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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NACLA Report on the Americas (www.nacla.org)
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.1 "The reality is that the military," commented an ex-officer, "is conscious that eradication has created economic and social conflict.2
After almost three weeks of tension in the Chapare coca-growing region, the Bolivian government signed a landmark agreement with coca growers to permit 3,200 hectares of coca to remain in the region for one year. Coca growers agreed to voluntarily eradicate approximately 3000 hectares of coca by the end of the year to meet an 8,000-hectare eradication quota. In addition, coca farmers accepted eradication in the two major national parks in the region, although the boundaries of these parks remain poorly defined. The accord represents a dramatic departure from past stilted efforts at dialogue, limited by U.S. government intervention, that had characterized negotiations and agreements since the 1998 initiation of Plan Dignity, an accelerated militarized eradication program, with the unattainable goal of total elimination of the Chapare coca crop, referred to as "zero coca" in Bolivia
“Please tell Americans that many of us in prison are here only because we are poor. If the United States wants to stop drug trafficking, they should start by helping Bolivia confront its poverty, not by enacting unfair laws like Law 1008.”
–Prisoner in San Sebastian Men’s Prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
History of Law 1008
In Bolivia, the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, most citizens wage a daily struggle to survive. That struggle is even worse for Bolivia’s prison population. Often considered inferior citizens, prisoners are subject to substandard lives in the best economies; in Bolivia’s unforgiving financial crisis, their plight is bleak. Overcrowding caused by a U.S. sponsored and imposed anti-drug law, Law 1008, exacerbates already severe prison conditions. The harsh terms of this law account for approximately 41% of Bolivia’ total prison population. (Los Tiempos, March 10, 2004). Dr. Eloy Avendaño, Director of the Prison System for the department of Cochabamba, which includes the coca-growing Chapare tropics, estimates that 65% of the approximately one thousand prisoners there are incarcerated under Law 1008.