Evo Reelected Coca Growers’ Leader in Bolivia
But Violence and Attacks Return to the Chapare
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
June 18, 2003
Junio 17; Cochabamba, Bolivia: One day after the President of the Republic of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, announced to the country’s businessmen the beginning of actions to halt the progress by municipal candidates in the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS, in its Spanish initials) the party led by coca grower Evo Morales Ayma, two soldiers in the Chapare region were assassinated mysteriously.
At the June 13th brunch with representatives of the Private Businessmen’s Federation of Santa Cruz, Sánchez de Lozada said that the threats to democracy in the country were already over and that now there is a new priority: Put the breaks on the MAS so it doesn’t win the municipal elections of 2004.
On June 14th, the Joint Task Force soldiers in the Chipiriri region, 165 kilometers from Cochabamba, were attacked: Two soldiers, Segundino Alborta and Francisco Mamani, died. The explosion of a “machine cannon” in a military truck caused the instant death of the conscripts and left another seven soldiers dedicated to the forced eradication of coca crops wounded.
Never before, in any fatal attack, had a “machine cannon” been used.
Bolivian military authorities said that an explosive of this kind can only be constructed and managed by experts, “presumably Colombians.” The Government Minister Yerko Kukok said that the deaths in Chapare were linked to terrorism. The prefect of Cochabamba, Gustavo Vargas, said that a group of coca growers ambushed and shut the homemade weapon, which is similar to a bazooka. Evo Morales replied that this was a “self-administered” attack organized by the very same military and government authorities:
“The President of the Bolivian people issued his warning and then complied with it. The government, with these acts, tries to discredit the MAS but it will not succeed. The death of two soldiers is the result of a self-administered attack by dark forces in the same government, which is acting in a Machiavellian manner,” he said, giving the government a 40 hour deadline to prove its accusations, or, if not, he will file criminal charges against the government.
The Coca Growers’ Congress
In spite of the presidential insinuations, more than 1,000 leaders from all the coca grower organizations affiliated with the Coordinating Committee of the Six Federations of the Cochabamba Tropic reelected, by consensus, Evo Morales Ayma as its principal leader, in a congress held in Cochabamba from June 13th to 16th.
This is the fifth consecutive time – in the last ten years – that Morales Ayma has been elected as the federation’s president.
The coca growers’ event decided to defend the coca leaf intransigently as part of Andean culture, recuperating alternative development projects so that they will be in favor of the peasant farmers, defending and retaking natural resources such as gas and petroleum, fighting for land and territory, rejecting the sale of Bolivian gas to the United States, stopping the country’s membership in the Free Trade Area of the Americas, reinforcing the Movement Toward Socialism’s platform with sights upon the municipal elections, and to defeat, at the ballot box, the neoliberal parties, insisting on talks to solve their demands.
MAS Senator Filemón Escobar affirmed that the reelection of Evo as the principal coca growers’ leader “is a taunt to Goni (Sánchez de Lozada), who is trying to stop the growth of the MAS.”
Dialogue or Violence
Amidst the voices of protest from different social movements against the deaths of the soldiers, the principal coca grower leaders met with members of the Catholic Church to analyze the delicate situation. The leader of the women coca farmers, Leonilda Zurita, warned that if the government does not want to resolve their problems through talks, the coca growers may adopt pressure tactics of an unspecified nature.
Representatives of the Public Defender’s office, the Human Rights Assembly, and the Catholic Church, as well as other social movements, demanded that the coca growers and the government resume the peace talks as the only way to find peaceful solutions to their demands.
Reports that arrived from the coca growing regions said that after the attack that took the lives of the two soldiers, the region is apparently calm.
The more than 1,000 leaders who attended the coca growers’ congress began to return, today, to their towns to hold assemblies and inform their bases of support of the decisions made at the Congress.
The final decision made was that thousands of peasant farmers and coca growers will go to Santa Cruz in November of this year to participate in the activities of the Latin American Unity Summit, which will include various national presidents from the continent.
“The compañeros from the Tropic, as well as other regions in the country, will go en masse to Santa Cruz to receive Lula da Silva, Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, and other presidents and leaders of the continent,” Evo Morales announced.
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