Issue # 22 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

July 15, 2002

Part II of the series...

Bolivia: The Power of the People

Narco News '02

The Ambassador's Tango

and Other Stories

By Luis Gómez

Narco News Andean Bureau Chief

Did you miss Part I of this series?

"The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders who are in some manner connected with narco-trafficking and terrorism."

- statement by U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha
June 26th (four days prior to the election)
at Chimoré military base, in the Chapare region

"The Ambassador has told me that I must not reach any agreements with Evo Morales."

- Manfred Reyes Villa, leader and former presidential candidate of MNR party

"If they want respect, they ought to respect us. We are disposed to respect them, but inside the Quechua and Aymara cultures the basis of human relations is, fundamentally, respect."

- Evo Morales, interviewed on CNN

He's not very tall, a little plump, notoriously rigid, with the attitude of those who guard the most minimal guesture in order to not appear banal. His round face, little eyes and tilted eyebrows pointing downwards, he doesn't seem to know how to smile… it is like a mask. That is an example of the Viceroy Manuel Rocha in front of the media, in any public act. For the last two years - and he says they are the last of his diplomatic career - he has actively participated in Bolivian political life… as he did in Argentina, in Cuba and in Central America.

Retracing the steps of his "brilliant" career, we can see him as as political-military officer of the U.S. Embassy in Honduras during the second half of the 1980s… financing the Contra war from there and promoting the forced displacement of Honduran peasant farmers (a policy that cost many lives according to human rights reports): a lord of low-intensity warfare. Or in Cuba in 1992, in charge of the Office of U.S. Interests… paying the anti-Castro groups to engage in different acts to destabilize the government of Fidel Castro during the hardest of times.

And more recently, in Argentina, where his Embassy job for three years was as Business Officer... dedicating himself to mine the productive and commercial systems of this country and promoting ruptures in national Argentine economic protection policies ("opening markets," he might say), and for that he certainly had a lot to do with the current economic crisis in that country, which he left, cynically, statning: "I am extremely optimistic about the future of Argentina…" some months before the crash and debacle began.

Well, kind readers, this singular personality has come to Bolivia to continue his mission. From the beginning he has carried himself arrogantly and threatened anyone who opposed him. But for now we analyze his peculiar vision about popular Bolivian leaders: On December 2, 2001, during his participation in a conference on security organized by the President of Bolivia, Viceroy Rocha said that Felipe Quispe, "El Mallku," and Evo Morales were terrorists and were on the infamous United States blacklist (made after September 11th). Later, last February, he was behind the dirty operations by which the politicians of the traditional parties expelled Evo from Congress (remember the Sacaba Wars?). Above all, this expulsion ended up helping Evo more than punishing him and his popularity grew… well, being an enemy of the gringo government always lends its own prestige. But the Viceroy couldn't keep his mouth shut… and each time that he said something the percentage points of votes intended for the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party of Evo Morales grew. On June 27th in Cochabamba, during his final campaign rally, Evo asked the crowd to offer an enormous applause for Rocha who "was our best campaign manager ever."

Manuel Rocha did three things, without intending to, for the MAS. The first, clearly, was to pressure Congress to expel Evo. The second was a series of declarations between March and May, like that on March 26th, when he told the Bolivian media that they (referring to the United States government) would not support any person who did not want help (he was speaking of the next president of Bolivia). "I never force a lady to dance the tango if she doesn't want to dance with me," said the Viceroy, emphatically. Or at his appearances at social events where he told the whole world the dangers of voting for terrorists like Evo Morales and El Mallku.

At these heights of the election campaign, someone incide of the MAS had a good idea. By the middle of June a poster appeared in Bolivian cities, with an enormous photo of Evo in the middle. Above, in enormous letters: "Bolivian: You Decide. Who's in Charge? Rocha or the Voice of the People." It was a grand success. The whole world, sympathetic or not with MAS, wanted a copy and hundreds of thousands more had to be printed than had been planned on. Many Bolivians received the message in defense of their dignity and sovereignty. But the best was yet to come.

Each and every one of the candidates of the traditional parties of Bolivia went at one moment or another to see the Viceroy and ask for his support. Manfred Reyes Villa, of the New Republican Force, even traveled to Miami to see the Cuban Republicans and to Washington to speak with Otto Reich in the State Department. None of the other candidates wanted, in the beginning, to participate in debate with Evo Morales ("It's a minor political party," the organizers of forums and debates were accustomed to saying). Then the things got hot. On Jun 17, during a campaign swing in the Eastern part of the country, Evo told the media that he wasn't interested in debating anymore with the neoliberal parties: "The one who I want to debate is Ambassador Rocha… I prefer to argue with the owner of the circus, not the clowns."

