Posts Tagged ‘Mocochinchi’

Not the end of the world but the end Coca-Cola?

July 18, 2012

The indigenous leader stood before the cheering crowd,  Lake Titicaca on the cloudless horizon, and made the announcement of the year: The world will not end on Dec. 21, as Maya calendar believers say. Instead, that day will mark the end of Coca-Cola, replaced by Mocochinchi, a popular Bolivian beverage made of dried peaches, boiled in water and cooled overnight.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, speaking in Spanish rather than one of Bolivia’s 36 indigenous languages, added: “It will be the end of capitalism and the beginning of communitarianism. Dec. 21 will be the end of Coca-Cola and the beginning of  Mocochinchi…” A few women had Mocochinchi displayed on small tables, as though anticipating demand from newly Mocochinchi converted.

The Bolivian foreign minister, an Aymara Indian ideologist, is known for making  outlandish remarks.  In past speeches he has informed us that stones have sex and that Papalisa, an Andean tuber, is more powerful than Viagra (he boasted its benefits urging foreign colleagues to try it). And this statement, endorsed by President Evo Morales: it is not necessary to read books because studying the wrinkles of the elderly yields far greater knowledge. Ironically,  Choquehuanca’s speech was made near a landmark of the ancient Incas, whose empire conquered the foreign minister’s Aymara ancestors.

(On Dec. 21, he went on) “it will be the end of hate and selfishness, and the beginning of love; it is the end of capitalism and the beginning of communitarianism”, Choquehuanca stated to a crowd at the Copacabana resort, 80 miles west of La Paz, after Morales announced the construction of an airport. It was not clear the meaning of “communitarianism”, but it was thought to allude the way of life in poor Aymara communities known as “ayllus” where everything –or nearly- is shared.

Evoking ayllus is not pleasant these days, at least for foreign investors. A month ago, five local employees of Vancouver-based South American Silver Corp. were kidnapped by ayllu people angrily demanding cancelation of a contract under which the company was exploring the silver-rich Malku Khota mountainous region.

The hostages were released after ayllu judges applied a sort of community justice. The quintet, charged with spying on community customs, was sentenced to make 1.000 adobe bricks. The punishment seemed not enough and villagers upgraded it asking for outright nationalization of the company, which it says has already invested $16 million out of planned investments of $50 million.

Morales has been on an ambivalent campaign to attract foreign investments, badly needed in the mineral-rich country. He had nationalized 15 foreign firms from Brazil, England, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland as, in another step back, he gave in to the new demand. If any, it proved ayllus have a nationalizing clout.

Ayllus were already under scrutiny. Usually made up of a few hundred people, ayllus have been applying a “community justice” of their own, which has even meant a free license to kill. Two years ago, four policemen were brutally tortured, lynched and secretly buried. Police could not investigate the case, which came to light only under pressure of relatives of the victims.

Choquehuanca’s mix of astrology, culinary, botanics, and tuber roots-induced sexual vigor views were cheered as Morales announced construction of the airport, a long felt need in a traditional Bolivian Mecca for pilgrims coming in penance –some by foot. How an airport will contribute to the end of capitalism was not elaborated.

Both Choquehuanca’s and Morales’ display of news at the Titicaca lake sanctuary were viewed as an attempt to stem months of protests __and sharp dropping in approval rates (from 64% two years ago down to 28%-30% a few weeks ago, according to respected Catholic TV broadcast station Fides).

Earlier, Amazon Indians had completed an exhausting 400-mile long march to oppose building a road that would split their pristine land; in those days, thousands of doctors and nurses went on a country-wide strike and street protests defending their wages (the government wanted to increase schedules without increasing salaries); all was compounded by a nasty nation-wide police strike, reinforced by relatives and girlfriends staging riots demanding better pay for their men. An average police agent makes about $200 monthly. So, analysts concluded, it was good at least reassuring those gripped by predictions the world will finish soon, as they say is written on Maya calendars. It was like “don’t worry, be happy “ ritornello to many.

Political analysts also believe it will take more than an airport or reassurances about the world fate for Morales and his government to recover from ongoing political decline. The government is falling in public support since a December 2010 failed attempt to end costly oil subsidies. A liter of gasoline costs in Bolivia US$ 0.70, compared to $US 0.76 in the U.S., US$ 0.96 in Argentina, and US$ 1.58 in Brazil. Subsidies will cost national coffers about $800 million this year, or 3.5% of the country’s GDP. Morales rushed to calm down protests taking place even in his stronghold of Chapare, the humid subtropical valley where coca grows mostly for cocaine.

Subsidized fuels are among the ingredients to make drugs. Not surprisingly gasoline consumption has been on the rise in those places where soaring drug prices have created a boom not seen in other regions. The bonanza has turned Chapare towns into prime buyers of Hummers. Morales is also president of the union of coca growers, these days his staunchest supporters. When they joined in the protests saying they would remove support to the Indian leader if gas subsidies were removed, he backed off.

The end of Coca Cola Choquehuanca predicted would mean also the end of the strongest subliminal ally of coca leaf. It was out of it that American pharmacist John Styth Pemberton invented the drink in 1886 in Columbus, Georgia, starting one of the world’s richest capitalist empires, with up to 1.7 billion servings per day, as Wikipedia teaches us. The drink contains no cocaine since over a hundred years, Coca Cola executives claim, but its name persists. Morales has said he wants to amputate the word coca from the leaf’s namesake, but so far there has been no formal move in that direction.

Two years ago, the government announced plans to launch Coca Kolla, a soft drink that would come out of coca leaves. So far it is not known how successful the move was. And, importantly, nobody ever said if this brand contained any trace of cocaine. Attempts to emulate Coke success, although with other ingredients, have not trespassed national borders. Examples of Inkacola (Peru), Frescolita (Venezuela), or Guaraná (Brazil) come to mind. They never came close to Coke.

It is harder to ascertain the fate of the tea-colored Mocochinchi beyond Bolivian borders. A glass containing a small cauliflower-like seed costs about 2 pesos, or US$ 0.25. Choquehuanca implied it will take over Coca Cola, which rules unbeatable in 200 countries and territories. If the announcement was meant to boost culinary nationalism, it was at least a weak proposition. Peaches, most scholars say, did not originate anywhere in America but in Asia.

Morales and Choquehuanca spoke after a thousand trekkers from the Territorio Indígena Parque Nacional Isiboro-Sécure (TIPNIS) withdrew from La Paz, where they had arrived after 62 days of walk fighting heat, rain and cold. They demanded President Morales to stop construction of a road through their territory, one of the few mostly untouched natural reserves in South America. Also, they were part of the Indian tribes that helped Morales become the first Indian representative elected as President. The government did not allowed them even enter Plaza Murillo, where the Presidential palace sits. Morales claimed they were plotting to overthrow him.

Tear gas grenades were profusely shot on the column of Indians, including babies and elders, by police guarding the plaza. After over a week in the chilly environment of La Paz, they chose to go back to the jungle. “We will defend our territory with the weapons of our ancestors: bows and arrows”, said Amazon Indian leader Adolfo Chávez.

Unless the war-like atmosphere recedes and the government scraps the road project, it seems there will be a live Avatar version.

This time it would be real earthly native Indians against forces they once thought to be their own.

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