[Marxism] ‘Evo Morales Is Like a Father to Us’

Louis Proyect 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 
these days.

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 
illiterate members.

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 
looming elections.

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 
cocaine labs.

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 
eradication squads.

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, 
outside Cochabamba.

“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 
under Evo.”

Norman Chinchilla contributed reporting from Cochabamba, Bolivia, and 
Cesar Del Castillo from La Paz.

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