|English | Español||February 21, 2018 | Issue #29|
Drug Warriors Shoot Children in Bolivia
Soldiers Fire on the Sons and Daughters of the Cocaleros
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Coca farmers hold a vigil
Miguel and his friends witnessed the violence a soldier used against a woman who sells chicken in the market and questioned him. In response, they were dispersed with gunshots.
The boy felt a pain in his stomach, the hot blood running down his body, and collapsed on the spot. He had been hit. His friends dragged him away and carried him to a main street where they could get him to a hospital.
Sandra Laura Coca, 12, was also hurt in the shootout, with a bullet wound to her collar bone, as was Victor Alá Perez, 15, who had an injury in his right leg.
Neither child was participating in the mobilization. They were only observing. Two adults, Paulo López Mejía, 32, and Teodoro Peñarrieta Soliz, 53, were hit by pellet-gun shots.
The mother of the injured girl said that human rights abuses happened constantly in the towns of the Chapare region but that now the people are getting tired of it. “The government says that it is fighting drug trafficking, but it’s a lie. This eradication is just a pretext to abuse our rights and occupy our land. But the coca farmers won’t surrender. We have decided to die fighting rather than die on our knees,” she said.
Despite the forced elimination of coca crops, official figures from the US State Department say 24,400 hectares of coca exist in Bolivia. They do not specify the amount of coca in the Yungas region or in the Chapare.
Coca producers say that the fight against drug trafficking “is a fake war” because it doesn’t directly attack drug traffickers. Instead, it attacks the small farmers of these regions. The population of the Tropico de Cochabamba – the official name for the coca-growing Chapare region – is estimated at more than 120,000, of which around 35,000 belong to cocalero organizations.
For more than a month, around a thousand coca producers, together with their families, have been in Cochabamba, staging daily vigils and pijcheos (chewing of coca leaves) in the main plaza, Plaza 14 de Septiembre. The man in charge of the vigils, cocalero leader Feliciano Mamani, said that they were demanding peacefully that the government begin a dialog at the highest level to maintain the peace in the country.
“If this government doesn’t listen to our demands, to the coca producers and other social sectors, we will have no other option than to repeat these mobilizations, not only to end the coca eradication, but to make President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada leave office due to incompetence.”
Faced with the proposal of the coca farmers, the government has no other option than to agree to restart talks.
Government minister Yerko Kukok said that the government has decided to enforce “Law 1008,” a law concerning the control of coca and other controlled substances. In the Chapare region, all coca production is considered “illegal,” he said, and therefore the forced elimination of coca crops should proceed.
Asked about the confrontations in San Isidro, Kukok said that residents constantly harass the soldiers and do not allow them to eradicate the coca crops. After visiting several regions of the Tropico de Cochabamba, he commented that in these areas there was not only coca, but also products of the government’s “alternative development” programs like pineapples and bananas.
The coca producers are asking the government to legally recognize one cato (a plot of 40 by 40 meters) per family. Congressman and cocalero leader Evo Morales Ayma said that if the government authorities don’t listen to the demands of his and other sectors, serious social problems would result.
“The eradication of coca crops only causes death and violence. If the government wants violence, we are going to respond with greater force, until the eradication is paralyzed,” said Evo.
Criticizing the police and military repression of children in the Capare, the cocalero Congressman said that the Bolivian government blindly follows the orders of the US government, but not the will of the majority of the Bolivian people.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism