare
martial law; relying on the military to bring things under control. But still Washington did not
cease its pressure and in a last ditch effort, the president proposed, his doomed “opcion cero”
(zero option)
Opcion cero was Sancehz de Lozada’s last-ditch effort to address to problem of coca
cultivation while getting yet more aid. Rather than worry about alternative crops, development or
cocaleros unions, the plan called for a resettlement of all of the Chaparé’s peasants, and to close
the region off from any other colonization. The Chaparé would then be turned into a large-scale
industrial park and a tropical recreation area. The plan would require massive international aid,
along the lines of the US’s post WWII Marshall Plan. The finances to undertake such a plan were
never received, with the international community not willing to float all the massive expenditures,
and when peasants began to mobilize in an alarming fashion, Sanchez de Lozada quickly, and
with some embarrassment, abandoned the plan. (Sanabria, 1997: 30-32, 190)
While the US continued to push for an ever-increasing military presence in the region,
the GOB under President Sanchez de Lozada (1993-97), was unable to confront cocaleros and “in
practice refused to implement forced eradication.” (Hyton & Thomson, 2007: 98) The US
congress continued its yearly threat of decertification of Bolivia as an aid recipient, but progress
was hard to measure, and as the money continued to flow in, the government continued to pledge
to Washington that it was addressing the coca problem. Indeed during the early 1990’s, coca
production in the Chaparé stabilized, with government surveyors finding little to no increase in
coca planting. Eradication numbers goals were not being met, but, the coca-boom of the 1970’s
and 1980’s had appeared to have been ended.

The Coca Decline

Stabilization without Eradication

The coca boom of the 1980’s saw coca peaking in terms of percentage of arable land
dedicated to its production within the Chaparé, at 92% in 1987. However, that number has
steadily declined along with a lowering of coca prices. Coca leaf prices fell at the end of the
1980’s, for a variety of reasons. However, the political economy of the coca and cocaine industry
is difficult to accurately chart and analyze; with estimates ranging wildly from source to source.
This is primarily due to the fact that most of the industries activities are illegal. Thus any analysis
of the cocaine industry, as cocaine economic experts Patrick Clawson and Rensselaer W. Lee III
argue, “can only give the broad picture, not the fine details.” (Clawson and Lee, 1998: 138)
While prices for coca fell drastically the numbers of hectares of coca remained stable;
this is a result of the dynamics of coca production costs. Coca can be grown using primitive
techniques that require very little investment. Furthermore, the labor used for cultivation and
harvesting can be done within the family unit, and within the Chaparé this is especially so with
the vast majority of cocaleros being small share farmers. When prices for coca were high,
farmers would invest in methods that would maximize harvests, such as weeding more often, hire
labourers to ensure greater harvests, or use the use of fertilizers. Indeed within the Chaparé, there
are different classes of coca farmers, those that are high yield and those that are low yield. The
amount of coca a hectare can produce vary greatly on the methods used for cultivation, and thus
even when coca prices go down, “farmers can still make a profit if they use simpler production
methods.” (Clawson and Lee, 1998: 141)
There were several reasons for a decline of coca prices in Bolivia during the early 1990’s;
however most of them were not a direct result of USDEA policies. Washington actively
combated the cocaine problem on many fronts, and had had success in cracking down on the
large cocaine cartels of Colombia. As the cartels in Colombia grew from the 1970’s and through
the 1980’s, they had become more brazen and bold in their methods. While the buying of
politicians was a nuisance, it only created anger and resentment about government officials.
When the cartels in August 1989 pulled off their most brazen act yet, assassinating leading
Colombian presidential and staunch anti cocaine candidate, Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, the
government of Colombia began a rabid campaign against the cartels. With increasing US aid, the
government and people of Colombia severely cracked down on cocaine cartels within their
country. While a near civil war ravaged Colombia, the cocaleros found their crops with a
declining market. With the loss of the primary illicit market, the price of coca steadily declined
in accordance to a lowering demand. (Streatfield, 2001: Chapter 18)

There also began a so called “balloon effect.” When coca cultivation was lowered in
one area, it simply rose in another area, with the supply seeking to meet the demand. Coca began
to spring up in other areas, predominantly in the non-traditional areas within Colombia. With the
decline of the large and well connected cartels, Colombians found it more advantageous and
easier to simply grow their own coca. Rather than fly planes into Bolivia and Peru, drug
traffickers in Colombia began to create their own domestic products. Furthermore, as coca
eradication increased within Bolivia, farmers in Colombia responded by entering the trade
themselves. This relocation of coca crops, from Bolivia to Colombia, illustrates the difficulty that
governments have in addressing the issue, as long as there is profit and those that seek it, there
will those willing to engage in cultivation. (Naim, 2003)
The difference of Colombian and Bolivian coca production can be understood simply by
looking that the two countries. While Bolivia has remained a rather agrarian society,
modernizing and developing slowly, Colombia has boomed, making vast strides in nearly every
economic indicator. As a result the modern farming methods employed by Colombians can be
understood as superior to their Bolivian counterparts. According to some witnesses, Colombian
coca growers have reached extremely high yields, using modern fertilization methods, with yields
reaching up to five times their Bolivian counterparts. While Bolivian coca declined during the
1990’s, Colombian coca boomed. When Bolivians lost their markets to Colombian growers, the
price of their coca lowered with the demand. Lower coca prices meant that farmers grew less
coca than they had when prices were peaking. However, coca production numbers still did not
meet US targets of 70% reduction. (Clawson and Lee III, 1998: Chapter 5)
Coca within Bolivia began to first stabilize and then to steadily decline in the 1990’s,
even while alternative development and voluntary eradication seemed to be failing. Peasants
were skeptical about alternative crops, and while they dabbled in them, rather than replace their
coca plants outright, the combined methods, growing coca along side alternative crops. Peasants
found that coca was a useful buffer crop, growing quickly when needed, yielding multiple
harvest, helping to subsidize incomes, and that “diversified coca farmers [could] enjoy higher
income[s] than less diversified coca farmers.” (de Franco and Godoy, 1992: 197) Thus the
number of smallholder farmers, who formed the vast majority of Chaparé peasants, dedicated to
coca production, declined sharply. However, this was not enough for hardliners in Washington.

