Bolivian Leader’s Stance on Coca Raises U.S. Concerns

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Morning Edition, December 29, 2005 · Bolivian President-Elect Evo Morales has promised to allow more coca farming, which has renewed a debate in Washington over the U.S. drug war and its heavy emphasis on coca crop eradication. Morales has said his government will try to interdict drugs, but he wants to preserve the legal market for coca leaves.

The story features interviews with Sanho Tree and AIN Director Kathryn Ledebur.

Continued Impunity Could Aggravate Pending Political Conflict

Part One: 
Ex President Sánchez de Lozada and Others Avoid Prosecution in the United States

Over two years have passed since Bolivian security forces killed 59 and left over 200 people seriously injured during widespread demonstrations protesting the management of Bolivia’s gas reserves in September and October of 2003. As with other social conflicts in Bolivia, there have not been legal consequences for the human rights violations committed during the "Gas War." By the time President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada resigned, the armed forces and police had killed almost as many people during his fourteen-month presidency as during seven years of the Banzer dictatorship, considered one of Bolivia’s bloodiest military governments since the 1952 revolution.  The military’s systematic refusal to cooperate in a meaningful way with investigations – although ordered to do so by the Bolivian Supreme court – and the delay of the U.S. government to deliver subpoenas to Sánchez de Lozada and two former cabinet ministers living in the U.S. have impeded attempts to seek justice for the victims and stem future human rights violations in a politically tenuous climate.

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US Interests and Bolivian Elections: Demonizing Morales, Jeopardizing Stability

In June 2005, two weeks of massive street protests and widespread blockades in Bolivia culminated in the resignation of President Carlos Mesa and a subsequent power vacuum in the country. U.S. officials suggested that Bolivian coca leader and Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party head, Evo Morales, manipulated popular protests within the country. Washington has also asserted that the governments of Cuba and Venezuela provoked and funded the social unrest. Accusations put forth by Bush administration officials represent both a misreading of the complex Bolivian political crisis and the latest incarnation of an unsuccessful long-term strategy to prevent a Morales presidency, which U.S. officials claim would be a destabilizing force in the region. As public statements once again failed to impede popular support for Morales, the U.S. has likely resorted to behind the scenes attempts to affect Bolivian politics, or to influence the viability of a Morales presidency if elected. In the context of a potentially volatile political climate, U.S. attempts to thwart a Morales presidency threaten to produce exactly the prolonged political instability they purportedly are seeking to avoid.

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Roadblocks to Bolivian Elections

The road to Bolivian elections, scheduled for December fourth, is becoming increasingly fraught with obstacles. With Carlos Mesa’s resignation and the inauguration of Supreme Court head, Eduardo Rodriguez, as interim president last June, a hard fought political agreement was reached to move up national elections, originally to take place in 2007. That journey, however, recently hit a large roadblock as a new Bolivian Constitutional Court ruling threatens to delay elections.  Rodriguez has warned he will resign if elections do not take place as planned, stating that his sole mandate is to insure a democratic electoral transition.  A resignation only four months after his inauguration, and the resulting uncertainty would inevitably pitch the nation once again into political chaos.

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Bolivia: Coca Fields May Reemerge as Battleground

The Miami Herald,  Knight Ridder News Service 

A truce between Bolivian troops and farmers who grow coca is set to expire Oct. 1, and many in the Chapare region wonder if violence will return. Coca growing is likely to be a major issue in December's presidential election.

EL CHAPARE, Bolivia – From his quiet corner of Bolivia's Chapare region, Egberto Chipana recalled the day three years ago when government soldiers invaded the radio station he now manages because it was championing the cause of farmers who grow coca, the plant whose leaves are the raw material for cocaine.

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Conflicting Agendas: The Politics of Development Aid in Drug-Producing Areas

Development Policy Review, 2005, 23 (2): 183-198
Overseas Development Institute, 2005.
Published by Blackwell Publishing, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

When international development policy prioritises goals determined by the
donor’s domestic policy concerns, aid agencies not only fail in their
development objectives but can also generate conflict in the recipient
country. In the Bolivian Chapare, where the United States is driven by the
need to demonstrate success in controlling cocaine production, policies to
eradicate coca leaf have led to programmes with limited development
impact that increase conflict both locally and nationally. In contrast, the
European Union’s successful collaboration with local governments which
began in 1998 provides insights into generating sustainable development
and de-escalating conflict in drug-producing regions worldwide.

