By Fiona Smith
The Associated Press
Posted November 23 2005
La ASUNTA · The coca farmers on these steep mountain slopes have long felt their livelihood and Indian identity threatened by U.S.-backed efforts to uproot the crop that makes cocaine. Now they are pinning their hopes on one of their own: an Indian coca farmer who is the front-runner for Bolivia's presidency.
Evo Morales promises that if elected Dec. 4, he will decriminalize all coca farming. That would mean an end to a decade-old crop eradication program that has led to clashes between farmers and soldiers in which dozens have died.
He would also be Bolivia's first Indian president, and his leftist politics -- he's a close friend of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez -- would move yet another Latin American government leftward, following the paths of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
A Morales victory may worry Washington, as well as many governments in Europe, the chief market for Bolivian cocaine. But the cocaleros, as coca farmers are known, are delighted at the prospect.