The Beat Goes On

Dignity Dictated by the Indignant

When eradication targets continued to not be met, and it seemed that coca growers
responded more to market demands than governmental policies, the “Bolivian authorities gave up
on voluntary coca eradication in favour of a more forceful approach.” (Kurtz-Phelan, 2005: 106)
Former military dictator, General Hugo Banzer became president in 1997. The former autocrat
turned democrat was an ideal man for the United States; he was hard line, pro US, anti coca, and
had chosen a Texas raised, Texas educated vice president to help him oversee policy reforms.
The reforms they chose would be a US backed plan called, “Plan Dignity,” and while the
president and his supporters talked openly about a need to help farmers establish a new means of
subsistence, the vast majority of funds headed into the Chaparé were put into guns, jeeps, special
units, and other forms of militarization.
The forced eradication and increased militarization of President Banzar would eventually
claim to have successfully eradicated some 70% of illicit coca, by 2002. Taking over for a dying
Banzar, Vice-President Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga, continued the offensive. In his one year reign,
President “Tuto,” waged a full out and increasingly violent “drug war,” against the cocaleros of
the Chaparé22. The results of Presidents Banzar and Tuto’s administrations was an estimated loss
of 600$-900$(US) to the Bolivian economy annually. Up to 50,000 jobs and the lives of dozens
of farmers were also lost to eradication efforts. During their five year term, Banzar and Tuto
claimed to be the first administration to successfully meet USDEA eradication targets; however
they did so by violent means that symbolically and economically weakened the Bolivian state.
(Hylton and Thomson, 2007: 100-101) While the cocaleros had successfully resisted two
decades of coca eradication efforts through low risk, backstage resistance, it now seemed that
government was done working within the limits of the law, becoming willing to employ force to
implement their will. However, the cocaleros continued to organize and fight, holding marches
and blocking roads. The direct and open challenge by the government against their way of life,
gave the cocaleros an increased drive to resist.
While the government claimed to be exercising policies of democracy, earning
international praise as a neoliberal success story23, it was increasingly becoming increasingly
tyrannical, delegitimizing itself as the proprietor of the people. The use of coercion and
involuntary eradication only “confirmed the futility of [government policies including] alternative
development as an economic instrument to reduce illicit crops and its usefulness as a political
instrument to appease and help peasants.” (Thoumi, 2003: 338) However, it was not only the
cocaleros who were suffering: society as a whole began to feel the effects of poor economic
During his one year reign, Tuto’s offensive is blamed for the death of over 30 farmers.
The IMF and the World Bank, touted Bolivia as a heralded success story, going so far as to call it a “model for Less
Developed Countries around the World.

decisions, as neo-liberalism’s promises of economic growth failed to materialize. And as we
shall see, society as a whole was becoming progressively more enraged and engaged.

An Avenue to the Government

The NEP Participation and the Cocaleros

The NEP, which was championed by Bolivian presidents since its formulation and
introduction in 1984, sought to restructure Bolivia around neoliberal and free market lines.
President Sanchez de Lozada sought to, “deepen and broaden” market democracy by “altering the
role of the state, its relationship to its citizens, and the nature of citizenship itself.” (Kohl and
Farthing, 2006: 85) His so called “Plan de Todos,” (plan for all) included a variety of laws and
reforms that restructured government. The most dynamic reorganization of the government
structure for the cocaleros of the Chaparé was law 1551, known as the Law of Popular
Participation (LPP). The LPP, passed in 1994, sought to strengthen the neoliberal hegemony at a
national level, by encouraging participation at a municipal level. Furthermore the
decentralization, following the neoliberal framework, was thought to encourage more fiscally
responsible planning that in the long run would facilitate and aid economic growth for the country
as a whole. Sanchez de Lozada believed bringing the cocaleros and other marginalized rural
groups into the Bolivian political fold would help to establish a governmental presence in every
region of the country, isolated or not. Rather than reduce the size of government while firming
establishing its hegemonic presence, the law actually increased the size of the government and
helped to establish strong anti-hegemonic movements. The cocaleros, already organized in
strong unions with over a decade of experience, took the LPP and ran with it, running for and
winning municipal offices. Cocaleros quickly become de jure Bolivian elected officials. (Kohl
and Farthing, 2006: Chapter 6)
The law radically changed the Bolivian political landscape, with “citizens [becoming]
more aware of their rights and creat[ing] new opportunities for local counter-hegemonic
movements.” (Kohl and Farthing, 2006: 125) Prior to the law municipal elections occurred only
in the largest cities where candidates continuously ignored the will of the majority of the
population by aligning themselves with the standard old parties and metropolitan elites. However
after the law, 314 small and largely indigenous municipalities were established. Furthermore,
each municipality required the election of council representatives; the result was the election of
thousands of indigenous candidates from the grassroots level. The government also doubled
municipal budgets giving 20% of its revenues to the municipalities, further increasing their

