Fighting for Life
Bolivia's Coca Growers Lead a New Mobilization
By Luis Gómez
Narco News Andean Bureau Chief
January 15, 2003
He’s dead. They shot him and he hasn’t arrived at any hospital. He was barely 18 years old and the Army shot against his people. A bullet penetrated his body. The young farmer Rómulo González Teran has become the first victim of the Bolivian government’s repression.
In the heart of the Bolivian High Plains, in Cayarani, a small corner of Aymara lands, Rómulo was participating in a blockade when the soldiers shot him… “This is a criminal attitude,” Congressman Evo Morales told Narco News. “The government, instead of solving social problems, turns to its military and police forces to hide its incapacity to govern.
Yesterday afternoon, kind readers, this armed troop that, according to the government of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, was ready “to stop the blockades and disperse the people with rubber bullets,” has broken the jaw of coca growers leader Estaban García, 45. At approximately 3:30 p.m., in the are of Cesarzama of the Chapare region, the combined forces of government repression opened fire on a blockade by the coca farmers… and Esteban, who participated in the protest, threw stones at the soldiers of the Tropic Unit and the troops coming from the city of Santa Cruz, was hit by a bullet that broke the bone of his jaw. This is democracy? Today some of the Congressmen of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) are asking that question. And it’s that, after months of fighting via “democratic” means, of representing the aspirations of their people in Parliament, the popular representatives have decided to return to the streets and roads of Bolivia to demand solutions. Deep Bolivia has returned to get out and fight… and the first victims have already been hurt.
A Tricky Dialogue
After the hopeful results of last June 30th’s elections, that almost made coca leader Evo Morales the President of the Republic, the members of MAS passed “from protests to proposals.” During nearly five months they centered their activity in the democratic struggle, cleanly and openly. However, not one of the twelve legislative initiatives, none of the proposals or resolutions made by the parliamentarians of the people (27 congressmen and women, and eight senators) were well received by the official parties’ bloc. Even still, in his role as national leader of MAS and president of the Six Federations of Farmers of the Tropic of Cochabamba – the embattled coca growers’ organization, Evo agreed to hold talks with the government to exchange positions and try to find a solution to the problem of the coca leaf cultivated in the Chapare.
In this manner, last September 13th a singular meeting took place in Cochabamba: on one side of the table was Evo Morales and a group of leaders and peasant Congressmen from the region of Chapare. On the other side, the President of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and various cabinet members, subsecretaries and advisors. “There was a meeting between the president of the poor and the president of the rich,” said the veteran miners’ leader (and advisor to the coca growers) Filemón Escóbar, the MAS party’s Senate Leader. For nearly four hours, both groups came to their first agreement to try to find a solution to the coca problem of the Chapare.
The coca growers again demonstrated their total rejection of the forced 100 percent eradication of the coca leaf crops in the Chapare, affirming that the majority of their production, being less expensive than the leaf grown in the Yungas region, was consumed by the poorest sectors of the population. Based on this fact, they proposed to the government the realization of a study to determine the real level of traditional consumption of coca leaf in Bolivia and the elaboration of projects to industrialize the leaf (as it is already used to manufacture products such as sweets, tinctures and toothpaste). They also demanded the demilitarization of the Chapare and the retirement of the paramilitary forces charged with the repression and the anti-drug fight.
The government, that in that first meeting barely spoke at all, listened and criticized the plea by the Chapare coca growers, but left open the possibility that while solutions are sought there would be a pause in the eradication in this region. That’s why, and forming a joint commission (of government and coca grower representatives) to analyze all the relative issues, Evo and his companions decided to remain at the negotiating table for three more months. There were four more meetings, but after the third one (October 18) when the position of Sánchez de Lozada turned to the right: during an official visit to the United States, the Bolivian president said there would be no pause in the eradication because the coca leaf was destined to produce drugs. However, in spite of the fact the during the past months there had been various incidents between the coca growers and the Armed Forces, and also that the forced eradication of coca continued, the government insisted on “dialogue.” And it continues asking for it, demanding an end to the blockades that now spread through the regions of Bolivia… while at the same time it dedicates itself to beat and imprison leaders and Congress members of the MAS.
