Narco News '02
by Al Giordano, D.R. 2002
Autonomy & Coca
The Narco News
with Felipe Quispe
Gómez and Al Giordano
somewhere in La Paz, Bolivia
By Luis Gómez
News Andean Bureau Chief
He has been a farmer and
a guerrilla, studied
history at the public university and, above all, has become a
symbol of the voice of the aymara nation, an ethnic group of
two-and-a-half million people that inhabits the heart of the
Andes (in Bolivia and some southern regions of Peru). There,
for example, in April 2000, during the serious social conflicts
that shook Bolivia, Felipe Quispe led a siege upon La Paz, the
seat of the government, and commanded a civil insurrection by
more than 500,000 men, women, elders and children tired of living
in misery, exploited by the mestizos, Creoles and foreigners
who run this country.
This indigenous man of
dark and shiny eyes, of a thin smile, is not just the secretary
general of the United Farm Workers union of Bolivia (CSUTCB,
the main farmer's organization of the country)... Quispe is also
the Mallku (the Prince), the man to whom all the Indian nations
that inhabit Bolivian territory have given the staff of traditional
leadership, making him their one leader, their true spokesman.
Without ceremony, with
simple manners, Felipe Quispe receives Narco News in his office.
While he smokes some filter-less cigars and chews some coca leaves,
he makes himself available for questions. But when, at the beginning
of the conversation, he encounters the possible existence of
left-wing media in the United States, his first response is a
sincere doubt: "There is a Left there even now?" And
in his way of seeing, with the Bolivian government as a mere
reflector of the policies of Washington, that in Bolivia the
organizations of the Left no longer exist, "all of them
have been 'righted,'" he says, and Quispe believes that
this process is a reflection of what has happened in United States
Speaking of the large
country of the north, the farmers' leader has no doubt: "The
United States government hates me to death. I can not enter that
country. They have classified me as a terrorist." Very probably,
the events of last September 11th have influenced this treatment,
because just a few weeks after the attack, Manuel Rocha, the
ambassador of the Empire, participated in labeling the coca growers'
leader and national congressman Evo Morales, and also Felipe
Quispe, as terrorists during a conference on terrorism organized
by the Bolivian presidency last November.
Quispe still has charges
pending in Bolivian courts for armed uprising, due to his participation
during the 1990s in the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army (a trial
in which the State illegally prolongs the case without having
obtained a judgment against the accused). But in any case, the
secretary general of the CSUTCB is a powerful opponent of the
Bolivian government and, as a consequence, the extra-territorial
policies of the United States. Thus, the statements by Viceroy
Rocha are no more than the typical reaction to a rebellion by
those who, from below, refuse to accept the current state of
things in Latin America and the rest of the world.
Included in this tradition
of resistance is that of the ayamara people that embraces the
fight of Quispe and the CSUTCB. Unconquerable to the Spaniard
invaders, the Aymaras rebelled at least 20 times between the
17th and 20th centuries. Among all these rebellions, one that
occurred at the end of the 1700s, stands out: the one commanded
by Tupac Katari (the name that inspired the aforementioned guerrilla
organization). This man, leading a contingent of ten thousand
men and women, was at the point of expelling colonial power.
In fact, in 1781, at the peak of his success as a guerrilla,
Tupac Katari surrounded La Paz for months, provoking hunger and
despair among the colonizers and their families.
Like his predecessor in
the leadership of his people, Quispe repeated the act of surrounding
the city in the year 2000, reminding all of the success of Tupac
Katari in trapping the government in its own territory, in "its"
city. And still more: Like most of the original American people,
the Mallku maintains the call of history alive, always close
to him. In his office at the CSUTCB, backing him from a wall
and from the past, it is possible to admire portraits of Tupac
Katari and Bartolina Sisa (Katari's wife and valiant lieutenant
of the Aymara army two centuries ago). From that spot, backed
by his ancestors and making his own notes about the interview,
Felipe Quispe spoke about current events.
