bulletin from the Andean Information Network, 12/17/02

Following an open meeting of the Six Coca Growing Federations in the Chapare on December 5, coca growers announced that they will begin blockades on the 6th of January, but will continue to dialogue with Bolivian government officials. During the three hour meeting, coca grower leaders decided to reject the government's "new coca policy." They agreed to continue dialogue if the government agrees to discuss the modification of article 10 of Law 1008 to allow each Chapare family to grow half a hectare of coca (La Razón, 12/6/02).

Chapare coca growers have stated that the blockades will include a wide spectrum of other groups, such as the Landless Movement, ex-political prisoners and debtors (La Razón, 12/6/02). However, these sectors, as well as coca growers in the La Paz Yungas region and the campesino Federation led by Felipe Quispe Huanca (Mallku) have declared that they will not participate in the blockades (La Razón 12/12/02). At this time, a portion of the COB (Bolivian Workers' Union) is the only group that has declared it will participate in the blockades.

Perhaps in response to the lack of commitment to participate by other sectors, coca grower leader Evo Morales has created a new agenda for the dialogue that prioritizes the demands of these other sectors as well. While the government is pushing for the dialogue to address solely the demands of coca growers, Morales has created a 10-point agenda that incorporates other themes of national interest, including capitalization, the international sale of natural gas, and laws that affect diverse social sectors (Los Tiempos 12/12/02).

While Chapare coca growers have agreed to continue dialogue, many are doubtful that negotiations will lead to an agreement. Julio Salazar of the Isinuta union stated, "We don't believe in the government. There is no hope for the dialogue because the government is following the United States' orders, defending the interests of that country..." (Opinion 12/6/02). Similarly, Elsa Flores of the Mamoré Federation stated, "I believe that there should not be continued dialogue... the government has been trying to trick us the whole time; they will not give us answers. So now, the women with our children are going to blockade" (Opinion 12/6/02).

The Government has maintained that it remains open to dialogue, but is prepared to deal with blockades. Minister of Defense Freddy Teodovic affirmed that the Ninth Division of the Army, located in the Chapare, has adequate forces to maintain order and control in the region, as well as forces of the Joint Task Force and UMOPAR (the rural antinarcotics police) (Opinion 12/6/02). He stated, "the number of forces that we have in the Chapare is a predetermined... The Ninth Division has between 1,200 and 1,500 men. We don't see the need to increase this number in order to guarantee order in the region" (Opinion 12/6/02). During times of conflict, though, the government sends in military reinforcements from other areas.


A continued source of desperation for coca growers is a lack of other viable economic options. As one producer of palm heart, stated, "I have decided to continue to plant coca, there is no other alternative. We have dedicated so much time and energy to growing palm heart but no one wants to buy it. We are suffering from hunger, we have no future for our children"(El Diario 12/9/02). Costs for starting alternative development crops can be prohibitively high. In the case of palm heart, the producer must initially invest 1000 dollars per hectare out of their own pocket, in spite of alternative development assistance.


Although negotiations have not broken down during the last three months, tensions in the Chapare remain high. Coca growers continued vigils around eradication camps and intermittent violence continued. The Chapare Human Rights Ombudsman's office has documented 53 coca growers and three security officers injured and one coca grower and one navy conscript killed since Sanchez de Lozada's August 6 inauguration. Press accounts sustain that another four soldiers have been injured.


In mid-July, the Joint Task Force (JTF) set up three eradication camps in the Dorado Chico, Dorado Grande and Ibuelo communities. According to eyewitnesses, at approximately 8:30am on August 27 in Dorado Chico, a large group of coca growers surrounded 100 members of the Joint Task Force (JTF), creating an incredibly tense situation. At the same time, members of the Ibuelo community denounced that JTF had fired tear gas into their homes and beat and detained several coca growers. The Human Rights Ombudsman's office verified the beating of 12 people during the incident. The forensic specialist at the Justice and Human Rights Center certified that seven people suffered multiple contusions, one with a possible fractured rib, and one with an open head wound. Four of these men were detained. The Joint Task Force left the region several hours later. JTF Commander Hernan Caprirolo agreed to remove the camp from the region.


On August 30, the JTF transferred three camps from Ibuelo to San Andres, between the Chimore and Carrasco Tropical Federations. Several hundred coca growers immediately surrounded the camps, impeding eradication. On September 3, JTF troops tear-gassed coca growers around the Guadalupe camp. Ecological Police officer Silvestre Chinche Apaza suffered machete cuts to the ear and shoulder. Security forces detained coca grower Fructuoso Apaza Arteaga and his wife, Antonia Rocha Perez, as a result. Rocha was released the same day. Fructuoso Apaza suffered three fractured ribs during his detention and has been transferred to Cochabamba for further legal investigation.


