The Police Rebel: Violence and Chaos


On February 11, the Bolivian National Police force threw up its hands in
La Paz and decided to not leave its stations.   Although the force had
been a traditional ally of the MNR ruling party, increasing strength of
the armed forces, at the expense of internal law enforcement and the
economic crisis had caused deep-rooted resentment.  Police forces in
Cochabamba and Santa Cruz joined the strike on February 12.  The “mutiny”
is in response to the Sánchez de Lozada government’s announcement of a new
tax of approximately 12.5% to be deducted from all salaried employees who
received more than four times the minimum wage. The tax is in addition to
a pre-existing “added value” tax of 12.5%, which would be slightly
reduced.  The salary deductions (including pension funds) of the average
Bolivian would increase to over 30%.   As one citizen lamented, “We would
have to earn a living wage, before we could pay taxes on it.”

The government announcement, a result of pressure from the IMF, came on
the heels of the news that salary increases this year would be
negligible.  After almost four years of gripping economic crisis the
measure was the last straw.  The political climate in the nation was
already festering. Over two weeks of dialogue with protesting sectors had
reached no conclusions, except compensation for the dead and
injured.  Coca growers, who complain that the government merely uses the
negotiations to stall, continue to demand a break in eradication or
voluntary eradication, leaving one hectare of coca per family. U.S.
Ambassador, David Greenlee, reiterated U.S. opposition to the pause on
February 7.  Apparently timing is not this administration’s strong suit.


On February 11, Coca grower leader Evo Morales, as well as other MAS
leaders met with the head of the Private Businesspeople’s association and
were in agreement about their opposition to the “tax slam” as it is being
called here.  This unlikely alliance reflects the severity of the crisis
and the incapacity of the Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada
Administration.  Protesting sectors and members of the general public
expressed growing frustration, as the “reserved funds” portion of the
newly announced budgets as well as the military budget remain virtually
untouched. Reserved funds are not subject to public scrutiny and include
considerable bonuses to government officialssometimes over $10,000
monthly, which are not taxed.  That government coalition UCS party leader,
Johnny Fernández’s family owes over 10,000,000 dollars in back taxes, only
exacerbates public outrage.  Efforts of the administration, to reduce
profits of international oil companies in the nation, proved to be too
little, too late, and provoked the subtle admonition from the U.S.
Embassy, that it would be better to “enter into dialogue” with  the
petroleum giants.


At approximately 10 a.m. a group of protestors and police entered the
Murillo Plaza.  At around noon, students from the Avaroa High School
police and threw rocks at the government palace and other buildings in the
Murillo Plaza.  Although the government had immediately called for support
from the armed forces in the morning, the arrived after almost two hours,
provoking suspicion that their allegiance to the Goni administration may
also be faltering. Additional police streamed into the sector, many from
the nearby Special Security Group (GES) headquarters nearby.  Ironically,
the GES had reinforced its reputation for harsh repression of protesting
groups during the two weeks of conflict in mid-January.  By one p.m.
gunshots rang out and a massive confrontation between police and armed
forces began that lasted for most of the afternoon.  Police fired tear
gas, and firearms. Military fired directly into the crowd, from the plaza
and snipers shot at protestors from surrounding buildings.

Accounts of dead (13-18) — the great majority police, from bullet wounds
and the approximately 80 wounded vary (Please see list attached at the end
of this update).  Some channels televised the clash in full, and others
closed transmission for a period of several hours.  Reports were
frequently interrupted by call for blood donors, as city supplies had long
run out. The intensity of gunfire increased during the afternoon.  Snipers
even fired close to a commission of the Permanent Human Rights Assembly
attempted to mediate the conflict. Waldo Albarracín, president of this
nongovernmental human rights group stated that the military, not the
police force, was responsible for the great majority of the gunfire. One
expatriate living in La Paz noted many bloodstains in the plaza and
hundreds of bullet holes in surrounding buildings.


Although President Sánchez de Lozada announced the suspension of the tax
measure at 4:30 p.m., and in spite of arduous efforts of the Permanent
Assembly, Human Rights Ombudsman, and the Church, violence continued.
Protestors began to demand the resignation of the President and vice
president.  Once, again, the government acceded to protesting groups
demands only after widespread violence which could have been avoided.

