May 3, 2002
Narco News '02
Resists the War
I of a Series
By Luis A. Gómez
Andean Bureau Chief
"We have to fight
to legalize drugs"
Father Gregorio Iriarte
"The United States
has definitively lost the war on drugs"
Peruvian Journalist Ricardo Rumrrill
Last April 18-20, Narco
News had the opportunity to attend a conference about the
war on drugs in the city of Cochabamba. This event was part of
a series of four seminars with Civil Society in Bolivia to organize
anew and obtain peace and justice in the Chapare for the coca-growers,
these valleys, kind readers, a tree has grown for centuries whose soft leaves - la coca - were delivered by
the Gods to relieve men and women. But these gods now wander
in the netherworld quartered and sad, waiting for their children
to rebel definitively against the foreign power that represses
the centuries pass, the men and women resist and the
leaf does not leave them, even though the foreign power - from
its great White House - has decreed its death sentence.
And in this history of hostilities, during
the last five years at least 200 farmers have lost their lives
in conflicts with the different repressive corps of State. Last
November, soldiers armed by Washington moved to close the coca
markets. And the farmers, supported passionately by the rest
of the people, resisted in the Sacaba War. They were shot and
gassed, they were jailed, but they could not be defeated. In
those difficult days a group of honest and valiant people decided
to rethink the problem, to find better solutions than repression,
and to never again permit death and hunger, and misery, to ride
with impunity through the coca fields.
Members of non-governmental organizations,
of the unions, of the Catholic Church, of the youth organizations
and the rest of the people gathered in the Palestra Center of
Cochabamba to discuss a new focus, new strategies, to confront
the conflict. During the past four weeks they have organized
open seminars so that no issue is forgotten: the culture of the
coca leaf, human rights, the role of the Armed Forces, narco-trafficking
and its effects on the country, the mass media and the legal
questions raised by the conflict.
attended the third event, in which the different profiles of
the present fight against narco-trafficking in Bolivia were analyzed.
This correspondent met here with honorable military officials
who work on the side of the people, with impatient youth trying
to create alternative channels of information, with representatives
of neighboring countries, with social investigators and human
rights defenders, all decided to bring forward, together, a new
The proposals that all of them came to
after three days can be seen, in Spanish, at this address:
Now, we present a summary of what occured
in the gathering titled "The fight against narco-trafficking:
Objectives, models, results and challenges," and, next,
two interviews: with Father Gregorio Iriarte and the Peruvian
journalist and author Roger Rumrrill, panelists at the event
and experts on the issue.
Publisher's Note: Narco News will also publish,
as part IV of this series, the text of the presentation our own
Luis Gómez made at the invitation of these representatives
of Civil Society during the forum.
is a cool morning in Cochabamba. The
participants wait patiently for the discussion to begin. In front
of them is the moderator, retired Admiral Gildo Angulo and the
Catholic priest Gregorio Iriarte. The voices begin: Angulo explains
that it is not possible that the government of Bolivia, obeying
the orders of the United States, continues to punish farmers,
that it is not possible for the soldiers - poor and indigenous
like the coca-growers - continue shooting to kill their brothers
and sisters. In fact, remember that there is not a shred of evidence
that the coca-growers are narco-traffickers; "this is a
lie repeated a thousand times. A government that has delivered
our riches to transnational corporations, a corrupt government,
will never be able to solve the problem of the Chapare with bullets,"
says the admiral.
In his conclusions, Admiral Angulo proposed
the necessity to revise the utilization of military aid that
the United States provides. Later, questioned about the possible
role of the military in the future, he said, strongly, that never
again should the Armed Forces of Bolivia be used to fight against
What's this? An honest military leader, no more,
Next came the lucid intervention by Father
Gregorio Iriarte, who for the past 18 years has elaborated extensive
studies of the Bolivian reality. His bishop put him in charge,
for various years, to study the problem of narco-trafficking.
Here is part of what he said:
"I think it is very important to
distinguish between the four stages in the route between the
coca leaf and cocaine. The first is the production of the leaf.
Next, a second stage, when some people, using chemical precursors,
make a paste called cocaine sulfate, that we know here as pasta
base. The third stage comes when cocaine hydrochloride is manufactured;
the white and soft powder that comes from state-of-the-art chemical
laboratories; you don't find this in the Chapare. This is very
important, because when we speak of drugs (in Bolivia) we are
speaking of cocaine sulfate, not cocaine hydrochloride. There
is cocaine in Bolivia, but not a lot, and not a single farmer
in the Chapare produces it.
