September 25, 2007

"UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL WE permit a militarization of the struggle against drug trafficking." The words ofa coca producer or militant union leader? No, President Jaime Paz Zamora speaking to the Bolivian press in May 1990, days after he signed an agree- ment with the U.S. government permitting the participation of Bolivia's armed forces in anti-cocaine efforts. Weeks later, when details of the accord were revealed by the press, Paz Zamora's government admitted that military involvement was -a possibility," a "hypothesis," to be put into action only in the case of threats to national security, and never with the participation of U.S. military officials. During the debate which raged in the Bolivian Congress this spring, the defense minister inadvertently revealed that some U.S. trainers had already entered the country on April 4, unbe- knownst to Congress. The 'hypothesis" suddenly became a reality. Twelve U.S. military trainers and 90 tons of arma- ments arrived in the eastern city of Santa Cruz that day. Today the advisers number 56; by November they are to train 1,000 Bolivian soldiers. Since March, the special police forces in charge of fight- ing drugs have been rocked by charges of corruption. First, Col. Faustino Rico Toro, a key figure in the 1980-1981 drug- linked dictatorship of Luis Garcia Meza, was appointed to head the force. He resigned after the United States threatened an aid cutoff. Then, a Miami Herald article accused both the interior minister and the head of' the Bolivian police of involvement in drug trafficking. They were removed. In April, Alberto Rabaza, head of the Oruro special police anti- drug unit, was accused of facilitating the transport of precur- sor chemicals for use in cocaine processing. He was found dead, apparently a suicide. Despite government attempts to convince Bolivians that the impact of military involvement will be minimal, many are deeply concerned by the prospect of a more powerful mili- tary with a mandate to combat the drug trade. Less than ten years ago, during the Garcia Mezadictatorship, sectors of the Bolivian military were heavily implicated in the cocaine trade. At the Ninth International Conference on Drug Con- trol, retired Bolivian general and current commander of the special police anti-drug forces, Elfas Gutirrez, admitted that cocaine traffickers have penetrated the armed forces. Coca growers have little faith in government assurances that the military will only pursue drug traffickers and leave them alone. "We have suffered repeated abuses at the hands of anti-drug police-stealing our things, breaking into our homes in the middle of the night, beating us up," says coca union leader Valentin Gutierrez, "We believe the military will only be worse." In an Andean-wide meeting of coca producers held in La Paz at the end of March, Bolivian growers heard their Peruvian counterpartsdescribe escalating violence provoked by the presence of army and guerrilla groups. Responding to this threat, representatives of producers from all over Bolivia resolved to defend their lands and livelihood, with force if necessary. A November 1990 report by the U.S. Congress Government Openment Operations Committee warned that militariza- tion could lead to increased violence and armed insurgency. The Bolivian Workers Confederation (COB) called a nationwide strike April 9 to protest the militarization of anti- drug efforts. The ;government threatened to use force to prevent a campesino road blockade called for June 17. Evo Morales, headofthe largestgrowersunions, was unimpressed, "As long as the government insists on involving the military, we will shut down the roads." Fifty campesinos were ar- rested and the blockade was called off after two days. Leaders vow they will continue to struggle.

Tags: Bolivia, Coca, Jaime Paz Zamora, Drug War, Military

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