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Bolivian Government Signs Agreement With Coca Growers

Bolivian coca farmers and the government arrived at an agreement which might end the blockades and violence -- for now.
 
 
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(bulletin from the Andean Information Network, Cochabamba, Bolivia)

In the early morning of Saturday, February 9, coca grower leaders and the government arrived at an agreement after having negotiated through the night. Although government ministers had initially rejected the presence of union leader Evo Morales in the talks, the later agreed to his participation. The Human Rights Ombudsman's Office, the Catholic Church and the Permanent Human Rights Assembly successfully mediated the talks.

Political analysts and human rights monitors attribute the surprising shift in the Bolivian government's hard-line approach to widespread public concern and that continued blockades and violence would provoke substantial economic and human losses during the four day Carnival weekend. Government representatives also feared that sustained violence would further deteriorate the ruling parties' political already substantially eroded credibility in the upcoming presidential and congressional elections.

Sadly, the spiraling violence beginning in mid-January could have been avoided if government officials had negotiated the same points earlier. The substantial concessions made in the agreement will most likely provide a superficial and temporary "band-aid" for deep-rooted festering social problems. Violence will most likely erupt again within the next several months.

CONTENT OF THE AGREEMENT

1) Reworking of Supreme Decrees: Coca growers lifted blockades as a result of a few key concessions. According to the new agreement, Supreme Decrees 26415 and 26491 will be repealed and replaced by a law agreed upon by the different negotiating parties. These decrees prohibited drying, transporting and selling coca leaves, and violated Law 1008 and Bolivian Constitutional norms. The coca market in Sacaba has been reopened as a result, at least until new legislation is put into effect.

2) Evaluation of Morales's Removal from Congress: The status of ousted congressman and coca leader Evo Morales was a contentious issue, but coca growers ultimately agreed to accept a guarantee of his constitutional rights and his right to continue participating in political and union activities. The decision about his congressional seat has been left in the hands of the Constitutional Tribunal. His reinstatement, if it did indeed occur, would be largely symbolic since he would have to resign soon in order to run again. Unless he is convicted on specific charges, he will be allowed to seek office in the future.

3) Economic Compensation for Dead and Injured: The government also agreed to pay indemnization to the families of coca growers who died in confrontations with security forces, and to pay the medical expenses of those who were injured. Though the government has honored these agreements in the past, they tend to provide resources in the larger hospitals more adequately than in smaller rural facilities where many coca growers have been treated, such as the Villa Tunari Hospital.

Also, this agreement comes nearly a month after the injuries inflicted in the Sacaba conflict. Some of the seriously wounded have been waiting to receive necessary surgical procedures that they cannot afford. The lack of prompt medical attention is a problem that would be better addressed by a standing agreement that anticipates future clashes.

Also, although economic compensation is an important obligation mandated by international agreements, there is concern that the Bolivian government uses financial compensation to substitute impartial investigations in the civilian court system to hold perpetrators of human rights violations responsible for their actions.

4) Radio Soberania: The government also agreed to give Radio Soberania legal approval and return their equipment so that they could operate, though under a different name, by the end of this month. (The equipment was seized and the radio station shut down on January 22 in a thinly veiled attack against their opposition voice.)

5) Release of Detained Union Leaders: The agreement established that detainees held for participation in the Sacaba conflict but without concrete evidence of direct participation in crimes would be released. In cases that were less clear, the agreement stated that representatives from the Permanent Human Rights Assembly, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the government would review the charges against of each detainee on a case-by-case basis.

On February 13, Judge Vivian Enriquez reviewed the cases of eleven leaders held under a number of charges including conspiracy to commit murder and sedition. The prosecutor argued that eight of the eleven detainees should remain incarcerated due to the evidence that links them to violent acts committed in Sacaba. However, the judge ruled that eight of the eleven could be released. Four leaders, Delfin Olivera, Fidel Tarqui, Feliciano Mamani and Eusebio Rubio, can be released in several days if they present bail set at 10,000 bolivianos (about $1450). The judge freed another four leaders, Leonilda Zurita, Oswaldo Toco, Elena Almendras and Wilde Moscoso. The defense attorney said he would appeal the decision to keep leaders Silvia Lazarte and Nicolás Panoso detained. He also stated that the bail is beyond the economic means of all of the detainees and that the judge failed to take their economic situation into consideration as she is required to do by the new criminal procedures code.

Evo Morales stated that coca growers would renew road blockades if all detainees were not liberated by February 18th.

THE LA PAZ YUNGAS AGREEMENT

In accordance with the agreement reached by Chapare coca growers and government officials, the agreement between the government and La Paz Yungas unions arrived at on February 12 also promises the protection of the commercialization of Yungas coca in local, national and international markets and the repeal of Supreme Decrees 26415 and 26491 for that region. Other points of the agreement highlight the economic and social needs of coca growing and other campesino communities. Their demands include new and improved roads and tunnels, health care equipment for rural clinics as well as more physicians and nurses, and the formation of a committee made up of government and campesino representatives to improve technical assistance programs, product quality and access to different markets.

Visit www.scbbs-bo.com/ain and www.narconews.com for more information on Bolivia's coca conflict.