Under the Flag of Law Enforcement

September 25, 2007

ON JUNE 28 OF LAST YEAR, SHORTLY BE- fore Bolivia passed a new law aimed at control- ling coca production, a crowd of protesters gathered at the drug police post in Villa Tunari, a small town in the coca-growing Chapare region. An hour-long video tape made by a crew from a local television station docu- mented the scene: Hundreds of marchers, dressed in shabby work clothes and carrying no visible arms, not even sticks, approach the post. Nervous police, wearing camouflage uniforms and armed with automatic rifles, block the marchers' advance. A union leader asks per- mission for the group to enter and go to the eradication program office located on the site. Shots ring out. One farmer falls dead, another is wounded. Several farmers, including the wounded man, point out the police agent who fired. A police official promises that his men's arms will not be used again "against campesinos. Only to fight drug traffickers." But many more shots are heard as the police push the marchers off the grounds and far down the road. It was later reported that at least 12 more people died, some by drowning, as the marchers tried to escape across a river. The farmers later charged that agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had encour- aged the police action. Nothing in the video seems to prove this, though, judging by their appearance, several men among the police could be North Americans. In Washington, DEA spokesperson Cornelius Dougherty specifically denied that any agents had been involved in the shooting, but said the DEA has no comment on whether any agency personnel were present on the day of the incident. The helicopter watching from above as the marchers fled, however, provided a stark reminder of the active U.S. presence in the region. U.S. attempts to impose its drug control policy in Bolivia have provoked bitter opposition from the well- organized coca farmers unions, as well as from large sectors of the Bolivian people, virtually all of whom in some way depend directly or indirectly on coca income for survival. Many view the bloodshed at Villa Tunari as VOLUME XXII, NO. 6 (MARCH 1989) 25COCA a prelude to ever higher levels of violence over U.S.- inspired policies, threatening the country's political sta- bility perhaps more so than the drug trade itself. D URING JUNE AND JULY 1988, IN THE ornate national congress building in La Paz, Bo- livia's legislators moved toward a final vote on a contro- versial revision of the country's drug laws. While culti- vating coca had never been a crime in Bolivia,' the new law, proposed at Washington's insistence almost a year and a half earlier, would turn most coca farmers into outlaws. The Villa Tunari protest was only one of many in the final weeks before the vote. In Cochabamba, capital of the region that includes the Chapare coca zone, several thousand farmers-members of powerful legally recog- nized growers unions-directed much of their anger at the United States: "iCarajo gringos!" the farmers chanted, "Coca is not poison!" and "Gringos out of the Chapare! Gringos out of Bolivia!" Concern about the law's passage was widespread, though not all shared the vehemence of the coca farm- ers. Most Bolivians worry about the growth of the co- caine mafia and say they support strong action against drug dealers, but they are equally concerned about the economic impact of cutting off coca production. By all accounts, coca is now Bolivia's most valuable commod- ity, worth more than all the country's legal exports com- bined. This nation of less than seven million people is the world's second largest producer of coca leaf. (Peru is the largest.) Without coca, many Bolivians believe, their dire eco- nomic fate would be even grimmer than it already is. While officially one in four Bolivians is unemployed (the actual rate is probably far higher), more than 200,000 make their living in the coca fields or in the labs where the leaves are converted to paste and then to cocaine. At least 300,000 more work in the huge under- ground economy that depends on the millions of dollars generated by the coca trade. 2 In addition, an estimated ten to twenty per cent of the Bolivian coca crop is consumed not by the international drug mafia, but by Bolivians who chew it in leaf form or use it medicinally or ritually [see "Does the Pope do Dope?"]. Because coca continues to be used in these traditional ways, many drug control officials have reluc- tantly concluded that an outright ban is culturally insen- sitive and-perhaps more important in their view-unenforceable. 