[Marxism] ‘Evo Morales Is Like a Father to Us’
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 28 09:19:54 MST 2019
NY Times, Nov. 28, 2019
‘Evo Morales Is Like a Father to Us’
By Anatoly Kurmanaev
VILLA TUNARI, Bolivia — The road to Evo Morales’s political stronghold,
in the heart of Bolivia’s coca farming region, is nearly impassable
First, tires and wooden crates block the way, forcing travelers to stop
and negotiate with supporters of Mr. Morales, the ousted Bolivian
president, who have cut off access to the region. Farther ahead, the
road is obstructed by tree trunks and barbed wire, and then by towering
mounds of stones and earth.
At each of the nearly 100 barricades along the way, suspicious guards —
sometimes several hundred of them — wield sticks and nail boards,
turning away anyone without a permit or medical emergency.
Finally, after traveling 100 miles through the seemingly endless debris,
the tropical town of Villa Tunari emerges in a lush river valley in the
Andean foothills. This is where Mr. Morales, the country’s first
Indigenous president, started and ended his political career — and where
he is still treated with almost superhuman reverence.
It’s also where the headquarters of resistance to Bolivia’s new interim
government is found.
Thousands of coca farmers — including children — are camped around the
town’s strategic river bridge, obstructing Bolivia’s main highway and
paralyzing its national economy. With no movement of goods, there are
food and fuel shortages in major cities.
“Evo Morales is like a father to us,” said Antonietta Ledezi, a coca
farmer who traveled 30 miles to Villa Tunari to join the blockade two
weeks ago. “If he doesn’t return, there won’t be peace.”
Bolivia this week began to move toward resolving the vicious political
crisis that led to Mr. Morales’s resignation from office earlier this
month after 14 years as president. His downfall came after violent
protests over a disputed election that he claimed to win, and after he
had lost the backing of the military and the police.
For the 50,000 local coca farming families, the ousting of Mr. Morales
represents more than the end of a government that gave them a political
voice and vast improvements in infrastructure, education and health. It
is a threat to the peace that Mr. Morales, called Evo by everyone here,
brought to this stigmatized and violent region.
A mere mention of Evo can unleash uncontrolled wailing at the
barricades. Many remember him personally as a fellow coca farmer who
rose to become the president of the confederation of local coca unions,
a title he nominally holds to this day.
“He was the only president we have ever seen,” said Gregorio Choque, a
coca farmer. “He was in the fields with us.”
Farmers began to converge on Villa Tunari on Nov. 10, the day Mr.
Morales announced his resignation from the country’s presidency at the
nearby headquarters of the coca confederation, an act that turned this
gentrifying tourism hot spot into a war camp.
The next day, Mr. Morales fled the country to seek asylum in Mexico,
departing from an airport in the coca region.
Soon after, sprawling assemblies of makeshift tents, hastily constructed
out of tree trunks and branches, covered the highway, as groups of
farmers took shifts reinforcing the barricades, cooking communal meals
or trying to rest on bare asphalt in the sweltering heat.
They competed for status by decorating their sections of the barricades
with placards calling for the resignation of the country’s interim
president, Jeanine Añez, and justice for about 30 pro-Evo protesters
killed in clashes with security forces.
“We don’t recognize this new illegal government,” said Andronico
Rodríguez, Evo’s deputy in the local labor movement, who is seen by many
here as the former president’s successor. “Our objective is to allow Evo
to finish out his term.”
“In less than 24 hours, we can mobilize 100,000 farmers,” added Mr.
Mr. Rodríguez began attending his local union meetings after school with
his mother when he was 9, reading out the meeting minutes to the mostly
Now, he has the unenviable challenge of aligning the coca farmers’
eternal loyalty to Evo with the country’s evolving political landscape.
This week, he traveled to La Paz to join negotiations over the country’s
The coca farmers’ discipline, self-sufficiency in food and strategic
location in the center of the country give them an ability to keep up
the blockade for months, if their demands are not met, he said.
Many barricades hang effigies of Ms. Añez, as well as conservative
opposition leaders and the former military chief, Gen. Williams Kaliman,
who refused to deploy soldiers to save Evo’s government.
The neat, usually flawless, wording of the placards was itself a sign of
pride in the huge advances in literacy that Evo brought to the region.
After checking my credentials and luggage on the trip I took to the
area, the guards at nearly every barricade on the way to the town
insisted that I get out of the car so they could speak with a reporter.
They wanted to document their political grievances, another legacy of
the self-worth instilled by Evo in the local residents, whom many
Bolivians write off as rabble-rousing pawns in the global drug trade.
“They call us drug traffickers, terrorists, vandals who are not worth
anything,” said one farmer, Hironimo Tosico, breaking into tears. “I’m a
producer of banana, plantain, citruses, watermelons. I’m not a
troublemaker. I’m a good citizen.”
Bolivia’s Indigenous people have used coca plants for centuries to fight
fatigue and hunger, but the plant is also the raw material for cocaine.
On coming to power, Mr. Morales legalized coca production for
traditional use, but put in place strict output limits.
Under his rule, coca production in the region, Chapare, fell despite a
large increase in the farming population and global cocaine demand,
according to the United Nations. Local unions today regulate the
planting area to protect prices and prevent excess crops going to
These policies brought economic stability that allowed farmers to
diversify into other crops. They also brought social peace after decades
of territorial infighting and repression by the military’s coca
Mr. Morales’s party got 90 percent of the vote in Chapare in the last
elections in October. But not everyone here supports the blockade.
The tension is largely generational. Many of the region’s older coca
farmers have since invested in shops, small hotels and restaurants in
Villa Tunari, becoming the town’s new middle class and helping to
convert it into an outdoor tourism hub.
Now, as the blockade grinds into its third week, the town’s shuttered
hotels are already looking worn down, with jungle vegetation growing
freely around abandoned swimming pools. Empty restaurants are cooking
one meal a day with firewood.
Locals without land have also been hard hit. Nora Choque, who works in a
motel, last week began walking with her two small children to the
closest city, Cochabamba, 100 miles up the mountains, because she said
she had run out of food.
“There’s nothing left for us here,” she said, as she trudged through
Villa Tunari in the afternoon heat.
The blockade has also swept up unexpected bystanders.
Groups of Chinese road builders sat gloomily by their isolated campsites
on the blockaded highway. Families of Haitian labor migrants heading on
foot to Chile sat stranded in a tollbooth. A lone European backpacker
scoured for food amid the barricades near Villa Tunari’s hostel.
With a reprieve from the heat, the blocked-off road becomes a bustling
human sea. Street sellers appear out of nowhere with steaming pots of
giant corn kernels, freeze-dried baby potatoes, yucca and spicy peanut
sauce for those with a couple spare dollars. Those less fortunate chew
on the coca leaf to beat the hunger.
After dinner, the union members gather for a roll call and a discussion,
usually in the local Quechua language, of the day’s political news from
La Paz, before setting down to rest on the asphalt or bare earth under
skimpy tarps or tree branches.
The silence of the road at night is occasionally broken by the
screeching of buses carrying reinforcements to the protest’s front line,
“It’s tough being here, while our crops rot in the fields,” said
Serafino Oliveros, a coca farmer, while perched under a six-foot wet
tarp with four union companions. “But we understand that this is a
necessary sacrifice so that our children have the same rights we had
Norman Chinchilla contributed reporting from Cochabamba, Bolivia, and
Cesar Del Castillo from La Paz.
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