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Four Protestors Killed by Security Forces in Recent Days
In Cochabamba, in the central Amazon region of Bolivia, political violence is intesifying following the closing of local coca markets. The government justifies it's crack down by pointing to a November 2001 decree, ordered by the government of dictator Hugo Banzer, who resigned from the executive seat some months ago. The decree makes the drying, transport and sale of coca a crime, which was permitted for traditional use in a previous national law. (Law 1008), and dictates disproportionately harsh penalties for these activities, including jail sentences of eight to twelve years. Coca is a staple crop for rural Bolivians, who consume the unprocessed leaves as a medicinal plant and a symbol of their indigenous culture. Authorities recently closed the Sacaba market outside of Cochabamba.
Four members of our organization were killed the security forces this past week, following recent death of several peasant activists. These are tragic events. We are opposed violence from any side. Combined efforts by the military and the national police have resulted in increasingly tightened repression of organized coca growers, who defend their right to produce and consume this leaf, as an important part of their culture and their livelihood.
On Saturday the 19th, the Associated Press reported that the Bolivian government detained around 70 leaders and members of the federation of coca growers of eastern Bolivia, about half of which have been placed in a maximum security prison nearby Cochabamba. Including those arrested is two main female leaders of the coca growers movement, Silvia Lazarte and Leonilda Zurita, the latter of which came to Massachusetts this past year, to accompany a speaking tour organized by the Peoples Global Action, about the impacts of Plan Colombia in her region. After calling the office of these leaders, we have confirmed that they have been detained, without legal council, and several of their family members including their small children, have been severely beaten.
The main impulse for the increased repression of coca production and organized coca growers comes from the agenda of the U.S. drug policy in the region, which is attempting to regionalize the current military program in Colombia to its neighboring countries in the Andean region. Washington is bent on stemming small scale production of some of the raw materials included in the production of cocaine, as opposed to addressing "demand side" factors related to its drug problem. As a result the U.S., is promoting militarization and political violence in a region with vast cultural differences from our country's foreign policy agenda, and making poor farmers in Bolivia pay the price of our nation's narcotics consumption.
Today, January 22nd, there was a mass mobilization in Cochabamba in support of the coca growers. That evening police went to the office of the Coalition in Defense of Water and Life. The office was closed, the police broke windows and lobbed teargas into the office and arrested 9 people who happened to be near the Coalitions office. The Coalition is expected to issue a statement soon, we will forward that to you as soon as we receive it. This is another escalation in an already tense situation. Please act soon. Thank you for your support.
Please write to the U.S. Ambassador in Bolivia, the Bolivian Ambassador in the United States, The President of Bolivia and the Bolivian Interior Minister, to express your condemnation of the violence and killings on both sides, to demand that just treatment be guaranteed for all detainees, and to press for a peaceful solution to this problem, with an adequate consideration of the cultural factors involved in the issue of the coca plant in Bolivia.
Please see sample letter below, and forward this message to all who may be interested in supporting this case, and send copies to: 1world communication, at email@example.com
To the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia
Sr. Manuel Rocha
Ambassador to the United States in Bolivia
Fax: (591-2) 243-3710
Dear Mr. Rocha,
On the part of diverse sectors of the United States, I would like to express our extreme concern about the recent events occurring due to the violent confrontations that have ensued since the 15th of this month in Sacaba and other areas nearby Cochabamba. Once again the clashes between coca producers and security forces have resulted in mourning for many families of the Chapar area. Due to this, we are writing you to express international concern about the current situation, and to seek your help in finding a peaceful resolution.
It is apparent that the seizure of recent coca crops and the closing of several local markets have produced violent struggles between protesters and members of the police and the armed forces of Bolivia. Recent calls to respect human rights and resolve this conflict peacefully, on the part of the international community, diverse NGOs and the Catholic Church, seem to go unnoticed by the U.S. Embassy, which continues to promote the militarization of the coca-producing areas of Bolivia, despite the harsh toll on human lives.
We must remind the U.S. Embassy that foreign policy initiatives such as the supply-side suppression of coca, as a raw material used in the creation of cocaine, must comply with the basic tenets of international law, namely, that human rights ought not to be suspended in the name of a war on drugs under any conditions, and that force should not be used except as a last resort employed in order to save lives. Any encouragement on the part of the U.S. Embassy to Bolivian officials, which portray a contrary philosophy, run in direct contradiction to all of the democratic principles to which our country stands firm.
We urge the U.S. Embassy to promote a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Cochabamba tropics, and to develop a strategy which addresses the chain of drug trafficking without persecuting some of he poorest peasants of the continent. The United States should, under no condition, condone torture or extra-judicial killings, on the part of any actors in this conflict, and should recognize that a peaceful and just approach to this situation is the only way to prevent future conflict and avoid the economic and social devastation of the Bolivian Amazon region.
We request your response to this letter.