Part III of the
The Power of the People
Narco News '02
Narco News Interview
By Luis Gómez
Narco News Andean
Did you miss Part I of this series?
This part of our series
on the 2002 election campaign in Bolivia is dedicated to our
young Dutch colleague Erik van Oudheusden, who as a journalism
student has taken his first steps in the struggle for authentic
journalism and has become a valuable volunteer collaborator in
the Narco News project
. May a hundred, a thousand, and
many more Eriks come to obtain victory against the commercial
"Evo, if you visit the El Alto region and the state
of La Paz, we will win there,"
said one of the intellectuals involved in the campaign to candidate
Evo Morales last June. "If you go to Yungas to reinforce
the work of the coca growers there, we will prevail," one
of his closest collaborators also told him
and that's how
it went. The poorest, most insurrectionist, people in Bolivia,
awaited the candidate in dozens of towns and communities, among
the coca fields, at all hours, to see him and say that the Political
Instrument for the Sovereignty of Peoples, the MAS party, was
theirs, and that they were ready to triumph.
At the beginning, in spite of all preparations
for the trip, Evo Morales was not sure that passing three days
in the Yungas region would be so important
but he agreed
to do it. And at down on June 7th the caravan left for the provinces
of the west of the State of La Paz. He went with vice presidential
candidate Antonio Peredo, the senate candidates Esteban Silvestre
and Ángel Zavalla, with some members of the regional party
leadership and with Dionicio Núñez, his friend,
and maximum leader of the peasant farmers and coca growers of
Yungas, also a candidate for congress from this district.
If any of you, kind readers, have imagined
paradise on earth, it would surely be in Yungas, a sub-tropical
region hidden between the slopes of the Andean range. To get
there, say some tourist guides, you have to take the most dangerous
route in the world, along the sides of precipitous hills full
of dips and falls. And after two hours of travel from the city
of La Paz, along the slopes they appear, the first greens and
intense heat of the climate. At each curve, you see a valley
below filled with banana trees and coca bushes, and small waterfalls
of melted snow singing without hurry to reach the depths. Suddenly,
on the side of the road that seems no more than an enormous emptiness
between mountains, there is a small town, literally stuck to
rocks, where scores of peasant farmers shout and salute with
the blue, black and white banners (the MAS flag): Welcome to
Unuavi, the border town between the cold and hot regions.
Over the road there is an arc, made of
weavings, adorned with coca leaves, coffee beans, oranges and
flowers to receive the visitors. "This is a festival,"
they say. "Evo has arrived and we're here to receive him."
They break the sky with fireworks, toss confetti over the heads
and collars to dignify the candidates. And this, kind readers,
will happen 41 times in three days on the road, in the daytime,
at midnight (or later). The poor of Yungas appear, meeting to
celebrate, because having 12 percent in the polls in early June
is already a victory. But there is even more reason to celebrate:
In Yungas, starting years ago, they have fought courageously
and successfully against the repression and eradication of coca
leaves. And now they come to recognize their victory.
On early Friday afternoon, June 7th, the
caravan arrived at Coroico, one of the prettiest towns in the
world, semi-colonial and dominating a valley full of orchards.
At the entrance to the town, a group of drummers and dancers
awaited the candidates. When they saw Evo Morales come near,
the artists, descendants of black slaves, began to play their
best-known song, La Saya. But this Saya had new lyrics: "Listen,
don Evo, sincerely/you must become president." And the dance
began: Mulatto smiles escort Evo and the other candidates to
the town square, amid flowers. In the atrium of the church, under
a hot sun, the speeches begin
but we can't stay here long,
because we still have to continue traveling and often the distance
between one community and another, while short in appearance,
becomes long as the caravan is late several hours in the route.
Here, we turn onto the range and here
are various deep and rich valleys, as if the fingers of a benevolent
god had rested here to recharge his energies. There, behind the
falcon's flight, the destinations of the next two days lie ahead.
