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Coca products were taboo for a long time in Colombia. Now Colombians can purchase coca wine, coca tea and coca cookies. The newest product is called Coca-Sek, an energy drink that is fast developing an international reputation -- much to the irritation of the Coca Cola company.
On the morning of December 5, 1996, two members of a paramilitary gang drove a motorcycle to the Carepa Coca-Cola bottling plant in northern Colombia. They fired 10 shots at worker and union activist Isidro Segundo Gil, killing him. Luis Adolso Cardona, a fellow worker, witnessed the assassination. "I was working and I heard the gun shots and then I saw Isidro Gil falling," he said in a recent interview. "I ran, but when I got there Isidro was already dead."
A few hours later, paramilitary officials detained Cardona, but he escaped, fleeing to the police office, where he received protection. Around midnight that night, the paramilitaries looted the local union office and set it on fire. "There was nothing left. Only the walls," said Cardona. The paramilitary group returned to the plant the next week, lined up the 60 unionized workers, and ordered them to sign a prepared letter of resignation from the union. Everyone did. Two months later, all the workers-including those who had never belonged to the union-were fired. Gil, 27, had worked at the plant for eight years. His wife, Alcira Gil, protested her husband's killing and demanded reparations from Coca-Cola. She was killed by paramilitaries in 2000, leaving their two daughters orphaned. A Colombian judge later dropped the charges against Gil's alleged killers. Paramilitaries, violent right-wing forces composed of professional soldiers and common thugs, maintain bases at several Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Colombia, allegedly to protect the bottlers from left-wing militants who might target the plants as symbols of globalization.
Activists say at least eight union activists have been killed by paramilitaries at Colombian Coca-Cola facilities since 1989. And plaintiffs in a recent series of lawsuits hold CocaCola and two of its bottlers responsible for the violence, alleging "systematic intimidation, kidnapping, detention, and murder of trade unionists in Colombia, South America at the hands of paramilitaries working as agents of corporations doing business in that country."
When the product was introduced, Curtidor and his handful of colleagues were barely able to produce enough to keep up with demand. The first batch of 3,000 bottles of Coca-Sek -- literally "Coca of the Sun" -- was sold out in a rush. Another 40,000 bottles were sold in the next two months -- mainly in the southern part of the country.
But the glorious start was quickly followed by trouble. First there were difficulties with the bottling plant in Popayán. Then the supply of large bottles ran out and couldn't be replaced. "In Colombia one company has a monopoly on bottle production, and that company stopped supplying us with bottles," the small man with the square black glasses explains.
There are other difficulties as well. Almost the moment his product was on the market, the lawyers of soft drink giant Coca Cola started making life difficult for him. "We've been charged with violating Coca Cola's rights to the name of its product. We're not allowed to use the word 'Coca' in the name of our soft drink -- a word that is more than 5,000 years old and of indigenous origin, and which refers to a sacred plant. We're going to defend ourselves," Curtidor says.
Spreading his enthusiasm: Morales gives US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a guitar decorated in coca leaves.
Coca Wars - Episode 356
Bolivian President Evo Morales has put a stop to the eradication of coca plantations, triggering fears in Washington of a new wave in the illegal drug trade.
The wine, a bit on the sweet side, is supposedly a remedy against Parkinson's disease and impotence and, according to the label, it is especially suitable for "athletes and singers." In small doses, that is, because the wine is pressed from coca leaves, enhancing the effect of the alcohol. If you get drunk, you don't have to worry about how you're going to feel the next day because "coca wine doesn't cause a hangover," says Melby Paz. [...]
Military experts in Washington are already predicting a nightmarish scenario, the emergence of a socialist "narco-state" under populist farming leader Morales. They believe that Morales, with the help of his friends, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, could destabilize the entire Andes region. [...]
Ironically, Washington itself is partly responsible for the rise of the man once vilified as a "narco terrorist." In the 1990s, when the Andean country had become one of Latin America's biggest coca producers, the Americans experimented with a new approach to the drug war in Chapare, promising the government generous development aid in return for its agreement to eradicate the coca plantations. The aid was intended to encourage the farming of alternative products, such as pineapples, bananas, coffee and oranges. [...]
Since then, American and European aid organizations have injected about $700 million in development aid into Chapare. But the development projects failed when it became apparent that the region's remoteness makes shipping pineapples and bananas too expensive, and that prices for the crops can't compete with coca. [...]
US drug enforcement and military experts who consult with Bolivian security forces on eradicating the coca plantations. Indeed, government forces even used torture in their campaigns against coca farmers, with dozens of the campesinos disappearing without a trace. This brutal treatment almost triggered a revolt in Chapare, where the resistance movement against the government was led by a cunning union organizer: Evo Morales. [...]
Soldiers stormed Quispe's hut in the small town of Chimoré two years ago. They tore up coca bushes in her garden, stole chickens and oranges and molested Quispe's daughter. A fellow activist, union leader Feliciano Mamani, was tortured at the Chimoré military base for allegedly stirring up anti-military sentiment among the farmers. During a demonstration four years earlier, Mamani was shot at and his shinbone was shattered. He claims that "American drug enforcement agents" led the attacks. [...]
Now the former victims of persecution are in power in Bolivia. [...]
His campaign against corruption has been especially popular among the ordinary people. Morales cut his presidential salary in half and managed to push through a reduction in lawmakers' salaries. Several high-ranking officials Morales accused of corruptibility were fired. [...]
New York Blows Away the Competition
Researchers have been scouring rivers in Europe and the US for traces of coc aine consumption. The result: Cocaine use is probably much greater than previously assumed -- and New Yorkers are the biggest coke-heads of all.