autonomy. The rural areas of Bolivia, including the Chaparé benefited from an increase in
revenues from the central government, these resources could then be distributed and used what
manner they see fit. The municipalities, governed by locally elected candidates, gained control of
valuable resources and through their real world knowledge, they could more effectively and
efficiently allocate those resources, helping to promote local development. The cocaleros took
advantage of the LPP by formalizing their power within the Bolivian state. They then set about
actively redressing the needs of coca farmers. (Hoffman, 2005)
The cocaleros used the LPP to further their agenda and in 1998 they centralized
themselves into a political party; they dubbed “Movimiento al Socalismo,” (Movement Towards
Socialism) or simply MAS, which made their coca unions, as well as their allies into a political
party. The strong grassroots oriented unions were perfectly matched for the LPP and municipal
elections. And while the cocaleros participated in the municipal elections of 1995, it was not
until they centralized their party that they would come to dominate municipalities. Following the
centralization of MAS, the cocaleros led by prominent union leader Evo Morales, would win
86% of Chaparé votes in 1999. However their assent to power would spill over, reaching into all
aspects of society.
Over the past 20 years, the coca growers of the Chaparé were busy organizing themselves
into unions, they have also spent the time “improving their political skills…including [and most
importantly] the building of alliances with other key political actors.” (Healy, 1991: 87) The
traditional leftist groups and unions had failed the majority of Bolivians throughout the 1980’s
and 90’s, and had thus lost their influence. They had proven to be inept at stopping unpopular
neo-liberal reforms and had “failed to respond to…grievances effectively,” thus the cocaleros of
the Chaparé, “appeared united and strong,” (Healy, 1991: 97) making them the cornerstone of
leftist politics. Political analysts have also pointed out that the MAS does not act as a traditional
political party, rather it should be thought as more of a "social network of electoral mobilization,"
with no clear cut party plan. Rather, MAS, under the leadership of the cocaleros allows its allies
within the party and, "each social sector sector…[to choose] its own candidate[s] for MAS
according to its own principles." (Albro, 2006: 419) Labour, other leftists groups, and indigenous
groups as well, would all become important allies to the Cocaleros.
The Cocaleros would find their most powerful leader in their own ranks, with the
charismatic and passionate Evo Morales. Morales like many moved to the Chaparé in the 1980’s
in search of opportunity and work. His father was a migrant worker, and both his parents were
proud Aymaras. He would join the coca unions, and quickly work his way up the ranks, to
eventually become the undisputed and elected leader of the federations. Morales considers

himself a man of the people, being ethnically, culturally, and economically connected to the
struggles of his constituents. Morales, like his fellow coca farmers, would be faced with forced
eradication and the militant option zero. Indeed the injustice that he witnessed to his fellow
Cocaleros would inspire him to take political action. His charisma, dedication and common
history would help make him a rallying point for the cocaleros of the Chaparé, and with the
impoverished majority. As we shall see, the cocaleros simultaneous positions both as defenders
of a cultural ideology and staunch anti-imperialist would help propel them, at a dizzying speed to
the main stage of political power. (Cocalero, 2007:DVD)

The Loss of Legitimacy

The Cocaleros Gain

While the GOB tried without success to take on the cocaleros they became increasingly
unpopular with all sectors of society. Their failed economic policies and their apparent demotion
to a rubber stamp of the United States, made the peoples of Bolivia less supportive of their
government. Governmental policies seemed to follow “goals dictated by the US [who was]
pursuing it’s own self interest rather than a true expression of the Bolivian will.” (Leons and
Sanabria, 1997: 30) By failing to address the cocaleros within a legal framework, the
government further de-legitimized themselves, breaking their own laws. Article 14 of Law 1008
had called for “voluntary eradication,” which the government broke by use of force, and Article
13 had required voluntary eradication to be accompanied by effective alternative development.
While the government passed Law 1008, the GOB simply broke the law when it became an
obstacle to Washington’s eradication targets. The cocaleros had combated the government
policies head on, creating a strong -- and more importantly legitimate counter-hegemony -- while
the government continued to lose its legitimacy. The cocaleros continued efforts, became a “well
developed critique, a sustained counter hegemonic expression, that [was able to] justif[y] coca
growers in their opposition to state and which, in some aspects, [had] a much broader appeal to
organized labor and to the general public as well.” (Leons and Sanabria, 1997: 30) Bolivians,
coca growers and non-coca growers alike, were disillusioned by their government, and the
cocaleros represented a strong, united, anti-establishment party with some considerable amounts
of experience and success.

The neoliberal policies so actively championed by Washington and its allies, had “created
the conditions whereby only coca farming could provide a livelihood for tens of thousands of
families.” (Hyton & Thomson, 2007: 98) The cocaleros the Chaparé, strongly united and pushed
against the wall, put the government in a precarious position. While the government, backed by
USAID, had attempted to “buy out,” coca farmers, by creating a “powerful monetary incentives
to plant new [crops]," the result for coca growers was an estimated direct net loss of $17
million(US) in failed alternative crops from 1984-91. (Krutz-Phelan, 2005: 106) Those that took
the incentive were rewarded with loses, as profits never materialized. Furthermore, upon
surveying the situation it was found that coca eradication was accompanied by a general
“deterioration in the general health and diet of the population…[and an] increase in the incidence
and intensity of malnutrition.” While USAID and the GOB promoted a program to encourage
farmers to grow food rather than a non-edible shrub, farmers and their families found themselves
going hungry. The GOB, despite years of vigorous enforcement and millions of dollars,
eventually admitted that only a third of coca-growing families “had benefited from alternative
development projects.” Furthermore, the government’s hard line tactics had caused peasants and
other sectors of society to link the government with “violence and repression of forced
eradication.” (Lupu, 2004: 416)
Through a never-ending resistance, the peasants of the Chaparé, engaged in a constant
war of attrition with the Government. When able the battle was low risk, low confrontation,
acting backstage against the government; however, most importantly the low risk, backstage
resistance was constant and relentless. They dragged their feet, gave false information, spread
rumors, sabotaged equipment, and never sincerely assisted with the implementation of policy.
However, when the government escalated actions against the cocaleros, using violence and
oppression, the cocaleros were forced to actively and publicly engage in the government in open
forms of protest. With their fields being forcefully eradicated without compensation, they
seemed to be losing the struggle, however they were actually gaining. Their roadblocks and
marches would raise public awareness, helping them gain sympathy and support from much of
Bolivia's fragmented civil society. With a collective past of subjugation and domination,
including thwarted national and indigenous uprisings; Bolivians share a history of resentment
towards oppressors. When Bolivians began to associate their own government and its policies as
a continuation of this history, they began to resent it. When Bolivians began to associate their
own government and its policies as a continuation of this history, they began to resent it. When
Bolivians began to associate the plight of the cocaleros and their coca crops with a common and
shared history of subjugation, they not only backed the cocaleros, but for the first time and in an

open manner, they began to support them. As the government and its policies began to unravel
the cocaleros used the opportunity to advance themselves politically. The social upheaval of the
government would give the cocaleros an opportunity to “lead from the rear.” (Hyton and Sinclair,
2007: Chapter 1) (Pallet and Cubas, 2004)