"The fourth stage is the sale of
cocaine in the grand markets of Europe and the United States.
The last two stages have traditionally been controlled by the
Colombian cartels. Bolivia has never controlled this delicate
and expensive process of cocaine production. It's role has been
limited, almost always, to the cultivation of coca leaf and also
the production of the base paste, that is, cocaine sulfate. Bolivia
would have been able to produce cocaine hydrochloride, perhaps,
if the tragedy of Huanchaca had never occurred; a laboratory
hidden in the Amazon jungle that, it is widely presumed, had
the objective of generating large quantities of money for the
intelligence services of the United States to finance the famous
Iran-Contra scandal. In Bolivia, all the drugs seized, which
the media almost always refers to erroneously as "cocaine,"
is, in reality, cocaine sulfate, or base paste.
"That is to say, we are speaking
of a process in which half stays in this country, including in
its affects," Father Iriarte said, and he was correct...
the effects of cocaine sulfate as a drug a significantly weaker
than those of 98 or 99 percent pure cocaine.
The first myth falls: Bolivia doesn't
produce cocaine, despite what the government, aided by the commercial
media and backed by the United States ambassador, says. "Now,
the impact of narco-trafficking on the Bolivian economy has been
very important," Father Iriarte continues. "In 1988,
everything related to coca or cocaine represented 8.5 percent
of the Gross National Product." With this, the priest made
it very clear that nearly $500 million dollars are laundered
in this country, according to the official statistics of the
government, but there are experts who calculate that the figure
could be as high as $800 million dollars.
As the years passed, this quantity has
been diminishing, fundamentally because of the government policies
in the war on drugs, and has had a very hard impact on the economy,
not only because this money has stopped circulating, but also
because the thousands of workers who, before, were employed in
the production of base paste now don't have the means to make
a living. In few words, Father Iriarte explained how the current
economic crisis in Bolivia is partly caused by the fall of the
Gregorio Iriarte also speaks about "alternative
development" in the Chapare, mentioning some 25 legal products
elaborated with coca base: from medicinal syrups and liquors
to toothpaste. What that means is, yes, there are real alternatives
to continue commercializing the sale of coca leaf cultivated
in this country. And his conclusions, his proposals, are very
concise. There has to be economic compensation given to the farmer
who stops growing coca, but equal to the losses he suffers from
the cut off of money from the narco
Yes, it should come,
in part, from the consumer countries of Europe and the United
"Second, all the alternative aid that comes
here must be transparent; it needs a control mechanism because
there is so much corruption and the money doesn't get to the
people. Third, we must not confuse immoral with illegal
many times the laws are not legitimate nor moral. Morality is
located in values, not with whether the law is obeyed or not.
Finally, the effects of the sulfate must be studied, because
there are minimum or nil."
After the presentation, Father Iriarte
took questions from the audience. One participant raised his
hand and said: "What is your position on the legalization
"Well," Father Iriarte answered,
"the United States is going to always oppose legalization
because it is going to say that illicit drugs bring more profits
than legal ones
I believe we have to fight to legalize
and later we must support some new laws, worldwide,
so that the drugs that have been demonized, like marijuana, can
come to the people legally
." Read it well, kind readers:
A Catholic priest says we have to legalize drugs
In a while
we will speak with this interesting man of God.
afternoon brings the debate over the role of the media in the war on drugs to the table: Almost all of
them submissive to the government and the United States Embassy.
In the room there is a shared perception about the poor and distorted
information that the local newspapers and television networks
are offering about the recent failed Coup d'Etat in Venezuela
The words of the large media outlets are still fresh in memory
and the actions taken by the large media (La Razón,
a national daily, titled its April 12th edition: "Venezuela
Tires of Chavez and Throws Him Out," collaborating with
the information blockade of those days). In general this issue
is approached from critique to astonishment. It is evident to
the attendees that a new relationship between the people and
the media, and the creation of alternative channels of information,
is urgent. The dominant discourse (that describes all the farmers
of the Chapare as akin to criminals) stops being the only daily
bread. The social impact of the famous letter sent by five U.S.