Now we go to Coripata, where the multitude squeezes forward in
front of the local union office, where, from the second floor,
Evo repeats that, please, "don't think that this campaign
is Evo Morales' or anyone else's
This is the campaign for
the sovereignty and dignity of the poor of Bolivia. With me have
come various of our candidates. Get to know them
think we are going to forget you, because if we succeed, the
victory will belong to all the Bolivian people."
In these hours, the afternoon begins to
fall over the Yungas region. But the caravan doesn't stop. Before
the night begins they await the caravan in a town to bless a
group of youths who are entering high school. And later, in a
hidden corner, in the town of Santiago, they await the compañeros
The route lasts four more hours and there is a river, without
a bridge, yet to cross. Around midnight, we arrive at Santiago,
consisting of some twenty houses. On the only street, in front
of Town Hall, nearly 500 people await, illuminating it all with
a small gasoline-powered generator. After a brief welcoming ceremony,
more speeches and the leadership of the Movement Toward Socialist
party is given the keys to the town. "Are we going to stay
here?" Evo asks discreetly. No, they answer him, a half
hour from here they've been waiting for us since seven a.m. in
We have to go. And we go, because we
can't make the people wait any longer, they continue waiting
after 14 hours to get to know their candidates and to present
their new officials, and, excuse the poverty, to invite them
to a little bit of juice
This vertiginous day ended at
three in the morning
And sleeping in the cars, because
there aren't beds. "Ready, compañeros? We're heading
out at five," Evo advises before resting.
Dancing in Paradise
night, along the roads of Yungas, everything smells of freshness
and life. The orange groves spread
their sweetness over men. The coca fields are found in each hillside
and the stars appear as young as when they were put here for
our delight. The second day begins three hours from Santiago,
barely from the bed to the sun, in La Asunta, the town of Dionicio
Núñez: a breakfast in his house and a happy welcome
in the plaza, again, to salute farmers who come from all over.
Later, beginning at 11 in the morning,
a trip of four hours toward Chulumani, maybe the largest town
in Yungas, the most traveled by tourists, where the traditional
parties have some sympathizers. And although there are two other
stops on the road, Los Remedios and a small hamlet where the
people wait by the roadside to cheer, we don't arrive very late
at the destination, at almost five p.m. From the market, from
the houses, from the neighboring towns, they have come to look
and to smile, because in these parts no national candidate from
any political party has ever shown his face before. "I come
to tell you that the Movement Toward Socialism is not a traditional
political party. It is a grand convergence of many social movement
that seek only one thing: to reestablish the country, to create
a government for all the Bolivian people," Evo began his
speech at the end of day's light. "This is a fight, we have
said many times, between money and conscience: that's why I come
to you to propose that on June 30th we will all vote for ourselves,
and definitively remove the corrupt from power
defeat the neoliberal economic model."
Here we do not stop for long. Although
some militants of the MNR party, before fleeing, terrified, from
the multitude, punched out the tires of the truck in which Evo
is traveling. But, okay, after that infantile attack, another
three hours more on the road to Chicaloma, a town inhabited by
a majority of afro-Bolivianos, who dance and sing for he who,
they say, smiling, will have to be the new president of Bolivia.
Ah, beautiful town and sane happiness: The musical group of Chicaloma,
that doesn't stop all night, is the best example of why there
are no differences among poor people: They are named Saya Afro-Andina,
some of the members are Aymara and the instruments of both cultures
have joined together in happy matrimony.
The march is the same. Tonight the caravan
closes in on one of the best organized and most scenic town in
Yungas, named Irupana, land of the coca leaf and where some of
the best coffee in the world, arábiga boliviana, is cultivated.
Everything takes place under the active and attentive eyes of
the local union office. The concentration of people assembles
anew in the atrium. This time there are nearly 2,000 people shouting,
applauding. It doesn't matter that it's already eleven at night.
The compañeros from Chicaloma have come with the caravan,
playing their traditional music.
Evo says: "Some years ago I came
as a guest to Irupana, you will remember, to attend the founding
of your union. I remember that among the compañeros of
Yungas there were different political persuasions and tendencies,
and it gives me great pleasure to see how you have become better
brothers and sisters. For years they have wanted to divide Yungas
and the Chapare region. And you know that is false: We cannot
divide ourselves because our struggles have always been the same,
and our enemy also. Tonight I want to thank you, because now
I am more certain than ever that we are going to win
don't take polls, we can't measure our support in this way. But,
here, in direct contact with so many people, I can't help but
believe that we are in first place and we are going to govern."
Once again, a few hours rest. "It's
one in the morning and we're heading out at six. Thus, compañeros,
go to sleep if you want to be able to awaken in time to wash
your faces before we leave," smiled the principal candidate
of the MAS before entering one of the rooms that the Farmer's
Federation of Irupana has to receive its visitors.
Days on the Road
southern part of Yungas is even more difficult to navigate. The communities are farther apart from each other.
After breakfast in Miguillas at seven - bread, an egg and coffee
- we leave thinking we'll be in Circuata by eleven. But in various
communities along the path they had already put up the woven
traditional arcs, the flowers and the dolls to adorn them: These
dolls, the traditional representation, have varied a lot lately,
they told us; Now it is possible to find Barbies and other plastic
dolls (they last longer than those made of plaster), furry teddy
bears, and even an inflatable Batman awaited, facing the road,
for the arrival of Evo Morales.
In these towns, where coca is the principal
crop, the people salute, await words to feed them. An old man,
on bicycle, approaches the members of MAS: "Meat?"
And what he asks for, everybody knows, is a bag of Political
Instrument, he wants to join a political party
and he has
traveled from his orchard to do it
The candidates arrive
at Cicuata at 12 noon and this will, friends, be very brief.
We can't stay for lunch with you because the people await us
in Cajuata, two hours from here.
Now in Cajuata, 2,000 more people await.
With the sun high, the speeches begin again. This time, Evo Morales
tells them to prepare themselves, that this victory will have
to be defended at any price: "Keep on thinking, compañeros,
because you already must organize the committees in defense of
the vote. We are not going to allow them to steal this triumph."
This time, yes, we stay for lunch. "Look, lamb soup, Evo's
favorite," says one of the directors of MAS who comes with
We leave at three p.m. on the road to
Inquisivi, a mining town in the southern border of the state
of La Paz with that of Oruro. Barely 20 minutes have passed when,
heading around a curve, each car in the caravan is detained by
a pair of senior citizens. "How are you? Have a little orange
juice for the trip
How was the rally in Cajauta? Oh, good.
Take good care of Evo, please. We couldn't be there, but we are
here, with you
continue forward." And
so it seems, in her calloused hands, holding a plastic jug. There,
the work and hard fight of many years can be seen. Or in his
smile, that raises the juice jar as if it were a flag, and who
sees each car off saying, "bravo!"
Have you noticed? This trip in Yungas
has been impressive. Near the people, their enthusiasm, their
hope, can be seen. And it doesn't end, because at the beginning
of the afternoon of the third day, June 9, the candidates arrive
in Inquisivi. A troupe of moxeños (who play a peculiar
Andean flute with a sharp sudden sound) leads Evo to the Town
Square in an impetuous march. The sun is lost in an immense holler,
that seems to have been made with the edge of an enormous sword.
The wind blows ice. And the music, hypnotic, everything gives
this rally a distinct emotional character. Two hours later, the
visit to Quime, where people have met awaiting Evo Morales since
the day before
thousands more chanting, applauding, listening
to the promise of a new State, of a new form of governing for
Near midnight, after the local leadership
of the MAS takes office, the caravan heads on the return trip,
because Evo must be in Cochabamba the following day. Three days,
41 rallies, less than ten hours rest
Such are the people
in campaign. And this paradise, once lost and forgotten, has
been regained by its people, who fight and continue advancing
Is Dionicio Núñez?
