Issue # 17 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

January 31, 2002

"He who owes nothing, fears nothing"

-- Evo Morales, on Hunger Strike

Photo: Al Giordano, D.R. 2002

Narco News '02

The Illegality of

State Continues

Evo Still on Hunger Strike

By Luis A. Gómez

Narco News Andean Bureau Chief

Well, they've taken dozens of leaders prisoner during the War Over Sacaba. They've also assassinated four more coca growers. Last Thursday, in a dark morning for the legislative history of Bolivia, they succeeded in expelling Evo Morales from Congress with arguments that were completely illegal, burdos, without even adjusting their maneuver to the mechanisms of the Ethics Laws of the House of Representatives. But yesterday, kind readers, when the hour came to arrest Evo Morales definitively between their garras, the judicial branch (that elegant hand of Latin American governments) simply took two steps back and let him go…

Do we begin this story on last Friday, when Evo left the hall of Congress toward Cochabamba to hold a hunger strike? Or do we briefly summarize all that has happened? Okay…

A Summary With New Information

Everyone will remember that the history of this new conflict (the most violent in five years) between the Bolivian coca growers' movement and the current government of this country, began with one Supreme Decree (number 26415). In this document, President Jorge Quiroga has decided that the coca from the Chapare region can not be sold because it is (so insist the government and the U.S. Embassy) a product of illegal crops. This unleashed a war over the eldest coca-leaf market in the country: Sacaba.

After various days of struggle in the streets with bonfires at almost every corner, four coca growers died in Sacaba, along with three military soldiers and a police officer. Beginning on Saturday, January 19th, the combined forces of the army and the police unleashed a wave of selective arrests that brought more than 100 leaders and militants of the Six Federations of Peasant Farmers of the Cochabamba Tropic. After these tragic acts and the arrests, the Congressmen from the traditional parties (fundamentally MIR, AND, MNR and NFR) came to an agreement: Evo Morales, the maximum leader of the coca growers and elected Congressman from the Chapare, had to be expelled.

On Thursday, the 24th, at 3:20 in the morning, the separation of the man who obtained the most votes in the general election of 1997 (according to data of the national Electoral Court, 70.3 percent) from his post was completed. In a process unworthy of representatives of the people, Morales' colleagues accused him of "abuse of immunity." That is to say, of taking advantage of his congressional immunity to foment crimes or protect criminals. In passing this resolution, the members of Congress based their maneuver on photocopies of newspaper reports! Although that was not the worst part of it, nor the fact that some of those who asked for his expulsion also have similar charges pending… The worst was that they violated their own ethics rules: they prevented him from defending himself. Evo Morales, according to said regulation (of which we have a copy), had 15 days from the presentation of the accusation against him to present proofs exonerating him, but this never occurred. And if it's about noncompliance with procedure, the stupidity of the congress members has come to the point of failing to deliver a copy of said resolution, in which, according to the internal norms and procedures of the House of Representatives, Morales would still be a member of Congress, because nobody has formally informed him of his definitive separation from Congress.

Nonetheless, Evo began his hunger strike in the seat of the Bolivian Congress, where they threatened to expell him by force and did not permit even the entrance of banners or placards. That's why, on Friday in the first flight to Cochabamba, the leader of the Chapare coca growers went there to continue his strike. On Tuesday, Morales reached his sixth day of hunger strike, installed in the offices of the Central Labor Union of the State of Cochabamba, a few steps from the police, the judges and other authorities in this city. His attorney, Dr. Héctor Arce, has presented a motion to the Supreme Court, the maximum judicial authority in Bolivia, against the illegal separation of Evo from Congress.

To continue, we present for you an interview given by Evo Morales to Narco News in Cochabamba this week.

"He Who Owes Nothing, Fears Nothing"

On each wall of the habitation where he sleeps, Evo Morales has hung a sign with his five basic demands, important to understanding the current posture of the coca growers' leader:

1. The immediate release of political prisoners.
2. Cancellation of Supreme Decree # 26415.
3. The Closing of Congress.
4. Against the Dictatorship of Quiroga.
5. Compliance with Agreements.

