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November 16, 2001

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Narco News 2001

Bolivia Burning:

A Nation on the Verge of

U.S.-Provoked Uprising

A Narco News Global Alert

By Al Giordano

Bolivia is one of only three countries (with Colombia and Perú) in the world where the coca plant - source for cocaine and crack - grows. **

Bolivia is the only one of these three countries with no groups on the U.S. State Department's list of "terrorist organizations."

But today, U.S.-imposed drug policy is sowing the seeds of a violent storm in Bolivia that, although entirely preventable, is leading toward a rebellion that the hypocrites in Washington will later label as "terrorist" even as U.S. policy creates the phenomenon.

The fall of Bolivian General Hugo Banzer last summer - who came to power decades ago through a military coup - has provided Civil Society in Bolivia with a renewed hope to restore democracy, justice and human rights to this impoverished South American nation.

Indeed, just one year ago, Narco News broke the information blockade in the English-language press when social movements throughout Bolivia shut down the country's highways through citizen blockades and forced the Bolivian government to sign agreements with the populace that it has now broken. One of the results of our coverage was that the only English-language news correspondent in Bolivia, AP's Peter McFarren, had to resign in disgrace because we reported his own conflicts-of-interest with the Bolivian regime.

Unfortunately, neither the end of the Banzer dictatorship nor the fall of a corrupted journalist have brought change to Bolivia or to the media blockade of hard news from the country.

Every sector of Civil Society in Bolivia seeks to bring democracy to the nation. The indigenous want equal rights and autonomy. The coca growers want a drug policy for Bolivia that is decided by Bolivians and not imposed by the United States. A quarter-million retirees in this country of 8 million citizens - one out of every 30 Bolivians - have recently been denied their pensions because the government has squandered the nation's budget on the unwinnable drug war. The urban unions have repeatedly joined the rural farmers in social protest of the situation. Residents have repeatedly risen up against government plans to export Bolivia's water to copper mines in Chile as it attempts to privatize this natural resource and force Bolivians to buy their own water from private companies. Teachers and students alike have united in opposition to Bolivia's illigitimate government and the impositions from the North.

In other words, the Bolivian regime of President Jorge Quiroga faces opposition from every sector except two: the brutal military forces and the United States government, which, in the latest atrocity, is directly funding a "paramilitary" model of the kind it created, years ago, in Colombia, in order to attempt to stamp out the surge of democracy with repression.

Yesterday, three unarmed peasant farmers were assassinated by Bolivian soldiers on the nation's major highway. The farmers have begun blockades of the country's roads to demand that the government comply with land use agreements (known as the INRA law) it signed last year but has now broken.

This, as 4,000 Bolivian army troops were forced to retreat from unarmed peasant farmers who have just installed a blockade on the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz highway, the nation's main thoroughfare.

As the United States media pats itself on the back, claiming to have "rediscovered foreign news" in the wake of the September 11th tragedy, it continues to ignore the immediate history taking place in Bolivia, which will have profound consequences for all América.

Narco News thus begins anew our regular Press Briefings from Bolivia, translating the work of Latin American and other journalists so that the US-sponsored atrocity-in-progress will not occur hidden from the eyes of the rest of the world.

In the coming days, Narco News will make an important announcement regarding our coverage of the Bolivian Crisis. Stay tuned as the hand of history, once again, thunders from the mountains of Bolívar and U.S.-imposed drug policy meets its Waterloo on the high plains of Bolivia.

We begin today's press briefing with reports from the BBC (the only English-language news agency to report on yesterday's murder of three civilians by military troops) and reports translated from the Bolivian press on the growing blockade, the grievances of the nation's 250,000 retirees from whom the drug war has robbed their pensions, the unrest among other sectors of Civil Society, the direct U.S. sponsorship of and payment for a new paramilitary strategy to commit atrocities against unarmed civilians, and the talk among the population of the need to turn their peaceful protest into an armed struggle if the imposition does not stop.

The people of Bolivia want democracy. They want to make their own decisions on drug policy, economic policy and every other kind of policy. It now falls upon Civil Society in the United States and the rest of the world to stop Washington from its dirty work of preventing democracy in Bolivia.

From somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano, Publisher

The Narco News Bulletin

Reporting on the "war on drugs" from Latin America

Press Briefing

November 16, 2001

Today's News from Bolivia

From the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Friday, 16 November, 2001, 10:44 GMT

3 dead in Bolivian coca clashes

Clashes between coca farmers and government troops in Bolivia's central Chapare region have left three people dead and eight injured.

The coca farmers say the soldiers used live ammunition against protesters blocking the main highway to demand an end to the US-backed eradication programme.

The government says it wants to solve the crisis through dialogue, with the Roman Catholic Church as possible mediator.

On Wednesday, the Armed Forces denied they were using paramilitary personnel to maintain order and protect people engaged in eradicating coca plantations in Chapare.

From the newsroom of the BBC World Service

From the daily Opinión
Cochabamba, Bolivia, Nov. 14 2001

Spiral of Violence Grows

in Cochabamba Tropic

Coca-Growers Retake Bulo Bulo

and install the first blockade.