Congress members to the Cuban-American Otto Reich; a document
that has shaken public opinion and, of course, the functionaries
of the government of President Jorge Quiroga.
Doctor Rose Marie de Achá, a young
attorney with much experience in the defense of human rights,
particularly in the Chapare, also participates in the seminar.
A member of Acción Andina, Dr. Achá expresses a
serious problem: the criminalization that the war on drugs generates.
"It creates crime," said Achá, "beginning
with the legislation: people are already treated as criminals,
which creates a necessity for repression and control of those
who are deemed dangerous for the system." There is a problem
of unequal justice toward the detained, and this doesn't only
happen to the farmers in the Chapare, but also to all individuals
whom, for whatever reason, become trapped in the Bolivian legal
machine. And the mass media (how not?) contributes to this process
of criminalization, using one language to describe people who
have not yet been convicted as criminals and presents them that
way to society. That is to say, there is a criminalizing language
projected toward the people.
by Al Giordano, D.R. 2001
For Rose Marie de Achá, this is
a serious issue, because it not only makes direct legal work
more difficult in courtrooms and police stations, but also it
generates judicial precedents that become obstacles to justice,
affecting the human rights of everyone in its process. A good
example, says Achá, "is the impunity of the military,
that, for example, in the case of Sacaba or Casimiro Huanca has
let the assassins go free, because the military code doesn't
permit the involvement by civil authorities." This is very
grave: a coca grower arrested, accused of narco-trafficking,
can lose his elemental presumption of innocence, be treated in
the media as a criminal and even though he might escape from
the trap, it is difficult for him to appeal because there is
no justice in any part of Bolivia. The truth and the law are
absent in this war
The forum has now opened the discussion
over various conflicts that the war on drugs generates. It has
begun to destroy myths. The participants converse in the hallways.
Little by little a consensus is being generated over what must
be done, what proposals to launch, which paths to follow
this day the forum heard from a special
guest, the Peruvian journalist and author Roger Rumrrill, who,
as expert on the war on drugs in his country, and active member
of Acción Andina and other organizations, has worked intensely
to criticize and denounce the attacks by Washington upon his
country. And Rumrrill opened fire criticizing the posture of
little Asa Hutchinson, man of the DEA, because he can't perceive
today's conflict in our América as a simple "clash
of civilizations after September 11, 2001. Today's wars are economic,
for petroleum and other resources
and the United States
has definitively lost the war on drugs." The Peruvian, a
simple man, smiling and plump, understood perfectly that the
White House has unleashed a Third World War "against narco-trafficking
and terrorism, a war that seeks a uni-polar world
we have a discourse against the coca growers that uses the same
words as those against terrorists or narco-traffickers."
In Perú the situation is even more
evident. To begin with, Rumrrill affirmed that his country is
a society very alienated from its daily reality and that, during
the governments of Fujimori and Montesinos, the fight against
drugs enjoyed a virtual success and was waged with the agreement
of the Clinton administration, particularly regarding the eradication
of coca leaf. "In Perú, there are no official statistics.
They always work with the statistics provided by the United States.
During the Fujimori-Montesinos decade a bushel of coca went from
costing $50 dollas in 1995 to $5 dollars between 1996 and 1997.
Don't forget that Perú's democracy still needs strengthening
and in recent years has seen engaged not only in eradication
of coca leaf but also criminalization of it
And the most
direct result of the so-called Plan Colombia in Perú -
a government always allied with the foreign policy of the United
States - has been that the price of a bushel of coca leaf rose
this year to $40 dollars."
There are two accusations that have confirmed
Roger Rumrrill's affirmations. The first, as he told the press
in his country, is the intent by the United States to construct
a military base in the Amazon jungle of Perú, in the community
of Uchiza. And the other, linked to the slogan of "zero
coca," was proposed in Lima during the meeting of some Andean
presidents with George Bush: the formation of a multinational
force to fight the war on drugs. "These policies, adopted
by the Peruvian government, have meant, as a consequence, that
the war on drugs in Perú will be an eternal war,"
explained Rumrrill. "Seven months after the nomination of
a drug czar, there still is no law that explains what he does;
he's just an ornament."
