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BOLIVIA: PRESIDENT JORGE QUIROGA FIGHTS CORRUPTION & DEMANDS OF COCA GROWERS.

Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga has promised an all-out fight against corruption, but that fight has now snared Quiroga's predecessor, former President Hugo Banzer (1971-1978, 1998-2001). Quiroga has also inherited another problem from Banzer, the conflict between the government's pledge to eradicate all illegal coca fields and the need to respond to the legitimate demands of the organized coca growers.

In the Chapare, 560 km southeast of La Paz, thousands of campesinos are demanding that they be allowed to plant small parcels of coca to subsist. They say that the government's "alternative development" in the area has been a failure and that growing coca is their only way to survive.

The situation continues to be extremely tense, despite a new agreement between the campesinos and the government.

"Bolivia, the region, and the world are in an unprecedented crisis, and the greatest concentration and dialogue are needed to find a way out of the present situation," said Quiroga. "The protests of several thousand campesinos who have made their living from drug trafficking by planting illegal coca cannot supersede the desire of eight million Bolivians to live without the stigma of this problem."

Another fatality in the Chapare

Bolivia's drug law (Ley de la Coca y Control de Sustancias Controladas de Bolivia) allows 12,000 hectares of coca to be grown legally for traditional and medicinal uses by campesinos.

The Policia de Bolivia recently created a new unit specially trained to oversee the marketing of the legal coca in the country, said Vice Minister of Social Defense Oswaldo Antezana on Sept. 15. The new office is supposed to ensure that the legally grown coca does not end up being used for cocaine production.

The special unit will begin its duties early next year. It will be part of the Direccion General de Comercializacion de la Coca (DIGECO), which was intervened four months ago when authorities uncovered widespread corruption among the DIGECO personnel who issue licenses to coca sellers.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 28, violence again erupted in the Chapare, the major area for illegal coca growing. Soldiers with the Fuerzas de Tareas Conjuntas (FTC), who carry out the forced eradication of coca fields in the Chapare, fired on a group of reporters and their campesino guide. The journalists were trying to interview some of the soldiers whose barracks had been surrounded for five days by angry campesinos opposing the eradication.

The soldiers' bullets struck guide Ramon Perez, who later died. Authorities said the soldiers fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the campesinos from in front of the barracks.

The Asociacion Nacional de Periodistas (ANPB) and the Federacion de Trabajadores de la Prensa de Bolivia (FTPB) issued statements condemning the "dual morality" of the authorities "who preach respect for freedom of the press while frequently violating it."

"It was a real attack," said journalist Ivan Canelas. "First they fired their weapons and then they fired tear gas to disperse I don't know whom, since there were no large numbers of campesinos nearby." He said the reporters feared for their lives, especially when they saw their guide Perez fall and could do nothing to help him because the soldiers kept firing.

Canelas said that FTC commander Hernan Caprirolo knew the reporters were in the area and had their itinerary. The FTPB called on the government to "guarantee the lives and professional work of journalists in the Chapare."

Interior Minister Leopoldo Fernandez ordered an investigation, but insisted that the soldiers "saw clear signs of an intent to take over the barracks."

Agreement reached, but tensions still high

The coca growers had threatened that, if the forced eradication continued, they would set up roadblocks beginning Oct. 3.

"The government has still not responded to the needs of the campesinos, and we are prepared to return to roadblocks," said Aymara leader Felipe Quispe, head of the Confederacion Unica Sindical de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB).

Government authorities and coca producers reached an agreement on Sept. 29, reducing tension in the Chapare, although some campesinos were still threatening blockades. The interior minister said that leaders of the Federacion de Productores de Coca accepted a 15-day truce, during which all the complaints of the campesinos would be reviewed.

The government and the coca growers will form four committees to analyze the problems, said congressional Deputy Evo Morales, a leader of the coca growers. The committees will look at issues related to coca growing, alternative development, indemnity for victims of the violence, and the provisions in the agreement signed last October, which the campesinos say were never met.

"Alternative development in the Chapare is a fantasy. Millions of dollars have disappeared without any benefit to the campesinos in the region," said Morales.

In support of the coca growers, Aymara and Quechua factions of the CSUTCB said that if the committees fail to reach an acceptable agreement, they would erect roadblocks.

Wigberto Rivero, minister of campesino affairs, called on Quispe and Quechua leader Alejo Veliz to oversee the application of a series of government measures to help the campesinos.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Oscar Gilarte called for a "permanent dialogue" among representatives of the federal government, municipalities, unions, and businesses to solve the problems in the Chapare and the Cochabamba valley.

Gilarte offered to put the Instituto Geografico Militar at the disposition of the unions in the Chapare to work on legalizing the land titles of campesinos and to repair and maintain roads in the area. The government also agreed to pay Perez's widow US$7,500.

But the situation could become more difficult for the government since the three largest campesino organizations have formed a "campesino alliance" to defend the rights of the coca growers. The CSUTCB, the Confederacion Sindical de Colonizadores de Bolivia (CSCB), and the Confederacion de Pueblos Indigenas de Bolivia (CPIB) make up this alliance.

Banzer accused of nepotism and corruption

Former President Banzer, who is battling cancer and who resigned in early August to continue treatment in the US (see NotiSur, 2001-08-03), has been accused of corruption by one of his closest ministers.

The Controloria de la Republica recently reported that in 1998, the government paid US$2.92 million for a Beechcraft plane, which was at least US$1.18 million more than it was worth. The plane was purchased ostensibly for relief work following an earthquake, and was paid for with relief funds, but was used for the president and his family.

Former defense minister Fernando Keiffer, now a congressional deputy with Banzer's Accion Democratica Nacionalista (ADN), said Banzer negotiated directly with US company Panagra Air for the purchase of the Beechcraft.

Keiffer's statements were a drastic departure from his earlier staunch defense of the former president. Keiffer told the weekly publication Pulso that he had waited two years for Banzer to accept his responsibility in the plane deal, but instead he tried to blame Keiffer.

A petition has been introduced in Congress to investigate Banzer's role in purchasing the Beechcraft.

In addition, the La Paz daily La Prensa reported that many relatives of Banzer and his wife Yolanda Prada (referred to as the Banzer-Prada clan) received diplomatic posts in Bolivia's foreign service. The investigation revealed that at least 11 members of the former president's family were given important diplomatic jobs.

One of them, Banzer's cousin Jaime Quiroga, is the Bolivian ambassador in Great Britain, receiving a salary of US$17,000 a month. The minimum salary in Bolivia is US$50 a month.

Also accused of wrongdoing is Banzer's son-in-law Alberto Valle Urena, a gynecologist and former prefect of La Paz and now a congressional deputy. Valle is married to Banzer's daughter, Patricia Banzer Prada.

On Sept. 19, Congress approved a leave of absence for Valle so he could respond to the charges against him. Among the charges, Valle is accused of selling 164 new government cars for US$30,000, the price of scrap metal, and of buying some government property, paying US$170,000 for it although it was worth US$7.2 million. [Sources: CNN, 08/31/01; El Nuevo Herald (Miami), 09/01/01; La Opinion (Los Angeles), 09/11/01, 10/01/01; Spanish news service EFE, 09/03/01, 09/15/01, 09/19/01, 09/28/01, 09/30/01, 10/01/01; Notimex, 09/28/01, 10/03/01, 10/08/01; Latinamerica Press (Lima), 10/08/01]
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Publication:NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
Geographic Code:3BOLI
Date:Oct 12, 2001
Words:1392
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