Newsbrief: Violence Continues as Talks Begin in Bolivia -- Coca Growers, Workers, Indians Present Demands 1/31/03

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Although nearly two weeks of strikes, roadblocks, and repression have officially given way to negotiations between the Bolivian government and broad social sectors headed by coca farmer leader and Member of Parliament Evo Morales, sporadic violence continued to wrack the Andean nation. According to La Razon (La Paz), at least one and possibly two people were reported killed Thursday in a wild melee between villagers manning roadblocks and angry drivers on the highway between Caranavi and Alto Beni.

The Associated Press put the tally of dead in the confrontation with the government at nine as of Tuesday, but Bolivian sources had tallied at least 15 by late last week.

Morales, as head of the Six Federations of coca growers of the Chapare and leader of the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) Party, ordered an end to the blockades Tuesday. "Blockades are suspended, but farmers should be vigilant," he told the AP.

While coca farmers seeking an end to the Bolivian government's US-sponsored "zero option" coca eradication policy have spearheaded the protests, the mobilization in recent weeks has also included the nation's most powerful labor and indigenous groups, as well as landless peasants, school teachers, retirees, even sectors of the business community. The protest of the cocaleros is taking place within the broader context of a mass mobilization against the "neo-liberal" economic policies of the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and its backers in the United States.

But while the Bolivian government may view the talks -- taking place among a number of government ministers and different insurgent social groups -- as a means of placating and channeling the opposition, Morales has a different idea. Minister of the Presidency Carlos Sanchez Berzain, speaking Wednesday in Cochabamba, told La Razon that "the exchange of views and the broad consultation will serve to support government decisions."

But Morales, speaking the same day, said that the talks "signify changing the [economic] model, Law 1008 [the coca eradication law], and the Law of Capitalization." All three are pillars of the Sanchez de Lozada government.

The US, for its part, announced this week that it would decrease aid to Bolivia from $143 million this year to $132 million next year, $91 million of which will go to support the coca eradication campaign. Assistant Secretary of State for International Affairs Paul Simons made clear what US priorities in Bolivia are. It is important that Bolivia consolidate the "successes" in the war on drugs, said Simon, because "it is important to maintain the rhythm of eradication of coca" in the Chapare.

Under Law 21060 up to 30,000 acres of coca can be cultivated for traditional purposes, such as a tea used to ward off hunger and altitude sickness. But no cultivation is allowed in the Chapare, the heart of the cocalero protests.

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Issue #274, 1/31/03 The Road to Mérida: Interviews with Participants in the "Out from the Shadows" Campaign | Road to Mérida: Dr. Silvia Inchaurraga, Argentine Harm Reductionist | Road to Mérida: Sala Errata | Ed Rosenthal Convicted, Faces 10-Year Mandatory Minimum for Oakland Medical Marijuana Grow | Bush Treatment Initiative Draws Mixed Reviews from Reformers | Into the Morass: Green Berets in Colombia as "War on Drugs" Morphs into "War on Terror" | Drug Czar Says Nevada Election Laws Don't Apply to His Politicking | Latin American Anti-Prohibition Conference, Feb. 12-15, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico | Cumbre Internacional Sobre Legalización, 15-Dec Febrero, Mérida, México | Cúpula Internacional sobre Legalização, 15-Dec de Fevereiro, Mérida, México | Newsbrief: Violence Continues as Talks Begin in Bolivia -- Coca Growers, Workers, Indians Present Demands | Newsbrief: DEA Moving to Schedule Two More Hallucinogens | Newsbrief: Utah Drugged Driving Bill on the Move | Newsbrief: Colorado Bill Equating Meth Manufacture and Child Abuse Moves Forward | Newsbrief: Asian Drug Abolition Mania Spreading -- Malaysia Calls for "Total War," Drug Free Southeast Asia by 2015 | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Newsbrief: Judge Kane Speaks Out Again, Lambasts Federal Drug War | DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator | The Reformer's Calendar

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