June of last year, tired of being ignored and of being threatened by the government (principally, with the eradication
of coca plants), the farmers of Yungas closed all the access
roads to the region. They had two members of then-president Hugo
Banzer's cabinet negotiating two days with them, in their territory,
and they didn't let them leave until they were certain that their
demands would be addressed. This is how many other demonstrations,
blockades and marches by the peasant farmers of Yungas, who are
legendary in Bolivia's social struggles, went.
Currently, their leading organization,
the Confederation of Farmers' Unions of Yungas (COFECAY, in its
Spanish initials), which in recent months has come to represent
nearly the entire state of La Paz, has Dionicio as its secretary.
A young man, of dark complexion and a wide smile, with a lot
of political experience, has just been elected to congress with
almost two-thirds of the total vote count.
In response to some questions, he says:
"I am 36 years old. My family originated,
like many in Yungas, in the High Plains (Altiplano) region. I
was born in Oruro, but moved to Yungas at the age of five. First,
I went to the rural schools of Yungas. I finished my third year
of agronomy at the Major University of San Andrés in La
Paz, but due to very common problems in farming families I could
not finish my studies because my family lacked the resources
and I had to return to work with them.
"I have been involved with labor
issues ever since I was a student. I was a student leader of
what was, in the 1980s, the Socialist Party, led by Marcelo Quiroga
Santa Cruz. And in those times, during vacation seasons that
I spent with my family in Yungas, I was designated in absentia
by the union leaders in the central agricultural union to attend
the congress of the Farmers' Federation of La Asunta
as I became politicized as a university leader, I made some speeches
on political affairs, and they named me as the secretary of this
"And so I participated in the actions
of my federation. We were raising funds, like from one non-governmental
organization in Bologna, Italy, that was very progressive. We
secured nearly $500,000 dollars, and with them we constructed
the hospital in La Asunta, that was then a very forgotten region.
We are speaking here of 1986. And my plans were to finish my
work there and go back to college, but, also, in that year I
met my wife and so I stayed. My wife is a nurse and I supported
her work in the hospital, including by driving ambulances.
"Later, they elected me councilor
from my community. Later, they proposed that I seek reelection,
but for me these kinds of things are not always worthwhile. I
decided to return to my union, to the bases. And in this era
- 1999 - came the congress of the Six Federations of Yungas,
in Irupana: I attended in my role as executive secretary of my
union. I got there a day late. And the compañeros were
proposing my candidacy, which, in principle, I did not accept,
but later they voted by majority and I had to assume the job
of executive secretary of COFECAY. There were a lot of risks,
then. There was a rumor that military troops were going to enter
to attack us, and, thus, the person in charge of the organization
should be there to stop the repression. This occurred in September,
a little before the conflicts that paralyzed the country
Two weeks afterwards, we went to blockade the highways in October
with the simple demant that Controlled Substances Law 1008 be
In this position I have traveled to various
meetings about the coca issue. I went to a congress of coca growers
in Puno, Perú and another in Ecuador. In August of last
year I was in Mexico to attend the congress of the Latin American
Coordinating Committee of Farm Organizations (CLOC, in its Spanish
acronym), and for an anti-globalization event. The CLOC invitation
came because of the expulsion of the Joint Task Force from our
region that we undertook in June 2001, that had a lot of impact.
We folded the government's hands, and had three government ministers
here to negotiate. I've also been able to be in contact with
other coca growers in Perú, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.
"Upon my return the conflicts of
last February were taking place, and ever since the problems
in 2000 and up until now I've noticed that the conscience of
the people has grown a lot. There had to be an advance. In many
communities we can see it."
Narco News: How are you organized in the Yungas
Dionicio Núñez: COFECAY has existed for six years. There is another
organization that administers the legal coca market in La Paz,
where we sell our crops, but among people of various sectors
we founded our organization to dedicate it entirely to the union
issues and political formation. We don't have much influence
in the administration of the market. We are more involved in
the politics. We have a congress every two years to elect the
new leadership. I am the fourth executive secretary. Since I
was nominated as a candidate for congress, I proposed leaving
my post. But my compañeros said no. In any case, the tendency
is to do both things, congressman and union leader, because the
people say: "If we leave you alone as a member of congress
you are going to feel you are there and will forget about us."