Part III
Leading from the Rear

The NEP and the Masses

Those That Were Left Behind

The government of Bolivia would soon find more than the irritating cocaleros to deal
with. Underneath the surface of a fragile hegemony, there existed a mammoth civil society that
was posed to lash out against a government they felt to be inept. From the countryside to the
cities there existed an ever-growing disillusionment with the government and its policies. While
anarchists and sea turtle activists waged a street war in Seattle, the lines for true neoliberal
confrontation were being drawn in Bolivia.
Trade liberalization was the economic panacea given to much of the underdeveloped
world during the 1980's and 1990's. The so called "Washington Consensus" was created as a shot
in the arm, or a "shock treatment" to be administered to stagnant and inflation ridden nations. It
was so widely believed to be a panacea for development that its practice became common sense;
and despite the uniqueness of any country’s situation and history, its advocates prescribed it as a
universal solution. Bolivia, following the restoration of civilian rule in 1982, attempted to curb
its hyperinflation by adopting some of the most radical trade liberalization in the world.
With 20,000% inflation, Bolivian’s old economic system was realized to be a failure.
Subsequently, following the prescribed reforms of the IMF and other international bodies, the
Bolivian government attempted to "improve [its] economic performance…[with] more

competition from imports, greater economies of scale, and [an] increased availability of imported
inputs which enables firms to make fuller use of their productive capacity." (Jenkins, 1997: 309)
This was all done with the assumption that the market will right itself through fiscal conservatism
and an increase in export model growth. The government was removed from the economy with
privatization becoming the harbinger of progress for wasteful industry.
However, as critics are quick to point out, such methods are not without their problems.
And while Bolivian neo-liberalism did curb its horrific hyperinflation relatively quickly, it
opened the country and its impoverished majority to a system of "[harsh] justice meted out by
market forces" by allowing for Bolivia to be operate at an "absolute disadvantage vis-à-vis [with
other more] developed countries." (Jenkins, 1997: 311) Tariffs were removed and the currency,
the Boliviano was allowed to float, causing its devaluation of 93%. These measures all assumed
that foreign investment would pour in, and while growth would once again be export oriented, it
would be far superior to the economic anarchy that preceded it.
However, despite the radical reforms Bolivia introduced during its NEP, growth has been
slow and vastly less than predicted by neoliberal theorists. Despite the incentives investments,
both foreign and domestic, have been slow to materialize. Given Bolivia's precarious history of
revolutions and coups, it has developed a reputation that worries investors. Rather than invest in
creating infrastructure and industry, investors have simply resorted to low level investment of raw
resource processing. Furthermore, world markets have failed to materialize for Bolivia as its
inadequate infrastructure, ruggedness, and its lack of rout to sea, conspire to hamper its abilities.
Most of Bolivia fail to gain with NEP policies, all the while the gap between the haves and haves-
nots widened. (Sanabria, 1999)
The poor majority of Bolivia experienced neoliberal reforms with price hikes, as
subsidies were removed, unemployment as workers were laid off from inefficient state
enterprises, and a general decline in their standard of living. Within the first few years of its
implementation, neo-liberal reforms could be attributed to a loss of 35,000 private sector
manufacturing jobs as imports flooded the market and overtook domestic products. These 35,000
laid off workers would then join the some 20,000 unemployed miners in the informal economy
that included some 70% of the urban working population. (Kohl, 2006: 311) Ironically, while
pro-NEP policy makers in Washington and La Paz sought to eradicate coca crops, some 50,000
families used these crops to absorb the damages caused by neo-liberalism, which, as luck would
have it, was the same number of displaced workers caused by NEP policy. (Kohl, 2006: 312)

Social Unrest

And Social Upheaval

When Banzar's "Zero Coca" policy took effect in 1999, it was not only the cocaleros who
felt its effects. While the government supported by Washington began to increasingly militarize
its eradication efforts, it began to falter as the economy lost revenue from a decrease in coca
cultivation. The income from coca, the so-called narco dollars, provided much of the country
with needed revenues, and while only a small proportion of Bolivians grew illicit coca, it was the
informal coca economy that helped the nation through its turbulent neoliberal reforms. The loss
of coca revenues was arrogantly thought of as a small consequence of general sound policies.
Therefore, while inflation was curbed, Banzar and his supporters would assume hegemony
established, even while social unrest grew. Protests both urban and rural were thought of as mere
background being part of "everyday life,” and as inevitable consequences of neoliberal progress.
(Kohl, 2006: 316)
However, Banzar and his successors greatly downplayed the sheer tenacity of opposition
towards their policies. In the later part of 1999, the GOB, as part of the NEP privatization efforts
and responding to World Bank debt relief incentives24, sold the municipally owned Cochabamba
water company, Aguas del Tunari, to a lone bidder. The buyer was an association led by one of
the world’s largest construction companies, the US based Bechtel. Within two months water
rates, with subsides removed, were raised as high as 400%; a crippling blow to impoverished
citizens. Civil society responded with the formation of the "Coalition for the Defense of Water
and Life." (CDWL) The coalition would bring factory workers, coca growers, farmers and other
activists together to call for a large scale strike to protest to the water rate hikes. The government
reacted by calling the large scale strikes illegal and declaring a state of siege, sending some 1,200
soldiers and police to take control of the city. The event would be named the "Water War of
Cochabamba" and after some 175 protesters were wounded, the government called for a truce and
agreed to temporarily lower rates for 6 months. The privatization of the water company fueled
dissent because it "symbolized the worst of neo-liberalism…water [was] a gift from the heavens
and the essence of life." (Kohl, 2006: 316) Protests would resume, and by 2003 the unpopular
privatization efforts had created a diverse and apolitical social movement capable of drawing
50,000 to 100,000 protesters to the streets. (Hyton and Thomas, 2007: 102-4) (Kohl, 2006: 316-
18) While the system had not been fundamentally changed, for the protesters the event was
considered a success, with popular dissent affecting policy.