They threaten to block petroleum

fields and electricity plants

Coca-growers from the Cochabamba tropic retook the town of Bulo Bulo and succeeded in installing the first blockade of the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz highway, after three hours of confrontation with military and police officers. It was the most violent action of the past week. The coca growers threatened to take up arms to respond to the insults and annoyances committed by police and military soldiers and to radicalize their tactics with the taking of the petroleum fields and the electric power sources until their demands are addressed.

Luis Cutipa, vice president of the six federations of the tropic, said that the patience of the coca growers has run out because of the abuses that the soldiers commit as they have imprisoned, tortured and invaded homes in the towns of the tropic. According to the coca growers, yesterday was the most violent of the confrontations in the towns of Valle Sajta, Senda 6, Cristal, Cruce Nazareno, Bulo Bulo y Eterazama.

"We have already lost the fear of death. The federations are in a state of alert and we are going to radicalize our tactics in the coming hours," he warned. The coca growers count more than 80 peasants who were tortured by the "forces of order" and nearly 160 arrests that could increase dramatically if the soldiers decide to take reprisals. Feliciano Mamani, another coca growers union leader, confirmed the accusations, saying that there are "paramilitaries" in the region calling themselves the Expeditionary Forces and who are the ones that commit the tortures against the coca producers who are detained as they try to block the highway. He said that there are concrete cases in which various leaders have been beaten with hoses and billy-clubs and later set free: others are stripped of their clothes and left naked in the mountains. The leader Cutipa informed that the situation has become unsustainable. A wide coalition of leaders in Carrasco Tropic have decided to radicalize their tactics not only by blocking highways, but with means that could affect the petroleum fields and the electric power plants that exist in the region.

From the daily Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Nov. 15

Church: The Situation

in Chapare is Grave

"Violence and confrontation prevail."

"Pressures and threats (blockades) cannot be accepted"

"Such violence must not be countered by repression."

"In the name of the suffering people, we ask, once more, for dialogue and compromise."

This was the clamorous call of the bishops concerning the conflicts in Chapare.

They also deplored the events that ended the lives of seven people in the Paranti encampment, in Yacuiba, due to land conflicts. "Behind this violence is a structural injustice… the so-called INRA law (recognizing indigenous land rights) tries to redistribute, clean-up and establish land titles in favor of the peasant farmers, the indigenous, the migrant workers and the businesspeople willing to work their own land. It has only been complied with in the most minimum manner and the most dramatic consequences are in sight."

"All the relies on violence, creates violence… Clearly, human rights have been harmed in the Chapare. If people cannot circulate, meet with each other, have the necessary food and, still more, assemble physically," they demonstrate said Cardinal Julio Terrazas.

"The government should not make promises it can not keep. We note that many of the treaties signed with the Church have not been cumplied with," the Bishops' document states. In fact, on the previous night, the president of the republic, Jorge Quiroga, visited with the bishops to report on his brief tenure, a meeting in which the bishops urged him to solve the problem of social conflicts and to urgently apply measures to stem the economic crisis.

But the bishops in their "double plea" also called upon social sectors "to plant their demands in agreement with the possibilities of the country," and that all sides play their part in a climate of compromise and dialogue instead of violence and extreme positions.

El Mallku Supports

for the Coca Growers

The peasant farmers led by Felipe Quispe, "El Mallku," announced that he will give moral and material support to the coca growers and the peasants without land, and that the banner of the Movement to Socialism of coca growers union chief Evo Morales will be joined by his coalition.

The decision was made in the peasant farmers meeting that occurred in Peñas, in the high plains region and resolved to demand that the government solve the conflicts (with the landless peasants and the coca growers), according to a letter sent by the coalition to President Jorge Quiroga.

The Labor Syndicate of Peasant Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB in its Spanish initials) will also send its message of support to the landless peasants in the Yacuiba region, where on November 9th blood spilled leaving seven deaths, those of one landowner and six peasant farmers.

Quispe said that "the police must identify the hitmen that shot upon the farmers in the Yacuiba zone and should punish them for what they've done… And the government must explain why paramilitaries are now operating in Chapare."

The peasant farmers will organize mobilizations in various states next week in support to the landless peasants and the coca growers. They do not rule out a blockade of the nation's central highways.

Meanwhile, in the Capital, La Paz, hundreds of retired workers who have not received pensions held a protest march in the central streets of the city and entered Murillo plaza. This time they were not tear-gassed.

The retirees ask that they be pensioned immediately in the old system because the Pension Reform law that the government enacted left them without pensions.

The delegation of Ex-Miners of the 20th Century joined the march by the "sandwich generation" (those left without pensions by the new law), and warned that it will not leave the government seat until their pensions are granted according to the old retirement system.

It is estimated at the national level that 250,000 retirees were denied their pensions by the Pension Reform Law…

Added to this panorama of conflict was the decision by the Potosí Civic Council to launch a hunger strike demanding the construction of the Tarapaya-Ventanilla highway, approved by decree in the emergency zone due to the regional mining and development crisis in the state of Potosí.