  Partially in response to the injury and death of innocent bystanders,
 the mob of civilian protestors grew, some armed with pistols and rifles.
 After discovering that the military had used ambulances to transport
 weapons and tear gas, a common practice during social conflicts in
 Bolivia, protestors began to impede the access of these vehicles.  As the
 majority of the police force gradually retreated, civilians began to loot
 the city and set fire to the Labor Ministry, Vice Presidential offices,
 the municipal government offices and other businesses in El Alto, and
 various coalition party headquarters.  Protestors also sacked downtown
 businesses and destroyed cash machines throughout the night.
 Globalization analyst, Tom Kruse, noted that many of the offices and
 business looted were related to privatization efforts or international
At approximately 6:30 p.m., National Police Commander, Edgar Pardo,
visited the rebelling officers in the GES headquarters. Pardo, who had
been attempting to convince his charges to end the mutiny cried when he
saw the bodies of the police dead and stated,
I am turning my uniform in to this massacring government,” and
resigned.  (La Razón 2- 13-03).

Although the government and police reached a preliminary agreement near
dawn, these forces have yet to assume their law enforcement duties.
Clashes have continued today with additional dead and wounded.  Tanks have
now moved into the Murillo Plaza.
As a result of the widespread violence, the government euphemistically
announced a national “holiday,” closing all banks, offices and schools.


Opposition parties, including MAS, MIP and third place presidential
candidate, Manfred Reyes Villa’s party NFR have joined most social sectors
in demanding the resignation of both the president and vice president.


State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher stated in a press release
today that the United States, “reiterates our support of President Sánchez
de Lozada and the government coalition; in addition we urge all Bolivians
to respect the constitutionally elected government and abstain from using
violence…The United States, along with our friends in the international
community and pertinent international financial institutions, supports the
objectives of the Bolivian government in restoring economic stability,
continuing Bolivia’s economic path and offering hope for a better life for
the Bolivian people” (AIN translation from
Spanish  http// The Organization of American States,
Mercosur and Latin American leaders have sent similar messages.


As violence escalated in La Paz, military police violently dispersed a
group of over 1000 marchers from different sectors protesting the tax
increase in the main plaza.  A television camera captured one child,
approximately eight years old with a rubber pellet wound in the
face.  Cochabamba police remained in their stations.  Repression of
protestors continued throughout the afternoon and evening.  Angry
protestors burnt ruling party MNR headquarters.   Today confrontations
continue. Several thousand protestors have blocked main intersections in
the downtown area.   Around midday, military moved in with small tanks
near the post office and GES headquarters.   Eyewitnesses states that
military within one tank shot a protestor in the leg after he threw a
rock.  Looting continued in the downtown area, but to a lesser degree than
in La Paz.


Originally, Chapare coca producers had planned to initiate road blockades
on Monday, February 11.  Intense rainfall caused a natural blockade,
washing out a bridge and the highway between Santa Cruz and
Cochabamba.  Intense flooding in part of the region, paired with an
epidemic of the mosquito-borne dengue disease also contributed to the
decision to postpone the measure.  For the past ten days, coca growers
have held peaceful vigils along the main highways with approximately 15
percent of each union attending at any time. There were no confrontations
as a result of this practice.

On February 13, though, in response to the aggravated conflict in La Paz
and Cochabamba, and negligible police presence, began to actively block
the highway. Trópico Federation leader Feliciano Mamani stated that in
addition to the continuing demands of the cocaleros, they now request the
immediate resignation of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and the return of
privatized industries to full state control.

There were confrontations throughout the regions. One of the most violent
clashes occurred in Cruce Villa Union, approximately 267 km from
Cochabamba. While attempting to clear the road, military forces shot coca
grower Juan Carlos Castro Méndez in the left leg, presumably severing the
femoral artery.  He died almost immediately from blood loss.  Four other
farmers received bullet wounds during the same incident:

a)      Juan Serrugo Rocha (42 years old) remains in critical condition
b)      Irene Saavedra Mamani (17 years old)
c)      Andres Impa (22 years old)
d)      Eusebio Bustamante (23 years)

In the same region, soldiers detained eight farmers.  Unconfirmed press
reports state that another cocalero, Juan Sejas was also killed.

In Villa Tunari at approximately 6:30 a.m. coca growers blockaded the
highway, members of the CIOS II military base repeatedly cleared the road,
using tear gas as protestors quickly replaced the branches and stones.
Close to 10 a.m. soldiers stormed into to union headquarters, destroying
pots and pans and confiscated coca growers’ belongings, which have since
been returned.

