In Venezuela, Coke is it. Not.

South American leaders promote native drinks at expense of U.S. companies

Kate Lieb By Kate Lieb

The anti-Coke: Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. (Reuters/Isaac Urrutia)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is exhorting his citizens to drink Uvita, a grape juice manufactured by a state-run corporation, instead of Coca-Cola or other foreign sugary drinks.

“This juice is delicious,” Chavez tells Noticias24. “What [else] are you going to buy, Pepsi — they’ll sue me surely — or Coca-Cola? Buy Uvita.”

But, in codicil that evokes stereotypes of socialism’s failure to meet demand, the president added that people should wait to buy it because production lines are slow. Currently, state factories produce the juice at a rate of 130,000 liters per year — or 65,000 two-liter plastic Coke bottles — but it is expected that production will eventually increase to one million liters. Uvita is produced by the state company Corpozuila.

This is not the first time Chavez has tried to make life more difficult for Coca-Cola. In February, he decreased prices on Coke products, making it harder for the multi-national company to make money in Venezuela. Chavez said he was leveling the playing field in the local beverage market.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is similarly challenging Coca-Cola. Last week, he announced that December 21st would mark the end of capitalism and Coca-Cola. That day also happens to mark the much-heralded, allegedly apocalyptic end of the Mayan calendar. According to an article from RT in Spanish, Bolivian Exterior Minister David Choquehuanca said that December 21st would not only mark the end of Coca-Cola, but it would also mark the beginning of Mocochinche — a peach soda produced by the country.

Morales’ anti-Coke stance is ironic, given that Coca-Cola once was a key player in the coca industry, a traditional part of the Bolivian economy that Morales has championed. In fact, to this day, Coke imports cocaine-free coca leaves from Peru and Bolivia. So it looks like the end of Coca-Cola could also spell the end of work for some of Morales’ constituents.