On October 4, navy conscript Robin Huanacoma Huanama (18 years old) was fatally injured when he set off a booby trap bomb while eradicating coca in the San Marcos community near Chimore.


On Sunday October 6, approximately 200 members of the Joint Task Force (JTF) entered the Volcan community, near Entre Ríos. According to eyewitness accounts, when some members of the community attempted to block their access, a member of the force shot a coca grower. After this incident the JTF began to leave the region. When they reached the intersection of the road to Ichoa at approximately 10:15, members of the force began to fire tear gas and live ammunition at a small group of coca growers gathered in a vigil. Union leader Sabino Toledo (40 years old) received a bullet wound in the left pectoral muscle and died. The Ministry of Justice autopsy report documents the death. According to eyewitness accounts and reports from human rights monitors, although there was a great deal of tension, coca growers were unarmed and no confrontation took place.


On the morning of November 16, four soldiers of the la Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta (FTC) were injured by a booby trap explosion in the Alto San Pablo region, according to the Vice-minister of Social Defense, Ernesto Justiniano (El Diario 12/17/02). According to authorities, the explosive consisted of dynamite attached to a bottle containing nails, bolts and rocks, and it was activated electrically. The names of the victims have not been released.


On September 27, 2001 a member of the Joint task force shot and killed Ramón Pérez, who was leading a group of journalists toward the Loma Alta military camp in the Chapare. Almost a year later, the Ivirgarzama civilian judge has granted a suspended sentence to one Ecological Police officer on duty during the incident. On the 26th of September, 2002, the judge found Macario Beltran Condori guilty of negligent homicide and gave him a three year suspended prison sentence. The judge gave Beltran two years of probation in which he is prohibited from changing residences without the permission of the judge and consuming alcoholic beverages, and during which he must check in with the judge every 45 days. As a result Beltran will serve no jail time.

The Pérez case represents the first time in the Chapare that a judge has completed a case against a security officer for a human rights violation. This process appears to represent a new strategy to avoid concrete legal consequences for human rights violators, as criticism for these trials in military courts continues. The abbreviated trial process with multiple irregularities in terms of evidence and legal argumentation was called by one embassy official, "kind of a slap on the wrist." Yet embassy officers remain reticent to evaluate whether the Bolivian government is "taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice," a key requirement for Leahy Amendment implementation.

-- END --
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Issue #268, 12/20/02 Special Offer Continues -- DRCNet Needs Your Help! | Editorial: Expanding the Chorus | 108 Euro-Parliamentarians Call for Legal, Regulated Drug Trade, Reform of UN Conventions | Congressional Drug Warrior Having Doubts: Dan Burton's Near Epiphany | Michigan Legislature Repeals Mandatory Minimum Drug Laws | Canadian Marijuana Activists Skeptical on Decrim | Canadian Supreme Court Postpones Marijuana Cases, Cites Parliament Report, Justice Minister Statement on Decrim | DRCNet Book Review: "Busted: Stone Cowboys, Narco-Lords, and Washington's War on Drugs" | And the Winners Are | Federal Judge Shows Keen Interest in Raich/Monson Medical Marijuana Case | Bolivia Coca Growers Announce Blockades for January 6 -- Will Continue Dialogue | DC Measure 62 Clears Hurdle, Goes to Congress 268/jeffjones Newsbrief: Oakland Cannabis Co-op Director Founded Guilty on Federal Jury Tampering Charges, Handed Out Flyer at Epis Trial | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Newsbrief: Stop the Presses! Poor, Blacks Face Brunt of Houston Drug War | Newsbrief: Texas ACLU Report Slams Task Forces, Calls for End to $200 Million Annual Boondoogle | Newsbrief: MPP Continues "War on Drug Czar" -- More Complaints to be Filed, O'Reilly Appearance Tonight | Newsbrief: Budget Cuts Free Kentucky Drug Prisoners -- Oklahoma Next? | Newsbrief: Nickelodeon Censors Beverly Hillbillies Marijuana References | Newsbrief: Asset Forfeiture Unconstitutional in New Jersey | Media Scan: Joycelyn Elders in Globe and Mail, George McMahon in Fort Worth Weekly, Jeff and Tracy, Santa Fe New Mexican, Medscape | DC Job Opportunities at DRCNet | Action Alerts: Rave Bill, Medical Marijuana, Higher Education Act Drug Provision, Tulia, Salvia Divinorum | The Reformer's Calendar

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