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January 23, 2002

Congressman Evo Morales Could Be Removed from Office This Week
Despite Being the Single Largest Vote Getter in Bolivian History
Photo: Al Giordano, D.R. 2001

Narco News '02

More Repression

vs. Coca Growers

The War Over Sacaba

A Report from Bolivia

By Luis A. Gómez

Narco News Andean Bureau Chief

It was the eldest market for coca leaf. For more than 100 years, peasant farmers had sold their products in it. That's why, when the Bolivian government's Supreme Decree # 25415 prohibited the sale of coca from the Chapare region in the Sacaba market (defining it as a product of illegal crops), the coca growers didn't think twice about marching through this town (14 kilometers from Cochabamba) to defend it.

Last Tuesday, January 15th, supported by other social sectors, members of the Six Federations of Peasant Farmers of the State of Cochabamba began a bloody week of field battles against the combined forces of the military and the police.

Last Saturday, after four days living in a state of war, Sacaba awoke to gun shots and with a result of four coca growers assassinated by the repressive forces of the Bolivian State. Three soldiers and one police officer also died in the conflict. On that day, convened by mediators (including the Catholic Church and independent Human Rights organizations), they decided to retreat from the town, not respond to the aggression, and begin a dialogue with the authorities. However, President Jorge Quiroga refused to dialogue with them, accusing the principal leaders of being murderers and ordering the round-up of 100 of them.

Evo Morales, federal congressman and leader of the coca growers of the Chapare threated to begin a national blockade of highways this week, as well as to surround the city of Cochabamba if his compañeros are not freed. Yesterday, in the early afternoon hours, the government responded with more accusations, and the arrest of Margarita Terán, one of the youngest and sharpest leaders among the coca growers. At the same time, congressmen from the governing coalition, following the dictates of the president, have gained the support of the opposition parties to remove Evo Morales from his Congressional seat and the immunity it grants him.

In spite of the fact that Civil Society has launched protests against the attacks, and that some jurists have declared the aforementioned decree to be unconstitutional, the government has not ceded in its pretensions to dismantle the coca growers' organization in the Chapare. In fact, with the four deaths last week, there are now 61 coca growers who have died in the last eight months of conflict - during the Quiroga presidency - and it has not ended yet.

In a gesture of solidarity with the coca growers, the Secretary General of the Farm Workers Federation (CSUTCB, in its Spanish initials), Felipe Quispe, aka El Mallku, has sent an ultimatum to the government: It has four days to free to coca growers' leaders. If not, the farmers will begin blockades of the highways in the entire nation. Although a resolution approving this action is still required from the national leadership of the peasant farmers, El Mallku has left it very clear in his declaration that he is not going to abandon the coca growers in their moment of need. This could mean a conflict of the dimensions of that which shook Bolivia in April of 2000.

Kind readers, this report has barely begun. Tomorrow, different questions will have to be resolved: the definitive posture of the Bolivian government (criticized by its own leading Human Rights officials), the probable removal from Congress of Evo Morales, and the active participation of the farmers' movement in the high plains region of the Andes. In this war against drugs that leaves us at the mercy of the United States government, the least powerful among us continue being the most rebellious. They, who could stay under the boot, instead refuse to lose their history and ancestral leaf… and Narco News will follow their steps in the coming days to keep you well informed of what comes next.

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