Move over, Mayor Bloomberg. Your big-size soda ban was a great start, but, in the Great Soda Wars, you’ve been upstaged by Bolivia.
The central South American country has announced that it will ban the Coca-Cola company by the end of the year. Specifically, Bolivia’s Minister of External Affairs, David Choquehuanca, has said that Coca-Cola will be expelled on December 21 as that date is the same on which the Mayan calendar enters a new cycle. The reason: To celebrate the “end of capitalism.”
Forbes quotes Choquehuanca speaking at a political rally for Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales:
“The twenty-first of December 2012 is the end of selfishness, of division. The twenty-first of December has to be the end of Coca-Cola and the beginning of mocochinche (a local peach-flavored soft drink). “The planets will line up after 26,000 years. It is the end of capitalism and the beginning of communitarianism.”
The Bolivian government has been planning to celebrate this date in other ways, including various events that will take place at the Southern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice on La Isla del Sol, one of the largest islands in Lake Titicaca.
It’s not the first time a large American corporation has found itself out of favor with the country of about 11 million. McDonalds was unable to make a profit there and pulled out in the early 2000s.
The consumption of Coca-Cola products has tripled in Bolivia since 2001 and has increased notably in all Latin American countries. As WorldCrunch says, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has called on his citizens to drink Uvita, a grape juice produced by a state-run company, instead of Coke. According to the Bolivian website Opinion, both Cuba and North Korea ban Coke.
Forbes points out something “curious” about Bolivia’s plan to ban Coke. The Coca-Cola corporation isn’t talking, but coca leaf extract is said to be an ingredient in the secret recipe for Coke:
…sales of coca leaf are big business in Bolivia, accounting for 2% of the country’s GDP, or approximately $270 million annually, and representing 14% of all agricultural sales. Besides, coca is legally sold in wholesale markets in some Bolivian cities. There’s even a cocaine bar in La Paz.
The decision of Coca-Cola’s ban in Bolivia came in a time when the country is pledging to legalize the consumption of coca leaves, which are notoriously processed clandestinely into cocaine, and were declared an illegal narcotic by the UN in 1961, along with cocaine, opium and morphine, in spite of its consumption being a centuries-old tradition there, strongly rooted in the beliefs of various indigenous groups.
Morales charges that “Neither the US nor capitalist countries have a good reason to maintain the ban on coca leaf consumption.” Is his thought to suggest that such a ban on coca leaves is an affront to Bolivia’s traditions, rather than out of serious concerns about illegal narcotics?
A Bolivian blog, Nada nos libre de Escorpio, offers more of a mundane rationale for banning Coke, the connection between obesity and other health problems and the consumption of sugary beverages. “El veneno es asi” (“this is the poison”) is written over a photo of a Coke bottle, alongside a skull under which is a knife and spoon. Keenly aware of the allure of Coke and other aspects of the Western diet, other Latin American countries including Brazil have been making efforts in the form of government policies to preserve traditional foods and eating practices.
If nothing else, Bolivia’s ban on Coke is a wake-up call for us to take a moment and think: How much of the company’s products do we consume, perhaps not Coke but in the form of Dasani bottled water and other beverages? How hard is it for any of us to go Coke-free?
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Photo by Adam Jones, Ph.D.