United States pressure on Bolivia to eradicate coca, the raw material for cocaine,
has resulted in serious human rights abuses and social turmoil, particularly in
the semi-tropical Chapare region of the country, according to a new report released
Friday by the Washington Office on
Latin America (WOLA).
Counterdrug security forces trained, equipped, and financed entirely by the
U.S. have arbitrarily detained, beaten, tortured, and even killed coca-growers,
called cocaleros, who have protested the eradication campaign.
Since last September, 10 coca growers have been killed and at least 350 more
have been injured or detained in the Chapare region, according to the report,
'Coca and Conflict in the Chapare.'
"It is inexcusable that the U.S. government continues to fund units of security
forces in Bolivia where there is clear evidence that those units are abusing their
own citizens," said Bill Spencer, WOLA's executive director.
The study was released amid reports that former President Gonzalo Sanchez
de Lozada has struck an alliance with another former president, Jaime Paz Zamora,
in advance of a meeting this week by the recently elected National Congress to
choose a new head of state.
Sanchez was the winner in June's presidential elections with 22.5 percent
of the vote, while Paz Zamora came in at fourth place. But, together, their two
parties hold a majority in the Congress which is expected to elect Sanchez.
Second and third place in the presidential poll, however, went to two populist
candidates whose success reflected the disillusionment and anger felt by large
segments of the population over economic policies pursued by the government which
aimed at opening up the country's vulnerable domestic markets.
Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian and former cocalero who finished second
place with 21 percent of the vote, spoke out so strongly against Washington's
role in financing coca eradication efforts that the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia,
Manuel Rocha, warned the electorate just four days before the election that Washington
would cut aid "if you elect those who want Bolivia to become a major cocaine exporter
The warning, however, backfired, according to analysts in Washington and La
Paz, by increasing popular support for Morales whose party, 'Movement Toward Socialism,'
will form the second-largest block in Congress when it meets this week.
"The strong showing for Morales indicates widespread discontent with U.S.
drug policy and its reverberations throughout Bolivian society and the economy,"
according to the report, which was written by Kathry Ledebur of the Andean Information
Under the presidencies of Paz Zamora and Sanchez in the 1980's, and until
1997, Bolivia, once the world's biggest producer of raw coca, made only fitful
progress in eradicating coca production with millions of dollars in U.S. support.
Under their successor, Hugo Banzer, however, Bolivia initiated "Plan Dignidad,"
described in the report as "all-out, no-holds-barred approach to eradication"
that was so successful that U.S. officials cited the country as a model for drug
eradication throughout the Andes.
It was also supposed to be complemented by an alternative development program
but, as noted by a recent report from the U.S. General Accounting Office, the
aggressiveness and speed with which Plan Dignidad was carried out "created gaps
between eradication and alternative development assistance that can leave peasant
farmers without livelihoods." Bolivia is Latin America's second poorest country,
"This notable lag has greatly exacerbated the extreme poverty in the region
and led to soaring malnutrition, heightening tensions in the region and provoking
conflict," according to the report.
Protests and crackdowns by U.S.-financed forces--often referred to by Chapare's
residents as "America's mercenaries"--escalated dramatically last fall, resulting
in the deaths of half a dozen cocaleros and the killings, presumably by
cocaleros, of four security officers. Morales was expelled from Congress
in January, but as events escalated out of control, the government made a series
of concessions in early February to restore peace to the region.
While the situation has remained relatively peaceful through the election
period, WOLA and other analysts fear that Washington will apply fresh pressure
on the new government to resume aggressive eradication efforts, including the
deployment of U.S.-financed forces, featured in Plan Dignidad.
The report--which notes that under U.S. law, no unit of foreign security forces
may receive U.S. funds if there is credible evidence that it has committed serious
rights abuses--calls on Washington to reassess its strategy.
For the U.S., according to the report, "success is measured in terms of coca
eradicated and not by the well-being of the Bolivian people. Repeated cycles of
protest, repression and temporary conciliation will continue indefinitely until
lasting, concrete, and peaceful solutions can be reached."
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