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from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Sept. 28 a group of 400 Peruvian campesino coca producers (cocaleros) from the community of La Convencion joined with 200 campesinos and agronomy students from the San Antonio Abad university in Quillabamba in a march through the streets of Cusco to pressure the government to address their demands. Some 300 of the protesters then took over the historic Inca temple of Coricancha and blocked 17 French and two German tourists and several employees of the National Culture Institute (INC) from leaving. The Lima daily La Republica reports that the tourists expressed support for the cocaleros. An hour into the occupation, some 50 agents of the National Police burst into the temple, firing tear gas, and arrested eight cocaleros and students. The Interior Ministry claimed police were forced to act to "protect the physical integrity" of the tourists. One of the tourists passed out from tear gas inhalation and had to be treated. (La Republica, El Comercio, BBC, Sept. 29)

A day earlier, Agriculture Minister Alvaro Quijandria said the government would not dialogue with the cocaleros until they lift their strike. The cocaleros have been on strike since Sept. 20; their 46 demands include that the National Coca Company (ENACO) purchase this year's entire coca production and that the government decriminalize cultivation of the traditional crop. (La Republica, Sept. 29)

Five of the seven cocaleros arrested at the Coricancha temple were freed on Sept. 29 after protesters camped out in front of the court building to demand their release. Of the other two, one was apparently injured by the police and remained hospitalized; another was 16 years old and was released to his family. (La Republica, Sept. 30)

Early on Sept. 30, some 170 cocaleros arrived at the entrance to the famous Inca ruins at Macchu Pichu, where they planned to stage an occupation. Macchu Pichu town mayor Oscar Valencia served them free breakfast and talked them out of the action by warning that the gods would be angered by a protest at the site, and that the town's residents would resist. Valencia also offered the protesters free train passage to Cusco; they promptly accepted the offer and boarded the trains. (AP, Sept. 30)

Later that morning in Cusco, some 600 cocaleros set up a picket at the entrance to the Alejandro Velasco Astete airport, blocking access to and from the airport for about an hour and a half. La Republica reports that riot police then dispersed the protesters peacefully by negotiating with cocalero leaders. At the same time, Agriculture Minister Quijandria apparently agreed to send a commission to Quillabamba to negotiate with the cocaleros. Antonio Limache Yupanqui, general secretary of the Campesino Federation of La Convencion, said the cocaleros' demands had been reduced from 46 to 14; he urged Quijandria to send a commission with the power to enact solutions, since previous agreements had only resulted in broken promises. Limache said the strike would continue in the meantime. Hundreds marched on Sept. 30 in Quillabamba to support the cocaleros' demands. (La Republica, Oct. 1)

The strike began on Sept. 20, when cocaleros in the Cusco department provinces of La Convencion, Yanatile (Calca) and Qosnipata (Paucartambo) issued their demands that ENACO purchase their entire coca harvest and decriminalize cultivation. The strike shut down all schools and transport in the region. On Sept. 21, more than 10,000 campesinos marched in Quillabamba, capital of La Convencion province, to demand that four cabinet ministers back up an ENACO promise to buy 400 tons more coca this year than last year. That same day, three cocalero leaders and La Convencion mayor Fedia Castro stepped up the protest by starting a hunger strike. On Sept. 22, thousands of cocaleros began a march to Cusco, the departmental capital. The campesinos are also demanding the paving of the road between Ollantaytambo and Quillabamba; suspension of a state of emergency imposed by the government; improvements in health and education services in the region; and the cleanup of environmental damages caused by construction of the Camisea gas pipeline network. (La Republica, Sept. 20-23)


On Sept. 28, Bolivian cocaleros clashed with coca eradication troops from the government's Combined Task Force (FTC) in the Isiboro Secure National Park Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) in the Chapare region of Cochabamba department. The troops were attempting to destroy illegal coca in TIPNIS when they were confronted by 200 cocaleros from the community of Bustillo, armed with rocks, sticks and dynamite. The troops fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at the protesters, killing campesino Juan Choque Cruz with a bullet to the head. At least 15 cocaleros were wounded, five by bullets, one seriously. Four troops were injured. Most of the cocaleros are former miners who moved to the Chapare after losing jobs with the Bolivian Mining Company (Comibol) in 1985.

"I don't know if this [killing] is a provocation by the [Bolivian] government or by the US government to destabilize democracy," said cocalero leader and Movement to Socialism (MAS) legislative deputy Evo Morales Aima. Such a provocation might be intended to disrupt debate in Congress over a new hydrocarbons law, scheduled to begin in the coming days; municipal elections on Dec. 5, in which the MAS is expected to make gains; and the calling of a Constitutional Assembly in early 2005.

The same day as the incident, Sept. 28, the Chamber of Deputies passed a motion urging President Carlos Mesa Gisbert to immediately withdraw FTC eradication forces from the Cochabamba tropics. The motion also suggested that Mesa suspend a planned trip to Miami to take care of the situation at home. (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, Sept. 29; Servicio Informativo "Alai-amlatina," Sept. 28)

On Sept. 29, Mesa and Morales reached a pact: Mesa agreed to suspend eradication operations for four days; in exchange, Morales said the cocaleros would pull back their resistance "vigils" from the FTC camps. The government also agreed to compensate the family of Juan Choque and provide medical care for those injured in the clash. Government minister Saul Lara Torrico, himself a former adviser to the Chapare cocaleros, said the US government "should absolutely not" be upset by the suspension because "it just means a pause" in eradication. Lara condemned the Chamber of Deputies motion which urged the withdrawal of the FTC from the Chapare; he emphasized that no agricultural activity at all is allowed within the Isiboro Secure park. Morales has asked Mesa to fire Lara for his handling of the cocalero conflict. (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba; El Diario, La Paz, Sept. 30)

The Chapare cocaleros have apparently ignored the pact: "Not a single cocalero will abandon the vigils which are under way," insisted cocalera leader Leonida Zurita. "On the contrary, more coca producers will join the protest until the coca eradication is paused." Eradication is set to resume on Oct. 4. (, Oct. 1)

Lara has reason to fear a negative response from Washington: the cost of his government's $958 million "New Bolivian Integral Strategy for the Struggle Against Drug Trafficking, 2004-2008" is to be covered mainly by the US. The new strategy seeks to eradicate all coca cultivations in the Chapare and to implement voluntary eradication of coca in the Yungas region of La Paz department, where up to 12,000 hectares of legal coca production is permitted for traditional use (the leaf is chewed and made into tea, candy, gum, sodas and other products). There are currently 22,000 hectares of coca in Los Yungas and 3,000 in the Chapare. The Sept. 8 announcement of the new anti-coca strategy was followed by stepped up eradication in the Chapare by the FTC, a joint police-military force advised by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Cocaleros responded by setting up permanent vigils and roadblocks near FTC camps to block eradication operations. Cocaleros have blocked access roads to the Isiboro Secure park with trenches and barricades of tree trunks and boulders.

Cocaleros from the Chapare are planning to join other labor and grassroots sectors in a major mobilization on Oct. 11. The march will leave from the community of Caracollo in Oruro department and will arrive in La Paz to protest coca eradication, demand the nationalization of hydrocarbons, and seek a trial against ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, ousted in a popular rebellion last Oct. 17. (ALAI, Sept. 28/04)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 3, Sept. 26


Forwarded by WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, Oct. 4, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.

Reprinting permissible with attribution.