Bolivia’s cocalero politician
Bolivian voters gave coca-chewing politician Evo Morales a surprisingly strong position in the country’s recent presidential election, guaranteeing that his vehement opposition to the American-backed Bolivian drug war will influence government policies and the presidential selection process.
Morales is a committed environmentalist who believes that coca is a medicine, food, and sacrament, and that the US drug war is a front for a takeover of Bolivia by resource exploiters from foreign countries (CC#37, Interview with Evo Morales, scroll down).
The 49-year-old Morales was elected to the Bolivian Congress in 1997. During his tenure, he led pro-coca protests that blocked roads and gave US-backed military-police thugs an excuse to kill labor leaders, Indians, and other activists.
During this year’s presidential campaign, Morales bluntly told citizens and the international press that the United States and its allies in the Bolivian government were “Mafioso” and “imperialist pigs” who were trying to enslave Bolivia’s poor, just as European colonists and their elite descendants have enslaved them for several centuries.
America’s ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, inadvertently helped Morales gain popular support by calling him a “cocalero leader whose cocaleros sell coca paste to narco-traffickers.”
Just before the election, Rocha threatened Bolivians with a cut-off of US economic support if voters favored Morales. Bolivians responded to the Yankee’s threats by voting for the man he criticized.
Morales finished third in a crowded field of political candidates, and has also won back his Congressional seat, which he lost earlier this year when his anti-American rhetoric became too hot for the country’s ruling elite. His political party has also gained new strength, and is likely to be a major force in a new governing coalition. Morales says that foreign powers will stop interfering in Bolivia, or else.
“Now since we have won, we intend to change the laws peacefully in the Parliament,” Morales said after the election. “But if they do not want it, then comes a people’s uprising. There could be a use of arms, momentarily.”
Some North American pacifists joined with Ambassador Rocha in criticizing Morales for threatening to lead an armed insurgency, but US-backed paramilitary organizations have long been killing Bolivian peasants, and Morales has responded by asking his critics if they would remain pacifistic if they were watching soldiers rape their daughters.
Such questions are more than rhetorical. A task force of 2,000 US-paid Bolivian mercenaries have been injuring and killing poor Bolivians in remote mountain villages. Bolivian media reports that the mercenaries are committing human rights abuses, including beatings, torture, rapes, and murder.
US officials have lied about the paramilitary unit, covering up its human rights abuses. The US Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section gives untraceable cash payments to the mercenaries, who are commanded by US-trained leaders who take orders from embassy and from US military officials.
As Bolivia looks to Morales, neighboring Peru has decided to stop cooperating with US-backed anti-drug operations in the Andes.
President Bush thought he had Peru in his pocket when he received drug war promises during a visit to Peru three months ago. Instead, Peruvian officials now say they have serious questions about the effectiveness of the drug war, and about its effects on the economy, public health and human rights.
The Peruvian drug war featured herbicidal poisoning of crops and people, as well as attempts to bribe farmers to grow low-paying crops for globalized multi-national corporations instead of growing coca and marijuana. Peruvians say that the crop alternatives programs are poorly administered, and that foreign intervention is perceived as imperialist interference that is less about eliminating the dangers of the drug trade than it is about procuring Latin American resources and labor for foreign corporate elites.
In August, Peruvian leaders announced that they were indeed scaling back some of their anti-coca efforts.
Another country that has been cooperating with American anti-drug efforts, Colombia, is going in the opposite direction of Peru.
Newly-elected Colombian President Alvaro Uribe just pledged to increase his country’s use of deadly herbicide spraying in an effort to eradicate coca and marijuana plants. Uribe says that US funding and personnel will help Colombia spray toxins on 400,000 acres of rural land.
The toxic efforts are part of the $3 billion “Plan Colombia” program initiated by President Clinton and intensified since George W Bush took office.
Observers note that Plan Colombia is beginning to resemble the Vietnam War, with US-sponsored government and right wing paramilitary forces attacking natives, peasants, forest dwellers and others who are resisting the Colombian government’s cooperation with multi-national corporations that seek to exploit Colombia’s oil, water, forests, soil and other resources.
Most neutral observers agree that US military assets and funds, under cover of the drug war, are being used to provide security and coercion on behalf of large corporations, such as Coca-Cola. Right wing death squads recently killed several employees who were trying to unionize a Colombian Coke factory.
The fairest way of describing the situation is to say that leftist forces, government employees, and right wing squads are all committing war crimes, but that the leftists are fighting a battle for justice and equity on behalf of poor people, and are partially funded by “narcodollars,” while their opponents are fighting to maintain a system of oppression and foreign intervention, also funded by narco dollars, plus billions of dollars more from the United States.
The US has given huge amounts of money to Colombia in the last two decades, ostensibly to be used to only to eradicate marijuana and coca plantations, processing, and exporting. But the Bush administration recently asked that money be given directly to military operations that often have nothing to do with anti-drug efforts, and in which human rights abuses are persistently present.
These types of convoluted covert funding and military operations have long been supported by Republican operatives. Documents obtained from the National Security Archive by Colombian Documentation Project investigator Michael Evans reveal that current Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, secretly encouraged Colombian military officials to ignore human rights conditions on US aid.
The documents also show that the CIA has long had knowledge that US funds were being used by rogue military and paramilitary units that engage in torture and murder, and that US funds and operations in Colombia were often diverted to political-military adventurism rather than the war on drugs.
During a 1997 visit to Colombia, the documents reveal, Hastert told Colombian military and police officials that he and other lawmakers were “sick and tired of people? inhibiting the process by placing [human rights]conditions on military aid when the lives of US children and youth are being destroyed by drugs.”
Carlos Salinas, Latin America director for Amnesty International USA, said that Hastert “has pushed the military and police viewpoint almost to the exclusion of any other.”
“He is also one who has been singular in not including the human rights viewpoint in his war on drugs in Colombia,” Salinas said.