Bolivia's Political Moment, Part II: Contradictions in Response to Viceroy Greenlee

LA PAZ, FEBRUARY 27: We continue to watch what is happening in Bolivia, kind readers. A few days ago we spoke about the contradiction between statements from President Evo Morales and his spokesman Alex Contreras: When U.S. Ambassador David Nicol Greenlee asked for clarification on the possible expulsion of his countrymen from the Chapare, Contreras said one thing and his boss another… Let’s go to that story, which now includes three actors – the cocaleros of the Chapare and one or two dignitaries of the current administration. The uproar began around the 13th or 14th of February. Actually, it was on both days, as the 8th Congress of the Six Federations of Coca Growers of the Tropic of Cochabamba wrapped up. One of the many things that happened at the event was the decision to maintain President Morales’ status as the supreme coca growers’ authority in the Chapare. cocalero congressman David Herrada explained this by saying that maintaining Evo as the leader of the coca growers’ unions “guarantees that coca decriminalization will keep moving forward.”

But the coca growers spoke about many different issues. They decided, for example, to respect the agreement signed with former president Carlos Mesa, which allows each family to cultivate one cato (1,600 square meters, or 0.4 acres) of coca legally. Part of the discussion involved possible sanctions for farmers that do not respect this limit. Indeed, much was discussed in the congress, held in the city of Cochabamba and partially broadcast live on state-owned Channel 7.

And among these issues, the cocaleros spoke about the U.S. presence in their region: NGOs, soldiers, DEA agents, and several government agencies. With respect to these, movement leader Julio Salaza made it clear that any institution that receives support from the gringos must leave the Chapare. The exit of U.S. agents and NGO representatives was an official resolution of the congress…

Because of that, and without a doubt because he spent years as a journalist very close to the region, the social organizations and cocalero leaders, Alex Contreras said that same afternoon:

“This concerns one of the country’s most important popular and political organizations. I understand that there will have to be dialogs with the U.S. government in order to work out the best way for those institutions, which have run their course, to abandon the Tropic of Cochabamba.”

And that’s how the uproar started…

A Viceroy Visits a Minister

This correspondent knows from personal experience that current Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramón Quintana is an affable, cordial, and intelligent man. But I can’t imagine his face on the night of February 16, when he was forced to receive Viceroy — excuse me, Ambassador David Greenlee for an hour. After the Bolivian media had spent the entire day clucking and cackling about “expulsion” (“will they?”/“won’t they?”), Quintana and Greenlee had a chat about coca and, of course, expulsions and respectful relations.

One could say that Viceroy Greenlee left the meeting relaxed and calm. He must have to be cold-blooded to be the ambassador of the world’s only superpower in a rebel little country such as Bolivia. But Greenlee walked out saying that all was well, that he only wanted to meet Minister Quintana and talk about drug policy (read: to make sure everything was going according to plan).

On the expulsion, the imperial diplomat said, “As I understand it, that was the position of the farmers’ unions and their leaders, but I have not heard that the Bolivian government has taken it as well.” And then he went home…

That night, Vice President Alvaro García Linera said that relations between Bolivia and the United States are “optimal” and always within the framework of respect for national sovereignty. And his boss, President Evo Morales, said more or less the same thing, kind readers, on the morning of February 16…

Evo Says, It’s Just Not Like That

On the morning of February 16, in a speech at the La Paz Military Academy, Evo Morales made it very clear that the cocalero congress’ resolution did not represent anything approaching a commitment on the part of his administration. Don Evo expressed the importance of maintaining international relations (and don’t forget to take into account that at this point that the gringos had not yet revoked Leonilda’s visa).

“Everyone has the right to be in our country as long as they respect our national dignity and sovereignty,” said Morales to the boys at the academy. “We need these bilateral relations, within the framework of a mutual respect between peoples and between nations. The fundamental right to self-determination of our peoples and, in this case, of our nation, comes before any foreign relationship.”

What’s more, a release from the Bolivian Information Agency (ABI in its Spanish initials), a state media outlet, said very clearly that day that the current Bolivian government would “apply all international agreements concerning the fight against drug trafficking.”

As you can see, what don Evo said on February 16 was endorsed that night by Quintana and sanctified by the vice president’s statement. So, everything is clear… almost…

“I Don’t”

The thing that got this correspondent thinking, kind readers, was something else that we had already noted in these pages: Upon leaving the meeting with Minister Quintana on the night of February 16, David Nicol Greenlee – the ambassador who speaks Quechua and married a Bolivian – said that the request to expel the DEA, the State Department’s Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) and other U.S. government agencies had nothing to do with human rights violations in the Chapare…

“Do you know of any cases?” Greenlee asked those colleagues who questioned him. “I don’t.”

Doesn’t Viceroy Greenlee’s ignorance make you stop and think, loyal Narco News readers? It does to me, because looking back on the years I have spent writing for this newspaper I remember some cases, some things, some statements… this correspondent remembers many injuries, many deaths in the Chapare.

And so I decided to refresh my memory, as well as yours and Greenlee’s…

The first thing we must recall is that Greenlee once worked as an advisor to the embassy and then for nearly two years as interim ambassador (the latter from 1986 to 1988).

During this period there were several famous scandals in the history of narco-trafficking in Bolivia (and in our América). But the most famous and decisive was without a doubt the approval of Law #1008, the famous Bolivian antinarcotics and anti-coca regulation, which Greenlee had a strong hand in pushing…

On June 27, 1988, a massacre took place in the Chapare town of Villa Tunare that left 12 cocaleros dead and a hundred injured. At the time, curiously enough, Alex Contreras was one of the journalists that reported on the tragedy. In April 2003, a coca growers’ congressman told us: “Greenlee personally led various repressive operations in the Chapare, and planned some of them such as the Villa Tunari massacre.” Yes, my astute readers, the then-congressman that stated the preceding to this correspondent was named Evo Morales Ayma…

The “Villa Tunari Massacre,” it is said, was a repressive operation orchestrated by DEA agents, who were present during the events. But that would not be the only case, Mr. Greenlee… or maybe you just don’t have archives at your embassy and therefore are unaware of the case of Casimiro Huanca, extensively reported by Al Giordano.

During the course of his investigation into Huanca’s murder in December of 2001, Giordano, with the help of Jeremy Bigwood, found an official memo that proves that the U.S. embassy knew well about this event, in which Bolivian soldiers assassinated a cocalero leader with guns paid for by the U.S. government… and kept their mouths shut as they watched the Bolivian military lie about it.

So these are just two examples to jog Greenlee’s memory. Because the cocaleros of the Chapare have already changed their minds about the “expulsion” issue so as not to put the president in a tight spot… And Evo Morales said that he has no objection to the DEA supporting antinarcotics work in Bolivia – as long as the agency does not violate the local farmers’ human rights, which would mean its “immediate withdrawl.”

And while the politicians of the Movement Toward Socialism (the president’s political party) prepare to modify Bolivia’s drug laws, to decriminalize coca among other changes… well, this correspondent wonders if the above quote from Evo Morales means that the new president is willing to let bygones be bygones given these “optimal” relations, as his Vice President García Linera calls them. Because there have already been violations of the Chapare cocaleros’ human rights.

As you can see after this second part of our journey, the elements that make up the current moment in Bolivia include some serious politics (with more or less cordial bilateral relations thanks to weak memories)… but also many other things, like the honest people who struggle for the decriminalization of the sacred leaf of the Andes, within and outside of the new administration… There are still many stories to write about coca, kind readers.

Stay with us; this isn’t over yet…

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