3 The legislation for which they lobbied does permit a small controlled area of cultiva- tion for traditional use. Almost everyone, even the coca farmers, agrees that some kind of control is desirable. But there is bitter disagreement over the nature of that regulation, and how it should be enforced. That disagreement lay at the heart of the debate over the coca law which raged for over a year throughout Bolivia. In the end, the Bolivian gov- ernment put aside these weighty considerations in favor of improved relations with the United States, and in mid-July the new law was approved. T HE UNITED STATES HAS LONG PLAYED an overwhelming role in drug law enforcement in Bolivia. Operation Blast Furnace, in which some 160 U.S. troops descended on the Bolivian jungle in 1986 with the announced goal of searching out drug labs, was only the most high-profile of U.S. activities. The troops left after four months but U.S. army trainers remained to work with Bolivia's special drug police unit, and agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration frequently accompany the Bolivian police in the field. Six U.S. helicopters are currently used in drug enforcement pro- grams in the country; as many as four more may soon be added. In all, funding for the U.S. International Narcot- ics Control Program in Bolivia will probably reach $10 million for 1989.' Raids against cocaine labs hidden deep in the jungle are dramatic and visible, but the primary goal of U.S. policy is to destroy the coca fields. Washington esti- mated in 1987 that 100,000 acres of coca were under cultivation in the Chapare, Yungas, Santa Cruz and Apolo regions of Bolivia. For U.S. officials, those fields are, above all, cocaine in unfinished form-the source of some 90 metric tons of the drug that year.? The United States is careful to monitor the total amount of coca destroyed, a figure often used as a rough measure of the success or failure of drug control efforts. In some recent years Bolivia's eradication figures were extremely low-only 119 acres of coca were destroyed in 1985 and 692 in 1986-partly because the legal basis for eradication was so shaky. Assistant Secretary of State Ann Wrobleski, who heads the Bureau of Interna- tional Narcotics Affairs, called the new law's passage a "landmark for Bolivia and for the international commu- nity," though she recognizes that "implementing it will be more difficult." Drug control is, in the eyes of many U.S. officials, at the center of U.S.-Bolivian relations. After the 1980 "Cocaine Coup" led by generals reportedly involved in the drug trade, the United States refused to extend diplo- matic recognition and cut off almost all aid. Relations improved when the three succeeding short-lived mili- tary governments began to take some, largely cosmetic, measures against drug trafficking. Following the Octo- ber, 1982 election of civilian President Hernin Siles Suazo, the United States agreed to reopen the aid pipeline, if (and it was a big if) there were progress--defined by strict U.S. guidelines-on drug control.' That policy has since become law: In 1986 Congress passed legislation which requires the president to certify to Congress each year that drug producing countries are cooperating with U.S. drug control efforts. Countries which are considered uncooperative are "decertified" REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 26and face mandatory penalties-in the first year, half the country's U.S. aid is cut; if the country is decertified for a second year, all aid is eliminated. U.S. representatives to multilateral development banks are instructed to vote against loans to the decertified country and a series of trade sanctions can also be imposed. 7 Congress singled out Bolivia, declaring that the coun- try should not be certified unless it met strict eradication targets. Those targets were not met in 1986, and Bolivia lost $9.5 million in U.S. aid; nor were they met in 1987, and it lost another $8.7 million. 8 IN EARLY 1987, WHEN U.S. AND BOLIVIAN representatives sat down to negotiate the terms of a three-year bilateral drug control agreement, the U.S. delegation insisted that the Bolivians declare their re- solve to meet the eradication targets (4,500 acres in the first year) and institute laws "to restrict the production and trafficking of narcotics, and to reduce coca cultiva- tion and prosecute those responsible."' Mindful of the political clout of the growers unions, some of the Bolivians preferred emphasizing voluntary crop reduction, but the U.S. delegation, under heavy pressure from Congress, remained inflexible. "They were talking about forced eradication," said a Bolivian who was present. The negotiations dragged on. Nine months after they began, Fernando Illanes, Bolivia's ambassador to the United States, spoke on Capitol Hill. He explained that the cocaine trade brought $600 million a year into Bo- livia, while the country's annual gross domestic product was only $3.5 billion. I do not have to tell this group how impoverished my country is....Under the best of circumstances, that is without sanctions, the total U.S. ESF [Economic Support Funds] assistance to Bolivia is roughly $30 million for the next year....Thus, the withdrawal of U.S. aid, while harmful, constitutes a minor blow, a drop in the bucket, and simply cannot be expected to have the kind of impact some believe it will. This does not mean, however, that we consider the loss of U.S. aid inconsequential. It is not. Indeed, we will require more, not less participation from your government. By threatening sanctions for failure to meet eradication targets, Illanes said, "Congress is essentially demanding results before funding your participation."' 