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March 6, 2002

"They call us narco-traffickers. Who calls us that? The narcos who are in Congress! The Zapatistas say 'Ya Basta! Enough Already!' Well, now it's our turn to say 'Enough Already!' Enough of the misery and oppression, enough of the impositions of the United States government… Now is the time that the government must serve the people."

-- Evo Morales, Presidential Candidate in Bolivia

Acceptance Speech

March 5, 2001

Narco News '02

Little Asa and the

Hidden Nation

A Tale of Two Bolivias

By Luis Gómez

Narco News Andean Bureau Chief

Lee Ud. Este Articulo en Español

March 5th was a day of extremes in Bolivia. In the morning, in one of the most luxurious hotels of the East, in the Amazon city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the boss of the DEA, Asa Hutchinson, found himself amidst a mountain of bureaucrats from different countries for the 20th International Drug Control Conference.

But by nightfall, in the Andean western corner of La Paz, more than 5,000 peasants from all regions of the country proclaimed Evo Morales, the coca growers' leader, as their candidate for President of the Republic in the election that will be held on June 30th.

From one extreme to the other, let's go together to both locations, comparing their words and so that we can deduce what is happening.

We go first to the Conquistador Salon (notice the symbolism of the name) in the Los Tabijos Hotel. The dark suits of the anti-drug czars, the special prosecutors and the bureaucrats of drug enforcement from half a hundred countries found themselves in the middle of a humid heat wave.

Look over there, at the man with almost white hair, chopped military style, with the face of a good little boy, offering hugs and smiles accompanied by a few words in Spanish. His black suit glistens when he stands onstage and thanks Bolivia for its hospitality, declaring that his government, with its seat in Washington, continues and will continue supporting President Jorge Quiroga in the fight against drug trafficking and the eradication of the sacred coca leaf. It's Little Asa Hutchinson, the chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), one of the most lethal instruments of gringo penetration in Latin America…

Meanwhile, a peasant's march paralyzes the principal avenues of La Paz, arriving at the auditorium where the Movement Toward Socialism party (MAS, in its Spanish initials) proclaimed Evo Morales - coca grower, former Congressman, declared a "terrorist" by the Gringo Viceroy-Ambassador Manuel Rocha - as its candidate for the nation's commander in chief. The people, festive and carrying banners, shouted slogans (I swear to you that this correspondent heard "Evo Yes! Yankees No!" in at least four original languages of our América). They came from the South, the Center, from all the provinces, Quechuas, Aymaras, Garaníes and Chipayas, farmers and workers. This is about, as Evo affirmed some hours later, "the marginalized, the victims of savage capitalism, principally imposed by the United States."

But I digress, Narco News readers. We return now to the sweaty climate of the 20th International Drug Control Conference. In his inaugural speech, the Bolivian Foreign Minister, Gustavo Fernández, stunned the attendees: It turns out that this year, according to governmental statistics, this country is now producing twice as much marijuana as cocaine. According to the Secretary, in 2001 seven tons of marijuana were seized as opposed to four tons of coca paste and a half-ton of cocaine hydrochloride. Interesting, no? Because in spite of the diminished activity by narco-traffickers in cocaine, President Quiroga's Men, always obeying the dictates of the United States government, have exclusively dedicated themselves to combat the peasants who grow coca.

Now we move on calmly to the words of the Assistant Secretary of Social Development Oswaldo Antezana, the Bolivian bureaucrat in charge of eradicating the coca plant, of repressing the coca growers, even if that requires massacring them. He said that Bolivia has complied with its eradication quotas, that the task continues in the Chapare region, but has become more difficult, because the farmers have found new methods of planting: In small plots of three square feet, shadowed by large trees and far from the traditional cultivation zones. Antezana said, seriously and decisively, that because of that, the U.S. satellite images already are "not as trustworthy as before." And left the stage with an unexpected surprise: Although his speech was, in any light, a challenge to the authority of the United States, Little Asa Hutchinson hugged him and congratulated him as he left the stage.

