Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cleaning House @ the U.S. Embassy

Mar 16 -(digitalwarriormedia) On the heels of another U.S. diplomat being expelled from Bolivia, the government announced over the weekend that a group of Bolivian policemen will be reassigned from their long-held posts at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz.

During a press conference on Sunday, Interior Minister Alfredo Rada pronounced that a small group of senior police officers remained at the U.S. Embassy - some for more than a decade. These ongoing assignments were in violation of Bolivian law, which sets a time limit of two years or less.

Minister Rada went on to denounce how members of the “elite group” detained Gonzalo Jallasi - a Bolivian photojournalist for the state-run daily newspaper Cambio. Jallasi was taking photos of the outer façade of the U.S. Embassy building when he was approached by two security officers who seized his credentials and detained Jallasi for two hours.

“We cannot have personnel who have been trained at the National Academy of Police, the country has invested in them to contribute to national security and they are giving loyalties to other countries," said Rada commenting on the “irregular” detention that ran contrary to Bolivian standards for conduct towards the press.

Just three days earlier, U.S. diplomat Francisco Martinez left Bolivia following accusations from the Morales administration that Martinez “was in permanent contact with opposition groups” and collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to infiltrate the state oil company YPFB.

On March 9, Martinez - who was second secretary of the U.S. Embassy - was declared persona non grata by President Evo Morales and given 72 hours to leave Bolivian territory. He is the second U.S. diplomat to be expelled from the country in six months amidst accusations of conspiring against the Bolivian government.

Last September U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg was the first diplomat to be declared persona non grata after holding a secret meeting with Santa Cruz governor Ruben Costas at the height of internal tension between the central government and Bolivia’s opposition governors of the “Media Luna”.

Krishna Urs remains at the U.S. Embassy as the senior American diplomat in La Paz. Urs made news in January when he abruptly left President Morales’ three-year anniversary speech before the Bolivian Congress in which Morales said “The United States has fomented the regional disintegration of the country, holding secret meetings to promote disturbances against the national government.”

Urs continues to deny charges of foreign conspiracy leveled by the Bolivian government.

The challenges that have plagued U.S.-Bolivia relations seemingly continue…

Video: RealNews


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Coca & The Old Gray Lady

(La Paz)This week in Vienna, a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place that will help shape international antidrug efforts for the next 10 years. I attended the meeting to reaffirm Bolivia’s commitment to this struggle but also to call for the reversal of a mistake made 48 years ago.

In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed the coca leaf in the same category with cocaine — thus promoting the false notion that the coca leaf is a narcotic — and ordered that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this convention.” Bolivia signed the convention in 1976, during the brutal dictatorship of Col. Hugo Banzer, and the 25-year deadline expired in 2001.

So for the past eight years, the millions of us who maintain the traditional practice of chewing coca have been, according to the convention, criminals who violate international law. This is an unacceptable and absurd state of affairs for Bolivians and other Andean peoples.

Many plants have small quantities of various chemical compounds called alkaloids. One common alkaloid is caffeine, which is found in more than 50 varieties of plants, from coffee to cacao, and even in the flowers of orange and lemon trees. Excessive use of caffeine can cause nervousness, elevated pulse, insomnia and other unwanted effects.

Another common alkaloid is nicotine, found in the tobacco plant. Its consumption can lead to addiction, high blood pressure and cancer; smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States. Some alkaloids have important medicinal qualities. Quinine, for example, the first known treatment for malaria, was discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru in the bark of the cinchona tree.

The coca leaf also has alkaloids; the one that concerns antidrug officials is the cocaine alkaloid, which amounts to less than one-tenth of a percent of the leaf. But as the above examples show, that a plant, leaf or flower contains a minimal amount of alkaloids does not make it a narcotic. To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic. The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.

Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.

The custom of chewing coca leaves has existed in the Andean region of South America since at least 3000 B.C. It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.

Today, millions of people chew coca in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and northern Argentina and Chile. The coca leaf continues to have ritual, religious and cultural significance that transcends indigenous cultures and encompasses the mestizo population.

Mistakes are an unavoidable part of human history, but sometimes we have the opportunity to correct them. It is time for the international community to reverse its misguided policy toward the coca leaf.

The President of Boliva, Evo Morales Ayma.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Morales Brands A Traditional Tone In Vienna

Evo Morales isn't afraid to practice what he preaches. The Bolivian president, an outspoken proponent of coca, the leaf used to make cocaine, brought a baggie with him to a United Nations meeting in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday and chewed away in front of the assembled ministers.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Kris Krane, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, was in an overflow room watching the speech and IMed the Huffington Post an account of the coca-chewing.

"The reaction was mostly positive," said Krane. "Lots of clapping, some snickers and laughter."

Morales ejected the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from Bolivia in November and the U.S. has since responded by declaring Bolivia in violation of drug treaty obligations.

Morales was speaking at a meeting of the U.N. Committee on Narcotic Drugs, which is drafting a ten-year narcotics strategyand taking input from nongovernmental organizations. Morales urged the delegation, said Krane, who took notes, to correct the "historical mistake" that had banned coca.