0 The Bolivian government had to weigh not just the economic cost of sanctions but also the political risks involved. Opposition to the U.S. plan, and criticism of the heavy-handed way the United States was pushing for its adoption, was coming from some "moderate" politi- cians, as well as from Left parties that the U.S. Embassy characterized as "extremist" even though they sit in the Bolivian Congress. Their outrage was not simple elec- VOLUME XXII, NO. 6 (MARCH 1989) tioneering, as the Embassy liked to imply. Nor was the opposition instigated by the cocaine mafia, as Bolivian officials sometimes hinted. It originated with the coca farmers themselves. I N BOLIVIA, THE FARMERS WHO GROW coca do not live in a shadowy underworld far out- side the mainstream of national political life. Their well- organized unions form part of the legal labor movement. Local unions are grouped into regional centrals, the cen- trals into national federations, and the federations be- long to the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), Bolivia's powerful trade union umbrella organization. In the Chapare, where at least 40,000 families culti- vate coca, even U.S. officials are unable to overlook the importance of the growers' organizations. A State De- partment report reads: Although these peasants are independent owners/ planters, most are members of the more than 500 unions which combine to form 52 centrals. This central union structure serves as the lowest echelon of an active, functioning democratic form of local government which strongly influences the economic, political and social fabric of the Chapare peasants' life." The power of the unions dates back to the 1960s, when large numbers of people migrated to the Chapare [see "El Dorado Gone Awry"]. Faced with the central government's neglect, the unions distributed land, settled disputes and built schools and health posts. In 1965, when the prefect of Cochabamba tried to impose a new tax on coca shipped out of the Chapare, the unions threatened to resist the tax by force and burn down the collection station if necessary. The tax was withdrawn." In 1982, the government demanded that the Chapare farmers sell their coca only at outposts of a new official agency which would pay less than the free market price. The farmers occupied the buying centers and the gov- ernment was forced to retreat. 1 3 In 1987, the conservative administration of President Victor Paz Estenssoro made the mistake of overlooking this history. The growers were to be most directly af- fected by the proposed U.S.-Bolivia accord, and yet their unions were not consulted. In May, a draft contain- ing a strict timetable for eradication and the text of a harsh proposed coca law was circulated. The growers made their displeasure known, and when the govern- ment failed to respond, the unions mobilized. On May 25, ten thousand coca growers gathered in Cochabamba. They set up roadblocks on the highway leading to La Paz-one of the most heavily travelled routes in the country-declaring they would not leave until their demands were heard. The situation was tense, and U.S. personnel were pulled out of the area. Three days later, police and military units were sent to dis- mantle the blockade, killing two and wounding nineteen -1-7 "'.COCA in the process. Faced with a wave of criticism and the prospect of continued clashes, the government agreed to open talks with the unions. Long-time COB leader Juan Lechin, known for his forceful role in the tin miners' struggles of the past, joined the negotiating team of seasoned growers union leaders. On June 6 the government and the growers signed an accord in which the growers disavowed links with the drug trade and agreed to a voluntary coca eradi- cation program. "We support that," union leader Alberto Vargas said later. "We're human. But we're campesi- nos, and we aren't responsible for the demand for our product. Why are other nations consuming so much? we ask. The governments that are against coca have to un- derstand that we aren't going to give up what we've got for nothing-they have to consider its worth, offer some other means of employment in exchange." The growers, Bolivian officials, even most U.S. offi- cials, all agree that no coca control program, voluntary or involuntary, can succeed unless the farmers have an alternative source of income. In its accord the Bolivian government promised cash payments to individual farm- ers who destroyed their coca, and pledged to implement a major regional