Touted as a cure-all, no more dangerous than a cup of coffee but far more invigorating, the coca leaf doesn’t get you high. It simply wakes you up. Many South Americans in Andean countries use it for energy, to treat altitude sickness, to stay sharp. They see it as as sacred, and a symbol of colonial interference in Indigenous affairs. After cooperating for decades with the U.S.’s War on Drugs, Bolivian president Evo Morales decided to expel the DEA and design its own drug policy: it would encourage farmers to grow and sell coca products inside the country and try to build an export business. Cooperating with the U.S.’s eradication policies had only led to violence; industrialization would offer Bolivians financial promise, and coca was a proud part of the national identity.

For Guernica, Jessica Camille Aguirre reports from Bolivia on its nascent coca industry and the companies trying…

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