Narco News: And when did your relations with
the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabama, the coca growers
of the Chapare region, begin?
Dionicio Núñez: This has been in the works for many years. By
1986, when I was a leader in La Asunta, before Law 1008 existed,
the coca growers of Yungas and Chapare had one single organization
called CONCOCA. We had national meetings of coca producers. Afterwards,
in 1998, Law 1008 was approved and we were divided: the growers
of Yungas were called (by the law) traditional growers, those
of the Chapare were termed excessive, and those of Santa Cruz,
illegal. Then came the first conflicts in the Chapare and we
supported them many times, although the government told us to
keep out of it. But many people know that when the repressive
apparatus finished in Chapare it would come here. Then, we said
that we have to fight so that this doesn't happen.
My first contact with Evo was in 1985,
during a hunger strike that we held at the university against
the triennial eradication plan. He came representing his union
and we were in a hunger strike for a dozen days. We got to know
each other there, and since then have been permanently in contact.
Clearly, there have been tendencies inside of the Chapare, leaders
who never related to the people in Yungas, and leaders in Yungas
who didn't want to know anything about those of the Chapare.
But with Evo and three or four others, although we were not leaders,
we have always been in contact. And now we have met anew in this
So, yes, between Yungas and Chapare there
are differences. What I have been able to stress to the foreign
journalists is that when they speak of the coca issue in Bolivia,
they have only a general perception: coca equals violence, repression
and drugs. But it's not that way. The coca in the Yungas region
goes back a long time. There are studies that demonstrate the
the cultivation of coca has gone on here for at least 400 years.
And it has always been for traditional consumption, right up
to today. This is an important distinction.
Narco News: How many hectares of coca are
currently grown in Yungas?
Dionicio Núñez: We have an estimated figure. All the coca crops
are controlled. In each union there are communal committees that
control which affiliates grow coca, where they do it and in what
seasons they harvest. And this makes sure that the coca goes
to the legal market and is not detoured. Each committee extends
a commercialization license to the producer that indicates how
many pounds of coca leaf he brings to market. And the producer
can only sell in the market with this document. It's a very strict
rule. We calculate that the production of the past year did not
exceed 9,500 hectares
Obviously, the government has its
own calculations, and says there are 14,5000 and because Law
1008 permits only 12,000 hectares, they've used this argument
to enter and eradicate crops.
Another of the arguments used to restrict
our production is that the government says that traditional consumption
is diminished and the crops have increased. We asked them to
conduct a census to find out how many people chew coca leaf,
but they didn't want to, because such a study would have to accept
that because of the economic crisis many people who don't always
have food to eat substitute their meals with coca. Thus, traditional
consumption has extended to social spheres where it did not exist,
such as in public universities.
Narco News: Is the government eradicating
crops in Yungas?
Dionicio Núñez: They're not eradicating, just mocking. We ask
ourselves from where they get their figures, because we get ours
directly from the local committees. And the government says they
have satellite images. Which satellites? Those of NASA. Who is
NASA? The gringos. Thus, of course they don't lie! We know that
the gringos will always say we have more coca fields than we
have. And at least in the areas where COFECAY works not a single
hectare of coca has been eradicated. They say they have spent
$800,000 dollars in the eradication, but the money probably just
went to somebody's bank accounts. That's why we say they are
merely mocking. There have been cases in which people who no
longer live in the region have been promised money in exchange
for eradicating coca fields that they no longer work, that are
not producing. Or the authorities will count two coca fields
eradicated where only one was eliminated in order to give the
impression that eradication advances in Yungas. They say they
have eradicated ten hectares where they haven't even eradicated
Narco News: And have you had problems with
Dionicio Núñez: No. We did in the 1980s, when the dictator Luis
García Meza ruled. That was the only time. But not because
the producers initiated the activity. García Mexa prohibited
coca in Yungas, creating collection centers where everyone was
obligated to sell their product. These centers were managed by
agents of the Interior Minister, that is to say, the narco. And
these gentlemen, as the only ones authorized to purchase coca
leaf, fixed the price to maximize their profits. Then the clandestine
buyers appeared, offering a better price than the collection
That was the first step toward the processing of
coca to create base paste.