development program. In spite of the income that coca generates, the Chapare is still a raw jungle frontier. There is almost no industry (except for the manufacture of cocaine paste); poor roads make the transport of agricultural products difficult; and many towns lack schools and other public facilities. The development program was not a new one, but a re-packaging of U.S.AID-funded projects already under- way in the Chapare, where a number of development programs have been tried with little to show for it. The terms of the voluntary eradication accord firmly commit the Bolivian government to making this one a success. At least that is how the growers saw it: They were obligated to continue with the eradication program only as long as the government made sure the development project moved forward.' 4 A T FIRST, THE VOLUNTARY ERADICATION program advanced at a brisk pace, with over 2,500 acres of coca destroyed. But in early 1988, the growers brought it to a halt. Some complained they never re- ceived payment for pulling up their coca, and that the regional development program was going nowhere. A Bolivian development specialist described the scene in mid-1988 in Villanueva, a Chapare town designated as a "development pole" for the project: "There's a govern- ment sign that proudly says 'We're building here,' but there's no construction going on, and no construction equipment-just one broken-down tractor." Not only had the development program run short of funds, it was wracked by bureaucratic wrangling be- tween Bolivian and U.S. officials over how and when funds should be disbursed. Clearly, to pay a reward for each acre of coca pulled up would have been simplest. But U.S. policy does not permit compensation for end- ing what the United States views as an illegal activity--even though it is not seen as such in Bolivia. The solution lay in a semantic sleight of hand: Farmers were given $2,000 per hectare (about 2.5 acres) of coca destroyed-characterized as aid for switching to new crops, instead of as compensation for losing the old one. The United States wanted to make part of the payment in tools and seed. The farmers wanted cash. In the end, the United States agreed to pay $750 per hectare, and the Bolivian government, at least on paper, would pay the rest. In reality, other forms of U.S. assistance were in- creased so Bolivia could pay its share. Then the United States said it would disburse funds to individuals only after they had destroyed at least 70% of their coca, and it would fund local development only after the same percentage of coca had been eradicated in the entire area. "I don't want to be a pessimist," said Radl Lara, legal adviser to the growers unions, "but I've been studying this for a long time. Development plans and projects haven't ever worked before, and they aren't going to work now because there's not enough funding." Lara said a "serious" project would require at least $500 million-the U.S.AID plan called for spending only $72 million over five years. U.S. officials agree that funding is inadequate but say it is intended only to get things started. They add that under the terms of the bilateral three-year plan the Bolivians are to seek financing from countries other than the United States. Washington's unwillingness to pay the price of the program has made the growers just as mistrustful of U.S. intentions as the United States is of theirs: "The gringos want to take away our work," said a farmer who has grown coca in the Chapare for five years to support his entire ten-member family. "They want to take it away just like they did to the miners." (The Bolivian govern- ment laid off 20,000 miners in 1985.) "The miners are living in garbage dumps now, eating garbage. We don't want to end up like them." "They don't pay any attention to our complaints," union leader Vargas says, "What they want to do is eliminate us." Until now, the Bolivian government has tried to juggle the interests of both the United States and the farmers. With the passage of the new coca law, the farmers lost one of their most valuable bargaining chips. Before, they had to be persuaded to support eradication. Now it can occur with or without their cooperation. T ESPITE BOLIVIA'S CHECKERED HISTORY L.of enforcing laws, there is every reason to expect that the United States will press hard for enforcement of VOLUME XXII, NO. 6 (MARCH 1989) 29COCAo Asr4 COCA this one. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, approved by the U.S. Congress in October, says Bolivia cannot be certified for foreign aid in 1989 unless it has reached the eradication targets of the three-year plan and "has begun a program of forced eradication if the targets for volun- tary eradication are not being met." The law even speci- fies that the President cannot waive these special re- quirements for Bolivia by citing national security con- cerns.15 Even before the new coca law was passed, Bolivian drug police and U.S. DEA agents stepped up their pres- ence in the region. Armed helicopters, on loan from the U.S. Department of Defense, are frequently seen flying over the Chapare, ferrying police and U.S. drug agents to and from operations.' 