There are "hit-men" in Chapare:

Air Force Calls them "Reservists"

Los Tiempos and agencies: Military authorities admitted yesterday that in the Chapare, the Expeditionary Task-Force (FTE, in its Spanish initials) are composed of 500 reservists that receive 600 bolivianos a month and that they can not be considered to be paramilitaries.

However, the Public Defender, Ana Maria Romero, reiterated her characterization that this type of organization is illegal under the Armed Forces Law and for that reason they are considered "hit-men."

Army Commander Juan Hurtado, and Armed Forces Commander Alvin Anaya, said that the reservists were incorporated for the task of controlling Chapare "due to the lack of (regular) troops."

The military authorities also said that the payment of the reservists in exchange for controlling the Chapare is covered by an anti-drug agency called the NAS, that is funded by the United States, and that each reservist receives 600 bolivianos ($88.75 US).

Hurtado said that the conscripts have the mission of keeping the roads of the Chapare open and that they are necessary because of their experience in this kind of job. But he admitted, also, that "it is true that violence is used, but it is a well-administered violence and actions to cause fear, nothing more."

The Army has entered the region with an adequate team, trained not to to kill and to act as an anti-riot squad with the goal of controlling the coca-growers and avoiding the blockade of highways.

Meanwhile, the minister of Defense, Oscar Builarte, referring to the FTE, said that they are reservists in uniform and report to the officers in the region. He asked that they not be called "paramilitaries," because they are not.

According to Guilarte the military was given the power to conscript them in times of grave conflicts and this is that kind of situation. The use of reservists during peacetime is an ability of the Armed Forces.

According to military authorities, there are 30 categories in which the reservists can be called and one of them is social unrest.

It's the first time since 1929 that the Armed Forces has called up reservists… In all countries, the reserve is called only in cases of wartime.

How were they selected? This is another of the mysteries. General Hurtado said that they are reservists who concluded their military service in February… The specific task of the new force is to eradicate coca plants and bring security to the persons dedicated to this task.

From the daily Los Tiempos, Nov. 16

Violence Explodes Again

in Chapare: 3 deaths

Evo Morales announces "armed war."

"This will not be forgiven."

The call for peace by President Jorge Quiroga and the Church did not last long. The response: Three deaths by bullet, blockade attempts, confrontations, tear-gassing, detentions and 18 people wounded by bullets in the towns of Shinahota and Senda 6, on the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz highway.

"Now this is going to end up with an armed struggle, because we're not going to forgive this easily. We are going to continue with the blockades as a response to the blood that this Government spills in Chapare," was the immediate response of congressman and coca growers leader Evo Morales Ayma, from the town of Eterazama, which has been virtually surrounded for 12 days.

However, the government's version is that the deaths occurred when more than 400 coca growers surrounded a truck of 15 troops of the Armed Forces and tried to take their guns away.

The dead were waked in open highway provoking an interruption of traffic on the principal highway of the country.

Only a few hours before that, President Jorge Quiroga had asked the Church to mediate a peace summit in Chapare….

U.S. Increases "Anti-

Drug" Aid for Bolivia

In the midst of social crisis, aggravated by the death of three coca growers in the Tropic of Cochabamba, the government of Jorge Quiroga Ramírez yesterday received the backing of the U.S. Congress to eliminate drugs and narco-trafficking with $86 million dollars.

The sum represents an increase of 60 percent over funding for fiscal year 2001 which ended in October, in a total global budget of $128.5 million dollars approved by the North American Congress, according to a report by the US Secretary of State.

President George Bush asked for a total of $731 million to fight against drugs in the Andean region… "The culmination of this negotiation resulted in a reduced amount of $625 million with a explicit language to support Bolivia," the Department of State emphasized.

**Correction and Update (11/17): Regarding our first paragraph in which we stated that Bolivia, Colombia and Peru are the "only" three countries where coca grows, an eagle-eyed reader, Andrew Grice, corrects us: "I wish you'd phrased this another way," writes Grice. "As written, it's not exactly true. Coca-Cola gets their legal supply of coca leaf from a guarded plantation in Hawaii."

We regret the error, particularly because we were already aware of this fact but sometimes find the drug war propaganda so omnipresent that we forgot momentarily that this government-licensed coca plantation in Hawaii makes the United States the fourth country that produces the coca plant. Obviously, this further demonstrates the hypocrisy of US policy in the Andes.

Background Info

See Nov. 21, 2001 Updates

Archives of Last Year's Press Briefings on Bolivia:

10/5-10/2000: Five Days That Shook Bolivia

10/3-4/2000: Generals Don't Want to Fight Bolivian People

10/1-2/2000: Zero Hour in Bolivia

9/29-30/2000: Bolivia, US, "Narco-tize" the Conflict

9/28/2000: Spotlight on Bolivia, in Context of Perú and Colombia

The Fall of AP's Bolivia Correspondent:

McFarren Part I

McFarren Part II

Washington Post Report on McFarren's Fall

For More Narco News, Click Here

Breaking the Info Blockade About the Blockade