Issue # 19 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

April 3, 2002

Narco News '02

Embassy Knew

of Assassination

Documents Reveal Details

of Casimiro's Murder

Embassy Called Him a "Die-Hard,"

& Worried Over Political Fallout

By Al Giordano

Special to The Narco News Bulletin

Publisher's Note: Last December 6th, we arrived in Bolivia within hours of the assassination of coca growers union leader Casimiro Huanca. As we went to his town of Chimoré in the Chapare region of the Amazon to investigate the crime, interview eyewitnesses and take photographic evidence, Bolivian government officials were lying to the press and the international community about what had occurred.

Our White Paper on the Assassination of Casimiro Huanca (Narco News, December 19, 2001) demonstrated, with evidence, that Casimiro was unarmed when he was shot in cold blood, in front of witnesses, by military "anti-drug" troops as he was leading a peaceful protest.

Four months later, his uniformed assassins have not been arrested nor prosecuted.

But this week, Narco News obtained a U.S. government document - a cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia to U.S. officials in Washington, Miami and four Embassies in South America - authored last December. The document was uncovered by authentic journalist Jeremy Bigwood of Washington, DC, through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry. The memo reveals that U.S. officials knew all along that the Bolivian government was lying, but the U.S. Embassy remained silent about what it knew.

Click to Read The Embassy Cable

A memo sent by the United States Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, to Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials in Washington last December reveals that U.S. officials knew that the December 6, 2001 assassination of coca growers' union leader Casimiro Huanca had been committed by Bolivian government security forces.

The document, obtained by Narco News, further shows that U.S. officials knew that members of the Bolivian military had been dishonest about the events that led to Huanca's assassination.

"The military members admitted firing but stated categorically that they fired into the ground as they are instructed to do. One admitted firing into the air as a means of attempting to control the crowd," wrote an Embassy official who signed the communiqué only with the cryptic name of "Duddy."

The official noted, "The wound received by Huanca appeared to be from a large caliber weapon, producing a large entry and exit." In other words, the shot had to have been fired at close range, in contradiction of the claims of the uniformed assassins.

However, even as U.S. officials knew the real facts, they remained silent as Bolivian officials lied to the press and public last December about what had transpired in the town of Chimoré on December 6th.

The official document confirms the key finding of the Narco News White Paper on the Assassination of Casimiro Huanca (Narco News, December 19, 2001): that the military "anti-drug" forces killed Huanca.

Casimiro's Grave

Photo: Al Giordano, D.R. 2001

Narco News had arrived in the region within hours of the assassination and conducted an extensive investigation, including eyewitness testimony and photographic evidence.

The existence of this official cable also suggests that the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, headed by Ambassador Manuel Rocha, may have violated its duties under the Leahy Amendment of U.S. law to inform Congress of abuses by military and police forces in anti-narcotics activities in Bolivia.

The official cable's language also reveals that U.S. officials saw the atrocity only through a political lens and without regard to the human rights policies established by Congress, or the human cost of Casimiro's murder.

"This is a particularly regrettable incident at this time," wrote the official known as Duddy. "The key question," wrote the Embassy official, was not that Huanca, an unarmed union leader whose assassination left a widow and three children, had been shot in cold blood by military soldiers. According to the official of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, rather, "the key question" was the potential for political consequences of the assassination in the Chapare region of the Bolivian Amazon, and whether the atrocity would cause the coca growers' movement - referred to in the memo as "cocaleros" - led by Congressman Evo Morales to, as a result, "regain some of the momentum they have lost."

"Casimiro Huanca," wrote the U.S. Embassy official, "was considered a die-hard cocalero in Evo Morales camp."

"The Chapare had been, since November 21," wrote the Embassy official, "relatively quiet and Morales forces had been unable to regain any initiative. Now, a strong Morales supporter has been killed, apparently by the military. Whether the cocaleros will take advantage of this incident and regain some of the momentum they have lost is the key question."

The document, dated 2001, does not have a specific date, but by definition would have had to have been sent between December 6 and 31 of last year. The document number is: 2001LAPAZO4988. It was sent to the U.S. Secretary of State, the National Security Council, the U.S. Embassies in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) headquarters in Washington and other U.S. agencies, including the State Department's Air Wing at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.