The World Bank would offer a reported $600 million in debt relief, provided that Bolivia continue its
privatization efforts, including the privatization of water companies.

The Rise of the Cocalero
Evo and MAS Gains

The CDWL would further fuel counter hegemonic efforts with the cocaleros
staging more protests and roadblocks. And "as the coca grower base of the MAS has come to
epitomize the anti-imperial rejection of neo-liberalism" (Albro, 2006: 415), and through their
alliances based on associational politics, they intensify their counter hegemonic efforts. The
resistance carried out by the cocaleros against US supported eradication efforts was directly
linked to the unpopular neoliberal reforms thus the cocaleros came to be linked directly to the US
and NEP Bolivia, as the rejecters of hegemony. These multi-leveled resistance alliances, helped
to give the cocaleros further legitimacy, and while their symbolic connection to coca was
obvious, their opposition to neoliberal policies gave them greater national exposure as they
"successful[y]…capitaliz[ed] on serious political and ideological splits within the state and
dominant classes…forging successful intra-class alliances." (Sanabria, 1999: 555) Following the
apparent success of the CDWL, Evo Morales led a large number of Bolivian teachers, both urban
and rural, to stage a large-scale work stoppage and demonstration. There was more to come, as
the cocaleros acting within civil society became emboldened by its own efforts.
After the LPP, the MAS party led by Evo Morales had succeeded in gaining four seats in
the Bolivian congress in the 1997 election. Although they were a small minority, their members
were boisterous and confrontational, with Morales "promising to take their battles to the streets,”
leading protests against those in power. In January of 2002 Morales, in protest of the anti-coca
Presidential Decree 26415, led a highly confrontational protest. The violence between police and
protesters increased, resulting in two deaths. Blame was pinned on Morales for inciting the riot.
With a coalition of 104 deputies from 5 different parties signing on, Morales was removed from
congress. Rather than check Morales’ political power, the removal only gave him more
credibility as an oppositional leader, helping to propel him into the national spotlight as a serious
2002 presidential candidate. (Kohl and Farthing, 2006: 170-1)
While campaigning on a platform of indigenous rights and anti-Americanism, Evo
Morales and the MAS party would make considerable strides in the national elections of 2002.
The MAS party won control of four of the countries nine departments, some eight of the 27 seats
of the Senate, and 27 of the 130 congressional seats. The Bolivian political landscape is
historically elitist; however after 2002’s elections, MAS and its allies gained control of 40% of
the congress. Morales himself came in second, only 1.5% behind Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de

Lozada, receiving 20.9% of the popular vote. (Lazar and McNiesh, 2006) (Albro, 2005) The US
hampered its own efforts by endorsing Goni and hinting at economic aid repercussions if Morales
was elected, causing an instantaneous spike in MAS support as Washington roused nationalism.
The resulting election of Goni, a highly unpopular candidate with no clear policies, only caused
more grief and resentment creating a "crisis of belief in democracy…[and a] severe distrust of
politics among ordinary Bolivians." (Lazar and McNeish 2006: 158) Goni's election was only
possible with a wide-ranging and weakly tied coalition of many rival parties. The coalition
proved unable to hold, as Goni was forced to step down by ever-increasing social unrest. Such
organic crises would become so commonplace that the government was unable to react or
respond to demands. The result was a constant dialog of "organized protest - negotiation -
agreement - breaking of some promises on the part of the government - protest again." (Lazar and
McNeish 2006: 159) While the demands of protesters varied, representing a wide array of civil
society's grievances, the key salvos of discontent were grand and far sweeping. While the
government found itself confronted from all sides, with hegemony fractured and weakened, the
cocaleros and MAS found itself in its most prominent role to date, as the largest opposition party.
This prominent role was given an exclamation point with the following elections of 2004.
During this election, MAS and its coalition of allies from all sectors of society “emerged as
Bolivia’s most important political party…winning a total of 452 municipal seats nationwide…
more than twice as many votes as its nearest competitor.” (Albro, 2005: 436) With its humble
origins, the MAS had become a national opposition party that was inclusive and truly
representative. Membership to the MAS continued to swell as the policies it sought to undo
became ever the more unpopular. Its “inclusive language of cultural citizenship” (Albro, 2005:
436) helped to foster support from all segments of society. While it touted itself as an indigenous
party, actively pursuing a pro-indigenous agenda, the party gained support from indigenous and
non-indigenous people alike.

The Gas War[s]

Civil Society's Tipping Point

The organic crises that would become the turning point and catalyst for massive social
and political changes were the so-called "Gas Wars" of 2003 and 2005. Bolivia, as luck would
have it, sat on top of some of the largest natural gas reserves in the Southern Hemisphere.
However, when in 1996 the GOB drew up its hydrocarbon laws, it set tax standards for foreign
investors that were low, seeking to attract investment. Nevertheless, when its reserves were

reassessed in 2002, the estimate for the reserves were increased to 52.3 trillion cubic feet, nearly
10x, the 6.6 trillion cubic feet assessment of 1996. It became quite clear that Bolivia’s future
business would come from the hydrocarbon sector. However, the $5 billion (US) needed to
harvest the gas meant that massive foreign investment was needed, since the fragile, cash-poor
and deeply indebted Bolivian government could not produce the cash it needed on its own. Thus,
the government was forced to contract out its hydrocarbon sector. With its 1996 laws already
drawn, the government experienced a severe form of multinational “seller remorse.” The Gas
Wars embodied all the forms of a common misery and collective Bolivian resentment. The war
was sparked when it was revealed that the GOB planned to follow a US-Mexican led plan to
harvest and sell Bolivian natural gas through pipeline and port through Chile. The plan was
widely unpopular to say the least. (Assies, 2004)
Firstly, the gas rights were privatized in accordance to neoliberal ideology, with the gas
being sold to foreign investors. The state would receive tax revenues from the foreign holders,
but in order to lure a contractor, who would need to invest heavily in the project, the government
was forced to offer low royalty requirements. While the vast majority of Bolivians felt the gas
was for Bolivia, the government seemed to hand it over at a bargain price to foreign interests.
This only reinforced a commonly held belief that the government did not operate for or
implement the will of the Bolivian people.
Secondly, the port in question was the very port that Bolivia had lost to Chile during its
disastrous War of the Pacific. There was and remains a strong and collective “pain of…loss and
strong nationalist, anti-Chilean emotions.” (Kohl, 2006: 317-18) The sale not only spurred
feelings of nationalism, with a collective remembrance of previous and unjust loss to a rival
power, but also resentment of the Bolivian government. While the nation was thought of in a
positive and agreeable way, the state as the embodiment of the nation was despised. Chile with
its strong western ties, was thought of as an instrument of neo-liberalism, and its involvement in
the sale of the national gas reserves spurred further outrage.
Hunger strikes, roadblocks, work stoppages, demonstrations, and other forms of social
unrest were bringing the Bolivian state to its knees. The protests became so intense and were
occurring from so many sectors of society that the government began to use strong-arm tactics to
simply maintain social order. In September and October of 2003, it appeared that Goni “stopped
listening.” The masses were flooding the streets engaging in a “kind of direct democracy,” and
the government was reacting in violent ways, calling on its military to retain order. Despite the
escalating violence the opposition continued, with civil society coming together from every
conceivable angle “asserting a common will against a government that was not [only] intractable

