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November 23, 2001

Narco News 2001

Bolivia Suspends

Coca Eradication

Historic Talks Begin but

US Embassy is Enraged

National Coca Summit Begins Today, Mediated by the Catholic Church

Popular protests and blockades forced the government to suspend eradication and withdraw 4,000 troops from the Chapare region

US Embassy opposes the suspension; Bush calls Bolivian president to Washington woodshed; presidents will meet on December 6th

Unrest in the Military: Colonel accuses US Embassy of forming paramilitary mercenaries with "the most racist commanders" to bypass Bolivian Army because it is "90 percent indigenous"

Congressman Evo Morales: Bolivian Law 1008 specifically allows a "cato of coca" (a 40 by 40 meter garden) per family in the Chapare

Government hardliners insist on resuming eradication on Wednesday, regardless of the results of the talks

Indigenous leader El Mallku threatens "Christmas Blockades," to surround the capital of La Paz

Toll of 53 deaths, 500 wounded, due to US-imposed anti-coca policy

A Narco News Global Alert

By Al Giordano


Sometimes the lack of press coverage in the United States of the immediate history in our América suggests that a story is too important to be told. Some news has consequences to manufactured public illusions. Such is the case with the news, this month, from Bolivia.

The US-imposed drug policy of eradicating the coca plant, even for use as a food and sacrament by indigenous farmers, is a rotund failure that has only succeeded in destroying the economy of a nation, and it has destabilized the US-backed regime of Bolivian President Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga.

In recent days, Narco News has translated reports that indicate a Bolivia on the verge of social uprising and that members of the United States Congress are concerned about the price in human rights, militarization, democracy and justice exacted by the drug policies demanded by the US Ambassador in La Paz, Manuel Rocha.

United States press agencies - despite loud self-praise of "having rediscovered foreign news" post-9/11 - are not reporting the story.

Surely, it was news when the Quiroga regime sent 4,000 military and police troops to the Chapare region this month to forcibly eradicate coca.

It was news when the Bolivian press discovered that 500 illegal paramilitary forces were among those troops, and documented that they are funded by the United States, to do the dirty work of assassinating peasant farmers and social activists.

It was news when nine farmers were assassinated.

It was news when US Ambassador Manuel Rocha praised the bloodshed, in the Spanish-language press, as "heroic" and "sacrificial."

It was news when the farmers of the Chapare region of Bolivia announced plans to blockade the nation's highways in protest of the military invasion.

It was news when other social movements, including 250,000 retirees, joined in the social protests.

All this was, and remains, the news of recent days, that goes unreported in the commercial press.

Even now, when the Bolivian government, defeated by the popular protests, its economy in shambles, withdraws 4,000 troops from the Chapare region and suspends the forced eradication of coca, there has so far been no mention of the details in the US press.

Alone among the English-language press has been the French wire service, Agence France Press, with a report that appears below. But AP, UPI, Reuters, the New York Times (with at least three correspondents in South America), the Washington Post, the LA Times, CNN and the rest have chosen to ignore the fact that one of three coca-growing countries in South America has now suspended the program that eradicates coca plants because of popular protests against the policy.

The subplot is that the US embassy is hopping mad at the decision to suspend eradication, has begun behind-the-scenes pressure tactics against the democratic institutions of Bolivia, and that President George Bush has called Bolivian president Jorge Quiroga to Washington on December 6th to reiterate the US position that, when democracy conflicts with drug policies imposed by the US, democracy must be stopped at all costs.

Here is the hard news and immediate history from Bolivia.

From somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano, publisher

The Narco News Bulletin

Today's Press Briefing

November 25, 2001

From Agence France-Presse, November 22, 2001:

Bolivian govt, coca

unions reach accord

The Bolivian government and unions representing coca growers reached a peace deal Wednesday, agreeing to an end to road blocks by protesters, demilitarization of the coca- growing Chapare region and a pause in the eradication of illegal coca plantations, officials from both sides said.

Negotiators, including lawmakers, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and activists, also agreed to hold a "coca summit" this month, Interior Minister Leopoldo Fernandez said.

Lawmaker Evo Morales, who has acted as the coca-growers' leader, said he had ordered a halt to road blocks on Bolivia 's main highway, the scene of repeated and sometimes deadly clashes between protesters and police.

The nearly 35,000 families who make their livelihood from growing coca -- the plant that is the base ingredient of cocaine -- have been demonstrating periodically over the last 18 months, demanding an end to the coca eradication program.

