By Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra

Coca Si, Cocaina No

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by Ruxandra Guidi & Bear Guerra

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The United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board recently made the announcement that Peru and Bolivia should, once and for all, outlaw the chewing of coca.

Those are fighting words in Bolivia, where coca leaves have been grown and used in their natural form for thousands of years.

Besides being a symbol of Bolivia's indigenous culture, the coca leaf is considered a cure for many ailments and an important source of work for farmers in this poor South American country.

Coca is not cocaine. However, the leaf is the main ingredient for the drug, and the United States and the United Nations would like to see the plant completely eradicated.

But Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, is a former coca grower who has pushed for an increase in the cultivation and legal uses of coca — while still clamping down on the illegal ones.

He calls this new and controversial policy "Coca Yes, Cocaine No."

Roberto Guerra and Ruxandra Guidi's reporting on coca in Bolivia was made possible by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C.

Ruxandra Guidi works as a radio and print freelance news correspondent for South and Central America. In the last year, she’s been reporting from Bolivia, Peru, Panama, Venezuela and Mexico.

Previously, she did production and reporting work for the BBC public radio news program, The World. Her stories focused on Latin American politics, human rights issues, rural communities, immigration, popular culture and music.

Guidi has a masters degree in journalism from U.C. Berkeley in 2002. A native of Caracas, Venezuela, she is now based in La Paz, where she lives and collaborates regularly with her husband, photographer Bear Guerra. Her work can be found at

Roberto (Bear) Guerra is an independent photographer originally from San Antonio, Texas.

His images and photo essays on subjects ranging from an animal control facility in Texas to the grassroots opposition to La Parota Dam in Mexico have been published by many outlets including Orion Magazine, The Boston Globe Magazine, The BBC, and Texas Monthly. Recent recognitions have come from Canada's Magenta Foundation (Flash Forward: Emerging Photographers 2007); The Santa Fe Center for Photography (2007), The Golden Light Awards (2006); and American Photography 21 (2006).

He is now based in La Paz, Bolivia. More of his work can be seen at

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