6 Drug control officials say many of their actions are directed against the small planes that land and "within seven minutes load up a cargo of cocaine paste and leave." In other operations, police raid the tiny "labora- tories" where cocaine paste is made. While some of the paste labs are hidden in dense jungle, officials say a large number are found near the owner's home where paste is frequently stored. "If our intelligence says that paste is being accumulated in a house, we have to raid the house and get the drugs," said an official who has participated in Chapare raids. Area farmers charge that police often use the raids on Chapare homes as a cover for stealing money and house- hold appliances. They further charge that DEA agents have participated in such break-ins. At a Cochabamba press conference on May 23, Alberto Villarroel said that police agents obeying orders from "the gringos" entered his home in Samusabeti. "They took $5,900, a radio, blankets, appliances and other belongings," the farmer maintained. After a resident of the town of Isinuta made similar charges, the producers union issued an ultima- tum demanding that all DEA agents leave the Chapare within 48 hours. If not, "they will be held responsible for what might occur as a result of the abuses they commit against the region's poor farmers.""' In a June interview, a drug control official denied that DEA agents had been responsible for any abuses and he brushed aside the victims' professions of inno- cence. "You can't expect a criminal to say he's a crimi- nal," he said, adding that he believed the "great major- ity" of people living in the Chapare are "mixed up in drug trafficking." Bolivia's leading human rights organization, the Per- manent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia, takes the farmers' complaints very seriously. In August, follow- ing the killings at the Villa Tunari police station at the end of June, it opened a Chapare office to monitor the situation."' V IEWED FROM WASHINGTON, BOLIVIA'S new coca law no doubt appears reasonable and moderate: It allows for the continuation of the voluntary 30 eradication program. It provides both a carrot (the de- velopment program) to encourage cooperation and a stick (jail terms) for those who refuse to go along. It even calls for a phase-in period before penalties take effect. ' Things look rather different on the ground. Though they have been weakened, the coca farmers still enjoy the sympathy (and often the outright political support) of Bolivians from all walks of life. "Just what are those people supposed to do, starve? Where do they think there are other jobs?" asked a La Paz resident who works with unemployed miners. During a recent strike at San Andr6s University in La Paz, the country's lead- ing university, students draped the administration build- ing with a huge banner in support of the coca farmers and repeatedly linked the growers' demands to their own. "It's Yankee imperialism that's got the attention of this traitorous congress," a speaker told the ten thousand people demonstrating against the coca law last June in Cochabamba. We know that the solution to the drug problem lies with the consumers. The real problem is our country's poverty. What [the United States] wants is to turn us into a Yankee colony, and the government and the congress are playing along. His comments were greeted with cheers and applause, which grew louder when he vowed that the growers would do whatever is necessary to defeat U.S. plans for their country. In Peru's Huallaga Valley, it was forced eradication of coca which allowed the Shining Path and MRTA guerrilla movements to win considerable support. So far, there is no sign of the formation of a Bolivian guerrilla movement, but according to union adviser Radil Lara, "If there's no rational solution and they try forced eradication, I think they may be encouraging the emer- gence of guerrillas or some sort of violent movement... [because] the economic problems that will be caused by eliminating coca will provide an excellent medium for extremists who wish to take advantage of the situation." The United States admits that its drug policy is, in the words of State Department official, now ambassador to Bolivia, Robert Gelbard, "very risky" for the Bolivian government. But, Gelbard claims, the policy will ulti- mately be a bulwark for Bolivia's democratic govern- ment against the drug lords. "We had a taste of this a few years ago..,where we saw a nondemocratic government in bed with the drug traffickers....