“The Oil and the Coca”
Between December 26 and 28, the MAS had its first national meeting after the elections. Meeting in Chimoré, the brave heart of the Chapare, the leaders, the rank-and-file members and the members of Congress of the second largest party in Bolivia discussed the steps to take and the revival necessary at this point in history. “We have to defend the oil and the coca… the gas should not be sold to the United States… we must fight against the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas)… it’s urgent to distribute more land to the farmers,” that’s what the bases said. And the leadership accepted the platform. After organizing its program with other social sectors, the MAS and Evo Morales decided to elaborate a “Call for National Mobilization,” that indicated, among other points:
1. Recuperation of the property of hydrocarbons to put them at the service of the people and commit the government to no export natural gas to Chile (and the United States as a consequence)...
2. Recuperation of the privatized mulitnational industries due to its proven corruption and the return of privatized mines in Huanuni and Vinto…
3. A solution to the land and territory problem with the goal that every Bolivian, especially those without land, and the original peoples, will have land to work…
4. A pause in the forced eradication of coca leaf in the Chapare, rejecting the eradication of even a single coca leaf in the Yungas region and the demilitarization of the coca growing regions…
5. Rejection of Bolivia’s joining the FTAA, an instrument of colonization of our peoples. To struggle for the strengthening of the regional integration of Latin America…
6. Rejection of the presence of U.S. troops in Bolivian territory…
This last point was the straw the broke the camel’s back. Early last December, the National Congress, representatives and senators in open session, approved the entrance of U.S. troops into a Southeastern zone of Bolivia. The MAS opposed it, but was defeated by the representatives close to the governing coalition. Beginning at this moment, there began a regrouping of forces for this mobilization.
The Bolivian people, who last June demonstrated their power at the ballot box, decided to publicly demonstrate.
This has only just begun
With patience and eyes open, Evo Morales and the other leaders of the MAS, were articulating their demands to other social movements throughout the country. And it was the coca growers’ movement, the vanguard of the social struggles in Bolivia, that this Monday began with the blockades in the main highway that unites East and West of the country. However, the Armed Forces unleashed the war as of Monday afternoon. They’ve begun to shoot their weapons with real bullets, wounding Estaban García. Tuesday at midday, the backup Congressman to Evo, the Chapare leader Luis Cuitipa, was beaten by soldiers and dragged into a military vehicle to be held in a police cell… The government has broken the immunity that Bolivian Congressmen previously had.
At approximately 3 p.m. on Tuesday, during a demonstration in the city of Cochabamba, Senator Filemón Escóbar (almost 70 years old) was savagely beaten by soldiers when he tried to defend a group of retirees who were attacked by the repressors. Equally, Congressman Jorge Ledesma of the Chapare and his substitute, Teófila López, were taken prisoner by the police and were only freed after they proved, inside the prison, that they were Congress members. However, the coca growers are not deterred: on Tusday there were blockades in Sinahota, Chimoré and Villa Tunari. There is absolutely no traffic circulating in the heart of the country, not of cargo nor of passengers. Still, since this is a national mobilization, there are blockades and Marches in Oruro, in Potosí, in Santa Cruz and in La Paz, and also in the Yungas region, where coca growers led by Dionicio Nuñez have paralyzed commerce and transportation since yesterday. The miners have mobilized, the retirees (almost 8,000 people who marched and blocked highways), the landless farmers, the land squatters, the rural teachers, the famous Water Coordinator movement, the workers, the student and neighborhood movements in the main cities… It is possible to get an idea of it by looking at the photos published in the La Paz daily, La Razón:
Since Tuesday morning, to give an historic example, three indigenous nations have left behind the rancors of centuries to unite and blockade: Laimes, Cacachaquas and Jucumanis have united in this movement, concious that the struggle is not just to defend their beloved coca leaf… this mobilization has become a valorous defense by a country filled with poor people, and Narco News continues covering its progess… while Sánchez de Lozada travels peacefully to Ecuador, a young man has died of a bullet wound, the poor of Bolivia have risen to defend their dignity, their sovereignty… stay on the line, kind readers, because this battle is the first of the year and the Bolivian people is demonstrating, with it, their decision and ancestral power.
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