martedì, gennaio 03, 2006

Colombia Indians aim to take on Coke with coca drink

Colombia Indians aim to take on Coke with coca drink
By Jason Webb

INZA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombian Indians are using the raw material of cocaine to make a soft drink they hope will displace in their area another, better known beverage with the same ingredient: Coca-Cola.

Coca Sek -- a fizzy, sweet yellow drink with a fruity, slightly herbal taste -- is being made using coca leaf by Nasa Indians living in the village of Calderas high in the green mountains of Cauca Province in southern Colombia.

While it will only become commercially available for the first time in the next few months in the southern Colombian city of Popayan, there has been plenty of initial buyer interest and the cooperative which makes the drink hopes eventually to export it.

The Indians, who have invested $13,000 and aim to start producing a modest 20,000 bottles per month, hope that by selling a soft drink based on coca they will revive a key part of their culture by bringing it into the modern economy.

Coca has long been sacred to the Nasa, who chewed the bitter leaf for its properties as a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant and used it in their rituals. But coca is also used to make cocaine, and its traditional consumption, even though legal for Colombia's Indians, is declining under the impact of the government's U.S.-funded war on the narcotics industry.

"I always say a town without coca is a town which has died," Nasa woman Fabiola Pinacue told Reuters in the remote town of Inza. She helped launch Coca Sek in December at a stall in the town's market as Indians nearby bartered produce including coca leaf for vegetables and live ducks.

"Coca leaf has been under attack, from the state, from the Church, from education," she said, speaking with her 5-month-old daughter strapped to her back in traditional fashion.


In addition to preserving their customs, the Indians also hope Coca Sek will, at least within their own territories, take some sales from Coca-Cola, a product for which they have a special animosity.

This is partly because of accusations by a union, which Coca-Cola denies, of human rights abuses at bottling plants in Colombia.

But Coca-Cola is also a worldwide symbol of the United States, which the Indians blame for the government's drive against coca. And, to top it off, this emblem of anti-coca America actually uses the leaf but won't admit to it. Continued ...

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Colombia Indians aim to take on Coke with coca drink