Published: Sept. 28, 2020

Bolivia’s agrarian sindicato, or labor union, system of communal governance represents a hybrid form of democracy which draws from several political traditions -- including European syndicalist theory, Bolivia's 1953 Agrarian Reform, and Andean cultural traditions -- and has contributed to the rise in indigenous participation and representation in national politics. Former President Evo Morales’s leadership style was forged through the agrarian sindicato system and its resistance to forced eradication of coca leaf via the U.S. “war on drugs.” My ethnographic research shows how the lucrative and highly symbolic coca leaf economy is the issue around which agrarian sindicato activity has been organized since the 1980s, utilizing such measures as assemblies, protest marches, road blockades, and summit meetings. I analyze these classic syndicalist methods of collective popular participation and show how sindicato governance contributed to Morales’s “democratic revolution” as part of the New Left and innovative coca policies centered on harm reduction.