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  • Dear Sisters, Brothers, and Friends,

    The following message is a request for your support in the denunciation of the oppression and massacre of indigenous peoples in Qullasuyu-Bolivia.

    "Indian Blood is being Spilled by Racist Colonialism"

    Repression and war are two words that have become elements that are all too common and familiar when describing the relationship that the Bolivian state is imposing on indigenous peoples of the country, especially on those who follow the Andean tradition of cultivating land in a variety of ecosystems and have established small fields and markets in the Yungas region. The same treatment is being carried out against indigenous peoples of Eastern Bolivia and the Chaco area where the 1952 Agrarian Reform was never enforced and where even now the Guarani-Chiriguano as well as other indigenous peoples live as slaves to large landholders. These same landholders have powerful ties to all levels of the government.

    The Chapare Yungas, where the cultivation of the coca plant has been penalized by the State, has been turned into a veritable battleground between army and police troops and indigenous peasants who continue to grow the traditional crop because it is one of the few commercial products that generates an income for the tens of thousands of indigenous families settled there. In spite of the rule of law that governs the nation of Bolivia, the way the State resolves the drug traffic problem is through recourse to violence and bullets. Ironically, the very same white-mestizo class in power introduced this problem. Indeed, the list of narco traffickers with aristocratic last names is very long, and a number of them are close relatives of some of the country¹s former presidents.

    The repression against peasants who cultivate the coca leaf, which is sacred to all Andean native peoples, is discriminatory and racist! The State and the media portray them as if they were a band of delinquents. Nevertheless, the white people who are major players are treated like heroes (something like Robin Hood) and they have never received the same treatment that the military and police employ today against indigenous peoples, including women and children. The State¹s attitude and behavior, especially on the part of those people who are involved in governmental organizations, is colonial in nature; for them the life and dignity of indigenous peoples neither exists nor is worth anything.

    Indigenous peoples, including rural and urban peasants (the latter group increasingly grows in number), are First Nation peoples of this country. Colonialism stripped us of our power as a nation and of our families¹ properties, and so consequently transformed our freedom into slavery. We ask how long can this situation continue; what are the physical and juridical privileges that safeguard the privileges of a minority that has usurped our lands and territory? How far does the incomprehension go of these people who think that Indians will continue to serve them, working for hunger wages, all the while knowing that these are their lands? It is in this context that the conflict over land reveals the brutality of colonialism. The large landholders, besides counting on paramilitary groups, enjoy State protection. Through the use and support of the State¹s repressive apparatus, they attempt to appropriate communally-held indigenous lands, even though indigenous peoples are the legitimate owners.

    This undeniable colonial situation has translated into the genocidal assassination of ten indigenous peasants who were members of the organization Movimiento Sin Tierra (the Movement of People Without Land) in Paranti, Yacuiba. The authors of this crime were large landholders and paid assassins who also left more than twenty women and children wounded. The People¹s Counsel Ana María Campero declared that "all the peasants were killed by a single bullet to the heart" which means that they were hunted by sharpshooters as if they were enemies or simply animals that need to be cleared off the land. This colonial violence cannot go unpunished nor can the massacre of Amayapampa and Capacirca that was covered up by an Indian who presided over the Congress of the Republic at the time[The statement is referring to then Vice President Víctor Hugo Cardenas, and thus it underscores the continuing nature of colonial violence]. It is our moral obligation to denounce these actions and to call for the punishment of the criminals. Indigenous peoples, institutions, and organizations have the obligation to end colonialism, so that there be no more victims among our people, and so that the tears of the victims¹ widows never more rend the heart of Qullasuyu.

    Qullasuyu (Bolivia), Nov. 9, 2001

    Attached Document (from the Bolivian Newspaper La Razón)

    Military and Police impose military law and take discreet action in the tropics

    More than 500 members of the combined forces attacked the population and coca growers who had set up barricades and set tires on fire. The government affirmed that it would not negotiate the "cato" de coca [each family has called for the right to cultivate one "cato"of coca. A "cato" is a small field measuring 1,500 square meters] .

    Bullets rang out in the tropics. As if it were a conventional war operation, the combined forces of the police and army occupied the town of Eterazama, 35 kilometers north of Villa Tunari. The action took a little more than an hour and six people were detained.

    This action coincided with the governmental decision to maintain military and police control in the tropics and to uphold the President of the Republic, Jorge Quiroga¹s instructions to not budge in the efforts to eradicate coca plants.