Narco News: Let's speak a little about the
coca leaf and the current situation of narco-trafficking in this
Felipe Quispe: Okay. Coca has been, ancestrally,
a sacred leaf. We, the indigenous, have had a profound respect
toward it... a respect that includes that we don't "pisar"
it (the verb "pisar" means to treat the leaves with
a chemical substance, one of the first steps in the production
of cocaine). In general, we only use it to acullicar: We chew
it during times of war, during ritual ceremonies to salute Mother
Earth (the Pachamama) or Father Sun or other Aymara divinities,
like the hills. Thus, as an indigenous nation, we have never
prostituted Mama Coca or done anything artificial to it because
it is a mother. It is the occidentals who have prostituted it.
It is they who made it into a drug. This doesn't mean that we
don't understand the issue. We know that this plague threatens
all of humanity and, from that perspective, we believe that those
who have prostituted the coca have to be punished.
But now, who pays in this
life? We, who labor and cultivate the coca. We have even been
criticized for chewing it. This happens above all to the farmers
in the zones of Las Yungas and the Chapare. In these regions,
we are in danger, because the United States has the saña
to destroy, to annhilate our sacred coca leaf, even after we
have traditionally cultivated the leaf for many centuries.
Sooner or later the drug
will be legalized, and surely we will be turned into consumers
who depend on they who manufacture it in the North and in place
of chewing our own leaves we are going to have to buy the ones
that they cultivate. This is the mentality that the gringos seem
to have, or at least how we see it from our communities.
For us, it will continue
to be a sacred leaf, because, also, thanks to her we can work
constructing buildings, on farms and in the mines. The leaf combats
hunger and misery. Coca has a lot of properties. It's not just
Narco News: The first prohibition of coca
in history was doing the Spanish colonial period, but it failed
Felipe Quispe: Yes. At the beginning, the Spaniars
said it was a diabolic leaf. But in the end, motivated by their
ambition, they pushed a rise in production. They were the ones
who saw the economic advantages, because in the mines (like on
Potash Hill), a lot of coca leaf was consumed. Thus, to satisfy
the demand, for example, the Spaniards were the first to cultivate
coca in the Yungas regions. They have prepared grand extensions
of land for its cultivation. During the Inca Empire, massive
cultivation did not exist. It was a light production only for
coca's sacred purposes. The Spaniards extended it (and, later,
the governments of Bolivia did the same), and now the United
States wants to take away from us even that part that corresponds
to the indigenous, this essential part of our culture.
Narco News: Speaking of the present situation,
the Bolivian Armed Forces seem to have been subordinated to a
foreign power while, on the other hand, each day more evidence
appears that the State itself has become narcotized. What is
the role played by foreign governments in this country?
Felipe Quispe: Look, in this country called Bolivia,
from 1825 (the year of Bolivia's independence) to the present,
military officials have governed more often than anyone. In the
case of the production of cocaine, they are not far from what
happened: the ex dictator Luis García Meza and the one
and only Hugo Banzer were the first big pushers of narco-trafficking
in Bolivia. I spend five years in prison and there I met all
the famous Bolivian narco-traffickers, who had been members of
the political class and the traditional political parties: the
MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), the MIR (Movement of
the Revolutionary Left) and the other political parties. The
parties have used drug trafficking to finance their campaigns.
Definitively, Bolivian politics has been narcotized. Many of
the narcos are on the outside, they don't even know the inside
of a jail cell. They, for example, in Congress.
The great majority of
those imprisoned for drug trafficking are indigenous who have
chemically treated coca to make cocaine or who have trafficked
on a small scale. I already said, these are the people who pay:
the Indians. In recent months, they have hunted Indians every
single day in the Chapare. And because it is others who control
the economic, political and social power, they are going to continue
controlling the drug traffic. We lack an impartial government.
The law needs to measure everyone with the same yardstick. More
than anyone, they, the ones who are in charge, are the truly
guilty parties responsible for thousands of deaths throughout
the world. This is the type of politics that we have here.
Narco News: That type of politics is, with
various variations, the same problem that we find throughout
Latin America, especially in the Andean countries: Ecuador, Colombia,
Perú and Bolivia. Plan Colombia, invented by Washington,
has failed and, according to my analysis, there are three decisive
factors in this failure: The first is that its rejection has
been internationalized, for example, through the disagreement
expressed by the European Community with this military plan.
