Move over War Room, James Carville and Bill Clinton, and make way for Cocalero, a new political documentary featuring highlights of the triumphant Presidential campaign of Evo Morales, a Bolivian Indian and leader of Andean coca growers' union.
The film sets out to do two things: first, to highlight Morale's campaign and portray him in the most charming way possible, and, secondly, to show the plight and dignity of the Andean Indians whose crusade against coca eradication has made them a cause célèbre among anti-American activists throughout the world- including the U.S. It succeeds on both levels even as it avoids an enlightening, non-partisan look at the consequences and rationales behind the anti-coca campaign.
The makers of Cocalero were given terrific access to Morales and you can't help but come away liking him. You see Morales campaigning down bustling city streets, stumping for votes in dirt-poor native farming communities, gamely spinning gotcha journos on television, and waxing eloquently from the podium before throngs of supporters. All the while, you're struck by his low-keyed personality. This is not the kind of populist leader we've come to expect. Morales is certainly charming and possesses a great sense of humor, but his manner is quite often underscored, and, at times reserved. He bears almost no resemblance to his bombastic, ideological partners Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.
In addition to Morales, the filmmakers spend quite a bit of time with Leonilda Zurita, a rural candidate for Senate living in a thatched roofed shelter with no walls and no running water. At one point, Zurita leads fellow members of the women's coca union in chants: "Viva Comrade Evo, Viva the coca leaf, death to the Yankees." Typically I would have a bit of discomfort when hearing folks shout "death to the Yanks", but one look at the frailty of the assembled crowd and the jocular manner in which they hurl their chants make them seem more farcical than a threat.
The Zurita parts are fascinating. Here's a lady campaigning for Senate, one of Morales key politicos, and at one point in the film we see her apologize, as she offers a bowl of eggs to the camerman, that she "wasn't able to catch the chicken." At another, we watch Zurita as she helps bring in the harvest of the coca leaf.
Another interesting vignette shows off the PR skills of Adriana Gil, an attractive woman with traditional European looks who during the campaign worked as the spokesperson for Morale's political party, MAS. Gil is clearly a pleasant face and a strong spinmeister who was brought in to assuage the city people of St. Cruz who were mostly supporting the other candidate amid cries by Morales that he would try to expropriate land from those in cities who "had too much," and give it to the farmers.
If you want to view firsthand a fascinating foreign political process at work amid some gorgeous and fascinating scenery, this documentary will be well worth your time. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a dispassionate conversation about American and Bolivian coca policy and the good and bad of American foreign policy, this one won't satisfy you.
Here's the trailer: [...]