Friday, December 14, 2007


Evo Morales brings new meaning to the term “grass roots campaign”. As a humble Aymara Indian mounting an unlikely campaign to become the first indigenous president of Bolivia, Morales travels throughout remote communities in the Andes and Amazon in his unassuming regular guy apparel: jeans and sneakers. His campaign is followed by a documentary filmmaker who gives us an all-access pass to the action, even following Morales as he gets his hair cut in a decidedly unglamorous barbershop.

The term cocalero refers to Indian coca leaf growers, the Bolivian farmers who make their living off the coca-leaf harvest. As a man of the people, Morales is dedicated to defending the rights of the cocaleros, which brings him into direct opposition to US imperialism attempting to eradicate the crop and stop the flow of cocaine. He’s also tasked with defeating the incumbent party, opponents kept in the periphery of the film but alluded to as wealthy, corrupt, pro-US, anti-cocalero professional politicians. This gives his campaign underdog appeal that makes the election results all the more satisfying.

The film dives right into the campaign trail without much explanation of the background of Morales, Bolivia’s political climate or the role of the cocaleros in it. Viewers are left to decipher the situation and draw their own conclusions, a legitimate approach but one that somewhat limits a full understanding of the big picture. We’re granted access to the thoughts of Morales and his political consultant, but view everything through their eyes without much counter opinion or media perspective. However, the film fully follows through on its title by serving an intimate portrait of the plight of the cocaleros and their candidate, forced by their economic situation to defend a crop with potential illegal use.

As a political figure, Morales is not portrayed as particularly charismatic or knowledgeable, but he speaks with conviction from his heart and gives the Indian voters hope for change. His refusal to bow to political fashion convention further demonstrates his conviction to keep it real, adding to the groundswell of popular sentiment that sweeps him into office. There’s no follow up to show his initial effectiveness as President after the election, but the film is an essential document of his successful underdog campaign and a fascinating look into the hidden world of the cocalero.

Cocalero is now available on DVD from First Run Features, available for purchase here.

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