Leopoldo Fernández, who, until yesterday, was the government's Interior Minister, also participated in the event. He recognized that the United States did not view his November talks and agreements with the coca growers of the Chapare enthusiastically (recall the Sacaba War over the traditional coca leaf marketplaces). Fernández, speaking about it today, insisted that his boss, his colleagues and he did everything they could to comply with the Plan Dignity (the local version of Plan Colombia). Upon saying goodbye, the now ex-number two man in the Bolivian government said that he leaves office with the clear conscience and said, "I hope that those on the outside take account of the balance," in an open reference to the government of President George W. Bush. And he assured that the government did all that it could do to comply with Plan Dignity to eradicate the excess and illegal coca crops and in the frontal assault on narco-trafficking.

Okay, then the Little Asa Hutchinson spoke, but with diplomatic grace eluded referring to the delicate issues in Latin America, such as the report cards handed out by the United States (the celebrated "certification" of nations in the anti-drug plan). He dedicated almost his entire speech to the subject of "ecstacy," that little pill that is so popular in the First World and that, in recent years, has begun to appear in Latin American markets. He did not respond with the usual arrogance that gringo officials are accustomed to use when his work was criticized. Asa Hutchinson seemed more in the vibe of the ecstasy of a convention of Bible salesmen in Salt Lake City than in that of a conference about drugs. He socialized, slapped officials on the back, and conversed with various colleagues from throughout the world…

What has happened? It's simple: Some days ago, the official U.S. State Department reports about Combat against Narco-Trafficking (the famous "certifications"), and about the state of human rights in the world, were released to the public. In them, and there are specific statements by some Bush administration officials, it became clear that Bolivia has stopped being the model student that shines the apple for the teacher in its homework of erasing the coca leaf from the map of the earth. And, of course, in the theme of Human Rights, the record of Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga is spiny: 57 assassinations by the State against citizens in the first 180 days of his government. And all this, for the very formal and juvenile President of Bolivia, has been an affront.

In its Human Rights Report, the United States said that the violation of these rights in Bolivia "continues being a problem in certain areas," athough in general, it says, the Bolivian government respects these rights. But in the combat against drugs, the Bush administration mentioned that the government of Jorge Quiroga (which began in August 2001) has suffered complications in harvesting success (such as the grand forced eradication campaign of 2000). Above all, the suspension of Supreme Decree 26415 (that the Sacaba War provoked) indicts Quiroga and his cabinet in U.S. eyes. It went so far as to state that Quiroga opposed the "Dignity Plan" implemented by ex-President Hugo Banzer.

Narco News Publisher's Note: Well what of the Washington Post columnist Marcela Sanchez's claim, last November, criticized by Narco News, that Quiroga was the "author" of that Made-in-Washington plan?

That's how it is. President "Tuto" Quiroga decided not to attend the 20th International Drug Control Conference, taking the wind out of poor Asa. In the days prior to the conference, the President's cabinet openly complained to the press of unjust treatment at the hands of Washington. The former Transportation Secretary (they're all "former" now because Quiroga replaced his cabinet on this same day of March 5th), Mauro Bertero, said that it is time to reallocate the forces and strategies that were central to Plan Dignity. "The principal idea man and architect of this Plan Dignity was named Jorge Quiroga Ramírez who today can not been happy with the attitude that publicly congratulates us but then releases reports that disagree with this congratulations." And he was quite hard on the U.S. State Department reports: "We must express our regret that some reports, often written by bureaucrats who sit at desks and whose only idea of what happens in this country is learned through the press, that they don't coincide with the dramatic efforts of a society like that of Bolivia that has been the first, most efficient nation in the reduction of illegal coca from which cocaine is produced."

Little Asa, before leaving here, gave a press conference. Hutchinson said that his Bolivian partners have not really been abandoned, and that's why the financial aid was increased for this year. It's all been a misunderstanding, he said… and holy ghosts!... it's only happened once. The bottom line, though, is that President Jorge Quiroga did not attend the conference.

The Hidden Nation Returns

Now, kind readers, on this day of extremes we advance a step down the Andean range. At exactly six p.m. on March 5th, in an overflowed auditorium, the most important popular political event in recent months occurred: the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) party convention, a political instrument for the sovereignty of the people. Thousands of peasants chanting, chewing coca leaves and awaiting their maximum leader: Evo Morales.

At this moment he is surrounded by compañeros, a floral wreath around his neck, being led, smiling, to the stage in the middle of the multitude. Here, the Kallawayas (Andean Medicine Men) grant him the benediction of the event, lighting the flame that burns the entire night.

