Issue # 17 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

February 3, 2002

"The entire continent, in spite of the governmental strategy, seems ready to rise up."

-- Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar

Narco News '02

América Rises Up

Against Drug War

Bolivia & the Brutality

of the "War on Drugs"

By Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar

From the daily La Jornada of Mexico City

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

La Columna Original en Español

Bolivia, trapped between the "war on drugs" and the free market, has entered the new year convulsed by protest, repression and death. In early January, the Bolivian president-by-default Jorge Quiroga decided to make the purchase and sale of coca leaf in the vast Chapare region, the eastern slope of the Andes mountains, smack in the center of the country, illegal.

Through a so-called "Supreme Decree," that is to say, a unilateral decision by the president that nobody voted for - just as Quiroga came to power a virtual unknown as vice president for the ex dictator Hugo Banzer, who today agonizes with terminal cancer - the ancient market of Sacaba where a large volume of coca leaf is bought and sold for traditional use in Southern Bolivia, was shut down.

The multitude reacted, outraged - the same as, it seems, a large part of the continent - and almost immediately. Thousands upon thousands of men and women, coca leaf farmers, the so-called cocaleros, inhabitants of diverse towns throughout the region whose subsistence is linked to the flow of the now-banned leaf, congregated in the principal highway of the city of Cochabamba. The brutal police-military repression against these despondent acts of protest has left more than ten civilians dead in recent days. This time, also, there were military casualties that scandalized those who make unsupportable decisions for the population. The civilian martyrs of the past year, when the people resisted the "forced eradication" of the only crop they can hope to sell, add up to more than fifty. Neither the pineapple nor the citric fruits nor the banana, which are the other products of the region, offer sufficient income to live with dignity. We, the Mexican people, know all about that.

The problem of the persecution of coca leaf in Bolivia is one of the most infamous stories in the drug war, imposed by the United States for more than a decade. Being ancestral, the indigenous and mixed-blood consumption of coca leaf in the entire Andean region, above all in the desolated mining camps and in the highest plains of the Aymara, "legal" areas were designated for its cultivation in 1986 - imposing on other regions the designation of "illegal" - and a rigid control of the markets was established. The production and circulation of "excess coca" - to use the words of the official speeches - was impeded with the claim that these leaves were destined to serve as materia prima in the fabrication of cocaine.

The innumerable battles to define the border between the legal and illegal zones for coca cultivation, the explosion of "new" coca groves ferociously resisted by those who know that the farmers have no other economic alternative with which to subsist, the corruption that surged from this absurd pretension of distinguishing between legality or not of a product according to its place of origin, the brutality and impunity of the "anti-drug" police agencies financed by United States money; all of this has touched the life of the region in recent years, making it one of the most conflicted, organized and radicalized in the country.

From these battles comes the most well-known leader of the coca growers, Evo Morales, national congressman now expelled from Congress and separated from his parliamentary immunity. The act of making the second most important coca leaf market in the country illegal, one that feeds the traditional consumption for half the Bolivian populace, marks the total elimination of recognition for the popular culture by the governmental elite. The expulsion of Morales makes his democratic participation null and void. They refuse to recognize, they persecute, the popular elected representative - the people voted directly for him as a uninominal member of Congress, with the highest legitimacy if we subscribe to the criteria of most votes obtained.

The weeks that come will be decisive. The official discourse of "enforcing the law" sounds emptier each day while the Bolivian social movement, rising since the year 2000, strengthens its unity and clarifies its objectives. The charismatic leader of the "Aymara Nation," the most numerous, important and politicized indigenous ethnicity of the country, Felipe Quispe, has expressed his backing for the coca growers' movement and prepares, for the coming weeks, a wide and drastic communal-farmer mobilization in the form of highway blockades from the top to the bottom of Bolivia.

The perseverant resistance in Argentina is washing away the principal pieces of Washington's consensus. The basic elements of the "war on drugs" speech that masks the rapier interventionism of the United States, are exploding with the mobilized rage of the Bolivian population that defends its coca leaf and its future.

The entire continent, in spite of the governmental strategy, seems ready to rise up.

Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar -- -- a Mexican academic, was prisoner in Bolivia from 1992 to 1997, accused of 14 crimes for her supposed participation in the disbanded Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army.

for more Narco News, click here

Journalism That Won't Back Down