In a new feature film about his journey from dirt-poor sheep herder to Bolivian president, Evo Morales is portrayed being beaten unconscious by anti-narcotics police and found the next day by fellow coca union leaders.
In an interview on Friday, the Bolivian president said there were multiple beatings during his years fighting forced coca eradication -- and that he wants the armed US agents who direct his country's anti-narcotics police to leave.
"It wasn't just once or twice," Morales said, becoming animated as he recounted the harrowing memories from the comfort of his presidential residence. "I could tell you many of these stories."
Bolivia's first indigenous president also said that the world's richest nations must be made to pay for the damage their profligate use of natural resources has caused developing countries.
He said he and other Latin American leaders were exploring possible legal means for demanding compensation for the developed world's "ecological debt."
"It's not possible that some in the industrialized world live very well economically while affecting, even destroying others," the 48-year-old Aymara Indian said.
Scientists count this Andean nation's rapidly melting glaciers among the most profound signs of global warming.
Morales also said that Bolivia, which is a majority indigenous country, would next week become the first to ratify the Sept. 13 UN declaration endorsing the rights of the world's native peoples. The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were the only countries to vote against the declaration.
After winning the presidency in December 2005, Morales has increased Bolivia's annual natural gas revenues from US$300 million to US$2 billion a year by exerting greater state control over the sector.
Water utilities have reverted to state control and authorities are negotiating the re-nationalization of the country's main telecommunications company, Entel, which is owned by Telecom Italia SpA. Officials have indicated electrical power could be next.
Morales said his vision of socialism is guided by the communal decision-making of Bolivia's indigenous societies and their "way of living in harmony with Mother Earth."
Those politics have not endeared him to the US, his nemesis in the late 1980s and 1990s when he led coca growers, or cocaleros, in protests against Washington-directed forced eradication campaigns.
The plant's small green leaf has been chewed as a mild stimulant here for millennia, but is best known outside the country as the base ingredient of cocaine.
One night in 1989, police nabbed Morales at a coca farmers' dinner, dragging him away to a van where he was kicked repeatedly.
"But then suddenly they lifted me high up, and I'm up there with my face towards the floor of the van, and they threw me down like a piece of meat," he said. "I passed out."
Cocaleros rushed the van and the police fled into the jungle, where they dumped Morales.
Friends of Morales found him prone and bleeding the next day, a scene recreated in the Bolivian-made film Evo Pueblo.