Narco News: Approximately how many political prisoners are there from the coca growers' movement at this moment?

Evo Morales: There are almost 60 (50 men in the Maximum Security Prison of Abra and Six women in the San Sebastián Jail). They have already freed don Filemón Escobar, an advisor to the movement.

Narco News: We know that on Friday, you barely arrived at the airport in Cochabamba and they delivered you a subpoena to appear in court for the case they have brought against you for sedition. However, with the rapidity with which they have pushed this case, and because they seem to be taking advantage of the weekend, does it appear to you that they are improvising the process at these moments?

Evo Morales: In fact, last Friday, the 25th, I presented myself voluntarily to face charges over this process. He who owes nothing, fears nothing. It would be great if Banzer similarly presented himself to appear and face his charges in Argentina… But, why doesn't he? Because, he is afraid. Certainly, on that day they waited for me in the airport with a citation to appear on Monday at 9:30 a.m. I also appeared for that, but they did not allow me to testify and I have not been able to clarify what type of accusations there are against me for the charges of sedition and others. And they haven't delivered us anything. There is a rumor that they are preparing to arrest me. But I reiterate: I'm not afraid. And if it is a crime to defend the poor, this is a political problem. Everyone knows that the general election is coming.

Narco News: That is to say, are you convinced that this montaje is meant to impede the coca growers (through the Movement Toward Socialism party) will again win congressional seats in 2002?

Evo Morales: Totally. It's not just about congressional seats. There are many movements that are gathering steam against the "unpatriotic," against those who sell and auction the country. The conscience of the political parties grows against the political model that agonizes us. It all surges from that. What they are trying to do is liquidate us. Already, in 1998, they had decided upon my civilian death and in 1999, when we obtained very good results in the municipal elections, the situation worsened.

Narco News: And what role does the United States Embassy play? Is it involved in all this?

Evo Morales: Last year, the current Speaker of the House, Luis Vásquez, told me: "Evo, I'm sorry, but there is an extreme pressure against you." A member of the MNR (National Revolutionary Movement party) said to me: "I am not in agreement with the pressure from the United States." Even Roberto Fernández of the New Republican Force said to me that there had been a lot of pressure from the U.S. to get me out of Congress.

That's why in my last speech in the House I said that the Congressmen who speak against me do so to pay accounts to the United States. They compete to demonstrate which is more anti-Evo and to have a good image with the United States government. They forgot about having a good image with the people. What they can't accept (the US officials) is that, second to the miners, the coca growers, we are so strong, not only organizationally, but also culturally and ideologically.

For the United States and the multinational corporations it seems to be a crime if the farmers continue being owners of their own lands and if they can't separate us from our culture. Meanwhile, the original indigenous people, possessing their lands, will continue being a threat, because land is synonymous with liberty. And what they want is for us to become agricultural employees. This is the real battle.

Narco News: Are you saying that it's already not just about eradicating coca in the Chapare, but also converting the crops to serve the needs of the multinational businesses?

Evo Morales: Exactly. And that the farmers become their agricultural workers. It's already not about 'zero coca.'

Narco News: Returning to the case of your separation from Congress. What arguments did they use against you?

Evo Morales: Well, they said that I had abused my congressional immunity. And they based their accusations on newspaper clippings in which it was said that I would heat up the Chapare, which is totally false. And it also must be noted that any declaration made by a congressman or senator, according to Article 51 of the Political Constitution of the State, is protected speech. What's more, all my declarations were to predict what, later, did happen in Sacaba. There is no serious error nor any crime. There had been no previous charge.

Apart from this, the information that we have indicates that it was not the Ethics Commission of the House of Representatives that edited the document. My expulsion was edited and later passed through the hands of (ex president and leader of the MNR party) Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, (the ex president and leader of the MIR party) Jaime Paz Zamora and (the president) Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga.

