March 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Bolivia vs. Coca-Cola

Coca growers in Bolivia are demanding, as part of their efforts to rewrite the country's constitution, that Coca-Cola remove "coca" from their corporate name, on the grounds that it is a sacred plant and a fundamental part of their cultural heritage. One rather suspects that they are trying to extort royalty payments from Coca-Cola. According to the BBC,

President Evo Morales is a former coca leaf farmer and is pressing the UN to allow Bolivia to export products such as tea, toothpaste and liquor made from coca.

Just imagine: Coca-toothpaste: It gives your breath that clean, tingly feeling!

Meanwhile, Panama seized 21.5 tons of highly concentrated "cultural heritage" from a ship that was probably headed for the United States. It was one of the biggest cocaine busts in history. See

Coincidentally, I've been reading a book that is very pertinent to this: Whispering in the Giant's Ear: A Frontline Chronicle from Bolivia's War on Globalization, by William Powers. The author is a development aid official who (rightly) looks askance on conventional development programs because, among other things, they are hopelessly out of touch with market realities. He is very conscious of the common interest in protecting indigenous cultures and precious natural habitats, but he seems to have "gone native," sympathizing rather uncritically with the coca-growers movement led by Evo Morales.

Venezuela vs. Dominica

Venezuela wants to build an oil refinery on tiny Bird Island, which it has controlled since 1865, even though the island is actually much closer to Dominica. The opposition party in Dominica wants the government to reject Venezuela's proposal because of the potential for environmental harm. Dominica happens to be a major destination for bird-watchers, and tourism is the leading industry. notes:

The Barbados-based Caribbean Conservation Association has also urged Dominica to reject the refinery, being built as part of Venezuela's Petrocaribe deal -- under which 14 Caribbean nations benefit from preferential terms to buy oil from the South American country.

It's quite a dilemma for a poor country: cheap oil or eco-tourist dollars? Bird Island is situated about 130 miles west of Dominica, and about the same distance south-southeast of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Somehow, I was unaware of this piece of geographical trivia, so I went to check out my atlases, and to my surprise, only one of them shows it: The Hammond International World Atlas, on a 11,200,000 to 1 scale map. The Planet Earth edition of the Macmillan World Atlas, with very detailed 5,000,000 to 1 scale maps, does not show it at all, though it does show the undersea Aves Ridge. Bird Island is treeless, so I assume the only birds found there are nesting seabirds such as Shearwaters, Petrels, or maybe Albatrosses.