-- Simón Bolívar
"Ay, but why do they make him out to be so ugly when Señor Banzer is so pretty?" asks Mexican foreign minister Rosario Green of the Bolivian president in this December 1998 La Jornada commentary by Helguera
For the first time in 18 years, Bolivian President Hugo Banzer has convened his high military council to plot the repression of a wave of citizen protest that engulfs that South American country.
Bolivia's "democracy," always as fragile and in quotations as that of Perú, is on the verge of regressing back to the bad old days of military rule and repression.
As a Narco News advisor pointed out to us: "Why am I suddenly reading the name of Perú spy chief Montesinos everywhere when during all the press coverage of the Spring elections he was barely mentioned?" Good question. Narco News offers the following answer: Washington is stage-managing a huge media circus around Montesinos and his jet-hopping from Peru to Panamá to distract from behind-the-scenes maneuvers throughout América.
The total failure in the first weeks of the $1.3 billion dollar "Plan Colombia" military intervention is one of the stories that Washington wants to supress. As Congressional Democrats who were key in constructing the plan send messages that they might back away from it after the November elections, the US Ambassador to Colombia yesterday signed contracts with that government that commits the US funding into next year, stripping the next Congress from any power to stop the dollar hemorrhage. Not a mention of this in the English-language press; everyone is chasing Montesinos and Fujimori, who is flying to Washington, DC for instructions as we write.
The Perú-Panamá-Montesinos circus has pushed more than the fracasing Plan Colombia off the media docket. It has eclipsed the coming crisis in Bolivia, where the US has staked its South American gamble with a $4.5 billion dollar "Plan Bolivia" in exchange for Banzer's military cooperation with Plan Colombia and the fracasing war on drugs.
The Pentagon needs Bolivia to escalate the Colombian war. Specifically, it needs airfields. $4.5 billion dollars worth of airfields!
The US airbases in Manta, Ecuador, and San Salvador, El Salvador, are under increasing scrutiny and regulation by the congresses and opposition parties of those countries. Previous plans to use airfields in Chile to launch Colombia-bound warplanes went up in smoke with the election of former Allende minister Ricardo Lagos as President early this year. Madeleine Albright's recent negotiation with Argentina to use airfields there (under the euphemism of "logisticial support" for Plan Colombia) fell apart after one week: Brazil, Chile (and Europe?) made certain of that. From Venezuela the gallop of Bolívar's horse grows louder; a horsepower fueled by oil and the resurrection of OPEC and Venezuelan democracy together.
The US military in South America increasingly resembles a homeless juvenile delinquent in the streets, armed with knives but not common sense, that belongs in reform school before he kills again. Not the Pentagon's School of the Americas (where Montesinos and at least one of the generals accompanying him to Panamá learned their terrorist skills), but, rather, the school of democracy, sovereignty and human rights in which the US State Department, the CIA, the DEA, and other agencies have failed every course.
Just as Washington made its move on Banzer's Bolivia, the Bolivian people have risen up. A majority of the states in that nation are paralyzed from peasant blockades. What provoked them: The War on Drugs. The teachers of the nation are on strike: the students are busy anyway, fighting for their country and against their government. The Bolivian State has thrown the leader of the Teachers Union in jail, but the strike marches on. Washington has underestimated the rising conscience of Bolívar's América. Did they expect the Bolivian people to go along quietly with the New Colonial Plan?
These times call for better analysis by authentic journalists and Civil Society. Don't be distracted by the hype. Washington is managing both Fujimori and his "opposition" in Perú, and still is losing its grip. That's because the events in Perú are shaped increasingly by the context provided by its neighbors. Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador... these are the places where Bolivar's dream of a united América is awakening. Fujimori, Montesinos and "opposition leader" Alejandro Toledo are ballerinas in the dance company of choreographers in Washington and Langley.
The flash point that urgently needs more attention today is Bolivia. Spread the word across the world by Internet and every other means: The coming hours may decide whether Bolivia regresses back to military dictatorship, or the social movements surge forward to redraw the map on Our América.
The Narco News Bulletin
from the daily Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Bolivia
Thursday, September 28, 2000
The People Are Anxious for an End to the Conflict
The country's situation is difficult. While the government announces means to resolve the crisis and the private businessmen demand a jump-start for the economy and the convocation of a political summit between officialists and opponents to ratify that democracy continues, peasants, coca-growers, professors and other sectors with unmet demands began to unite their platforms and seek a coordination in their actions to resist the governmental offensive.
The Catholic Church again pleaded that both parties desist in violent attitudes and the population of the cities that doesn't participate in the movements actively is anxious to return to normality.