Narco News: How many coca growers are there
Dionicio Núñez: We don't know exactly, but there are six municipalities
whose economy depends on coca leaf. There are others where it
represents the second most important industry. Anyway, we have
between 12,000 and 14,000 affiliated producers, although not
all producers are affiliated.
Narco News: Is the consumption of coca leaf
in Yungas for traditional use? Are there other uses?
Look, based on the information we have,
30 to 35 percent of the coca that we produce here would go clandestinely
to Argentine... I say would go because with their economic crisis
it already is not the same amount. Later, our coca is used to
a lesser degree for ritual uses in the state of La Paz, such
as the rudimentary elaboration of products like syrups, teas
and others. But the largest part of our production goes for direct
consumption all over the country, to Santa Cruz and including
in Cochabamba. The grand part of it goes to be chewed.
Narco News: Do you believe that with the resurgence
of the coca growers' movement and farmers in general that in
Yungas there are better possibilities for you in services and
We have the same demands as we've always
had. Almost everything we have obtained, like hospitals, electric
power, we have not been given out of kindness. These are the
products of struggle. COFECAY has these proposals, but at the
municipal level there is not the necessary force to achieve anything.
The only hope for success is in the unions organized in COFECAY.
There are non-governmental organizations, municipal governments
and other institutions, but all of them work in a very dispersed
form. We don't want that. We want to create coordination to plan
and bring the work forward. This is one of the tasks that we
want to take on from Congress. That the existing resources, together
with what we can gather, will come to support the great necessities
that we have, fundamentally on matters such as roads, education
and health. It's for this reason that we all are working in the
Political Instrument, organizing.
The idea thing for us is that it be legalized.
For example, the exportation to Argentina and the north of Chile
should be legal. But there are international treaties, like the
Geneva Convention on Drugs, that don't permit it. That's why
we've involved ourselves in politics, because from the seat of
government we are going to fight for decriminalization of coca
and so that we can export it and sell it in any part of the world.
Narco News: How did Decree # 26415, which closed
the traditional coca markets in varios places around the country,
affect the coca growers in Yungas?
Dionicio Núñez: The first of the decrees, that caused the conflicts
in Sacaba, were said by President Quiroga that it was only a
decree for Chapare and Sacaba. But in sections four and five
of the decree it said that in Yungas the entire coca cycle, from
harvest to drying, would have to be done by persons who were
licensed as legal coca producers. And if not, they would seize
the coca leaf. This intended to exercise a control, through the
police, and would have clearly meant a great difficulty for us.
In this cycle, the jobs are done through the family structure
and if at any moment of an inspection the producer is not found
with the product, if only his wife and kids are they, everything
could be seized. And they only give one license per family. This
would have caused big problems. Because it also speaks of "legal"
coca and legal coca is only that which was cultivated before
1988. Everything since 1988 to the present is illegal, according
to the text of the Controlled Substances Law 1008.
The second decree referred to the creation
of primary markets for sale of coca leaf. They were going to
construct markets in Corico, Chulumani, Coripata, Cajuata and
in Irupana. With that, they took away from us the possibility
of bringing our leaf to market in the city of La Paz. This was
the same thing that the dictator Luis García Meza did
in 1980, creating the so called collection centers, so that everyone
would be obligated to sell only to these entities. This policy
was an incentive for narco-trafficking, and afterwards, an argument
to repress us. And that is why we entered into the blockades
of last January and February.
For More Narco
from the Road to Democracy