Lies and More Lies

Although the Embassy cable disclosed doubts about the Bolivian military claims of having fired from a distance, it repeated disinformation that, at the time, the Bolivian government had been promoting.

The full document is now available online:

Although the Narco News White Paper on the Assassination of Casimiro Huanca established, with testimony from eyewitnesses and local officials, including the mayor of Chimoré, that farmers had staged a peaceful protest on the side of the road, the Embassy cable repeated unsubstantiated claims by Bolivian officials that the farmers had been blocking the road.

"On December 6, at approximately 15:45, two campesinos were shot during a skirmish with counternarcotics security forces that were trying to remove a blockade of bananas and pineapples from the main road in Chimore," wrote the Embassy official. "A group of campesinos belonging to the Chimore Federation attempted to block the main road in Chimore (the Cochabamba/Santa Cruz Highway) using hundreds of stalks of bananas and thousands of loose pineapples as material for a blockade."

The violence occurred, officials claimed at the time, because of the alleged blockade. "Personnel of the Chapare Expeditionary Force (FEC), having been pre-warned, attempted to clear the road as it was being blocked. As the crowd grew larger and started to threaten the security forces, the police who were supporting the operation used tear gas in an effort to disperse the crowd. The crowd became one large mass as the campesinos continued to advance on the FEC causing both campesinos and security forces to receive the full effect of the gas."

But Chimoré Mayor Epifanio Cruz, among other witnesses, told Narco News last December that there was never any blockade of the road on that day:

"The military says that the farmers were in the road, blocking the road. That is not true," insisted the mayor. "The farmers were along the side of the road, handing bananas and fruits to passing motorists, as a protest of the 'alternative development' programs that have left them with rotting fruits and no market to sell them. It was a peaceful demonstration, not a blockade."

"The compañeros invited the soldiers to eat the pineapple, and some did. Then came the commander giving orders. The soldiers took all the pineapples, all the bananas away -- moments before they had been receiving them as gifts -- and the soldiers became very aggressive. They grabbed our brothers like they were animals, pushing and pulling them. They kicked them. I saw one farmer get kicked in the back of the neck. The farmers fled into and behind the union headquarters."

Mayor Epifanio Cruz

Photo: Al Giordano, D.R. 2001

Mayor Cruz also told Narco News that he was standing near the soldiers as the farmers were chased away from the road and behind the union headquarters. At no time did the farmers "advance" on the military troops. In fact, they were fleeing from the tear gas and beatings that the soldiers were administering.

The version sent last December by the Embassy official was pure fiction. It said, "At one point, apparently feeling threatened, some military members fired into the crowd resulting in injuries to two campesinos. Fructuoso Herbas was wounded slightly above his right ankle. Casimiro Huanca, the main cocalero leader for the Chimore Federation received a gunshot wound in the groin on the left side that exited his left thigh apparently severing an artery. Huanca died a short time later at the Chimore hospital. (Note: Casimiro Huanca was considered a die-hard cocalero in Evo Morales camp. End note.)"

However, as eyewitnesses told Narco News last December, no shots were fired into any crowd. Both Casimiro and Fructuoso (interviewed in the hospital by Narco News) were shot at point blank range. The soldiers who had chased Casimiro and Fructuoso shot them individually, one at a time, at point blank range.

Fructuoso Herbas, in Hospital, the Day After the Shooting

Photo: Al Giordano, D.R. 2001

But even as the U.S. Embassy cable repeated the disinformation of the Bolivian government, it admitted a key fact: That the "anti-drug" soldiers had assassinated Casimiro Huanca and that the nature of Huanca's fatal wound precluded the official story that soldiers had mistakenly fired into a crowd.

Instead of correcting the record to the press and public, the U.S. Embassy of Viceroy Manuel Rocha chose to remain silent, and allowed the lie to spread.

Casimiro Huanca was 55 years of age. A memorial plaque now placed at the roadside where he was assassinated says, "Casimiro Huanca Choque, Executive of the Chimoré Federation, Hero, Coca Grower, Fallen in the Defense of National Sovereignty, December 6, 2001."

Casimiro Huanca: 1946-2001

for more Narco News, click here

Casimiro Huanca: ¡Presente!