and distant, but also murderous.” (Lazar, 2006: 197) The month of September saw some 60
protesters killed and Goni sat with a 9% approval rating. As members from various urban and
rural unions, NGOS’s, intellectuals, students, human rights activist, and still others came
together; all simultaneously and collectively called for Goni’s resignation. On October 17th,
2003, they got their wish as Goni fled to Miami, leaving the country in near chaos to his vice
president Carlos Mesa.
Mesa faired no better than Goni, meeting fierce opposition with every move he made.
Mesa attempted to re-establish state hegemony by seeking to right Goni’s wrongs, attempting to
gain the peoples support by working with them. With a multiparty cabinet, full of independents
rather than party hardliners, he promised to reverse Goni’s hydrocarbon laws, raising taxes on the
multinationals from 18 to 50%. He also called for constitutional assembly to determine the
correct course of action for the country. However, even as he attempted to win back civil society,
the US and others from the international community pressured him from the other side, telling
him to stay the course with NEP reforms and to keep up coca eradication efforts. The congress
was openly hostile towards Mesa, and was confrontational towards his movements. Mesa, hard
pressed and besieged on both sides, found himself in a stalemate. On June 9th, 2005 Mesa
resigned as the social movements began to collect once again in the streets of La Paz. Following
the resignation of the President and vice-President, the president of the supreme court, Eduardo
Rodriguez, following the Bolivian constitution, assumed the office of the presidency. Rodriguez
held brief control of his country, with 180 days to call new elections. (Kohl and Farthings, 2006:
Chapter 8)

New Beginnings
Government, Hegemony, and Revolution

While Morales and the MAS party were supportive of the social movements, they did
not take a prominent role in the Gas War of 2003. Rather they stayed in the background, giving
their support, but not making any immediate moves for power. Thus the uprising can be seen as
leaderless, a truly popular insurrection of an irate civil society. The movement had no vanguard
in the traditional sense and progressed as society collectively and massively acted against its
political realm. However, by the 2005 elections, Morales and the MAS party were ready to
assume a more active part in the national politics. While they had found success as the
opposition party, Morales sought to transform his party and himself to lead the fragmented and
disorderly nation.

Morales ran a campaign of strong anti-neo-liberalism, indigenous rights, and of calls for a
need to unite Bolivia to fix past wrongs. Rather than point at their differences---Mestizos,
Quechuas, Aymaras---Morales pointed to their commonalties of historic subjugation,
exploitation, and poverty. In South America’s poorest nation, he found an audience willing to
listen. Furthermore, his staunch anti-neoliberal and anti-US stance was bolstered by his history
of resistance in the Chaparé. Within the unions, Morales and others had never subscribed to
NEP, USDEA, or neo-liberalism hegemony; they were a new party, not tied to the failed elitist
parties of the past. In a speech to highlight his platform, Morales strongly, and with a populist
swagger, declared his party platform.

We are against the economic model of neo-liberalism. It’s easy to see what
capitalism is…an economic and political model for the rich and not the poor
people. Comrades, now that we as a union have the possibility to change these
politics for the rich at the ballot box…they [speaking of his rival candidate,
former vice-president, Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga]…are thinking of clever ways to
stop us…Tuto…this representative of capitalism, of multinationals, of zero coca,
of privatization. We want an end to these kinds of politics! (Cocalero, 2007)

Morales would not be the only anti-neoliberal, indigenous candidate on the ballot. While
there was a plethora of parties representing the entire political spectrum, Morales’ chief rival was
Felipe Quispe, popularly known by his Aymara nickname, “El Mallku.” Quipse had much in
common with Morales and would run against him for president in 2002 and 2005 on a similar
platform; he too was pro-indigenous, anti-neoliberal, and pro-coca25. However, what set the two
men apart was Morales’ desire to work within the established system as opposed to Quipse’s call
for radical and revolutionary indigenous action26; Morales sought to change the system from
within. Quipse took an active role in the Gas Wars, staging various wide scale protests; however
he would fail to gain control of the opposition movement, and Morales would beat him at the
polls. (Hylton and Thomas, 2007: 24-25, 104-05)

Quipse leads the “Pachakuti Indigenous Movement" or MIP. The leftist indigenous party has won
roughly 2% of the popular vote in the 2002 and 2005 elections.
Quipse was jailed in 1992 for his involvement in a failed 1984 indigenous coup. The failed insurrection,
led by Quipse, called the “Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army,” sought to overthrow the government and re-
establish an Andean indigenous government. The movement called on the indigenous majority to
overthrow their elitist masters, and used imagery of previously failed insurrections against Spanish despots.