Among the Peruvian myths to take down
is that of the deforestation of the Amazon jungle. Rumrrill,
as advisor to a Peruvian Congressional commission, has been able
to fight to protect the forest because, let's be very clear,
the coca leaf doesn't grow at low altitudes. It needs a soil
that is 1,000 to 1,500 meters above sea level
and the jungle
doesn't rise to that altitude. "What we need to do is to
engage in true agricultural development, effective macro-economic
policies, and de-narcotize the State's agenda," concluded
Rumrrill. "The Amazon's biodiversity is the future of the
Andean world and its control is a real objective of the military
policy of the United States." It's that, he clarified, the
next natural resource to pay attention to will be wars over water,
and in the Amazon basin we have the most important aquifer on
Now, legalization of drugs? "The
issue is taboo in Perú
It had begun to be discussed
from the perspective of harm reduction, but after September 11th
the discussion just shut down." We'll keep talking with
Rumrrill, but right now we'll let him respond to questions
later, our interview with him.
The rest of the second day of the seminar
was spent in work groups and discussion... Youths and priests,
human rights defenders and union leaders, all spent hours revising
We'll come back tomorrow and see what they've
forum's final day has, as its focus,
the presentation of conclusions and their approval. Like the
two previous seminars in this series, the themes presented here
will be discussed, in a few days, during the fourth seminar.
Civil Society is organizing, discussing, and fighting. Why don't
we review the conclusions of these good people?
Civil Society, widely represented in the seminar titled "The
Fight Against Narco-Trafficking: Objectives, Models, Results
and Challenges," concludes that:
"A true fight against narco-trafficking
would receive the support of all strata of Bolivian society,
beginning with the farmers of the Tropic of Cochabama. The fight
against narco-trafficking is utilized by the United States to
impose conditions and solutions that are far from our own reality.
The repressive nature of the fight is the best pretext the United
States has to guarantee its military presence in strategic zones
of this country and region
It is necessary that those who
govern us unite forces with their colleagues throughout the Andes
and utilize the mechanism created by the Organization of American
States to certify, annually, the advances by the government of
the United States in the reduction of the consumption of cocaine
hydrochloride and its derivatives in its own country."
The group also demands the revision of
national drug laws and the treaties that foment corruption and
the imposition of foreign interests in Bolivia. "Economic
aid, that Bolivia justly claims, in compensation for the loss
of income caused by the eradication of coca crops, has to be
equal to the losses in quantity and quality."
A second conclusion reached: "The
responsibilities and internal structures of the police and Armed
Forces need to be established starting with a plan of national
interest that corresponds to the Constitution." In few words,
the seminary attendees asked that the military abandon police
tasks, illegal and repressive, and said that "the existence
of armed troops paid by a foreign country and acting in our territory"
is unacceptable. "That's why we demand the immediate dissolution
of the Expeditionary Task Force. Also, the presence of foreign
advisors, incorporated in military plans without any accounting
at the national level, is a grave danger for the sovereignty
of the country
The abusive nature of Martial Laws especially
must be corrected so that Civil Justice can investigate and judge
crimes committed by members of the military that harm the human
rights of the population."
"It is urgent to form a Truth Commission
to audit and reorient the investigations of human rights violations
that have been committed with impunity even though they have
been denounced," they concluded. The impunity must be ended,
and impartial investigations must be waged "over the violations
of human rights that the Armed Forces commit in the region to
realize coca eradication tasks," as well as "the irresponsibility
with which the public prosecutors do their job regarding crimes
committed in the tropical zone."
Finally, among the event's conclusions,
"We ask the mass media to help in the creation of mechanisms
to detect and correct messages that distort the reality of the
fight against narco-trafficking." In this, the participants
were quite clear: "We demand our rights as listeners, viewers
and readers to receive accurate information presented responsibility
and with self-criticism
Reports proved to be erroneous
or wrong must be corrected," and they proposed a mechanism
of verification of the media, so that attacks against truth and
law won't continue
After all this, your correspondent has
nothing left to say except to ask you, kind readers: Aren't these
people valiant? They are. And they've also begun to fight in
an organized manner alongside the coca growers of the Chapare.
They still haven't stopped the death and destruction in this
war imposed by Washington. But now their voices seek and create
a space to criticize, to accuse and to propose
And while Civil Society opens this important
battle, Narco News invites you to get to know a very interesting
Next in Part II:
The Narco News Interview
with Father Gregorio
more Narco News, click
At the Service of Civil Society