Narco News: How did you experience the conflicts in Sacaba?

Evo Morales: Since before those confrontations began, I sent letters to the Public Defender and to the Catholic Church. We knew that this was going to unleash social unrest. And my hypothesis of years has resulted true: I said, I said, the coca will be the national flag in the defense of dignity and sovereignty. Now it's all coming true. Now, on the 5th or 6th of January, I declared that the Supreme Decree # 26415 would heat up the country. I never said that I would heat up the country. It's about the consequences of the Decree, that penalizes the transport workers, the producer and the consumer of coca leaves. Who can stand for that? It is a direct attack against identity and culture. Then we asked for talks, but they didn't accept that.

I was in the march on the 14th, and after tha, in a meeting. The compañeros decided to reopen the market. We have to look at the context: Constant abuses, eradication without alternative development, more hunger, more misery. There comes a moment in which the people revolt and when that happens, who can stop it?

Narco News: However, the grand majority of the politicians (and various media) blame you, directly, for what happened in Sacaba.

Evo Morales: Sure. Instead of interpreting the causes of everything, they attack us, the leaders, as the reason for the problems of all the people.

Narco News: Maybe then you could explain to us how the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba and the unions make decisions. That is to say: How are decisions made inside your organization?

Evo Morales: It is decided in a large meeting (assembly). No one imposes upon it and almost always the decision is unanimous. On very few occasions we have decided things by a majority vote. Including, in some meetings with the unions, my proposals have been defeated and I respect that because, from the maximum leader to the last compañero, we all have the right to propose initiatives, to launch proposals, to innovate upon ideas.

Narco News: Finally, is there something you could say to our readers about the current situation?

Evo Morales: The world must take notice that the worst enemy of humanity is capitalism. That is what provokes uprisings like our own, a rebellion against a system, against a neoliberal model, which is the representation of a savage capitalism. If the entire world doesn't acknowledge this reality, that the national states are not providing even minimally for health, education and alimentation, then each day the most fundamental human rights are being violated. I ask, please, that the people reflect about the reality of millions and millions of human beings who have been excluded, humiliated, marginalized, above all, the indigenous peoples. It would be good to reflect in order to find new models of development that permit us to resolve the problems of the majority and not merely to augment the enrichment of the minority.

Farce, and End... for Now

On Sunday the 28th, at 9:30 a.m., Evo Morales presented himself to the Court. But nobody attended to him in this place. Surrounded by some 50 compañeros (and a score of journalists), Morales entered the offices of the local police command. Here, in an illegal manner, they impeded passage to everyone and only the leader could enter to be interviewed by the prosecutor. His compañeros began to shout and demand passage, because they thought now that the authorities would arrest him. For 20 minutes this uncertainty lasted. A little while later, Evo appeared, free because the prosecutor refused to take any testimony - because of a lack of guarantees!

At noon, in a march and meeting in the Plaza of the 24th of September of Cochabamba, in front of the offices where Evo today remains in his hunger strike, his compañeros again demonstrated and in full vanguard, among them other coca grower women, and a very young widow asked that Evo be returned to Congress, that all her compañeros arrested be freed and that justice be made of her black banner and long tears.

But nothing, kind readers of Narco News, nothing happens still. The authorities continue refusing to liberate the prisoners and lying about them. They say they haven't tortured them as the president of the Human Rights Assembly of Cochabamba has accused. They also say that none of them are wounded and that the women prisoners have not been mistreated. And they refuse to allow the journalists to see them in their jails to report the facts. But this correspondent, undercover as a social worker, did enter and saw the men and women of the Chapare who are prisoners for defending their culture and patrimony. And, yes, they were tortured (I saw wounds on some of them). Yes, they were mistreated in the jails. But speaking of their fight, of their leader, and their implacable will that makes them smile and continue firm in their struggle which, like the hunger strike of Evo Morales, is not over yet.

Éste articulo en Español

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Owe Nothing, Fear Nothing