<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
¡Bienvenidos en Español!
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“Pacho” Cortés from Jail

“I'm Afraid They Could Kill Me on any Given Day”

By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Part VI in a Narco News Investigative Series

March 8, 2004

EL ALTO, LA PAZ, BOLIVIA, MARCH 2, 2004: Colombian citizen Francisco “Pacho” Cortés, in Bolivia’s maximum-security prison of San Pedro Chonchocoro, accused of “terrorism,” confesses that he fears for his life. He doesn’t feel safe. And every day that comes feels like a new cavalry.

Pacho Cortés, speaking to Narco News at the Chonchocoro maximum-security prison
Photo: Narco News Agency D.R. 2004
“I’m definitely afraid because with so many invented scandals, ironies, and forms of punishment and persecution that they have invented against me in their supposed fight against terrorism and narco-trafficking, I think they could kill me at any moment. I’m being sincere. I’m afraid that they might kill me on any given day,” Pacho said during this exclusive interview granted to Narco News.

On Tuesday, March 2nd, we interviewed Cortés in this prison at 4,150 meters above sea level.

Almost a year ago, on April 10th, 2003, he was arrested together with La Asunta town councilor Claudia Ramírez from the Yungas region, and the farmers’ leader from the Chapare, Carmelo Peñaranda. The three, together with two minors of age, were accused by the Bolivian government (although formal charges have still not been filed) of being “terrorists.”

The government of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada presented these alleged “terrorists” before the Comercial Media first as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in its Spanish initials), but had no evidence. Later it accused them of being militants in the National Liberation Army (ELN) but also without evidence. Finally, it said that they tried to form armed groups linked to drug trafficking.

Eleven months into his incarceration, nothing proved, and no formal charges: he hasn’t been convicted or sentenced. But the supposed “terrorists” have been in reclusion all this time in a maximum security prison.

“Why don’t they just kill me if the U.S. Embassy can’t find proof to justify to the world that I’m a terrorist?” asks Pacho. “If they invent evidence, why not just kill me or make me disappear?”

According to Cortés, the same authorities that accused him of being a terrorist have also invented accusations that he plans escapes, he’s a drug trafficker, and he incites riots, among other things.

Currently, although his health is delicate, he is the spokesman for foreign prisoners and legal coordinator for all of them. He suffers from an ulcer, gastritis, frequent nosebleeds, hearing problems, kidney pain, weak circulation and stress: he also has a continuous headache, product of the high altitude.

The Victims: The Poor

The directors of the prison system consider Pacho to be a “highly dangerous” person and that’s why, together with four other people, they are kept in isolation from the rest of the prison population.

According to the Colombian citizen, the poor are the victims of the repression and persecution that come under the banner of neoliberal policies and the globalization of the economy. “They want to make it seem like we cause the evil of the world, and that is totally unfair,” he remarks.

“People like Jesús Christ fought for the poor. People like Jesus Christ did not agree with taxes waged on the poor. People like Jesus Christ sought justice and, just the same, he was arrested, tortured, and assassinated. Why does the same thing happen to those of us who are human beings who struggle in favor of the poor?” he asks, in a contemplative tone.

Cortés, deprived of his freedom, without any criminal record, feels down but not out. “For me Chonchocoro is not a punishment, it is a sacrifice. Some of leaders are loyal and conscious of our bases and know that we have to suffer but we have the best reward which is support and solidarity.”

From prison, Pacho called upon farmers, workers, unemployed people, indigenous, women, police, journalists, and professionals to seek unity and not to be conformists. Unity must be constructed in each country and in the world.

Although he still listens, reads, and observes the news reports of some Comercial Media, Pacho confesses that the majority of the media bothers him for the way they treta his case.

Some journalists, like the leader of the press workers association of the country, Fredy Morales, note that before the arrest of these so-called “terrorists,” the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia had been the source that tipped off some news media organizations.

According to Pacho, some media organizations helped the government of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to accuse him of being a “terrorist” and later dropped the story, without following up with any details or corrections.

His Dream: Freedom

This Colombian citizen says that at the beginning of his detention he received a lot of national and international support but over time, when the smear of “terrorist” was attached to him, he feels he has disappeared from view.

In his native land of Colombia, he notes, there is more attention and social concerní about his case by peasant farmer and other social organizations, and even by the Colombian government. “I’m hoping that the social movements will find a way to lift their spirit of brotherhood and solidarity to continue with this fight: I also must say that the government of Colombia supports me even as the U.S. Embassy accuses me,” he adds.

This past weekend, on Saturday in Villa Tunari, and on Sunday in Ivirgarzama, both towns of the Chapare region of the tropic of Cochabamba, there were mass rallies by coca growers demanding freedom for their leaders arrested for alleged connections with Pacho, and also demanding that the false accusations of “terrorism” against people cease. Among their demands was also freedom for Francisco Cortés.

“This arrest is not only against Francisco Cortés,” notes the prisoner. “It is the beginning of the arrests of many social leaders who fight for a better society. This is what the policy of globalization and neoliberalism is trying to do,” he emphasized.

Asked what he expected out of this process, Cortés responds: “I expect good as well as bad things. If we lived in a just world I would expect good things. But in a country like Bolivia where there is no justice for the majority, and only for a few, anything could happen to me, including my thought that they could kill me.”

Pacho says that what makes him most anxious is the dream of recuperating his freedom to be able to return to his country or seek another, but that he will continue doing the same thing that he did before his arrest: to fight for human rights, and for life…

Next in this series: Pacho wins transfer to the La Paz jail

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America