The second is that many sectors of Colombian society have declared
themselves in favor of drug legalization in the United States
as a solution to the problem. The third factor is that a confluence
can be observed between the legalization movement and the indigenous
movements in Colombia. Do you think that this dynamic could have
applications in Bolivia?
Felipe Quispe: Okay. You said that this type
of problems with the narco exist in places were we, the indigenous,
also exist, whether it be in Perú, in México or
another country. And for is, the policy is our enemy, it is what
discriminates against us and kills us. In other words, I would
say that Plan Colombia was created with the intention of annihilating
the indigenous peoples. Not only that, but also to take away
our jobs and our lands, our homes. But we are organized and we
are not going to permit them to take our homes away. We are going
to defend ourselves, if necessary, with teeth and nails. We cannot
lose our sacred leaf. With this, I am not defending narco-trafficking.
We are speaking of coca in its healthy and living form, an inheritance
that our ancestors gave us. We leave the drug problem to the
United States, because we Indians don't consume drugs. We simply
"pijchar" (an Ayamara verb that refers to the act of
chewing coca, in small amounts, between the gums and the inside
of the cheeks); it's a political, religious and even an economic
question, since many farmers in Bolivia live through the cultivation
of coca, working lands that can produce only coca, that cannot
produce any other agricultural product. There are thousands of
projects like Plan Colombia and other plans that gringo imperialism
can produce. But they are not going to work here.
Narco News: In
some of your speeches, you have proposed the theme of indigenous
autonomy. In this, your ideas resonate with those of the Zapatistas
in México and others throughout the planet. Let's speak
Felipe Quispe: We, the indigenous, have our own
territory. This territory does not belong to the occidentals,
to the colonizers. It is ours. We have our own history, our own
philosophy, our laws, religion, language, habits and customs.
From this perspective, we, the Aymaras, consider ourselves to
be a nation and from there we have the idea of self-determination.
We don't follow the tri-colored flag of Bolivia that our oppressors
carry. We have the whiphala (the flag of seven colors, in quilted
Photo: Al Giordano,
Quispe and the Whiphala Flag
his cane of leadership with the flag)
We have our own heroes
and martyrs. Little by little we are advancing to have our own
political Constitution of the State of Kollasuyo (the ancient
name of this Andean region). We are already creating our own
laws and codes, according to the present-day needs. All this
means that indigenous self-determination is going to happen sooner
For example, in some provinces
of the State of La Paz, there are already no police nor judicial
authorities, nor political authorities. We are already fighting
to get the military bases out of these regions. In all of these
places we have elected our own authorities. With this, we are
beginning. When there were police there were crooks who robbed
our belongings and our cattle. Now that this system doesn't exist
any more, there already are not so many problems. What we see
in the occidential laws, the Bolivian laws, is that they bring
failure, theft and other crimes. Apart from this is the question
of ID cards. We are not going to use the Bolivian ID cards any
more. In this confederation we are working to create our own
Thus, the wiphala flag
flies over our ayllus (a word for the traditional communitarian
form of property ownership, productive, social and even military
organization). An air of peace, of freedom, of self-determination,
is what we breathe here. We have our own authorities and we are
the owners of the territory: of the soil, the subsoil, the products
that grow on the soil and the airspace above the soil. There,
soon, we will have autonomy, although we know that this will
not happen easily, that this process is going to cost us blood.
But there it is: We have to shed a lot of blood, but we are certain
that we are going to have our own form of organization, our own
Narco News: And in your vision as secretary
general of the CSUTCB, how will the autonomy strategy be developed?
Felipe Quispe: Okay, for the past two years,
I have worked directly with the communities of the high plains.
It is a long process in which we try to de-ideologize our brothers
and sisters, to liberate the Indian mind from foreign ideology.
After that, logically, comes the task of re-indianization, of
retaking the essence of our ancestral culture. But in these two
years I have only been able to work with the Aymara communities.
