Terrorists? Or Political Prisoners?
Washington Tries to Destroy the Bolivian Popular Movement
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Part I in a Narco News Investigative Series
February 16, 2004
“Years ago they accused us being communists. After that, drug traffickers. Now they say we’re terrorists: But the important thing is they can’t destroy us. We are stronger every day.”
- Evo Morales
Congressman and Coca Grower
“Bolivia could become the Afghanistan of the Andes, a failed government that exports drugs and chaos,” wrote former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, last November 13th, on the pages of the Washington Post.
The man who is Bolivia’s greatest symbol of neoliberal and imperial politics has that view of the social movements of this country.
Recall that on October 17, 2003, the men and women of Bolivia, from the countryside and the city, wrote a page of dignity in toppling a tyrant known as “Goñi,” to reject the current economic model, to reject that exportation of gas to North American markets, and to expel a president to the only country that would take him: the United States.
These are the social movements, their leaders, and spokesmen, who were accused by the traditional political party voices and by the U.S. Embassy to be drug trafficking organizations, subversives, anarcho-syndicalists, and, most recently, painted as terrorists.
Let’s take a look:
The so-called “war on terrorism” that the United States pushed onto Bolivia was radicalized post-September 11, 2001.
In June of 2002, this country held general elections for president, vice president, and legislators.
Evo Morales, and the “Movement Toward Socialism” (MAS) party, and Felipe Quispe and the Pachakuti Indigenous Movement (MIP) party, were accused, through a millionaire media campaign, of being financed by “money from terrorism.”
In spite of the fact that the then-ambassador of the country to the North, Manuel Rocha, dared to suggest that Bolivians should not vote for the coca leader, the response was to the contrary, because the MAS consolidated itself as the party with the second highest number of electoral votes in a multi-party field.
Under the banner of a “war on terrorism,” George W. Bush escalated his military intervention throughout the world and, logically, in Latin America, and still more logically in Bolivia, because this country, in the heart of the continent, is a geo-strategic region for imperial goals.
The fight against terrorism has become the greatest pretext to weaken the sovereignty of nations, to increase the violation of human rights, to repress social movements, and to block self-determination by the people.
The U.S. strategy is based on the installation of new military bases, to back the existing bases, arms trafficking, total control of drug trafficking, training from U.S. military advisors and the installation of monitoring and surveillance systems.
The United States, relying on its military might, in the imposition of plans like Puebla Panama and Colombia, and on the pretext of the fight against terrorism is trying to “recolonize” our América.
In November of 2002, according to the confesión of a Bolivian military official, the very same Manuel Rocha, while ambassador, told the High Military Command of Bolivia, in reference to Congressman Evo Morales: “I have told you to put the ice on him. He’s already a huge political force.”
In January of 2003, a U.S. advisor, in a meeting with civil leaders of Santa Cruz, told them: “Evo must be eliminated. The MAS should not participate in the municipal elections because it would be a catastrophe for the country.”
In February of 2003, after popular uprising, a supposed National Liberation ARMY (ELN), located in an unnamed region with armed and masked men never appeared.
In March of 2003, the current U.S. Ambassador, David Greanlea, in an “intelligence report” delivered by the then-Vice (and current) President Carlos Mesa, said: “Reliable and true information has been obtained that the Movement Toward Socialism is planning a military coup d’etat to topple the Bolivian government in April of this year. The leaders of the MAS party, Evo Morales Aima and Antonio Peredo Leigue, are the principal architects and the men responsible for this plan.”
In that presumed coup, the coca growers leader would, the Embassy claimed, be assassinated.
On April 10, 2003, in the city of El Alto of La Paz, a spectacular and televised “anti-terrorist” police action occurred, arresting the Colombian human rights and peasant farmers leader Francisco “Pacho” Cortes, two other coca growers, and two minors of age.
The Special Investigations Center of the State was in charge of the montage. The testimony of journalists who attended the raid is that they arrived at the right time and right place to report on the raid because they had received calls from the U.S. Embassy.
Presented with the evidence, the former assistant Government Minister, José Luis Harb, did not deny the U.S. involvement in the operation: “There are treaties, conventions, and joint actions… in the fight against terrorism… Terrorism is of an extra-continental nature, and that’s why we have agreements of understanding with any country, not just the United States.”
The first accusation by the Bolivian government against the alleged “terrorist” was that he belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). After that, they tried to connect him with the National Liberation Army (ELN) of his country. Then they said he was with illegal groups and activities connected to drug trafficking.
Ten months into his detention in the Maximum Security Prison of Chonchocoro in La Paz, nothing has been proved against the Colombian nor his Bolivian co-defendants Claudio Ramirez Cuevas (the former mayor of La Asunta) and Carmelo Peñaranda (coca growers leader of the Chapare): the two minors were released on their own recognizance.
In September of 2003, during the community resistance by the Aymara towns of Sorata and Warisata, the presence of subversive groups on the banks of Lake Titicaca was alleged.
Each of these presumed anti-terrorist actions in this country is accompanied by an enormous media campaign.
On December 4, 2003, a group of 16 people visiting from Bangladesh were detained in the airport of Santa Cruz, accused of being “international terrorists.”
The arrest happened after an accusation was received by the French Embassy in Bolivia, from the France International Terrorism Center (CITF), that the alleged terrorists were going to hijack an airplane on the La Paz-Santa Cruz-Argentina route in order to attack U.S. targets: But twenty-four hours later, the accused were released for lack of evidence.
On December 11, five coca grower leaders and three coca farmers were arrested in an impressive police-military operation, backed by the Attorney General, in the towns of the Tropic of Cochabamba.
The coca growers were accused of being connected to the National Liberation Army (ELN) of Colombia and, specifically, to Francisco “Pacho” Cortes.
A few hours after the raids, all of them, who were accused of being “narco-terrorists,” regains their liberty because no proof was presented against them; however, the charges have not been dropped.
In both actions, organized with the consent of the U.S. government, the Commercial Media flashed banner headlines and led news broadcasts announcing the existence of “terrorism in Bolivia.” But nothing, absolutely nothing, has been proved.
The arrests don’t end there.
In September of 2003, the former coca growers leader and town councilor of Chimoré, Juana Quispe, was arrested allegedly for carrying dynamite to be used on an office of the Defender of Children.
They arrested her, showed her to the press, but no evidence was offered and later she was freed.
In October of 2003, the coca growers leader Marcelino Jancko was arrested and accused by the government of carrying explosives. Today he is held in the prison of San Pedro de La Paz.
On December 1, 2003, President Carlos Mesa, in his remarks at the Chapare funeral for a soldier killed by a home-made bomb known as a “cazabobo,” said, “Without a doubt, we are speaking of terrorism.”
Most of the “anti-terrorism” operations were widely reported by most of the Commercial News Media. But the cases were never followed or clarified by those media organizations.
According to national Congressman and coca grower leader, Evo Morales Aima, the United States government has imposed the much-publicized anti-terrorist campaign as a means to consolidate its geopolitical dominion over the heart of the Latin American continent.
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