Issue # 18 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

February 8, 2002

Update, February 9th:

Hardline Collapses

In the predawn Saturday negotiations with coca growers' leader Evo Morales, the embattled Bolivian government, faced with national paralysis from the blockades reported on below in Narco News, suspended Supreme Decree # 96415 this morning, relegalizing the sale of coca leaf in the Chapare region, reopening the Sacaba Coca Market and the coca farmers' independent media outlet, Radio Sovereignty.

The agreement, signed by the government, by Evo Morales, by indigenous leader Felipe Quispe and labor leader Oscar Olivera, calls for a 90 day truce between the government and coca farmers. Calm returns to Bolivia... for now. Congress will reopen case of expulsion of Evo Morales. U.S. Embassy, silent on the failure and collapse of its hardline anti-coca policy.

Yesterday's report by Narco News Andean Bureau Chief Luis Gómez, chronicling the immediate history leading up to this popular victory, appears below...

Narco News '02


Loses Ground

Blockades Multiply

Across Bolivia

By Luis A. Gómez

Narco News Andean Bureau

With the face of a young boy and a peaceful smile, the current president of Bolivia has never had the aura of firmness that the ex dictator Hugo Banzer maintained until the end of his last command. But the image of Jorge Quiroga is more deceptive, because his refusal to negotiate with the coca growers has become a new model of authoritarianism, accompanied by a hefty quantity of repressive acts in Cochabamba (don't forget, readers of Narco News, that in the last 13 months 59 farmers in the Chapare region have died in this dirty war and almost 50 leaders continue being held prisoner illegally in the jails of Cochabamba).

But let's take this story step by step. The first thing is to remember that it's already been two weeks since they expelled Evo Morales Ayma from Congress. Evo spent 14 days in a hunger strike and the social protests did not stop in the City of Cochabamba. Even the Viceroy Manuel Rocha (the United States Ambassador) has celebrated the expulsion of Evo (according to what has become known in recent days, everything indicates that the Viceroy coordinated the legislators on the floor of the Congress from his office and later called various political leaders to congratulate them for the "success.")

In general, the government officials have dedicated themselves these days to reinforcing their rigid words, accusing Evo and his allies of being narcos and disqualifying all criticism without importance to its validity, even ignoring a query from a member of the European Parliament, the ultra radical Italian representative Marco Capatto, under whose initiative the Steering Committee of the European Parliament has sent a written series of questions to the Bolivian government regarding the expulsion of Evo, the aggressive policies of repression in recent years, and demanding a revision of the failing alternative development programs in the Tropic of Cochabamba. But during this time, all the progressive forces had time to reorganize and fight in solidarity alongside the coca growers of the Chapare and their top leader.

Blockades Paralyze the Bolivian West

Last Monday, tired of so much bullying, the coca growers began anew to close the highways of the country. Since then, there is almost no land travel between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, the eastern capital of Bolivia. At the same time, Cochabamba's social organizations, among them the youth group, "Water Warriors," has begun to organize lightning strike blockades inside the city limits, stopping traffic for various minutes at different locations. And every day in the mid-morning grand contingents of peasant farmers and urban workers organize a demonstration in the Central Plaza.

On the other end of the map is the United Farmworkers Federation, led by el Mallku, which has initiated the blockade of the principal routes in the Andean High Plains. On Tuesday, Felipe Quispe authorized the farmers' unions to begin the general blockade of highways, the suspension of the transport of food, and a march toward La Paz to surround the City.

From the small rural communities the farmers have so far succeeded in closing the principal access routes to the city of Ororo, to La Paz, to the exits into Chile and even the new highway that unites the country with Perú. Yesterday the urban peasants, the people who due to poverty had to migrate to La Paz, closed the road the joins La Paz with the city of El Alto for a half hour. Blockades are happening a kilometer from the office of the President!

Imagine the most vast and peaceful plains that you can. In the distance, snowcaps and flat land, the Andean peaks guard the scenery. In the pastures, some sheep and llamas pass the day calmly. And in the middle of all this, various dozens of peasant farmers, furious, "cushion" with tens of asphalt rocks, enormous trunks that cross the road, impeding the passage of any vehicle. Until the soldiers come a few minutes later to shoot the farmers and clean up the highway, throwing tear-gas grenades (with a type of gas prohibited by the various International Conventions on armaments, and purchased, certainly, with United States military aid).

These conflicts already have their first casualty: Last Saturday they killed the Aymara farmer Facundo Varcaye in the Ororo region, 500 kilometers south of La Paz. But the people don't give up. Only hours later, when the soldiers had retreated from the place, the farmers reinitiated the blockade and returned the stones to the road.

Today, with nearly all the Aymara and Quechua farmers conducting blockades (this indicates, at least, two million people), and threatening to continue them until Evo Morales is returned to Congress, there are already four cities affected by the struggle: Cochabamba, where even the market shopkeepers and the public transportation workers have stopped working; Potosí, the mining city in the country's South where new groups of peasant farmers have appeared who support El Mallku and the coca growers unconditionally; Ororo, where there probably won't be that much tourism for Carnaval this year (it is supposed to begin on Monday) and this means a loss of six million dollars for the local economy ("We are those who always lose our money and our lives, it is they who should lose now," is what El Mallku said when they asked him to lift the blockades to be able to conduct the fiesta in peace); and La Paz, particularly the Las Yungas region, where another large region of coca cultivation and also embattled campesino associations and in solidarity with their compañeros of the Chapare.

The government has finally begun to cede ground, cornered by the protests. But the blockades grow, they multiply and paralyze the economic activity in strategic points (remember, kind readers, that Bolivia ships almost 80 percent of its internal commerce by land). Tonight there has been a curious compass of hope…

Evo Returns

Yesterday, around noon, the coca growers' ranks asked Evo Morales to desist in his hunger strike, after 14 days. The leader agreed and decided to incorporate himself into the active fight. In the afternoon, Government Minister Leopoldo Fernández again rejected negotiating with Evo, insisting on calling him a murderer (remember Sacaba) and narco-trafficker. Some hours later, in a consensus achieved in an assembly of the Six Federations of coca growers in the Tropic of Cochabamba to ratify Evo Morales as its principal spokesman. And they had won this round with the authorities, with the surprise help of Ana María Romero de Campero, the Public Defender.

In an open letter Señora Romero wrote two days ago to President Jorge Quiroga, urging him to renew talks and criticizing his closed mindedness, she said: "the tactical errors in the application of your policies are bringing the country to an unsustainable violence. Some expressions of this attitude are the reluctance to open spaces of dialogue, (and) the refusal to recognize labor leaders…"

Tonight, the Public Defender has announced that the government accepted, finally, to sit down with Evo as representative of the coca growers, which, in any light, is a triumph. Tomorrow, maybe the mediation by the Public Defender and the Catholic Church will begin between both parties. The government also acceded to review the content of Supreme Decree 26415, that impedes the commercialization of coca leaf produced in the Chapare. There is hope that Evo Morales will be reintegrated into Congress.

What is certain is that something has been moving within the apparently closed structure of power in Bolivia... Stay tuned, because the stage is moving… The President and his accomplices are beginning to notice that their tactics have only provoked more ire on the part of the people… And not a word out of the U.S. Embassy… The War on Drugs (Bush's Andean Initiative) begins to unravel in the hands of the Bolivian people… Evo returns and fights anew alongside his troops… It's not the end, but the beginning…

Lee Ud. el Articulo en Español

for more Narco News, click here

Unraveling Tyranny With the Hands of the People