In this atmosphere, by the last week of the campaign all the polls, including those conducted by the other political parties, already gave MAS third or fourth place, with 16 percent of the vote. Surely, the Viceroy's tango player didn't want to be left out… on June 26th, four days before the election, he went to Chimore (in the heart of the Chapare) to visit all the soldiers and mercenaries that "fight" against narco-trafficking. There, in front of President Tuto Quiroga, he said: "The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders who are in some manner connected with narco-trafficking and terrorism."

Today, two weeks after the election, there are many who swear that Manuel Rocha worked in concert with the MAS party to create electoral terrorism (because from the 16 percent the polls gave him, Evo ended up with almost 21 percent). And with less than a month to go before he leaves Bolivia definitively, the Viceroy continues making declarations against Evo. How does it seem? Rocha shot himself in the foot various times… but for now we will leave this ballerina behind and teach only his tango, because we're going now, in this text, for two days to the Chapare region, this time in the company of the candidates of the people.

Garlands and Memories

On May 17th and 18th, Evo visited the Chapare for the first time since the beginning of the campaign. It was necessary that his base of support got to know the MAS candidates from other parts of the country and that they ratify him as their top leader and candidate for the presidency of the Republic. On Friday the 17th, at 4 a.m., a caravan of various autos left Cochabamba toward that tropical and embattled region. Seven hours later, in the town of Bulo Bulo, a whirlwind of applauses, salutes, speeches in support and, more than anything, hopes deposited in a man who, by popular decision, embodied the possibility of victory. And it all began in Bulo Bulo, not only being the most Eastern region of Chapare, but also because in this town, two years ago, the powerful organization of the Six Federations of Cochabamba Tropic was founded here.

Everywhere Evo and his allied candidates went, the program was similar. The caravan was awaited some two hundred yards before the entrance of the town. The farmers (almost all of them coca growers) immediately surrounded Evo and Vice Presidential candidate Antonio Peredo. Later came a brief ceremony of garland wreaths and the mixture (vegetable necklaces and confetti): Each candidate was honored with enormous necklaces made of coca leaves and some flowers, also made with oranges or vegetables; later confetti was sprinkled over their heads, as a charm for good luck. Everyone ready, they were lead by a large march to the place where the rally would happen. On rooftops of homes, on top of trailer trucks or in middle of the central plaza, the MAS candidates went planting new hope in the coca growers.

The first afternoon, in the town of Entre Ríos, a rainstorm began over the popular concentration. But nobody moved. "That's how it is, compañeros. No one should move from his place. With this willpower we are going to defeat the neoliberals," said Filemón Escobar, veteran mineworkers' leader and today Senator-elect, to the crowd. And that's how it went, into the night, in Ivirgarzama, a town governed by the Movement Toward Socialism: a storm of two hours shook the plaza, but this time nobody moved until the event was over. Evo Morales, for 45 minutes, was listened to with attention and enthusiasm. In this speech, Evo recalled to everyone present that it was not his campaign, but that of the poor, of the indigenous and farmers, of all the marginalized ones of Bolivia.

The same in Mariposas as in Shinahota, the rallies grew to thousands of people. Only in the town of Senda VI, on the morning of May 18th, was there a small gathering at the side of the road, not a rally: The act was a mass in which the three fallen compañeros some months ago in confrontation with the Expeditionary Task Force (the US-sponsored paramilitary squads operating out of control of the Bolivian armed forces). In a structure made of sticks and with a ceiling of palm leaf, without walls, the dead coca growers were also incorporated into the fight because, said Evo, "their efforts and their sacrifices were not in vain… we are going to win, compañeros, and this will also be for them who can no longer walk at our side."

In Chimoré, the people met in front of the military base to await their candidates. Close to three thousand people, at the gates to the base, showed the repressive forces that they were not afraid and that here, among smiling women and men of serious faces and hardened hands, they encountered those to whom they would have to represent their rancor and their demands, postponed for too long. But on this afternoon, the climax came in Villa Tunari…

At around three in the afternoon, in a curve along the road, they began to appear on bicycles, in small groups, in trucks and autos. There were thousands, all with banners or placards. All looking east, eyes ready to see the gray truck carrying Evo Morales. They were there not just there from Villa Tunari, but had also come from the town of Lauca Ñ, from the coca fields deeper into the country, from all the communities where the caravan had just passed and others where it had not. At the entrance to town, on a platform next to the road, nearly 40,000 people gave an ovation to the arrival of the candidates of the people. For nearly five hours transit on this road, the main route from Cochabamba to the city of Santa Cruz, was stopped. And it was here, among his people, among his companions in struggle, where Evo let his memories unleash.

