Coca Yes, Cocaine No: How Bolivia's Coca Growers Reshaped Democracy.

AuthorSierra, Luis M.

Grisaffi, Thomas. Coca Yes, Cocaine No: How Bolivia's Coca Growers Reshaped Democracy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019.

Thomas Grisaffi's ethnography Coca Yes, Cocaine No: How Bolivia's Coca Growers Reshaped Democracy explores how Bolivia's Chapare coca growers' unions and their six federations founded the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) political party. Grisaffi explains how once in power, the very mechanisms that made the federations formidable actors, and that made the MAS a powerful political party, also made them incapable of scaling up their form of grassroots democracy. Grisaffi builds a multilayered history of the unions. In addition, he ably illustrates how globalization and US foreign policy constrained the MAS in its goal of decriminalizing coca and distinguishing it from cocaine. These constraints echoed those the party faced within Bolivia.

Coca Yes, Cocaine No examines the tension inherent in how the sindicatos (base-level unions), the MAS, and institutional power operated during a crucial period in Bolivia's recent past. The sindicatos believed leaders would "lead by obeying," which allegedly meant leadership would follow the rank and file's decisions. Union members equated democracy with direct participation in debating, deciding, and enacting their laws. Cocalews conceived of the "political arm" as an extension of these practices. Grisaffi embeds the reader in this world, peeling back the layers of discourse, practice, and affective ties, and showing the reader how the cocaleros' vernacular democracy lent itself to autocracy and top-down decision making. Union members were compelled to participate in union activities or face fines, social shaming, and if the transgression was a major one, the loss of their coca fields. As such, outsiders might view these practices as antidemocratic. Yet Grisaffi explicates that these alternative democratic practices were ingrained in the sindicatos' notions of governance: the rank and file expected the MAS to smoothly scale up these practices to shape Bolivia's electoral democracy. Before winning elections and becoming the party in power, the MAS derived its power from the thousands of members it could marshal to protest government action. When the MAS became the government, that dynamic was altered, and the unions now served the political arm. Coca Yes, Cocaine No examines the tension between the unions' vernacular democratic practices on one hand, and how the MAS had to exercise...

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