Radio reports from the region said the local population had greeted news of the accord with jubilation, expressing hope that life in Chapare will now return to normal.

Two weeks of clashes between protesters and security forces have left three people dead and at least 30 others wounded over the past two weeks.

The conflict has claimed 53 lives in the past four years while 500 people have been wounded....

From the daily Los Tiempos/La Prensa news agency
Cochabamba, November 22, 2001

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

New Forces Do the

Dirty Work in Chapare

The Expeditionary Task Force that entered the

region is infiltrated by "mercenaries"

The High Commander of the Armed Forces has problems. A retired colonel, that is spokesman for a group of officers, denounced that the Expeditionary Task-Force is infiltrated by "mercenaries" that do the "dirty work" in the Chapare and are commanded by racist officers.

The existence of the Expeditionary Forces was denounced by the Public Defender, Ana Maria Romero de Campero. She said that it's about "mercenaries" recruited by the Army who violate the human rights of the farmers who produce coca.

Up until now, the High Military Command has not directly justified the creation of these forces, taking into account that an order from the Minister of Defense and the approval of the National Congress would be required.

The colonel interviewed said he would prefer to run the risk of speaking about the "expeditionaries" than maintain a complicit silence.

Q. When was the Expeditionary Task Force created?

A. The idea has been thought about for some time. But this process was made concrete in December of last year and January of this year, when between 1,000 and 2,000 persons were recruited, I believe, for this mission. The argument was that it "would not be good to compromise the institution with dirty work."

Q. Why does the Army need a special force like this one?

A. At the international level, indigenous or ethnic uprisings have started by identified as a "new threat" to the political system, apart from terrorism, drug trafficking or subversion. And in the face of this "new threat," the Army of a country needs to take on "new roles."

Q. Where in the international discussion has this supposed "new threat" been identified?

A. In short, this came already prepared from the United States. The military chiefs don't command anything here. They receive all their instructions from the Embassy.

The North Americans believe they can't trust the Army because 90 percent of the troops are of Aymara, Quecha, or Guaraní indigenous origen. Among the officers, fifty percent are of indigenous origen.

Q. But then, who belongs to the Expeditionary Forces, if not the same soldiers?

A. The most reactionary, racist and notoriously discriminatory officers. There are civilians among the troops, but those that command are members of the Army. For example, there are officials there that were in the reserves, known for conducting the massacre of Garcia Meza.

Q. How do the military officials view the creation of this expeditionary force?

A. The expeditionaries are now a para-police force. The active officials absolutely reject that. It's that this mercenary force has been created to substitute the Army. The bad feeling has had repercussions in the form of a lack of discipline.

Q. A lack of discipline on the Army Bases?

A. In the Chapare, there have been examples of soldiers and officers being mistreated. They live in large tents, clothes and food arrive late, they live, really, in the conditions of the poor. Oh, when those soldiers begin to discuss this openly! Nobody pays any attention to the commanders. The officers are also rebelling.

Q. Are the expeditionary forces treated better?

A. I don't know if they are paid $1,000 dollars a month as I read somewhere. I don't think so. What I know is that they are contracted through the Minister of Defense and the Interior Minister. The commander of the Army (General Juan Hurtado) knows all of this. Maybe the NAS (the US anti-drug agency) doesn't pay for all of it. Maybe they are also paid through the National Budget. It could be anything because what the Embassy says, goes.

Q. Are there rules that define the limits of the expeditionary actions?

A. There should be, but I don't know. The Army shouldn't even be used for tasks of domestic security. Before accepting that the police have been overwhelmed, the government should give the police all the equipment, uniforms and weapons they need.

The mercenaries work with high-caliber weapons. It's function is to repress and to punish. The soldier of the Army is inhibited from doing that.

The Plea of the Defender

The Public Defender, Ana Maria Romero, awaits an explanation from the Armed Forces about the formation, legal grounds, command system and realm of the activity of the Expeditionary Task Force in the Chapare.

The defender's office solicited a written report from the Expeditionary Forces commander, Colonel Aurelio Burgos.

The official then passed the petition along to his superiors.

The Armed Forces should state the constitutional, legal or administrative rules that allow the creation of the expeditionary forces, detailing the area of action that they are involved in, the specific line of command on which they depend, the geographic area in which they operate and the mechanism for contracting the recruits.

The ex Defense Minister, Oscar Vargas, has said that there is nothing illegal about the creation of the "expeditionaries."