"I'm very happy to meet here with some old compañeros, some former leaders, who continue struggling… Many of them have known me since I began… Because you know that my union labor began when I was working with all of you… You made me… Now I have come here to be with my people so you can know the compañeros that accompany us, so that you know that we are not alone in this fight… We have come very from with this political instrument. Now, they say, we are the second-largest party in Cochabamba state…I don't believe in polls, but there is something that makes me believe: I tell myself, to see so many people!

"I remember right now when I began to work among you all. You all know that I live in this region, that here are my coca fields and I came here many years ago with my father to work. Now I see these trucks stopped in traffic, and beg understanding from our truck driving compañeros. I remember when I was young and various of the truck drivers brought me, gratis, to other communities, to Cochabamba… thanks to them, because they are also with us…

"I also remember when I began as a union leader. Everyone called me the "ball player" because I was the secretary of sports in my union and I was only interested in playing soccer in the fields. And you taught me, you were patient with me, and I learned what an organization is, what is a struggle. Now I am convinced that we are going to win, to change the history of the Aymaras and Quechuas, of all the poor of Bolivia, forever…

"That's why I come to ask you not to abandon me, because this is everyone's struggle. Evo Morales has never abandoned you. And never will… and we're all going, together, to win on June 30th."

Mineworkers and Businessmen

At the end of May, a business organization of Cochabamba, one of the most powerful in Bolivia, organized a forum for Presidential candidates. Seated between former presidents and current rivals Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Jaime Paz, with his face serious and a distant look, Evo was here to expound the program of the Movement Toward Socialism. And we tell this small history because although it seemed that the candidate of MAS was seated among enemies, the audience, made up of professionals and journalists, by wealthy people, applauded him more than the others.

On this occasion, Evo explained to the audience that a government by the MAS would not want to tell anything but the truth to all the Bolivian people. With sharp phrases, Morales recalled that the other candidates had sold the country to the multi-national corporations over the past 17 years. He reminded them that all the large cases of corruption and narco-trafficking had the members of those parties as the protagonists. He told them that, no, not even by coincidence, would he support any of them to be president. "I don't join together with slobs." This forum, broadcast live on national television, left it very clear that the power and solid force of the people are not sold nor negotiated… and the people understood it better than the powerful had thought.

Some days later, Evo Morales went to visit an historic community, Llallagua, in the north of Potosí state. In this place, more or less fifty years ago, the hardest battles by mineworkers in the history of Bolivia began. There, were formed the first unions of the Left, the first clandestine cells to fight against the government. In fact, many of the old mineworkers' leaders swear that if Che Guevara, instead of going to the east to organize the guerrilla, had come to work in the mines of Llallagua and the town of Siglo XX, he would have triumphed.

And here he was, in the road that controlled access to the town. Son of a laid-off mineworker, grandson of peasant farmers, Evo didn't know, not having visited this area before, that his figure and all that he represents were alive among the miners, who received him with fireworks, shouts, a new hat, more garlands made of coca leaf and enough chicha (a traditional fermented drink) to drink and lighten spirits. In the ceremony, before nearly 3,000 people, the maximum indigenous authority, the jatun mallku (the old condor) Aurelio Ambrosio, welcomed Evo. And the old union leader José Pimentel spoke in the name of the townspeople of Llallagua, for the Farmers' Federation of the region and the ayllus (the indigenous agricultural communities). Evo Morales gave a brief and emotional speech that ended: "Our candidacy is the only truly anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist campaign, and that's why we have to vote for our candidates, who represent the humble and the marginalized ones for always."

Leaving Llallagua, surrounded by the people, the MAS party's presidential candidate received a tug on the arm. He stopped to look to see who wanted to say hello. "Compañero Evo," said a 12-year-old mineworker. "Here we are, we whom have always fought, 17 years we have resisted the neoliberal model… and we are all with you." At certain points, tears came to the face of Evo Morales… among the people who guard the memory of the fight against power and where faith and force have also survived.

But we must stop, kind leaders, because the campaign advances with too much momentum to recall everything in these lines… We will have to continue tomorrow, in a visit to "Yungas: Paradise Regained." Meanwhile, keep writing to us, please, so that we may know your opinions and commentaries, everything that happens while we continue to understand how it is that, now, in Bolivia, the power of the people has returned.

Lea Ud. el Articulo en Español

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