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ALERT: Human Rights Abuses in Bolivian Drug War

The fraudulence of the annual certification process may be best demonstrated by the events taking place in a nation whose certification this year was not a matter of controversy: Bolivia. While Bolivia passed certification handily, the roughly 7,000 hectares of coca they eradicated were almost entirely replaced by 7,000 new hectares of coca, cultivated to meet the demand, mostly from people in the United States. But Bolivia's eradication program, while useless in terms of its stated goal of reducing drug availability, has resulted in a long-term civil conflict and in serious abuses of human rights. This update from the Andean Information Network is only the latest dark episode in the Andean drug war created by US policy. We ask you to contact the Bolivian and US officials listed at the end of the report. Following them are a few pointers to sources of further information.

RED ANDINA DE INFORMACION Andean Information Network Casilla 4817 Cochabamba, Bolivia Phone: +591 (42) 24384 Fax: +591 (42) 52401 Email: [email protected] April 19, 1997 ALERT: Update on the recent events in the tropics of Chapare

On the 17th of April (Thursday), approximately 30 vehicles of UMOPAR (the drug police), Ecological Police, DIRECO y DINACO entered the area of Eterzama (Mariscal B which is located 190-200 kilometers from the city of Cochabamba) in the tropical zone of Chapare. The stated nature of the operation was to eradicate new coca plants and seedlings which are prohibited by Law 1008. According to a commission of journalists who traveled to the area, all the coca in the area is old (15-20 of age) and they observed no new coca or seedlings.

Additionally, the police agents were forcibly eradicating coca plants, i.e. they were eradicating the coca without permission of the land owners. In this zone the coca is considered "excess coca" under the antinarcotic Law 1008 and should be eradicated voluntarily and with compensation of $2,500 for each hectare that is eradicated. A woman named Alberta Orellana Garcia, 53 years of age, tried to prevent the eradication of her coca by begging on her knees to the police agent, when she was shot with a bullet in front of her oldest son, Fernando. She died leaving 7 children including one of 2 years and another of 4 years.

The killing of the woman angered the people, who went to the town of Etrezama and destroyed the offices of DIRECO, the Bolivian organization that oversees coca eradication efforts and pays the compensation. The government took retaliation by sending in helicopters and ground troops who indiscriminately shot at the people and gassed the population.

Juan Del Granado, who entered the area on the 18th to record the events, stated that the antinarcotic operation was an act of war, with helicopters flying over, dropping gas on the population and shooting randomly at people's feet. The children were terrorized and crying because of their fear and their concern for their parents, many of whom were detained. Ironically, the minister of Government, Victor Hugo Caneles, who was in the area during the operations left the area as the Congressional Human Rights Commission arrived.

The situation remains tense, and the information below was pieced together from eyewitness reports, information from reporter Alex Contreras, and the information provided by the head of the Congressional Committee on Human Rights, Juan Del Granado, by radio as he travelled throughout out the zone.


To date there are six confirmed deaths, not counting an UMOPAR agent who was killed during the operation. The dead include Alberta Orellana Garcia, as described above, two men in the morgue in Cochabamba whose names have not been released; Ernesto Quispe Villas, who died this AM (the 19th) in the hospital in Chipirir from a bullet wound in the head; a baby of 3 months, Fredy Rojas, who died of gasification (the body of the baby is still in Chapare); and a child of six years who was also killed by a bullet wound. There are rumors of more deaths but we have not been able to confirm them.


There is a young man of 17 years in a coma in the hospital. There is a child of 6 years who was shot in the head with a bullet, and another campesino who was shot in the neck. In total, 20-30 persons were wounded by bullets, the majority in their feet, and they are being treated in the hospitals of the area. There are other wounded who have been taken to hospitals in Santa Cruz, and we have no information on their condition. There are many people still missing who may be detained or kidnapped.


According to Juan Del Granado, there were 163 detentions. 20 were released, but 143 remain in the Unidad of UMOPAR in Chimore. The majority of these detentions were arbitrary, without warrant or the presence of a fiscal. The majority were hit during their detention and you can observe the bruises on their bodies. The police forces in their attempt to detain people entered a clinic, broke windows, screens and hit one of the doctors in the clinic. Additionally they entered private homes robbing personal belongings. An election notary was entering the local telephone office when he was grabbed by police, kicked, carried out to the street, beaten and then left there. This act was witnessed by many people.

Union leader Avelino Espinosa was detained in the office in Villa 14 with German Felizes, who is a government official in Villa Tunari. They were transferred to the UMOPAR cuartel where Espinosa's hands were tied and he was brutally beaten by UMOPAR agents. Eventually they were both released due to intervention on the part of journalists. When these journalists asked police agent Capitan Guerrero, whom Espinosa was accusing of beating him, to respond to the accusations, Capitan Guerrero answered that he was under orders to keep silent.

Among the people detained are ministers, union leaders and many other residents of the area. The detentions were random, without warrants, and not one was done in the presence of a prosecutor.


As the Andean Information Network we traveled to the Chapare region the 10-14 of April, a few days before the events outlined above took place. The people of the area are in a desperate situation due to the policy of the forced eradication which is being pushed by the US government. Due to the almost complete failure of alternative development in the region, the people have been left with no other option than to continue to grow coca. The zone is completely militarized at the moment, with more than 1,800 police agents in the area -- 500 UMOPAR, 200 ecological police, 110 police from CBBA, 105 from Santa Cruz, 100 soldiers from the Colomi base and 800 soldiers from the Santa Rosa army base.

The coca growers have in the last months organized themselves into self defense committees who defend the fields against forced eradication with sticks, rocks and sometimes machetes. It is these coca growers who the government say are causing the violence. We met with one of these committee and can attest that they are only farmers defending their right to survive. It is the government who is the aggressor in these events.

At this moment Juan Del Granado is investigating the situation of those detained in UMOPAR. When we traveled there last week and visited the cells, we were alarmed by the number of people in a cell -- 16-24 people in a cell 2x3 meters during the day, and at night 8 people sleep in this same space. The health of the prisoners was bad, they are not let out to exercise and, they are almost yellow in color due to lack of sun. The cell is very hot as the only ventilation is a small window. We can't imagine what the conditions are like now with the addition of 143 more people.

The situation remains very tense, with the Bolivian government defending their acts by stating that the coca growers are narcotraffickers. To date the US government has been silent. We are asking you to write letters of concern to the addresses below, asking for the removal of the 1,800 troops in the Chapare and the end to illegal forced eradication (the eradication in these zones should be voluntary and compensated as stated in Law 1008). Also demand that the US government make very clear to the Bolivian government that the demands of the US government (the eradication of 8000 hectares this year and the complete eradication of the coca in two years) need to be achieved within the mark of national and international human rights. We thank you for your help in this matter and will be keeping you updated.

Please send faxes and letters to:


{your name and address}                                                         DATE 

{name and address of official}

Dear ___:

It has come to my attention that the UMOPAR and other police and military forces have engaged in illegal forced coca eradication activities and have committed acts of violence and human rights abuses against the people of the Chapare.

The people of the United States do not want the war on drugs to be used a justification for repression and violence in Bolivia or anywhere else. I ask that you take all measures needed to ensure that police and military forces respect human rights and the rule of law, that violence and human rights violations by such forces are investigated and punished, and that the victims are compensated.


{your name and signature}

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