Bolivia in Arms

The situation in the landlocked Latin American country turns out of control. Over 20 were killed during the last clashes between the Army and coca growers.

The continuous aggravation of the social situation and the increasing in the number of protests all along the territory harass the liberal Government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Rural clashes between the powerful farmers and the Security Forces have turned South America's poorest country into a battlefield.

Armed Forces cannot take control of the extended rural areas where peasants backed by indigenous groups and left-wing forces have launched an offensive to eject Lozada from office. "If the Government maintains its intransigent position, we'll paralyze the nation until the Government is forced from office", said Evo Morales, leader of the coca growers, second in last year presidential elections.

According to the last reports, a relatively important group has organized a popular army to drive back what they call "US agents of the eradication program". According to Reuters they use old Mauser rifles, not very effective against the Army. However, PRAVDA.Ru could know that these guns wounded many police officers.

Washington funds a program to eradicate coca farms, as says it is used to produce cocaine. However, peasants survive thanks to this production and say the coca is intended for traditional uses. Their indigenous ancestors have chewed coca leaves for centuries. Indeed, the personal consumption is allowed inside Bolivian territory, as well as in the neighbor areas of Chile and Argentina.

Now, Bolivia's farmers' union has agreed to join a week-old blockade of major roads to support coca growers, who are demanding an end to a government eradication campaign. If the blockade is successful it will cut off the roads to the capital La Paz and other major cities around the country.

PRAVDA.Ru could obtain in Buenos Aires a copy of an open letter to the President of Bolivia signed by many national personalities. On it, social leaders ask for a binding negotiation to satisfy popular demands. Otherwise, the Government should call for anticipated elections to legitimate charges.

Marcos Domic Ruiz, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Bolivia explained to PRAVDA.Ru contents of the letter: "We consider that the Government is not legitimate because 60% of the Bolivian people voted against the neo-liberal program and it keeps on imposing it to the impoverished population."

Bolivian rebel forces have set up a General Council of the People to coordinate fighting actions. It looks like their next step will be to take the fights to the city to drive President Lozada to the negotiation table within the next weeks.

Bolivia is also one of the poorest countries in South America. Whereas wealthy city elites, who are mostly of Spanish ancestry, have traditionally dominated political and economic life, the majority of Bolivians are low-income subsistence farmers, miners, small traders or artisans.

Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.Ru Argentina

Photo: Evo Morales, leader of the coca growers, reached second place in 2002 presidential elections.

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Author`s name Editorial Team