[I]f this program...fails, we could see a similar kind of non-democratic govern- ment in the near future.'"2 Officials like Gelbard see the drug lords as the main threat to Bolivia's democracy. For many Bolivians, U.S. actions in the name of drug control are a far more serious menace to their country's democratic process. Under the Flag of Law Enforcement Linda Farthing generously shared her research on this subject and her assistance is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks too, to my colleagues at CIDRE in Cochabamba and CEDOIN in La Paz. 1. Various legal controls on the production and sale of coca have been in effect in Bolivia since colonial times, and perhaps before, but these were generally aimed at raising revenue. In 1981, the military government of Gen. Celso Torrelio Villa issued a decree aimed at controlling coca production and sale, and in 1985 elected president Herndn Siles Suazo issued an "executive decree" to the same end. These two decrees appear surprisingly similar to the 1988 law-but neither was ever ratified by the Bolivian con- gress or effectively enforced. Thus, until the 1988 law was ap- proved, for all intents and purposes, coca cultivation was legal in Bolivia, or at least, to use the currently popular word, "decriminal- ized." 2. Author's interview with economist and former Bolivian fi- nance minister Flavio Machicado. 3. Bolivia is signatory to a 1961 United Nations accord which commits the government to abolishing coca cultivation completely by 1989. This agreement is still technically in force and provides the legal basis for defining coca as a "controlled substance" inter- nationally, but few people still believe it is possible or rational to try to wipe coca off the face of the earth. John Cusack, former DEA chief of international operations, is one of the few. See his remarks in Coca and Cocaine: Effects on People and Policy in Latin Amer- ica, Cultural Survival Report No. 23 (June 1986). 4. State Department Bureau of International Narcotics Matters 1989 Budget Request to Congress. 5. International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports issued an- nually by the State Department Bureau of International Narcotics Matters. Many find these official figures highly questionable (as the report itself notes). One very knowledgeable source said the 1987 figure, 40,300 hectares, is much too low. He calculates 75,000- 100,000 hectares were being cultivated in the Chapare alone. In any case, despite this and despite what appears to be an extremely optimistic projection for the area to be eradicated in 1988 and 1989, the report still shows net cultivation rising every year between 1985 and 1989. 6. "Drug Control: U.S.Supported Efforts in Colombia and Bo- livia," U.S. General Accounting Office, Nov. 1988. 7. "The Role of the U.S. Congress in International Narcotics Control," Raphael Perl, Congressional Research Service, (Sept. 30, 1988), pp. 7-10. Some humanitarian aid and drug control funds are exempt from these sanctions. 8. "Drug Control..." 9. The main text of the "Plan Trienal Para La Lucha Contra El Narcotrdfico" was released by the Bolivian government, but the "annexes" which contain the details of how the agreement will be carried out, were not. One version of the "annexes" was published in Debate Agrario, No. 11 (La Paz), but some believe this was not the one finally adopted. 10. "Narcotics Related Foreign Aid Sanctions: An Effective Foreign Policy ?," Congressional Research Service report on semi- nar held for the Senate Caucus on Intemrnational Narcotics Matters, Sept., 1987. 11. "International Narcotics Strategy Report," 1988, U.S. State Department. 12. Ray Henkel, "The Chapare of Bolivia: A Study of Tropical Agriculture in Transition," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wis- consin, 1971), pp. 80, 84. Henkel writes, "...official government agencies exert little influence on the [Chapare growers]....The pub- lic officials usually insure that their policies and decisions do not conflict with those established by the [union] leaders." 13. Gonzalo Flores and Jos6 Blanes, LD6nde va el Chapare?, (La Paz: CERES, 1984) p. 1 7 8 . 14. U.S.AID is currently trying to implement an "integrated de- velopment" plan aimed not just at the Chapare, but also at the highlands areas from which many Chapare farmers come. The goal is to stem migration to the Chapare. It is estimated that three- fourths of the Chapare's current population will have to leave the region if coca is eradicated, because the soil used for coca will not adapt easily to other crops. 15. Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (H.R. 5582 sec 4302). 16. New York Times, April 17, 1988. Reporter Peter Kerr de- scribes DEA participation in Chapare raids. 17. Ultima Hora (La Paz), May 24, 1988. 18. Latinamerica Press (Lima), Sept. 2, 1988. 19. The complete text of the "Ley de sustancias controladas," was published in Presencia (La Paz), July 18, 1988. 20. "Narcotics Related Foreign Aid..."

Tags: Coca, Bolivia, drug trade, US drug war, eradication

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