Every possible movement of the Left in Bolivia is here tonight. The peasant farmers have come, but also the miners and the workers. Oscar Olivera (Winner of the Goldman Prize for the year 2000) and a delegation of the Water Board of Cochabamba are here, as well as the various urban political organizations, the intellectuals and the artists, like the legendary filmmaker Jorge Sanjinés, who with his works has put the problems of the Indigenous peoples of Bolivia in front of the eyes of the world for three decades. Get this: Even some officers from the nationalist wing of the Armed Forces are here tonight in support.

One of the first speakers was Leonida Zurita, the most important leader of the coca growers (and the most visible spokeswoman for the popular cause in all of Bolivia.) She praised Evo and told the assembled that they were not here merely to nominate Morales as a presidential candidate, but also to express their unfolding struggle in the formal terrain of politics. Later, peasant leaders from the different regions of the country spoke, repeating emotionally that this was their desire, that they were here because their consciences led them here. The people waved their Whiphalas (the flag of seven colors of the Aymara nation), blew whistles and banged drums.

Finally, the elder social fighter and recognized journalist of the Left, Antonio Peredo, took the stage to formally make the nomination: Evo must be the MAS candidate for president. Next, the writer Eusebio Gironda seconded the nomination and reminded everyone that a notary public was present to place his seal upon the popular vote in the auditorium. Gironda, his voice rusty and tired, pleaded vehemently that whoever was "in agreement with the nomination of Evo Morales Ayma" raise their hands. Thousands of hands shot into thair, the flags waved, chants and shouts ensued…

Evo took the microphone into his hands…

"Compañeros," he said, "we are going on a mission to fight for what is ours. As farmers and miners we are owners of our own natural resources, which, disgracefully, those who govern this country have sold to the foreigners." A nervous Evo thus began his first official act in the campaign (and, in accordance with the law, this event was broadcast live on national television). He spoke, then, of the wealthy, who say they are combating poverty. "How can they combat poverty when they have never lived it?"

Evo harshly criticized the traditional parties who ascribe to the neoliberal economic model and their "savage capitalism," proposing to put an end to the corruption, calling for a Popular Assembly as part of the government of this nation of 8 million and the creation of an Agricultural Bank to invest in the work of the small farmers, the artisans, the cooperatives and all forms of traditional communitarian production.

In a speech that lasted a little more than 20 minutes, Evo Morales Ayma took time to explain the necessities of his people, without forgetting his role as a leader of coca growers: "They call us narco-traffickers. Who calls us that? The narcos who are in Congress! The narcos in the Quemado (Burnt) Palace! (the White House of Bolivia)… The Zapatistas say 'Ya Basta! Enough Already!' Well, now it's our turn to say 'Enough Already!' Enough of the misery and oppression, enough of the impositions of the United States government… Now is the time that the government must serve the people."

The assembly interrupted him with chants and applause. And Evo, smiling and direct, tried not to forget anything, including in his speech the issues that can not be forgotten. "If we want to transform the system, we need to begin by transforming ourselves. Let us walk together to create a new country, a Pachacuti!" Near the end of his speech he reminded that in this country, in the power of 100 families, those who have more already can not decide the road from here. Morales asked each of the popular sectors to embark upon a brotherhood that allows the understanding of the particular problems of each sector as well as the common ones.

"We must be very clear about all of this, compañeros. If everyone remains clear, there will not be this government, there will not be this empire that we must suffer. And we are not alone in this fight against neoliberalism. Our allies will not abandon us, compañeros, and we will walk together with them… Power has never been able to cut our roots… This election will be held on June 30th, but our struggles will continue. Today, this confrontation is between conscience and silver. Be very clear about this: Human capital is more important than financial capital. We will not abandon each other," concluded Evo Morales Ayma, now presidential candidate of those from below.

The mass of people, happy, almost all of them dark-skinned, then began a festive march to the Plaza of Heroes, the popular meeting place, par excellence, in La Paz. Your correspondent decided to get to the computer. He knew that we'd all see each other soon enough and it was time to place ourselves in contact with the Narco News community…

On this night, the Hidden Nation placed its destiny back in its own hands. The die is cast. And Little Asa, for now, can sleep peacefully remembering his speeches about ecstasy and money laundering throughout the world. One of these days, if he's still at his job, the men and women of Bolivia are going to steal this dream.

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Steal This Dream