Bolivia's Political Moment, Part I: Leonilda Zurita's Visa

La Paz: They hadn’t given the issue much space, seemingly because the government and Senator Leonilda Zurita did not want to make too much noise. Nevertheless, a press release from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) unleashed the scandal: Leo, as some of her friends and comrades in struggle from the Chapare call her, had her entrance visa to the United States cancelled a few days ago…

Zurita was supposed to travel on an extensive tour of Bush country, but U.S. Consul Julie Grant stopped it, with the coca-growers’ leader nearly already on the plane, alleging that she had links to terrorism…

Diverse reactions and a wire report worth pointing out follow…

This past Monday, February 20, in the Viru Viru International Airport, Leonilida Zurita was informed of the cancellation of her visa. “In the airport they told us that we couldn’t fly by order of the ambassador,” said Zurita. “Then the consul gave me a letter explaining that my visa is suspended or canceled because I have links involving me with terrorism and other things.”

Grant’s letter says clearly, in Spanish: “This letter’s purpose is to inform you that the tourist visa issued February 14, 1998 has been revoked since May 27, 2004 by the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs under Section 212(a)(3)(B) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.” This verbal diarrhea means that Leonilda Zurita had some relation to terrorist activities or insurgent movements…

And everything indicates that this is really about the case of Colombian peasant-farmer leader and human rights activist Francisco “Pacho” Cortes, whom the Bolivian justice system tried to link to 42 other coca growers’ leaders… without much success. What’s more, the case against Cortes has been so badly made that he received a provisional release a few days ago, because, among other reasons, the Bolivian prosecutors have not been able to prove any of their charges against him.

But the scandal generated by a senator losing her U.S. visa has now caused echos from a dew more corners, such as a wire report from Reuters on Wednesday titled: “Bolivia’s ‘Death to Yankees’ senator loses US visa.” This report is a real literary gem: it says nothing of the motives behind the cancellation, but in pure bad faith speaks of the terrorism accusation and, without explaining Pacho’s case, tells us that Senator Zurita is “known for her raucous chanting” that speaks of rubbing out the gringos…

This Reuters artist is referring to the famous Chapare cocalero slogan “Kausachun coca, huanuchun yanquis” (literally, “for the cause of coca, may the Yankees die”)… which everyone in Bolivia – even the journalists – knows is a very, very popular and common saying in the Chapare region and among the members of Zurita’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party. In fact, President Evo Morales shouted it quite loudly on the night he won the elections. Ah, but Reuters had no time for such things until last night… first the news, later the truth…

The President, the Vice President, and the Spokesman

Since he certainly knows that Leonilda Zurita is no terrorist, Evo Morales has defended his comrade, who many believe to be the woman with most influence over the current Bolivian president. Well, it’s not like he’s exactly let lose with hard words for the U.S. embassy or George W. Bush, but he did something.

Yesterday morning, during a ceremonial reception for the diplomatic corps in this country, President Morales was visibly upset over the cancellation of Zurita’s visa. Hoping it was due to an error and not a “punishment,” don Evo said: “It is not possible that, in the third millennium, committed people, committed women are punished by any government.”

A few of MAS’ members of Congress spoke in harsher terms about the events, such as Senate President Santos Ramírez. Ramírez announced that he would be requesting a detailed report from the U.S. Embassy, which is run by don David N. Greenlee, the current viceroy.

The biggest surprise came from Vice President Alvaro García Linera. The former professor of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism and the man in charge of his administration’s relationship with the U.S. government, said simply: “We are not worried about a senator not having a visa. We are working hard as a government to fight drug trafficking, corruption, and an appropriate relationship will be maintained with the country to our north, within the framework of sovereignty and dignity.”

In other words, Vice President García Linera doesn’t see this as such a big deal, even though it has to do with an important personality like Zurita, as long as they continue seeing “good will” on the part of Bush and his employees… This is big-time, serious politics here. It doesn’t matter that, as government spokesman (and, of course, former contributor to many media including Narco News) Alex Contreras said yesterday, these actions affect “the principle of the presumption of innocence of every citizen…”

Although, on the other hand, kind readers, Contreras has already been out there making clarifications for his boss Evo concerning the gringos, coca and the Chapare… while Greenlee goes around saying he doesn’t know about any cases of human rights violations on the part of DEA agents… and if all this makes it seem like the government is holding back in Bolivia, well, it is.

But we will have more to tell you about the current political moment in Bolivia later… for now, it has been recorded that a coca grower Senator lost her visa for the United States, and that a vice president wasn’t concerned about it, although his boss, Evo Morales was, but not too much… stay tuned…

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