Morales, as he would proclaim in speeches, sought to “not only organize but also to unite
[Bolivia.]” He sought to redistribute wealth, and to build up Bolivia using traditional indigenous
methods of “solidarity and mutual aid.” Using the revolutionary imagery of Sub Commander
Marcos of Mexico, Morales would proclaim, “ya basta!,” or “enough” to the “policies of hunger
and misery.” (Morales, 2006) Morales uses Andean cultural identity not to separate the people
but to bring them together, working for a common cause, seeking to end a common strife.
Bolivia is but one example of what some have deemed "Latin America's turn to the left,”
and Morales has found many anti-neoliberal allies amongst his Latin American neighbors, with
Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Peru, Uruguay, and Ecuador having elected
leftist-leaning presidents. (Leiras, 2007) However, Morales and his MAS party are not a simple
return to old leftist ways. They are committed to grassroots politics, and actively seek to change
the establishment while working within it. Rather than overthrow and destroy hegemony with
little thought of the future, they seek to rebuild it in an image that they, as elective representatives
of the population, favor as the majority.
The cocaleros movement, and eventual MAS success, was built on steady resistance at
the grassroots level. When hegemony became weak and fractured, their resistance formed a
strong foundation in which to build. Their backstage resistance gave them legitimacy that would
help put them in a position of dominance. As organic crises wore away at hegemony, the
government was unable to maintain control, and thus the public transcript withered to allow for a
counter-hegemony. The men and women of the Chaparé who had, through countless small-scale
battles, embedded themselves as the key opposition party, spearheaded this counter-hegemony.
The fall of traditional hegemony and establishment of a new and historically revolutionary
hegemony was a complex and historical event, as political scientist Harry E. Vanden notes:

"[The] ongoing economic crisis, and a crisis in traditional politics combined

with strong US pressure to open Bolivian markets and virtually eliminate the
centuries old cultivation of coca leaves stimulated the masses to meet and
mobilize at the local, community level and to respond to the movements calls for
action." (Vanden, 2008: 23)

Morales and MAS were successful because they were inclusive. While Morales and his
party actively highlighted his and their identity and cultural heritage, they did not do so in a
manner that separated themselves from the non-indigenous minority. Rather, they linked their
own struggles with a national and internal consciousness. Zero coca policies and DEA

domination were but short steps from a national consciousness of unjust neo-liberalism
privatization of water, and the pillage of Bolivian gas reserves by multinationals. Put in a
historical context the assent of MAS can be seen as the continuation of Bolivian resistance to a
strongly established foreign and domestic elitist-defined hegemony. As Morales’ non-indigenous
Vice President, Alvaro Gacrcia Linera would argue, the MAS party represents new beginnings,
and a chance to “establish principle[s] of equality…[and] to improve peoples’ access to
resources…[to] redistribute wealth…in a more balanced way…[and to] build national unity…
[with a] collective spirit based on who we really are.” (Carlsen, 2007) The inclusiveness and
commonality of a shared historical experience is what empowered the cocaleros to the national
stage. In the jungles they gained valuable experiences, resisting and uniting as a counter-
hegemony, and when crisis allowed they were able to propel themselves to political power. This
transformation, from civil society to political society, came about because of the steady, small
resistance movements of stubborn and earnest farmers.

The Bolivian Rubik’s Cube

There are many reasons which explain the rise of the MAS party and Evo Morales. The
issues are complex and historical in nature, with no simple answers. Also, is a certain amount of
uniqueness to their rise as well; it is not a standard history, with standard players. Rather, it is a
complex assortment of variables that affect the situation in a dynamic fashion.

El Chaparé

The remote location of the Chaparé forces the cocaleros to be highly organized and
dependent on one another, reinforcing Andean cultural values. The Chaparé is located in a harsh
and remote climate, making cooperation and unity important for mutual survival. Furthermore,
as a remote location, the central government lacked the ability to successfully administer its will.
Much of the infrastructure is a result of the peasants own work, creating an identity of
“communal self help” removed from the government; peasants have become fiercely independent
to a force they feel to be distant and removed. The Andean tradition of community and family
further reinforces solidarity. The vast and interconnected social networks created by cocaleros’
communities, as well as the Andean cultural traditions of direct participation create a large and
unified populous party, MAS.

Being located in a remote and hostile region also made the MAS an antiestablishment
party; they were not centered in La Paz, and could better understand the plight of rural peoples.

The Product
Mama Coca

Farmers were tied to their crops because the majority of cocaleros are small share
farmers, operating a small family farm. Unlike other sectors of society, small share farmers have
a direct interest in their product, since its success is tied to their livelihood. When the
government closed mines, the traditional hegemonic check of miners unions was thwarted and
made powerless. When the government attempted to do away with the crops of the small share
farmers, they found men and women who had everything to lose, and with no other options, were
all the more willing to resist.
The coca plant is a traditional plant to the Andean people. It is a natural crop that
predates colonization. It is important in religious and culture practices, as well as an acting
symbol for the Andean peoples. Mama coca, as coca is sometimes called, is tied to peasant
perceptions and conceptions of the world. The fact that the US and other outside powers wish to
limit the cultivation of the plant, creates a rallying cry for indigenous rights. This rallying cry
against those that would harm the sacred leaf is directly connected to the cocaaleros, the men and
women who are the producers of the coca. By connecting themselves to coca, cocaleros gave
themselves considerable indigenous cultural capital as the protectors of the “sacred leaf.”

Shared Histories
Domination, Subordination, and Continuous Struggle

While the miners were the traditional counter-hegemony, the cocaleros rose in place of
their miners due to the marginalization. Although the miners attempted to resist the state and its
neoliberal reforms, in the end they were unable to do so. Many of these displaced miners moved
to the Chaparé and other coca growing regions and brought with them a history of resistance and
radical anti-hegemonic ideologies.
The cocaleros banded together, publicly protesting and resisting in mass, while also
engaging in backstage and low risk forms of resistance continuously and relentlessly. This
unremitting commitment against the dominate authority shows that they never gave consent to be

ruled, and that they never willingly accepted the dominant hegemony. Rather, their actions show
a transcript of constant counter-hegemony.
The cocaleros were directly confronted by threats that the majority of Bolivians see to be
American in origin. Traditionally, the nation has a problem of being dominated by outside
powers, and while resistance has been historically important to Bolivians in forming their
national identity, the cocaleros represent the most successful resisters. When miners resistance
was crushed, the traditional counter-hegemony fell, the cocaleros filled the void left by the
Year after year the government of Bolivia attempted to dominate the cocaleros, and each
year the cocaleros resisted. The US introduced policies in which the Bolivian government
attempted to carry out. This created widespread anger and resentment towards a government that
Bolivians felt did not represent them. The very fact that the cocaleros resisted the government,
gave them prominent role as the leaders of a counter-hegemony.