Coca Growers Swear They Will Respond "Bullet for Bullet"
The coca producers yesterday gave an ultimatum to the government for a positive response to the demands of all the sectors of the country. If not, they will harden their means beginning on Sunday until the President resigns from office.
This determination, that does not imply a rupture in the dialogue, was stated yesterday during a public assembly in the town of Shinahota (along the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz highway) in which representatives of the six federations of coca producers in the Cochambambino Tropics, as well as neighboring leaders, rural teachers and representatives of the neighborhood organizations of the region.
The coca growers pressured the Parliament to call for presidential elections in 2001 if there are no solutions by the Sunday ultimatum date.
The second point of the ultimatum is the determination of the assembly to respond "bullet for bullet" to the previous attacks by the government. The threat emerged after the death of two more coca producers in Chapare was announced.
Two More Deaths: There is Fury in Chapare
The death of a senior citizen poisoned by tear-gas and the discovery of the cadaver of a canoe conductor, who presumably died at the hands of military soldiers, heated the spirit of the inhabitants of Chapare even more.
The two recent deaths were confirmed by a representative of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights in the zone, Verónica Ramos, and by the co-regent of the town of Vinchuta, Leonardo Romero.
The first of the deaths was identified as Benigno Pérez. According to the Human Rights report, he died on Tuesday night in Vinchuta, from asphixiation by tear gasses.
The second victim, they said, was an unidentified canoe conductor who the people know only by his title: "The Canoero." The Canoero participated on the night of the battle in Vinchuta, but afterwards was declared as disappeared. Yesterday they found his body by the Ishinuta River with clear signs of having been beaten. There are no independent reports that confirm the cause of death, but witnesses said that he was victim of a beating by soldiers of the Mobile Rural Patrol Unit (UMOPAR).
In an intent to avoid reprisals over the still unclear causes of these deaths, the UMOPAR Commando in Chimoré organized a meeting with teh families of soldiers that participated in the recent actions. The means was interpreted as an operation to protect the soldiers barracked in Chapare who fear threats of vengance from the population.
Banzer Meets with the Armed Forces
from the ANF News Service, La Paz, Bolivia
Thursday, September 28, 2000:
Military chiefs met with the commander in chief as has not occured in the last 18 years of democracy: in this mode, Hugo Banzer leans toward a "military solution" to the grave social crisis.
The General Captain of the Armed Forces and the President of the Republic will meet on Thursday with the Comandantes of the Large Operating Units to "put an end" to the complex panorama that the country has lived for more than 15 days, according to official sources.
The "emergency meeting" will be attended also by the High Military Leadership, the Comandantes of the large units of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. The commander in chief will hold a meeting with 30 high ranking military officials to finish the details of the application of a military plan against the blockades of highways.
On Tuesday, the President of the Republic was "invited" to the Miraflores Military Base to meet for three hours with the high military command and evaluate the social situation that sweeps the country.
"This Thursday's meeting will be at the same level in that the Comandantes of the Large Units will be duly informed about the military role in moments of crisis," said various military chiefs consulted last night by ANF.
Military spokesmen of the General Headquarters and politicians allied with the Government Palace confirmed to this agency that the meeting with the President "is constitutional and unrelated to any change in the structure of the Executive Branch."
Several military leaders and politicians consulted expressed their "profound concern" over the holding of the meeting between Banzer and the Armed Forces, because according history, during the last 18 years there has not been a session of "similar size."
Update: 10:46 a.m. EST 9/28/2000
As mentioned in a prior press briefing, this is the second time this year that Bolivia has come to the brink of civil conflict. The first battles were crushed when President Hugo Banzer declared martial law.
Under the Bolivian constitution, the commander-in-chief may only call martial law once every calendar year. Thus, the military repression planned today by the Bolivian government will provoke a constitutional crisis as well.
For a blow-by-blow history of the battles earlier in the year within Bolivia, see the excellent reporting of the Cochabamba-based Democracy Center:
That conflict began over rising water prices due to the privatization of public water supplies. The Democracy Center provoked an interesting response by the World Bank denying that it was involved in the water privatization scheme. The Center's response to the World Bank is also very interesting.
We continue to be impressed by the sophistication of the Bolivian social movements who are drawing alliances and connections between matters of environment, labor, the drug war, democracy, justice and human rights. It is a movement that shall not be extinguished easily.
Photo of recent mass protests in Cochabamba by D. Kruse, The Democracy Center
Update: 12:32 p.m. EST 9/28/2000
From Notimex News Service, La Paz, Bolivia
Coca-Cola Factory Closes in Panic
Foreign Diplomats Flee Their Residences
By José Luis Lupo. (Notimex)
11:32 A peasant rebellion now in its 10th day that has La Paz under siege alarmed various foreign diplomats who preferred to sleep away from their residences, and caused the closing of various factories, Bolivian authorities inform.
