Bolivia Forced Eradication Provoking Civil Instability, Indiscriminate Violence by Government Security Forces 9/28/01

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(The following information was distributed by the Andean Information Network on September 27.)

In response to the failure of alternative development to provide subsistence for the approximately 35,000 coca growing families affected by forced eradication in the Chapare region and the government's failure to completely comply with agreements signed in October, Chapare coca growers have again begun to resist US-funded eradication efforts:

  • The first week of August, in El Dorado Ibuelo, over 300 coca growers blocked the road to impede eradication by the Expeditionary Task Force, a new force of over 500 hired eradicators without adequate training. Mediation by representatives of the Human Rights Ombudsman's office avoided the use of violence, and the forces retreated.
  • On September 13, 300-500 coca growers in Vueltadero in the Carrasco Federation attempted to impede eradication by members of the Joint Task Force. Military and police eventually retreated.
Tensions in the region continued to increase throughout September. Coca growers began to surround eradication camps throughout the region, provoking indiscriminate use of force (including tear gas, rubber pellets and bullets) by security forces:
  • In San Miguel, Carrasco Federation, on September 25 a member of the Joint Task Force shot Felix Marin Villarroel (15 years old) in the left calf above the ankle. The medical report by the forensic specialist of the Ministry of Justice confirms that the bullet wound fractured his tibia. Marin is currently receiving medical attention in Santa Cruz.
  • On September 27, members of the Joint Task Force fired live ammunition at a group of journalists entering Loma Alta, in the Carrasco Federation, where coca growers had surrounded an eradication camp. Forces shot Ramon Perez (42 years old), a campesino working as a guide for the journalists. The bullet passed through his left hand and into his pelvis and abdomen. Perez died while security forces transported him to the UMOPAR clinic in Chimore. At this time, security forces are reinforcing troops in Isinuta (Isiboro Secure Park), one of the largest military camps in the Chapare. Government forces claim that coca growers have surrounded five of the eight military camps.
Joint Task Force commanders frequently denounce harassment by coca growers, including gunshots, booby traps and verbal aggression. In early September, two soldiers received gunshot wounds from unidentified shooters. Last weekend, Joint Task Force commanders denounced to the press that coca growers had kidnapped two of its members for four hours. The five campesinos initially detained were later released for lack of evidence.

Evo Morales, leader of the six Chapare coca grower's federations, has announced that coca growers will initiate road blockades on October 1. Campesinos in Mizque, Totora and Aiquile, plan to simultaneously block roads in that valley region. These actions could effectively block highways between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba as well as the road between Sucre and Cochabamba.

Meanwhile, an announcement last December by the Bolivian government that it had completely eradicated all the coca in the Chapare region turned out to be premature. A month later, the government admitted that as a result of a satellite error, an additional 600 hectares had been missed.

On September 9, 2001 the Bolivian officials stated to the press that over 6,626 hectares in the Chapare and 14 hectares in the La Paz Yungas have been eradicated so far this year. Faced with exacerbated extreme poverty as a result of accelerated forced eradication, Chapare campesinos continue to plant coca in an attempt to cover their basic subsistence needs.

The Andean Information Network urges that the international community:

  • Insist that Bolivian security forces strictly adhere to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force by Law Enforcement Officials and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.
  • Pressure the Bolivian Government to guarantee the freedom of the press and the safety of human rights monitors and allow them to work without impediments or harassment.
  • Insist that Bolivian security officers and legal representatives carry out all investigations within the established legal framework, respecting due process and international human rights treaties.
  • Insist that security officers who violate these norms face appropriate legal consequences in the civilian court system, instead of internal disciplinary action or trial in military tribunals.
  • Insist that the US government withhold funding for any US-funded unit of the security forces (such as the Joint Task Force) that commit gross human rights violations when there is no evidence that sufficient steps are being taken to bring the individuals responsible to justice (as stipulated by the Leahy Amendment).
  • Urge all parties involved to seek a peaceful resolution to the present conflict through dialogue.
For further information, contact the Andean Information Network at [email protected], visit http://www.scbbs-bo.com/ain/ or write to Casilla 4817, Cochabamba, Bolivia.

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