In another incident, in Pena Colorado, near Siete Curvas, one soldier
bashed journalist Wilson Maldonado in the head with his rifle butt.
Maldonado is receiving medical attention at the Villa Tunari Hospital.

Tensions in the Chapare remain high. Military personnel, without police
back-up are visibly anxious as a result of the nationwide chaos. Coca
growers, infuriated by the dead and wounded and feeling strengthened by
the multi-sector protest throughout the country, will probably attempt to
increase the intensity of blockades.


In spite of the spiraling chaos in La Paz, Cochabamba, and the Chapare,
high-level Bolivian government officials have been almost invisible,
exacerbating mounting nationwide despair.  A government plan or strategy
to end the conflict has also been conspicuously absent.  In spite of the
mounting conflict, many ministers flew out of La Paz late last
night.  Passengers on the flights heckled as they entered the planes.  A
presidential press conference is scheduled for this evening.

Sánchez refuses to resign.  Government officials have stated that they
will not call for a State of Siege, a modified form of state of emergency
that permits the government to carry out widespread detentions, impose
curfews, forbid meetings and other measures.  The decision to not call the
state of siege (used for six months by the previous Sánchez government in
1995), is most likely a result of the administration’s fear that they
would not be able to enforce it.)  It is possible that armed forces will
not be willing to support the flailing coalition indefinitely.

At this time, the great majority of Bolivian public has apparently lost
faith in the president’s capacity to run the country. Even sectors of the
MNR, his own party, have attempted to distance themselves.  Public
discontentment and uncertainty continues to grow, but no major opposition
leader has garnered widespread support. In spite of continued demands for
a change in government, no clear alternatives have been
presented.  International pressure will impede resignation.  Any new
leader would inherit the intense economic and social problems facing this
administration, as well as the intense international pressure from the
U.S. and international financial organisms that has aggravated the crisis.

DEAD AND INJURED IN LA PAZ FEBRUARY 12   (published in La Razón, 2-13-03)


1.- Severo Rosas (civilian)
2.- Macario Justiniano (police)

3.- Tte. Omar Nemer (police)
4.- Capt. José Mendizábal (army)

5.- NN

6.- Franklin Paye (civilian)
7.- NN (police)
8.- NN (civilian)
9.- NN (civilian)
10.- Máximo Soto (civilian)
11.- Miguel Vega Lucero (police)
12.- Alaín Rodríguez (military Police)
13.- NN conscripto (military police)
14.- NN police
15.- NN  poce

  Preliminary List of hospitalized Wounded
Lourdes Mamani
Fernando Alípaz
Franz Espinoza
Valentín Céspedes
Gonzalo Díaz
Wilfredo Alí
Luis Condori
Lidia Ariñez
Iván Llanque
Rómulo Álvarez
Michael Orlando Ramos
Roberto Villca
Francisco Callisaya
Edgar Rodríguez
Tania Taboada
Álvaro Limachi
Odelio Calle
Bercherman Chaca
Julio Mamani
Ariel Durán
Hugo Mamani
Angélica Sánchez
Arturo Ríos
Eliodoro Tarqui
David Rivera
Benchi Cuéllar
Luis Aruquipa
Javier Pastén
Carlos Gutiérrez
Severo Guzmán
Armando Calle
Zenobio Cruz
Óscar Durán
Juan Quispe
Juan Llanque
Irineo Apaza
Jesús Ibáñez
Julián Alcón
Erick Alcón
Armando Ibáñez

Carlos Gallo Vaca Cortez
Gonzalo Salinas Chambi
Ramiro Mena Huayta
Gonzalo Mamani
Rodrigo Pedro Patiño Vera
Óscar René Durán Gamarra
Roberto Villca Condori
Wilson Bautista
Félix Huynapaco Yujra
Ladislao Ancasi Condori
Martín Acarapi Lazcano
Edson Santos Mengoa
Omar E. Ochoa Blanco
Fernando Troche Zegales
Davil Quispe Gonzales
Heiber Mondaca Cabrera
Ronald Llado Viscarra
Promo Mamani Ticona
Gregorio Sossa Yanarico
Reynaldo Flores Colque
Carlos Tito Burgos
Rubén Vargas Cocarico