Massive Military Presence and Abuses Continue in Bolivia's Chapare Region 11/9/01

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(bulletin from the Andean Information Network)

Chapare Coca growers announced road blockades of the main highway between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz would begin at midnight, November 6. As a result of the heavy military presence in the region, only small blockades appeared last night and early this morning. Until approximately 2:00pm, the highway was deserted except for military transports. Later in the afternoon, trucks and some buses began to pass through the region.

High-ranking Bolivian government officials stated that they would guarantee free transit through the region, and that people should travel freely. These statements are irresponsible as blockades and confrontations could erupt at any time. During the September-October blockades, over 400 hundred travelers were left stranded throughout the region for a period of two weeks after a similar government message.

Yesterday afternoon, members of the Joint Task Forces shot tear gas canisters near a Villa Tunari riverbank. Combined Forces spokesmen stated that they were only testing their anti-riot materials. Residents of Villa Tunari expressed concern that gas was entering the downtown area.

COMBINED FORCES COMMIT ABUSES

Although coca growers have not appeared in large groups along the main road, large concentrations and smaller groups gather on side roads, for example near Chipiri in the Tropico Federation. Today combined forces units entered communities throughout the Chapare and tear-gassed gatherings of campesinos without provocation in order to disperse them, apparently in an effort to impede planning meetings.

According to reports, security forces used tear gas and rubber pellets to disperse a group of campesinos there this morning. Union leaders report five wounded. According to reports from union leaders, members of the Joint Task Force shot Justino Mollo and Julio Torrico with rubber pellets. The injuries of the other three individuals were less serious. AIN is still attempting to confirm this information.

In Lauca Ene, AIN has confirmed that security forces hit Sabino Condori (34 years old) in the head with a rifle butt, causing an open wound. They also beat Cecilio Ramos. In Ibuelo, combined forces beat, dragged and illegally detained union leader Vitalia Merida Jimenez. She was later released from the Technical Judicial Police station for lack of evidence. Similar incidents have been reported throughout the region.

Although the government asserts that there is free transit throughout the Chapare, security forces have established a checkpoint at the Eterazama Bridge, and do not allow vehicles to pass in either direction. This impedes traffic to the main highway as well as to communities such as Isinuta and the Isibore Secure Park. Members of the combined forces retained Six Federations leader Evo Morales in his jeep at this checkpoint from approximately 11:00pm to 1:00am.

Human rights workers in the Chapare fear that widespread violence could erupt.

MASSIVE MILITARY PRESENCE AND PERMANENT INFRASTRUCTURE

At this time there are between 4,000 and 4,500 members of the security forces stationed in the Chapare. This is an increase of approximately 2,000 troops since the end of October. Although both US and Bolivian governments had stated that forced eradication should have eliminated the last illegal coca in the region by December of 2000, widespread replanting of coca the coca leaf and active campesino resistance have impeded this goal. During 2001, at least 6,000 hectares of coca have been eradicated and at least 4,000 remain.

Both governments officially state that a long-term sustained military presence in the region is indispensable to maintain eradication goals and prohibit resurgence of the coca crop. Initially, military participation in anti-drug efforts (although according to the Bolivian constitution is outside their mandate) was to last until the end of forced eradication. US commitment to funding a continued presence is both costly and damaging to Bolivia's fragile democracy. The permanent establishment of military action within antinarcotic efforts (a police function) is counterproductive in the nation's efforts to establish a credible civilian system of governance.

US government officials state that they are working to improve and strengthen the combined forces infrastructure in the region. The October 15, 2000 agreement between Six Federations leaders and government officials stated that there would be no new bases in the Chapare region. Coca growers interpret improvements in military infrastructure and a violation of this agreement.

Investigation by the Human Right's Ombudsman's Chapare office in October detailed the following existing military and combined forces facilities in the region:

  1. UMOPAR (US-funded anti-drug police) base in Chimore, as well as posts and checkpoints in seven other communities.
  2. Expeditionary Task Force in Chimore for approximately 400 salaried, nonmilitary eradication and security personnel.
  3. "Claws of Valor" International Training Facility in Senda Tres -- to train future UMOPAR officers and military and police personnel from around Latin America.
  4. Ninth Army Division in Ibuelo, currently undergoing widespread construction to improve and broaden its infrastructure.
  5. Isinuta Joint Task Force Camp, an established base for the past three years.
  6. Ichoa Camp
  7. Special Jungle Operations Troops Center (CIOS-II) in Santa Rosa, a consolidated military infrastructure that houses military conscripts.
  8. COE Naval Force in Puerto Villarroel, an established naval base.
  9. BI-26 Infantry Battalion in Colomi, a mountain town close to the Chapare, built in 1970.
At the time of this survey, the Human Rights Ombudsman special representation noted an additional seven mobile Joint Task Force eradication camps.

As of the beginning of November 2001, the Bolivian government confirms a total of 18 "temporary" combined forces camps in the region (Lauca Ene, Shinahota, San Isidro, Villa Tunari, Paractito, Naranjitos, Cristalmayu, Ivirgarzama, Paraiso, Entre Rios, Bulo Bulo, Vueltadero, Valle Sajta, Isinuta, Isiboro, Eterazama, Villa 14 de Septiembre and Aroma).

Human rights monitors and political analysts fear that new troops transferred into the region may remain there permanently.

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. For previous reports on the Chapare crisis, visit http://www.drcnet.org/wol/209.html#chapare and see the links to back articles.

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