Coca Yes, Cocaine No

How Bolivia's Coca Growers Reshaped Democracy

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 28 illustrations Published: February 2019

Author: Thomas Grisaffi

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Geography, Latin American Studies > Andes

In Coca Yes, Cocaine No Thomas Grisaffi traces the political ascent and transformation of the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) from an agricultural union of coca growers into Bolivia's ruling party. When Evo Morales—leader of the MAS—became Bolivia's president in 2006, coca growers celebrated his election and the possibility of scaling up their form of grassroots democracy to the national level. Drawing on a decade of ethnographic fieldwork with coca union leaders, peasant farmers, drug traffickers, and politicians, Grisaffi outlines the tension that Morales faced between the realities of international politics and his constituents, who, even if their coca is grown for ritual or medicinal purposes, are implicated in the cocaine trade and criminalized under the U.S.-led drug war. Grisaffi shows how Morales's failure to meet his constituents' demands demonstrates that the full realization of alternative democratic models at the local or national level is constrained or enabled by global political and economic circumstances.


"By combining ethnographic insight with structural analysis, the book makes an important methodological contribution, one that demands a closer dialogue between the ?elds of critical anthropology and global political economy. ... Coca Yes, Cocaine No is a terri?c success that will prove indispensable for critical-minded students and researchers of contemporary Latin American politics and society." — Manuel Larrabure, American Journal of Sociology

"In this vivid ethnographic account, Grisaffi shows how Bolivian coca growers grew from a criminalized union to a strong social movement with a vernacular vision of 'radical democracy.' ... A fascinating case study [that] shows that the conditions for realization of alternative democracies locally are always linked to broader political economic forces." — Amy Kennemore and Nancy Postero, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"Grisaffi’s book is required reading for anyone interested in contemporary Bolivian politics." — Miguel Centellas, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Thomas Grisaffi’s engaging ethnography argues that in the Chapare region of Bolivia, the cocalero (coca growers) union has developed an innovative form of grassroots democracy. Coca Yes, Cocaine No achieves the rare feat of speaking meaningfully to both undergraduate readers and scholars (of Latin American studies, anthropology, social movements, and political theorists) and I expect it will be adopted widely for undergraduate and graduate courses.” — Miriam Shakow, Mobilization

“Grisaffi’s book shows us ordinary coca growers attempting to navigate the contradiction between the grassroots, consensus-based politics of the coca unions in which decisions are taken from the bottom up, and the increasingly authoritarian politics of Evo Morales’ government, and helps us to understand the core dilemma of the Morales government that unscored this trajectory…. [This book] overtly intervene[s] in academic debates about indigenous identity and therefore will be a valuable resource to anthropological studies of identity.” — Jonathan Alderman, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies

Coca Yes, Cocaine No is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the relations between local and national forms of governance and democracy, and particularly for anyone who wishes to understand democracy in Bolivia during Morales’ presidency.” — Jonathan Alderman, Journal of Latin American Studies

“In addition to the quality of his writing and clarity of his argument, the judicious and continuous integration of primary data makes this book captivating and vivid. Through ethnographic vignettes and detailed descriptions of the relationships between the author and the actors of his research, Grisaffi manages to bring the atmosphere of the Chapare region to life for the reader…. This study [is] a significant contribution to the fields of Latin American Studies and drug politics—a topic of keen importance, which can shed light on other relevant issues, such as the depenalization and legalization of cannabis use in countries such as Uruguay and the USA.” — Patrick Naef, Journal of Anthropological Research

“In this vivid ethnographic account, Thomas Grisaffi shows how Bolivian coca growers grew from a criminalized union to a strong social movement with a vernacular vision of ‘radical democracy’ based on kinship, consensus decision-making, and leadership accountability. Yet, despite the claims of Bolivia’s plurinational state, this form of social control could not be scaled up to the national level. This fascinating case study shows that the conditions for realization of alternative democracies locally are always linked, on the one hand, to the constraints of liberalism and, on the other, to broader political economic forces.” — Nancy Postero, author of The Indigenous State: Race, Politics, and Performance in Plurinational Bolivia

“The first substantive ethnography of Bolivia’s coca sindicatos, Coca Yes, Cocaine No adds nuance to discussions of Bolivian cocalero politics that go beyond commonly known official narratives and propagandistic claims. Thomas Grisaffi’s masterful flowing prose and his superior ethnographic research make this an outstanding book, one welcome to specialists in political anthropology, Latin America, the Andean region, ethnography, and drug politics.” — Paul Gootenberg, coeditor of The Origins of Cocaine: Colonization and Failed Development in the Amazon Andes


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Thomas Grisaffi is Lecturer in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction: To Lead by Obeying  1
1. The Rise of the Coca Unions  27
2. The Lowest Rung of the Cocaine Trade  58
3. Self-Governing in the Chapare  84
4. From Class to Ethnicity  109
5. Community Coca Control  128
6. The Unions and Local Government  150
7. The Coca Union's Radio Station  173
Conclusion  192
Notes  203
References  215
Index  249
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0297-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0171-3