From the daily Los Tiempos

November 24, 2001

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

Truce in the Chapare:

Here comes the Coca Summit

By Norman Chinchilla

Special Correspondent, Los Tiempos

And the white smoke signal rose from Chapare. After 18 days of conflict and more than eight hours of talks, a National Coca Summit will have to find a solution to the problems that bother the coca growers, as well as resolve the demand of a cato (a 40 by 40 meter garden) of coca per family.

This solution cannot be called definitive, but the Cochabamba tropic has returned to its normal tranquility, because the coca growers agreed to suspend their intents to blockade the highway and the government withdrew police and military troops to their bases in the Chapare, as well as suspended the task of eradication while the national meeting is prepared by the Catholic Church and the Public Defender.

These are the conclusions that ended the negotiation between governmental authorities and coca growers leaders Wednesday in Shinahota.

The Interior Minister Leopoldo Fernandez and Defense Minister Oscar Guilarte arrived in Shinahota yesterday, a little after 10:30 a.m. to begin talks with the coca growers….

The proposal to hold a "national coca summit" was proposed by the Interior Minister, after having listened for more than three hours to the complaints of various men and women, including one child, who suffer difficulties of being unable to bring their agricultural products to market and due to the conflict in the region that, in the past two weeks, has become "a war of soldiers against coca growers," as the child, crying, defined it…

The Church is in charge of organizing the summit, to be held in the city of Cochabamba next Tuesday…


of the News

October 15: The deadline given by the coca growers for the government to respond to their plea for the legal cultivation of a cato of coca per family.

October 18: An assembly of coca growers decides to begin a blockade on November 6th. The government, little by little, sends military and police troops to conduct "dissuasion tasks" (psychological warfare). President "Tuto" Quiroga announces an iron fist policy in the Chapare.

November 6: Military and police forces impede the blockade and traffic moves. Coca growers leader Evo Morales is stopped from leaving the town of Eterazama, where he remains until the end of the conflict.

November 9: A massacre in El Chalco of six landless peasants creates momentum on the side of the coca growers of Chapare.

November 13: President Jorge Quiroga visits the bishops meeting in Casa Maurer in Cochabamba. The Church pleas for the Chapare to be made a priority.

November 14: The Church insists on talks in Chapare. The Armed Forces admit the existence of "hit men" (members of the Expeditionary Task Force) in Chapare.

November 15: A confrontation between coca growers and military soldiers causes three deaths (of the growers) in the town of Senda 6 from bullet wounds. Eight more coca growers are wounded. The conflicts increase.

November 25, 2001

From the daily La Razon, La Paz, Bolivia

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

Embassy Invited

to Coca Talks

The warning, by the government, to resume the eradication of coca on Wednesday, has been met by an announcement by the coca growers that they will resume their vigils at the encampments of the eradicators. In this climate of confrontation, today the talks about coca and economic development of the region will begin at 9 a.m.

A pilgrimage to the Christ of Concordia and a mass will precede the opening of the meeting that continues to cause worry in governmental agencies connected to the anti-drug fight and also to the Embassy of the United States, that, according to the Governmental Commission of the House of Representatives, has also been invited to participate in the sessions that will be held at Don Bosco college…

Congressman Roberto Fernández, of the House Commission on Government, warned that if the dialogue fails it will be the responsibility of the government for intransigence in the talks, by having ordered a deadline of Tuesday to find solutions for the region.

The talks will be conducted behind closed doors.

from the daily Opinion, Cochabamba

November 25, 2001

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

A "Cato of Coca" is the

Theme Obligated by Talks

With strong disagreements over the production of coca in the Chapare, the government and coca growers sit down at the same table to seek peace in the Chapare and in the country

After a long conflict and with the fear of a rupture at any moment, the Coca Summit begins today in the coliseum of Don Bosco college of Cochabamba, under tight security. The mediators - the Church, the Public Defender and the Human Rights Assembly - have elaborated rules for the talks that seek an understanding between the parties to the conflict, said the Archbishop's press secretary Mariluz Bustamante.

The start of the anticipated meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sunday. The mediators selected are Monsignor Tito Solari for the Catholic Church, Public Defender Ana Maria Romero de Campero and the president of the Bolivian Human Rights Assembly, Waldo Albarracín. The attendance of the Interior Minister, Leopoldo Fernández, is confirmed. He will arrive to this city accompanied by two other ministers whose names and positions have not yet been announced. Representing the coca growers, logically, will be Congressman Evo Morales, but he will arrive accompanied by various leaders directly involved in the problem in the Chapare. The list of names had not yet been received yesterday by the Archbishop.

