Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Beverage "Cracks" The Market

Forget about a certain Atlanta-based soft drink giant-- Bolivia has come up with a fizzy beverage it says is the real thing: Coca Colla.

The drink, made from the coca leaf and named after the indigenous Colla people from Bolivia's highlands, went on sale last week across the South American country. The first batch of 12,000 bottles, priced about $3 for a liter, were distributed in La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.

The familiar-sounding name and packaging may rile the Atlanta-based soft drinks manufacturer, but Coca Colla could also cause groans in Washington. It is made from the coca leaf, a mild stimulant that wards off fatigue and hunger, and has been used in the Andes for thousands of years in cooking, medicine and religious rites. Coca is also the raw ingredient of cocaine, the powerful narcotic that is the primary target of the U.S.-led "war on drugs".

For many years, Bolivia tried to wipe out the leaf at Washington's behest. But that was before Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian and coca grower, was elected president, championing coca as a crop with legitimate uses.

While the new socialist government vowed zero tolerance for cocaine, it still wasted no time in expelling DEA agents (accusing them of spying) and encouraged Bolivian companies to use coca to make teas, syrups, toothpaste, liqueurs, sweets and cakes. If the coca spin-offs work out, the government said the area of land authorized for legal cultivation of the leaf may expand from 12,000 hectares to as much as 20,000 hectares.

The U.S. has warned Bolivia that most of the coca crop would likely be siphoned off for cocaine, and accused Morales of failing to co-operate in the fight against drugs.

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