First Run Features // 2006 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 15th, 2008
Simón Bolivar, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez...Evo Morales?
Bolivia has long been a country in turmoil. Much of the nation's population live in abject poverty, and most of these people are part of the overwhelming indigenous populations. These people, proud as they are poor, work long hours on subsistence farms and in coca fields in order to barely feed their families. All their hard work gets them virtually nowhere, however, as generations of racism have left them powerless to act on their own behalf. The coca plant, from which cocaine is derived, has been a traditional source of income in this region forever, but U.S. intervention in Bolivia to fight the War on Drugs has led to a national policy of complete eradication of the crop. While the policy drastically decreased the quantity of cocaine from Bolivia into the U.S., it also left the farmers that much poorer and with no way to sustain their meager livelihoods. When things got desperate, the farmers began to organize. Now fighting as a single unit for their common interests through demonstrations, roadblocks, and other means, they began to make inroads to attain some representation in government, and thus rights always denied to them. While still much work remains in the battle, the amazing efforts of a few individuals have helped a wide swath of their compatriots.
Evo Morales, one of the leaders of the indigenous coca growers' unions, rose from the fields to become the face of the struggle. Standing on an ideology of anti-imperialism, nationalization, and rights for all Bolivians, Morales ran for president of Bolivia in 2001 under the banner of the MAS party, which in English stands for Movement Toward Socialism. He lost the race, but undaunted, returned in 2005 to campaign anew. With more momentum than ever before, Morales' campaign quickly gained steam. Cocalero, named for the coca unions Morales helped to lead, opens 60 days before the election with Morales' campaign very much in doubt. Filmmaker Alejandro Landes takes us on a journey through the presidential race, following Morales closely on his quest to become the first indigenous Bolivian president. [SPOILER ALERT: Morales won the election, but anybody who follows current events, and anyone in the market for this documentary, already knows this]
Evo Morales' journey down the campaign trail is a dramatic one. Given extraordinary access to his public and private life, Landes portrays Morales respectfully, as a fair, competent, and ethical leader. Without dwelling on his past, Landes succeeds in showing the candidate's credential, and how his ethics and beliefs have remained consistent with his ongoing struggle to unify Bolivia politically and socially. The anti-imperialist platform of MAS runs parallel to Hugo Chávez of Venezuala, and thus in opposition to American interests and ideology. Agree or disagree, but Landes shows that Morales and MAS hold these beliefs for the right reasons. With the history of human rights violations, especially directed toward indigenous populations, and incredible disparity in wealth caused in part by international intervention into Bolivian affairs, a massive groundswell of discontent has arisen. Morales and MAS claim to have the answers to these problems. Morales makes it clear that he runs a corruption-free campaign that will continue into the presidency. He does not desire to destroy capitalism, as some of his opponents have said. He only wants to use Bolivia's resources for Bolivians instead of selling them off to put money in the pockets of a few. Many of his policies, however, have widened rifts between classes. Controversially, Morales has promised to nationalize Bolivia's staggering natural gas deposits, redistribute land from the rich to the poor farmers, and end the policy of coca eradication, which would skyrocket the export of cocaine into the U.S. Opponents fear that, if Morales is elected, these policies will threaten much-needed aid from the international community.
Though Cocalero is centered on the issues surrounding the election, Morales is shown as personable and fun loving as he jokes with his barber between rallies. Moreover, MAS is shown as a party that genuinely cares about the people. In a scene on the night before the election, party workers travel in the indigenous communities instructing voters (by candlelight) exactly how to vote. They play this to the camera, of course, but the point is driven home that MAS is the party of the people. There is no doubt that Landes is in support of Morales and MAS to win the election, and very little about other candidates is discussed. One-sided, yes, but Cocalero is a quietly intelligent portrait of a man with an achievable dream to help his homeland and his people, and his determination to make the dream a reality. On the downside, while the story is coherent and relevant, it can get tedious at times. More dynamic editing or some extra humor may have helped, but Landes takes his subject very seriously and tells the story in the most cogent, clinical way possible.
Cocalero is presented in a bare-bones, but technically sound, release by First Run Features. The film was shot on high-quality digital video, and the transfer is sharp and clear without any artifacts or edge enhancement. Unfortunately, it is non-anamorphic, which is a significant blow to the release, no matter how sharp the image looks. Stereo sound is adequate but unexciting. The audio is mostly political speeches and traditional music, so there isn't a lot of use for surround channels.
Morales, as of this writing, has been in power for two full years and is the longest reigning president in a decade. During that time, he has kept many of his promises and met many of his goals, which include further alignment of Bolivia with the politics Venezuela and Cuba. As a result, relations with the United States have cooled. As lately as last week, Morales has accused the U.S. of interfering in his administration in regard to four major Bolivian states ceding from the country in protest of his leftist stance. For Morales, the struggle so eloquently described in Cocalero did not end with the election, and its outcome remains as much in doubt as it ever has.
History will judge Evo Morales and his administration. Cocalero is an excellent study of international politics and a must-watch film for those interested in current Latin American events.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Quechua)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Theatrical Trailer