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Bolivia: Coca, the FTAA, terrorism and sovereignty
Alex Contreras Baspineiro
ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento 2003-06-26

After only 10 months of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada's government (MNR-MIR), Bolivia is once again approaching a difficult crossroads and a period of polarization between the groups in power and the national majority resulting from the definition of key matters, such as the future of coca, sovereignty, terrorism and the FTAA. The gap that exists between these two sectors is immense and the government is doing nothing to find a solution, rather it is imposing policies that are drawing it into a bottomless abyss.

On June 14, in the Chapare region situated 162 kilometers from Cochabamba, the explosion from a "machine canon" killed two soldiers - Francisco Mamini and Secundino Alborta - and left seven injured. The government's immediate reaction was to accuse Representative Evo Morales Ayma and the leaders of the coca producers of having links with terrorist groups that were "presumably Columbian".

One day prior to the fatal attack, at a meeting with representatives from the Confederation of Private Bolivian Businessmen of Santa Cruz, the President of Bolivia announced that the threat to democracy had passed and that he now had other priorities: to dampen the campaign of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) to ensure that they would not win during the 2004 local elections.

Never before, in any suicide attack in Bolivian territory, has there been any indication that a "machine canon" has been used. Military and police authorities asserted that an explosion of this nature can only be prepared and handled by experts as it is detonated from a distance by remote control or triggered by a timer.

Seeds of terrorism?

Since September 11, 2001 the United States' government has made it their aim to essentially institutionalize the concept of terrorism throughout the world. Take the following hypothesis: Bin Laden = attack = terrorism or Saddam = chemical weapons, terrorism: take also Evo = coca = drugs trafficking = terrorism. It is that simple.

This conceptualization of terrorism - although lacking proof and based solely on insinuations - is also intended to impose a dead letter on Bolivia. The Minister of Government, Yerko Kukok, stated that the murders in Chapare are the product of a seed of actions that are linked to terrorism; the leader of the coca producers responded by saying that the murders and the media campaign used by the government only serve to justify a self-administered attack.

Echoing some ministers, commentators from the media who are allied to the government are rushing to spread the view that coca is not only cocaine but it is also a form of terrorism. What is certain is that the attack or self- administered attack provided the armed troops stationed at the Tropic of Cochabamba with an excuse to begin a series of acts which violate human rights: raiding houses without official orders, the arrest of minors, beating women to make them talk and the destruction of crops and various belongings of the families of the coca producers.

Morales confirmed: "All of the actions of the Bolivian government imposed by US imperialism, aim not only to destroy Evo and the coca producers movement but also the people's movement as a whole, which is defending coca as a natural product, fighting for the sovereignty of all of the people, rejecting the introduction of the FTAA and condemning terrorist activity".

Rejection of the FTAA

Just days before the unlawful attack which took the lives of the two policemen, thousands of Bolivians from the countryside and towns met in La Paz for the Second National Conference against the FTAA and War, and resolved to demand that the government call a referendum to let the people decide whether or not they are for or against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

On June 6 and 7, the seat of government was the setting for this transcendental event where the representatives of different social groups exchanged experiences and agreed on criteria with political figures from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, said that the FTAA is simply the annexation of Latin America towards the United States and that those governments that submit to the plans of the US nation are "slave countries".

"It has no elements of free trade, and a great deal of domination, subjugation, and loss of national sovereignty. Don't be misled by the colored glass mirrors: If you take as an example what is happening in Mexico you can understand how the future of Bolivia and of the rest of the continent could turn out", he declared. He suggested strengthening regional markets, like those of the Andean Community of Nations or the Common Market of the South, as alternatives to integration through the FTAA.

The demonstration against the FTAA was of a peaceful nature and characterized by an air of cultural reaffirmation; however, the presence of heavily armed police prevented the protest marchers from culminating in front of the US Embassy in La Paz. What neither the uniformed guards nor the authorities themselves could prevent was the extraordinary mass protest, which brought about a standstill of a different kind to the center of the seat of government and sparked a debate on the matter at a national level.

The Movimiento Boliviano de Lucha Contra el FTAA is a growing seedling, a fact of which the current government is well aware, although it maintains its curtain of silence on the matter. Only a few writers and commentators in the media, in the pay of business interests and who defend the little that remains of the current government, are attempting to minimize the effects of this historical event, which, without doubt, marks a milestone in the struggles of social movements.

Although at the XXVI Meeting of the Council of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) in Asuncion, June 19 and 20, a resolution was made to strengthen this organization prior to the FTAA, the majority of Bolivians have little or no confidence in their government.

Rosa Flores, representative of the school "Primero de Mayo" warned that if the government does not call a referendum, the peoples' organizations could employ other methods to put pressure on them.

Military bases

Before the violence intensified, the Bolivian government initiated a series of "anti-terrorist" actions in order to arrest some leaders of the coca producers and even the Minister of Government announced actions in Congress, which means that the government is once again thinking of possible "outrage" from the leaders of the coca producers. Furthermore, the government is stepping up its media campaign to attempt to discredit the coca producers' movement and its main leaders.

Morales Ayma indicated that the coca producers are ready to find peaceful solutions to their demands, but that in the opposite scenario they will use forceful measures. "Under the pretense of combating drug trafficking and terrorism, the government is violating the human rights of the Bolivian people and is considering the use of a Yankee military base for strategic purposes at the heart of the continent. We want to tell them that we are ready to defend the sovereignty of the nation and even to offer our lives in the process", he said.

Confidential information from the Ministry of Defense indicates that the national government has agreed to the construction of two new military bases in Bolivian territory: one in the coca producing region of Los Yungas (La Paz) and the other in the Chapare region (Cochabamba).

Furthermore, the installation of a radio station in the coca producing region of Chimoré has been agreed, which has been financed by the United States Embassy and which will be managed by the Armed Forces. Radio Tricolor will have a frequency range of 15 kilowatts, enough to reach every inch of the country's border and enough to spread discouraging messages to the coca producers and to encourage the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism.

The coca producers movement, as well as other social groups gathered together in the Estado Mayor del Pueblo Boliviano, find themselves in a phase of reorganization, not only in terms of demanding concrete answers from the current government but also in making structural changes to the system: this is about re-constituting the country. (Translation by ALAI)

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