    A few hours after leaving for the United States and following a cabinet meeting, Jorge Quiroga instructed his ministers to resolve the conflict in the Chapare region within the limits of the law. "The instruction was clear: the Government will not negotiate a single centimeter of coca" said the governmental spokesperson, Mauro Bertero. In this way, the government closed off all possibility for negotiation with the coca producers who insist on the right of one cato of coca for each family. Both sides are virtually at a standoff and basically the Chapare region is under police and military rule.

    Six commanders from the different military and police forces are present in the Chapare to stop any efforts on the part of the coca growers to meet. As soon as a gathering is detected, members of the police arrive and disperse tear gas, they bludgeon the coca growers and, after dispersing them, they retreat.

    The Public Defender well known in the tropics, Godofredo Reinike expressed concern because no one is taking responsibility for the beatings of the peasants.

    Yesterday in Eterazama, the combined military forces detained a group of people; the magnitude of such an action is without precedent in the region. The action took place following a gathering of the people and the announcement by Evo Morales, the leader of the coca growers, stating that they would remain there waiting for a high level commission that would give him guarantees for a dialogue.

    Some peasants set up a barricade with rocks and tires, but the police and military that had encircled the people, attempted to clear out the area with tear gas and rubber bullets. Nevertheless, the protesters, the majority of whom were young people and women, continued to reinforce the barricades with rocks, roofing materials, large containers, and burning tires. They stayed there reprimanding the military and police forces, and calling on them to leave the area.

    General Remy Ramírez, of the Seventh Division of the Army, who was in command of the armed forces, affirmed that he had received specific instructions to prohibit road blockades. He explained that Eterazama would remain surrounded by armed forces because the area had been turned into a bunker for the leader and representative Evo Morales. "We haven¹t prohibited him from leaving, but if he wants to, he¹ll have to come out alone," Ramírez affirmed.

    Many of the demonstrators threw rocks at the police, while another large group of the army entered the town via another district.

    The representative of Eterazama¹s Human Rights Organization, Rolando Gutiérrez Aguilar, estimated that yesterday¹s military and police operation included at least 500 soldiers in uniform. The operation took the townspeople by surprise when they saw the police and military appearing on all sides. There was no possible means of escape.

    The Mayor Henry Terrazas Verduguez directed the taking of the town, which lasted more than two hours. The operation began at 1:00pm with the firing of weapons into the air, and the shooting of tear gas and rubber bullets into the group of protesters who fled through adjacent streets.

    The concentrated firing of shots lasted an hour and a half. Many people hid inside their homes, but the police, with their faces painted and armed with tear gas and automatic weapons, launched tear gas into the homes, even into those homes occupied by the civilian population, including children.

    In the middle of the armed action, in the town¹s main street, two large bonfires of tires burned. The black smoke from the bonfire mixed in with the smoke of the tear gas.

    The police detained two youths and three women. The first were taken out by side streets and accused of throwing rocks with slings. The uniformed soldiers forced the women out by twisting their arms behind their backs. The three women were accused of carrying dynamite, however, when the police searched them they found nothing.

    Following the military action, the town was deserted and only uniformed soliders and a few journalists and photographers remained in the streets.

    The military came in as far as the place where the Human Rights Organization has a small office, which now serves as protection for the leader Evo Morales. There too the military attempted to throw tear gas.

    The combined forces remained in the town for another hour, and then little by little they regrouped at the bridge by the town¹s entrance and at the other side by the San Pedro road, to continue their watch. Morales denounced the Government, stating that it had violated all the laws and human rights of the area.

    Facts Resulting from the Violence

    The detained included: Juan Vargas Rivera (17 years old, student); Nazario Cerna González (from San Lorenzo jurisdiction, Pedro Domingo Murillo); Apolonia Sárez (Isinuta jurisdiction); Marina Moreira Ríos (20 years old, Alto San Pedro, Bolívar); Elsa Méndez (42 years old, Miraflores jurisdiction, central Eterazama), and Hernán Aguilar (Cañadón jurisdiction, Eterazama). This is only a partial list of detainees.

    Wounded in the takeover of Eterazama: The Human Rights Office confirmed that some 15 people had been wounded (2 seriously). The soldiers also dispersed a peasant gathering in Chipiriri, where 11 people were forcibly evacuated from the area hospital. The wounded had many bruises and open wounds from the rubber bullets and tear gas projectiles.

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