Water and Gas Wars

Massive Social Unrest

The water and gas wars created an opportunity for the MAS party to connect its anti-US,
pro-indigenous ideologies with broader issues of national and global politics. Although the water
war of Cochabamba was not directly connected to the cocaleros, it did represent yet another
example of foreign domination, a loss of Bolivian sovereignty, and a continuation of policies that
dominated the indigenous poor majority.
The Gas Wars were perceived as another example of domestic elites and foreign powers
meddling in and stealing from the Bolivian peoples. A gas line, owned and operated by foreign
investors, traveling through disputed Chilean lands, provoked a Bolivian interpretation based on a
history of boom and bust, outside domination, elitism, and general historical powerlessness.

Organic Crisis
Hegemony Unable

When the state was threatened by economic and political chaos, it was able to remain in
power by being supported by outside aid. Rather than strengthen the state, these crisis caused an
ever-increasing dissatisfaction with the state and its policies. When the state lost its hold on civil
society, its hegemony unraveled into a system of stability based on physical threat alone.

The fragmented but angry civil society, united around vague ideas of sovereignty, was
based primarily on feelings of resentment towards the US and other foreign bodies. Although the
cocaleros of the Chaparé were not historically a vanguard party, their historic position as a
successful and constant resister to US designed policies gave them a considerable amount of
political capital. As a legitimate counter-hegemony, the cocaleros lead from the rear. By leading
from the rear, the cocaleros helped to, but did not themselves directly, bring about the historic
elections of 2004 and 2006. As the government of neo-liberalism and Washington consensus
unraveled, unable to control its civil society, the cocaleros rose as a highly organized and militant
counter-hegemony. As the largest national-popular resistance to US policies, the cocaleros were
the de-facto vanguard of civil society.

Evo Morales
Ethnicity and Identity

The fact that MAS and the cocaleros are lead by an individual of indigenous ancestry
gives the party a greater amount of legitimacy in claiming to represent the indigenous majority.
While the indigenous peoples have a numerical advantage over their European and Mestizo
counterparts, historically the indigenous peoples have taken a backseat place in politics. Evo
Morales, as a charismatic head of a party based on indigenous people’s desires to grow
indigenous crops, allows the MAS party to further connect itself with Bolivians.

Civil and Political Society

The Two Great Floors

When the cocaleros of the Chaparé successfully overtook civil society as the dominant
representative of a common indigenous heritage, they forced the Bolivian traditional powers out
of office by gaining control of a hydra of discontent. Unable to obtain a hegemony of ideas, the
government was forced to resort to force. As organic crises and civil unrest increased, the
dominant hegemony became ever weaker. Civil society was eventually lost by the government,
and state’s stability relied on the use of force. Civil society eventually overtook the state, as
political society lost control when the civil unrest turned into a full-blown social movement. This
social movement was fragmented but united in its opposition to a common enemy; it then grew

into such a powerful force that all out chaos loomed. When the government lost control it created
a power vacuum that the cocaleros, MAS, and Evo Morales filled. Having filled the vacuum,
Evo and his party became the de-facto holders of political society, ascending to the head of the
Bolivian state, the presidency.

The End

With these variables in mind, we can understand how the cocaleros were successful.
However at the base of their revolutionary success is their historical resistance. Gramsci and
others have argued that the “key task for any subordinate class is to create a counter-hegemony
that will untimely be capable of transforming society,” (Scott, 1985: 346) and that hegemony
established suggests that the subjugated have learned and accepted the social order. However the
fact is that subordinate classes through a variety of methods do not consent to their realities. We
can see from the historical experiences of the cocaleros that subjugated peoples do not have to
accept the prescribed dominant ideology and inequalities; just because they are not openly
revolting against hegemony, does not mean they are consenting. There exists a middle ground
between docile consent and Molotov cocktails, and while resistance may be petty and small, it
may lead to eventual revolutions. Or, as Scott argues.

All historical resistance by subordinate classes begins close to the ground,

rooted firmly in the homely but meaningful realities of daily experience.
The enemies are not impersonal historical forces but real people…the
goals of resistance are as modest as its values. The poor strive to gain
work, land and income; they are not aiming at large historical
abstractions such as socialism…the means typically employed to achieve
these ends…are both prudent and realistic….Such resistance conceived
and conducted with no revolutionary end in mind, can, and occasionally
does contribute to a revolutionary outcome. (Scott, 1985 348-49)

The establishment of a counter-hegemony, and the removal and rejection of

hegemony are not isolated and spontaneous events. While a public transcript dictated by
the hegemonic view shows a populace of subservient collaborators who from time to time
randomly rebel, it is the constant opposition to hegemony, through resistance that forms

the base of revolt and revolution. Rather than needing to learn to overcome a
consciousness of ideological domination, as Gramsci would have us believe, the
cocaleros resisted where-ever and when ever they were able. When the dominant
Bolivian hegemony fractured and weakened due to its own doomed policies, it was the
cocaleros who rose from the rear, to take the reins due to their continuous efforts and
their established legitimacy as a counter-hegemony. When hegemony then fell, they
simply filled the void, and joined the some 200 or so governments that have attempted to
steer the Bolivian ship. While Bolivia may seem hopelessly impoverished and splintered
along ethnic and class lines, it proves, at least in its case, that a counter-hegemony can be
established by a bottom up movement led by those acting within civil society. The
relatively peaceful revolution of 2006, with the election of Evo Morales, shows a
rejection of neo-liberal hegemony, and can prove to be a case worthy of study as the
world continues to globalize and, more importantly react against ever-increasing

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