(bulletin from the Andean Information Network)
JOINT TASK FORCE MILITARIZES ISARZAMA AND LATER RETREATS
At approximately 7:00am on October 18, ten military transport trucks and nine nine pick-ups of soldiers entered Isarzama, Mamore Federation, where a tear gas canister fired at close range killed coca grower Nilda Escobar on October 16.
The Joint Task Force group of 800 soldiers was heavily armed with automatic weapons. Many wore masks or painted their faces to hide their identities. The forces completely occupied the community as a crowd of angry coca growers prepared for confrontation. Comments to the press by Joint Task Force commander Hernan Caprirolo, that he did not believe that Escobar died as a result of tear gas, although the canister was lodged deep into her forehead, exacerbated the conflict. The combined forces wounded one coca grower and detained three others.
The security forces eventually retreated as a result of intervention and mediation by the representative of the Human Rights' Ombudsman Chapare office, Godofredo Reinicke and Father Sperandio Ravasio, Villa Tunari parish priest.
Human rights monitors confirmed that members of the Expeditionary Task Force, salaried non-military eradication employees with inadequate training, provide security for the Joint Task Force. Use of inexperienced personnel raises the risk of excessive use of force during this extremely tense period.
There were also reports of confrontations in Tres Esquinas and Cinco Esquinas yesterday. AIN is working to confirm this information, as press accounts are often inaccurate.
COCA GROWERS OCCUPY ALTERNATIVE DEVELOPMENT PROJECT
A group of approximately 50 campesinos returning from Nilda Escobar's funeral took control of the offices of CIAPROT, an alternative development project near Entre Rios funded by USAID. Angry coca growers took over the offices, forced employees to flee and burned a motorcycle. Security forces announced their entrance into the region and campesinos eventually left the installation. Coca growers argued that they had received no concrete benefits from a project designed to serve their needs.
US AMBASSADOR'S THREAT TO CUT AID AGGRAVATES CONFLICT
Manuel Rocha, US ambassador, stated on Wednesday, October 17 that if Bolivia does not continue to carry out its anti-drug "Dignity Plan" (which stipulates forced eradication and the elimination of coca in the Chapare), the country will lose a significant amount of US funding. Rocha said, "If a time comes in which this commitment no longer exists, be assured, our aid will be different. The funds are there because of the commitment and without it the aid will diminish." This comments led Bolivian government officials to confirm that eradication efforts in the Chapare would continue, in spite of the social conflict generated.
POLICY PROVOKES POVERTY
Strong US pressure for the Bolivian government to comply with unrealistic and ambitious eradication targets holds strong in spite of violence and social unrest generated by these policies. US-funded and sponsored alternative development projects have failed to generate any viable income for the great majority of the 35,000 families affected by eradication in the region. Many families are forced to replant coca to insure their subsistence.
US emphasis on accelerated forced coca eradication to meet certification goals has greatly exacerbated the extreme poverty in the region. Hunger, intestinal parasites and infant mortality rates in the region have increased. It is important to note that many of the wounded during the present conflict show signs of acute malnutrition. When asked why coca growers have adopted a policy of active resistance to eradication efforts, many people responded that they feel that they have nothing left to lose.
SECURITY OFFICERS EXPRESS CONCERN
In response to Rocha's comments, some officers of the Joint Task Force requested immediate dialogue and mediation by the Human Rights Ombudsman's office, Catholic Church and the Permanent Human Rights Assembly. "The coca issue is a time bomb; if it's not controlled, we will have to lament the loss of many human lives -- coca growers and Joint Task Force," remarked one officer, who asked not to be identified, to El Diario.
HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSPERSON CONVOKES JOINT MEDIATION
Ana Maria Romero de Campero, head of the Human Rights Ombudsman's office, met with Catholic Church officials and the Permanent Human Rights Assembly to form a commission in an effort to facilitate joint mediation and conflict resolution in the Chapare. The three institutions expressed their concern for the spiral of violence in the Chapare and urged all parties involved to seek a peaceful solution. Romero de Campero stated that the decision of the Joint Task Force to withdraw troops from Isarzama was a positive sign of a willingness to negotiate.
This facilitating commission, made up of the three organizations, played a key role in dialogue resulting in the October 15, 2000 agreement between the Bolivian government and coca growers. The agreement ended over a month of road blockades and violent repression in the region. It is crucial that the international community support this inter-institutional effort at a time when widespread violence in the Chapare continues to be a very real possibility.
SECURITY FORCES DENOUNCE HARASSMENT
Col. Hernan Caprirolo, Joint Task Force Commander, and Cochabamba Prefect, Jose Orias, denounced to the press that coca growers fired rifles toward air and exploded dynamite around three eradication camps yesterday. They also said coca growers shot at a DIRECO (eradication control agency) pick-up on October 16.
COCA GROWERS MEET TODAY TO DETERMINE NEXT STEP
Members of the six coca growers' federations will meet today (10/19) in Lauca Ene to decide if and when road blockades will begin and whether or not they are willing to participate in further dialogue with government officials. Evo Morales told the press that blockades might begin as soon as tomorrow, October 20.
Federation members maintain their demand for one cato of coca per family, and until now, have rejected the counterproposal for a $930 payment and alternative development assistance for one year.
(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.)