Bolivia Table of Contents
The presence of the United States military forces in Bolivia in 1986 created widespread controversy in the country. Although four political parties, including the ruling party and, belatedly, Congress approved the joint Bolivian-United States military exercises in the Chapare lowlands of Cochabamba Department from April 26 to May 6, 1986, several leftist parties and civilian trade union and regional organizations opposed them as a violation of national sovereignty. Political and labor opposition groups, including the Bolivian Labor Federation (Central Obrera Boliviana--COB), formed a council to express their strong opposition to the presence of the United States forces and to challenge the legality of inviting foreign troops into the country without the prior approval of Congress. The most militant opposition came from workers, campesinos, and other residents of the Chapare and Yungas regions who claimed that coca growing was their only means of making a living. Urged on by cocaine traffickers and peasant union federations, coca farmers resorted to mass-mobilization tactics such as sit-ins, demonstrations, and road blockades. In one incident in October 1986, some 6,000 residents of the Beni town of Santa Ana de Yacuma expelled 150 United States soldiers and Umopar members.
In the late 1980s, the Bolivian press charged that DEA agents had killed a number of demonstrating peasants, protected the Huanchaca cocaine factory, and failed to combat the coca/cocaine industry. In July 1987, campesinos laid siege to a DEA camp in Chimoré, forcing the temporary departure of twenty-five DEA agents and the relocation of the Umopar base. In May 1988, thousands of campesinos demonstrated for two days in downtown Cochabamba, demanding the expulsion of twenty DEA agents from Bolivia and governmental respect for their coca-growing livelihood. In order to get the coca growers to return home, the government agreed to modify the eradication plan. In addition to promising not to force any relocations, the government pledged to seek only voluntary reduction of coca fields, to decriminalize coca growing, and to seek more funds to develop other crops.
Exercises called "United Forces 88" scheduled for May 1988 were suspended, in part because of widespread complaints in the local press, Congress, and among political parties about the holding of the May 1987 Absalom exercises. Most of Bolivia's political parties denounced them as another violation of national sovereignty. The president dismissed his minister of national defense after the latter, inebriated, failed to provide a coherent explanation to the National Congress of why the government invited the United States troops to participate in the scheduled 1988 exercises.
In the Chapare, where more than a dozen campesinos were reported killed by the Umopar in the 1986-88 period, charges of human rights abuses by antidrug forces helped drug traffickers to incite Chapare coca growers. The president of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia (Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia) reported in 1988 that antidrug police routinely attacked coca growers, robbing them of money and goods. At the same time, the drug traffickers, better armed than the Umopar, methodically employed terrorist methods against Chapare residents who refused to cooperate with the cocaine industry.
The 1988 Antinarcotics Law inflamed Bolivia's long tradition of nationalist, anti-imperialist, and anti-Yankee sentiment. Bolivians widely perceived the new law to be the result of unacceptable pressure on their government by the United States, which had linked coca eradication to the disbursement of loans to Bolivia by the United States, the World Bank (see Glossary), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The left-wing opposition, including the Free Bolivia Movement (Movimiento Bolivia Libre--MBL), joined forces with coca producers in opposing the law.
Despite the adoption of the 1988 Antinarcotics Law and the government's claims of progress in the antidrug struggle, Bolivian officials and political leaders in early 1989 reportedly felt that enforcing antidrug measures through repression caused too much social and economic damage. In addition, repressive measures were met with violent resistance by coca growers and processors. In an apparent policy shift, Paz Estenssoro began advocating voluntary crop-substitution and eradication. His government also began to seek US$600 million from wealthy nations to develop alternative agricultural crops and jobs, build roads, and install electricity in the Chapare. The Pz Estenssoro government also remained publicly opposed to the possible return of United States troops to Bolivia.
Data as of December 1989
Bolivia Table of Contents