Now I have to establish contact with the Quechuas (I just had
my first meetings with them in Chuquisaca, in the center of the
country), and the field is fertile. I just have to mention our
historic past and my brothers and sisters immediately understand
what I have come to propose to them.
Narco News: And in your autonomy movement,
are the racial questions definitive and decisive for your actions?
Is there a role for people of solidarity from other parts, including
Europe and the US?
Felipe Quispe: We are not puritans. We don't
speak only of the indigenous, but of all the people. We are also
worried about our brothers and sisters who are not indigenous,
who also suffer because there is no work. We even think of the
people in the wealthiest neighborhoods of the cities who list
in the worst misery: We still have some little plots to plant
in, but they don't. We are also thinking about working with them,
because they were also born here. We don't want to implant the
same racism that was created in the colonies and continues existing
in this government. We cannot confront white racism with Indian
racism. That would be a social aberration and a political suicide.
What we are going to do is to embrace everyone. This movement
has a very big poncho, and below it everybody fits.
Narco News: A month or less ago, your organization
signed an accord with the government in which it has promised
you many things (like the delivery of tractors and raises of
the subsidies to the farms). What has come of that?
Felipe Quispe: Well, about the accords we signed
in Pucarani, we are holding meetings, but the government doesn't
keep its word. More likely, it is trying to divide the farmers'
movement. We are very angry over broken promises, and that's
why we are studying what can be done: Our response will have
to be given in an organized form, well structured. We know that
we are going to die, because the government is arming itself
with machine guns, tanks and other weapons. We know they are
going to kill us.
Narco News: Recalling the role that the government
of the United States plays in Bolivian politics, have there been
any incidents or confrontations between your organization and
the Embassy in Bolivia?
Felipe Quispe: Well, there is an ambassador who
is the concrete expression of the United States in this territory.
But let's go back to September 11th, when the Twin Towers were
toppled. The whole world said, "Oh, those poor people."
However, we, as indigenous, see that this attack was against
a system, an imperialist system that also represses us, although
we also knew that the soon the United States would then go and
attack another country, as it did in Afghanistan. And above all
because it is evident that it is not about trapping a terrorist,
but, rather, to acquire wealth in the form of petroleum, uranium
and other minerals.
Personally, as I have
publicly expressed, I have suffered some threats, but most recently
there were the declarations of Manuel Rocha in which he said
that Evo Morales and I are terrorists. He went as far as to speak
of extraditing me to the United States. That is to say, the Embassy
sees us through bad eyes, because our actions affect some United
States business interests in Bolivia.
Narco News: What does it mean that they call
you El Mallku?
Felipe Quispe: I was one of the organizers of
the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army. They captured me on August 19,
1992. This guerrilla surged as a response to the 500th year of
the Spanish invasion and we thought it would be possible to fight
bearing arms. We had worked between 1984 and 1990 in the formation
of regular armed groups. And, well, when they captured me, the
journalists asked me if I was the chief or had any rank within
the organization. I did not tell them that I was the chief. I
answered that I was one of the Mallkus, the princes who wanted
to be president, one who led an organization. There, the term
was born and everyone now knows me by that name, even the journalists
use it. And, well, on November 14, 2000, I was ratified as the
leader of the CSUTCB. They delivered me the staff of leadership
and proclaimed me, legally, as their Mallku, which is like being
president of Bolivia. That's why, on various occasions, I have
proposed speaking with (ex president) Banzer as equal to equal,
with the same authority, because I am the president of the Republic
of Kollasuyo and he was president of Bolivia. Beyond that, on
November 14, 2001, came people from Peru and Ecuador to an event
in which they proclaimed me as the Mallku of América,
which mainly says that the struggle is spreading already to other
Narco News: I think we have already reviewed
various important issues. Would you like to add anything before
Felipe Quispe: Yes. Through you I wish to send
a fraternal and revolutionary salute to all the Indian people
who, like us, fight to self-govern and to be free. We are with
our brothers and sisters in our cause. We hope that our fight
becomes international and that you will know about us because
someday we will return to being the Great Tahuantinsuyo (the
Aymara Nation in its totality.)
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