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President Mesa Resigns: Bolivia’s Future Uncertain, Chaos Continues

President Mesa Resigns:  
Bolivia’s Future Uncertain, Chaos Continues

Prepared by the Andean Information Network
June 6, 2005

Over three weeks of grueling social conflict in La Paz, the extension of road blockades and strikes throughout the nation provoked increasing criticism of the executive’s incapacity to meet growing, and at times conflicting demands from diverse sectors.  In response, President Mesa resigned on June 6 during a speech to the nation.   Mesa said that he had done his best and asked for forgiveness if he shared responsibility for the profound political crisis that grips the nation.  He begged the Bolivian public to engage in dialogue to resolve the conflict.  According to the Bolivian constitution, the nation’s congress must meet and accept the resignation.    Although the Evo Morales’s MAS party and other social sectors had asked that Mesa step down, resignation was not a key demand of any group.  As a result, it provides no solution to the profound political and institutional crisis that grips South America’s poorest nation. With no clear successor with sufficient popular support to legitimately enact policy, Bolivia’s future has become increasing uncertain.

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Congress Rejects Mesa’s Resignation: Agreement Alienates Protesting Sectors and Blockades Continue

On May 6, President Carlos Mesa caught Bolivia off-guard.   He announced that as a result of continual protests and growing blockades, he was no longer willing to, "govern based on the crazy things different sectors demand," and planned to submit his resignation to Congress the next day.   The unexpected announcement generated uncertainty throughout the nation that was paralyzed by 57different road blockades to obtain diverse and sometimes contradictory demands.  Ironically, high levels of protest do not reflect inflexibility of the administration. Instead, the greater openness of the Mesa government, compared to its predecessors, heightened disenfranchised group’s hopes that there long-postponed needs might finally be met.  At that time, strongest protests had been going on for six days in the Chapare coca-growing region and in El Alto. The resignation announcement represented an impromptu mini- referendum to generate public support for his administration, as well as a reaction to a genuinely untenable situation.  

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Mesa Throws in the Towel (Again) and Calls for Elections

Sustaining that  Bolivia is on a course toward "collective suicide," as a result of continued road blockades and a lack of congressional support for the fuel law, Bolivian president Carlos Mesa presented a proposal to the legislature and the nation to hold presidential elections and a Constitutional Assembly on August 28, 2005.

Nine days after President Mesa offered his resignation to the nation’s congress, the country remained blockaded and divided.  In spite of an agreement signed by the traditional parties and Mesa, including the rapid approval of a new fuel bill that contains terms proposed by the administration, congress failed to approve the law.   Social sectors demanding 50 percent oil royalties for Bolivia blocked the nation’s highways at over sixty different points.  Although Mesa had promised the population that district attorneys would arrest blockaders to allow free transit without violent police or military intervention, the attorney general’s office refused to invoke the directive, stating that carrying out blockades and protests were not grounds for detention.  In effect, after threatening to leave office in an attempt to forge consensus in the deeply divided Bolivian congress and society, Mesa felt that all sides in the conflict continued to impede his initiatives.

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The Beat Goes On: The U.S. War on Coca

NACLA Report on the Americas (
Nov/Dec2004, Vol. 38, Issue 3

In unguarded moments during the month-long road blockade of September and October 2000, coca growers and Bolivian security forces chatted, played soccer and ate together while they waited for government orders to reinitiate their confrontation. In a country where coca leaves have been legally consumed and used in rituals for centuries–even soldiers chew the leaf during coca eradication missions and clashes with protesters–this strangely amicable standoff demonstrates how, to many Bolivians, U.S. drug control objectives are an external imposition doing more harm than good. A 1998 survey found that even among the military, 73% of personnel believed the armed forces participate in anti-drug efforts as a result of U.S. pressure. "The reality is that the military," commented an ex-officer, "is conscious that eradication has created economic and social conflict.2

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