For someone who knows little about Bolivia, everyday headlines here may seem confusing and even surreal.
Consider this recent piece of news: the autonomy movement in the lowlands -- mainly in the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Cochabamba, Pando and Beni -- is gaining force. Just a few weeks ago, state governors from this region vowed to gain fiscal independence from the rest of the country.
Or this: the city of Sucre erupted into violence right before the Christmas holiday over their unmet demands that the capital be moved from La Paz.
And lastly: a new constitution representing the rights of Bolivia's indigenous majority, and calling for land redistribution, was finally passed in December. The document, however, was roundly criticized for having been rushed through, and therefore, for being "illegal".
Needless to say, Bolivia's president has been going through some difficult times lately. On the eve of his third year in office, Evo Morales remains as controversial and polarizing a figure now as he did when he was elected president. But he continues to push through the many social and political reforms that he vowed to take on, when he became the first indigenous president of this poor South American country.
Morales is often -- and mistakenly -- compared to Venezuela's maverick leader, Hugo Chavez. The two men share socialist values, a dream of regional integration and a desire to help their countries' poor. But beyond these similarities, Evo Morales represents a very different kind of politician.
Bolivia's president is a former llama herder, coca grower and union leader. He personifies Bolivia's indigenous class -- a man without academic credentials, but with a strong background in social justice, labor rights and organizing.
As we embark on our project about coca growing in Bolivia, we'd like to look beyond the headlines coming out of this country these days. We'd like to spend some time exploring the importance of coca in Bolivian society, the legacy of the Drug War, and how it gave rise to today's powerful cocalero movement, and Bolivia's first cocalero president. If there is one thing that will help people on the outside understand Bolivia, we believe it is the coca leaf.