He held up a leaf and declared it not to be harmful. He chews it regularly, he said, but is not addicted. To demonstrate, he put the leaf in his mouth and began chewing. He then pulled out a second leaf to another round of laughter, held it up, and continued his speech.

Chewing coca, often mixed with a dash of baking soda, numbs the stomach and reduces hunger. It is also popular with laborers and gives a boost similar to caffeine.

"This is a coca leaf. This is not cocaine," Morales said. "This represents the culture of indigenous people of the Andean region."


Sunday, March 01, 2009

U.S.- Bolivia Relations Still Shaky

(digitalwarriormedia) Following expressions of hope that U.S.-Bolivia relations would improve under the new leadership of President Obama, the situation between the two countries still remain frosty. And if recent statements coming from both sides are any indication of things to come…the road to normalized diplomacy may be a long one.

The U.S. is on the defensive after Bolivia’s President Evo Morales implicated C.I.A. involvement in a corruption scandal that is under investigation at the state oil company Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB).

On Feb. 20 while speaking in the Chapare region of Cochabamba, President Morales publicly denounced U.S. intervention within YPFB. "There has been a CIA presence in Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos," announced Morales, "and some of our colleagues have been caught by this foreign infiltration."

Morales removed the Head of YPFB Santos Ramirez on suspicions of bribery and illegally diverting $86 million from YPFB to a private gas company located in Santa Cruz. The scandal, which is a huge embarrassment to the Morales administration, has resulted in accusations of misconduct against 11 former YPFB executives and Ramirez - a former MAS senator and ally of Morales.

The investigation was unleashed with the robbery and murder of Bolivian businessman Jorge O'Connor in late January. Funds stolen from O'Connor are believed to have been a $450,000 payoff for Ramirez.

Details released last week by Bolivia's Interior Minister Alfredo Rada indicate the involvement of Francisco Martinez - a U.S. embassy employee - and Rodrigo Carrasco, a former manager at YPFB and ex-policeman who had trained in the U.S.

The State Department denied the claims of espionage on Wednesday. "We reject these accusations ... there is no evidence," said Denise Urs, Public Affairs officer for the U.S. embassy in La Paz.

Investigations continue and currently Ramirez faces charges that could earn him up to eight years in prison.

And in other developments between the two nations, a recent report from the U.S. State Department that criticizes Bolivia’s coca growing policy was quickly rejected by the Bolivian government.

Released on Feb. 27, the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) asks Bolivia to reverse its policy on legal coca cultivation. According to Bolivian paper Los Tiempos, the INCSR indicated that the U.S. government was concerned about Colombian and Mexican drug cartels gaining influence in Bolivia and the possibility of an increase in domestic drug related crimes.

The report also asked Bolivia to intensify its cooperation with neighboring countries and make a major effort to combat the illegal drug trade, including allowing the U.S.-led Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to return to Bolivia’s territory.

La Paz blasted the report in response.

"The State Department document still has the stubborn myopic anti-narcotic bureaucracy of the administration of George W. Bush," read a communique issued by Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca’s office. According to Minister Choquehuanaca, the report “uses arbitrary figures for the fight against drugs in Bolivia in 2008, based on estimates uncorroborated by any international body."

Meanwhile the annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts praised Colombia, Afghanistan, and China’s efforts in their fight against drugs. The INCSR is one of the criteria used by Washington for its annual assessment upon which financial and military aid grants are granted.

On Friday, the Bolivian government confirmed that the DEA will not return to Bolivia. The agency and its activities were banned from Bolivia’s territory on Nov. 1, 2008. Within weeks the Bush administration put Bolivia on a blacklist of countries failing to cooperate in efforts against the illegal drug trade.

Bolivia’s preferred trade status was allowed to expire in December 2008 as the Bush White House stated that Bolivia was not doing enough to combat drug trafficking. This occurred despite votes in the U.S. Congress to extend Bolivia’s status under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA).

Many viewed the move as retaliation against Bolivia’s expulsion of the DEA, USAID and U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg last year.

But since expelling the DEA, Bolivia has made considerable efforts against the illicit domestic drug trade. Morales created a special task force to combat drug trafficking and the police have actively continued to seize cocaine, destroy processing labs and make arrests.

While in Moscow during February, President Morales signed an agreement with his Russian counterpart President Dimitri Medvedev to purchase helicopters from Russia for Bolivia’s ongoing counter-narcotics efforts.

In January, while meeting with Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, Morales sought and received a commitment from Brazil to provide helicopters and other support to patrol their borders against drug traffickers.

It appears that contrary to statements coming out of the U.S., Bolivia is maintaining Morales' "Zero cocaine" policy and working to meet its domestic goals against corruption and illicit drugs, but on its own terms and without the direct -or indirect - influence of the U.S.

Sources: ABI, Los Tiempos, PressTV, US Dept Of State, The Real News, Reuters & Telesur