Bolivia: Coca Si, Cocaina no?

Lindsey Mullikin, for the Pulitzer Center

Earlier this month, Bolivian President Evo Morales suspended U.S. Drug Administration operations in his country. This coupled with the expulsion of a U.S. Ambassador accused of inciting riots in the country, are only the most recent indicators of the strained relations between the two countries since Morales' election in 2006. The point of tension between the two governments revolves around coca production within Bolivia, a production that the U.S. claims is on the rise because of the increasing demand for cocaine. During his first year in office, Morales implemented a policy meant to encourage the legal production of coca while discouraging its use for narcotics. His gesture was not well-received by the U.S. government. On Tuesday night, journalist Ruxandra Guidi, and her husband, photographer Roberto Guerra, presented work focusing on Bolivian coca farmers to young journalists studying at the University of Texas School of Journalism. The university's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sponsored the event. Through audio slide shows and radio broadcasts the two reported on the significance of the coca leaf to the country economically, medicinally and culturally. Their work deepened the international conversation on Bolivia by approaching the topic from a fresh, more humanized angle.

The journalists' compilation using images and audio reflected well on journalism's trend toward more dynamic platforms of producing content. Guidi said she enjoyed the ability to tell her stories through many different platforms. Yet in a journalism world full of all things shiny, flashy and Twittery, she cautioned those looking to enter her field of international reporting. She advised the young journalists to take their time with sources and projects so interesting perspectives can be shown. A participant in the event's live-blogging session commented: "It's hard to avoid stereotypical story subjects. ... often once a country is associated with a story, it's hard to pitch something new." Guidi encouraged the young journalists to focus on being thorough, taking their time with projects and sources. "Be earnest and seriously curious about their lives," she encouraged.


This gives journalists access to better stories as well as diverse perspectives regarding an issue, she said. The event lent appropriate advice for those in the audience as well as for those tuning into the event via UT's Society of Professional Journalists' Web site. A video highlighting the event will also appear on the organization's site next week.

Lindsey is the Pulitzer Center Student Liaison at the University of Texas.