No diplomat would confirm the press version about the decision to leave their residences, but the temporary closing of the local Coca Cola bottling plant, subsidiary of a Chilean firm, was reported by spokeswoman María René Duchén. "We have to monitor the security of people and installations. The return to normal activity will depend on how the conflict evolves," she said, noting that other factories in the neighboring city of El Alto also closed. Analysts and local media attributed the panic to an apparent government indecision to resolve the peasant blockades and a teachers strike that entered their 10th day, followed by various regional protests with social demands.
This social explosion, the worst that president Hugo Banzer has confronted in the midst of demands that he resign, has left six deaths and more than 50 wounded, an equal number arrested, and losses of more than $100 million dollars, according to the Minister of Economic Development.
Pentagon School of the Americas Graduate Vladamiro Montesinos
Pentagon School of the Americas Graduate Hugo Banzer
Updated at 2:41 p.m. EST 9/28/2000
From La Razon, La Paz, Bolivia
Thursday, September 28, 2000:
ROCKS AND TRENCHES ON ROADS: The peasants have stamped a seal of efficiency in the blockade of roads and highways. Before, stones and trees crossed some points of the roads. Today, rocks, enourmous and small, earth, debris, occupy the highways wide and long. Also, they have dug tranches in some points to prevent utilization of the roads.
WITHOUT VIOLENCE, WITH STRATEGY: In the last conflict, the peasants headed into confrontation with the police and military forces. Today they use another method. When they see the soldiers coming toward the blockade they hide in places that only they know and leave the soldiers to remove the stones. After the soldiers leave they return and erect the blockades anew without problem.
SKI-MASKS IN ACTION: In this conflict, everything that comes from the cities to the country represents a risk and bother for them. The protect themselves by demanding identity cards or credentials. If they don't have them they send them away with threats and aggressions. And to not be identified by the forces of order they wear ski-masks.
FOOD IS DELIVERED TO THE BLOCKADES: The peasants have no problem to supply themselves or care for their lands. Every day a different community takes its turn blocking the roads while the other works on the farm. Or, if a family must harvest with urgency, they receive the support of others to comply with the orders of their leaders. Organized like this they don't lack food in the place where they protest.
THE BLOCKADE OF LA PAZ IS COMING: What once seems a far-away threat is today almost a reality. Day after day with their demonstrations and blockades, the peasants have advanced and arrived at the limits between city and country. Now they are working in the marginal neighborhoods. Yesterday they confronted the police in cities like Alto Pampahasi, in Achacalla, in Lipari, in the southern zone, and in El Alto.
The director of the United Union Federation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia, Felipe Quispe, announced on Tuesday that the peasants will surround La Paz in the style of the Túpac Catari in the 18th century.
Bolivian Soldiers, Yesterday, Preparing for Battle
Meanwhile, in Colombia...
Soldiers Who Shot at Children Exonerated
A Military Judge Concludes that the Death of the Children Was an Error Because the Children Were Confused with Guerrillas
From the Notimex News Service
Bogotá, Colombia 28/09/00
16:31 EST: Colombian Military Justice today exonerated the solders who last August 15th killed six minors in the Northeast town of Pueblo Rico from all responsibility after they confused the children to be guerrillas.
The Judge of the Fourth Army Brigade in Medellín, capital of the State of Antioquia, closed the case against 15 of the 30 soldiers that participated in the confused operation that ended in the death of the children.
The children had been enjoying a school walk near Pueblo Rico when they were attacked by a rain of gunshots that came from the ranks of the Armed Forces, according to witnesses.
At first, the high military leader denied that his men were responsible for the act and said that the minors entered the zone as the troops confronted a brigade of the National Liberation Army (ELN).
After weeks of investigations, the military prosecutor concluded that the soldiers shot in error against the schoolchildren and asked the Military Judge to investigate them and process the charges of homicide. (Notimex)
Stay tuned to Narco News for more reports throughout the coming hours. Background information on the conflicts raging throughout América can be found from our front page and also our archive of previous press briefings.
September 22-27 Press Briefing: Perú Analysis
September 21 Press Briefing on the Closing of the Geopolitical Drug Observatory
Archive of Press Briefings September 19-20
Archive of Press Briefings September 8-18
Archive of Press Briefings September 1-7
Archive of Press Briefings from August 24-30
This is your war. This is your war on drugs. Any questions?
More Plan Colombia News Beginning on our Front Page
Bolivia: Spotlight On