The cato of coca and Law 1008

Coca is the obligatory issue that will be dealt with in the talks that begin this Sunday in Cochabamba. The government and the leaders of the sector, plus private businesspeople and Civil Society in the region will give their points of view.

The president's office insists on a position that will not permit even a centimeter of coca to be cultivated in the Chapare. It remains to be seen if it is necessary to reiterate that on the first day of the talks that will be on the theme of Law 1008. The coca producers assure that the same Law 1008 allows it, because Article 12 "recognizes the small producers of coca in regions A and B," which corresponds to La Paz and Cochabamba, including the Chapare, said growers leader Leonilda Zurita. The debate will center upon coca and economic development for the state of Cochabamba. The application of Law 1008 in the region generates divergent positions between the coca growers and the government. The growers acknowledge and back Law 1008, because they consider that it guarantees protection to the small coca producers. The government has a different vision. "Thus, the first day will be dedicated to analyzing these two positions and we will have to come to a conclusion," said Public Defender Ana Maria de Campero. The meetings that begin on Sunday will concentrate on the issue of the Chapare and from there suggestions for future talks or investigations will come, said the Public Defender.

US Embassy Opposed the

Chapare Pact Until the End

From the daily La Prensa

November 24, 2001

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

"The president's chief of staff would like to speak with the Interior Minister, please." Leopoldo Fernandez, the Interior Minister, took the telephone while his aide asked everyone to leave the room, including the secretary of the deputy mayor of Shinahota. The problem was serious. The first agreement with the coca growers did not have the US Embassy's permission.

Wednesday, November 21: There was a heat-wave in the Chapare, in spite of a storm that could not turn off the oven that was the Cochabamba tropic at this hour.

The contact between Murillo Plaza and the street of this Chapare town was constant.

A journalist who traveled from La Paz and awaited a telephone call from his media commented that, on at least two occasions, the president's chief of staff had asked him to speak with Interior Minister Fernandez.

The matter was extremely delicate, because the minister sent to the Chapare had already admitted the possibility of suspending coca eradication for some days in the region.

While the Minister spoke with the capital of La Paz, the coca growers advisor Filemon Escobar left the meeting, smiling. He was the first to comment that the government had agreed to suspend the destruction of the crops.

There was incredulity among the journalists, because Fernandez - just minutes before meeting with the farmers' leadership and the government commission - had said that the elimination of the crops was not negotiable. The government's Minister of Information, Mauro Bertero, had said the same thing.

The gestures made by the government negotiator remained unauthorized by the government.

Representatives of the United States delegation were in constant contact with the Quemado Presidential Palace. The potential suspension of the destruction of the coca bush and a possible negotiation that would allow a cato (40 by 40 meter garden) of coca per family were unacceptable.

It is the US government that economically sustains a grand part of the anti-drug fight in the country.

It is with resources from that country that the troops of the Expeditionary Task Force are paid, a unit that - according to the explanation of the Military Command - was created to participate in the elimination of coca crops.

The necessity to bring peace to the Chapare was urgent. That necessity was felt by Minister Fernandez in the place of the conflict, but not hundreds of kilometers from there. The Interior Minister explained that there was no other alternative. It was accepted unwillingly.

The day after the agreement, he called a press conference in the lobby of his office, but not in the National Palace.

It was known that the president's office - through Bertero - tried to influence the statement that Fernandez read to the press.

The objective of the communiqué was clear: To establish Tuesday as the last day of the suspension of eradication.

In this light, it was proposed that the meeting begin yesterday and continue until November 27th.

During his meeting with the journalists, Fernandez was visibly tired. The circles under his red eyes revealed that he had slept little the night before.

After arriving in the capital from Chapare, Fernandez continued working. It was the moment to convince the Embassy of the need to have the agreement.

The government knows that the most likely outcome is that agreement will not be reached, but it seeks to demonstrate to the country that Evo Morales and his people don't have the will to find solutions. The objective seems to be to isolate Evo Morales even more.

The mediators of the coca talks are not ready to accept absolute deadlines and if the issues are not resolved by Tuesday, they will ask that it be extended.

However, the authorities don't seem disposed to accept an extension of the talks. And the Government Information Minister Mauro Bertero said that the deadline is Tuesday and that the eradication will resume then no matter what happens in the talks.

Background Info

Nov. 22, 2001: US Congress

"Disturbed" by Events

Nov. 16, 2001: Bolivia Burning

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

Democracy Confronts the Drug War