The last days of the coup in Bolivia are revealing, thanks in large part to the mediocrity of its executors, the tailoring of the suit made to cover the interests of foreign actors. The design suggests that the regime change was inspired by political patterns of previous decades.
One would have to go back to the 1970s and 1980s, when military personnel trained under U.S. doctrine assaulted power and dedicated themselves to doing their own business under the façade of state institutions.
Of the threads that made the mooring, there is one related to drug trafficking mafias. The attempt by the international media to link deposed President Evo Morales with the illegal cocaine trade cannot be interpreted in any other way. It is a criminalization procedure that bears similarities to accusations against the Venezuelan government, for setting an outstanding example of countries besieged in Latin America by a narrative tailored to Washington’s geopolitical interests. Both cases seem to be based on the same format.
The persecution of political leaders related to the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) found good ground with the argument of drug trafficking. Case after case, the coup regime of Jeanine Áñez is assembling a file against the political opposition to the coup, incriminating them in illicit coca leaf deals, in a country permeated culturally and economically by the use of the plant.
THE MYTH OF “EVO NARCO TRAFFICKER”
In the Constitution of the Plurinational State, the coca leaf is protected as patrimony, recognizing its ancestral and medicinal use. Cultivation is permitted in the tropical areas of Cochabamba and the Yungas, in the foothills of La Paz. Since Evo Morales’ ascension to the presidency, the government has adopted a policy of defending the consumption of the leaf and fighting against trafficking for illicit purposes.
Morales, who was initially a cocalero leader in the Chapare, took on the task of extirpating foreign assistance in crop control. Essentially, the presence of the Office for Drug Control (DEA) and the police and military policies imposed by Washington to attack plantations and persecute producers did not affect the cocaine business.
For example, the figures. According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Unodc), under the regime of Luis García Meza (1980), the area under coca cultivation grew from 10,806 hectares to 29,582 hectares. This was the beginning of the accelerated increase in cocaine production.
With the arrival of Hernán Siles Suazo in 1982, coca cultivation expanded to 39,834 hectares. During the last term of Victor Paz Estensoro (1985), more than 65,000 hectares were cultivated.
When Law 1008 came into force, within the international framework of an increase in the Pentagon’s budget to fight the “war on drugs” during Ronald Reagan’s mandate, efforts were concentrated on the forced eradication of cultivation and not on the dismantling of drug trafficking networks.
It is well known that U.S. drug institutions know the shipping routes, cover up the mobilization to the demanding countries and, in a spectacular manner, make punctual seizures for the consumption of public opinion.
In 2005, the numbers dropped to 25,500 hectares from the 38,000 hectares reached in 1998, but the drastic measure provided a legal basis for the violence and murder of coca growers.
The United States guided the Andean country in criminalizing the cultural practices of the indigenous and Bolivian peasants around coca, while regulating the flow of narco-trafficking at its convenience. It added places for the installation of military bases that covered the Bolivia-Colombia route to eliminate subversive movements and guarantee geopolitical control of the Amazon and Andean sides of the continent.
How do the years of U.S. control contrast with the approach of the government of Evo Morales? The Morales administration recognized the cultural identity of the coca leaf and separated it from the machinery of narco-trafficking, as one who separates the sovereign from foreign intervention.
He also vindicated the producer and established a consensual policy to reduce illicit crops. The enactment of the General Coca Law in 2017 reflected these elements, although it was harshly attacked by the Western powers, for the expansion of the legal cultivation of the plant to 22,000 hectares.
The claim is absurd if compared to the 209,000 hectares planted that same year in Colombia, all for the purpose of producing cocaine.
But the audacity went further: in recent years, Bolivia has attended multilateral forums to fight drug trafficking with the determination to defend coca production as part of its economic activities. It proposed the industrialization of the sector in order to export its derivatives to the international market.
Contrary to the dominant story, the country proposed the fight against drugs without abandoning the cultural data of the sowing and consumption of coca leaf. The focus was aimed at dismantling drug traffickers and denouncing the constant demand in the world’s big cities, with the United States at the forefront.
THE EXTERNAL FACTOR IN COMBATING COCAINE
Evidently, a nation’s efforts to combat a business that sustains global capitalism surpass the limits of resistance. The position in the consumer chain adds different levels of difficulty to the struggle: there will never be the same conditions for a transit territory as for a producer. The Bolivian government resisted a return to the past of the narco-state while at the same time manoeuvring with the global growth of drug users, which are no longer confined to the United States and Europe.
Brazil is home to 5.6 million cocaine and cocaine derivatives addicts, placing it second in the world ranking, separated only by the United States. It borders on the eastern departments of Beni, Pando and Santa Cruz, where the processing, storage and transportation of the base paste that later ends up in Colombia was arranged.
However, Brazil does not have its own drug trafficking platform, but rather local criminal gangs in charge of distribution.
Faced with this, we must weigh the fact that the mafias of Mexico, which according to alerts from the Ombudsman’s Office in Colombia, control the route of cocaine that reaches the United States, could be forcing Colombian traffickers to look at emerging markets in South America, bearing in mind that they have the logistical capacity to take them.
The Bolivian government made public the suspicion of the entry of Colombian emissaries who tried to promote armed groups among coca producers, after a confrontation in August 2018 in the Yungas left a balance of one policeman dead and seven wounded.
In view of the change in regime, favourable conditions could be created for the reinsertion of Colombian cartels, as was the case at the beginning of the cocaine trade in the continent.
THE WORLD’S FIRST NARCO-STATE
The contemporary history of Bolivia is undoubtedly marked by two elements that maintain a strong link ignored by the analysis of the corporate media: the establishment of dictatorial regimes with foreign assistance and the rise of drug trafficking on the continent.
Entering the 1980s, Latin American countries resented the effects of the dictatorships installed by Operation Condor, and some of their governments, pressured by social upheavals, returned to the democratic model.
The Bolivian case was one of those that was interrupted by a link between the military, neo-fascist networks and drug cartels, it being evident that the administration of the country by a left-wing coalition, the Unidad Democrática y Popular (UDP), did not guarantee the continuation of business between these sectors.
The dictatorial regime of General Hugo Banzer came to an end in 1979 when Walter Guevara assumed the temporary presidency, as no candidate reached the 50 percent required by the electoral terms of the time. His government did not manage to finish the year, since in November Guevara was overthrown by a coup d’état executed by General Alberto Natusch Busch. In his book The Devil’s Agent: Life, Times and Crimes of the Nazi Klaus Barbie (2013), Peter McFarren and Fadrique Iglesias point out that, before the operation, this soldier had dinner in La Paz with the former German Gestapo agent, Klaus Barbie, and with Roberto Suárez Gómez, the “King of Cocaine”.
Days later Barbie and Suárez Gómez would have a separate meeting in the city of Cochabamba. Barbie told the Bolivian drug lord: “You Bolivians are not prepared to live in a democracy, you need a hard-line government, similar to those that govern in neighboring countries”.
The opposition of the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) and the intervention of Congress halted Natusch’s agenda. Lidia Gueiler Tejada was appointed interim constitutional president, who at the time was president of the Chamber of Deputies. The projections of the upcoming elections opened a window to the candidate of the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), Hernan Siles Zuazo, in alliance with left-wing parties, among them the Movement of the Revolution (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario MNR), Hernan Siles Zuazo, in alliance with left-wing parties, including the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), the Socialist Party (PS) and the Communist Party of Bolivia (PCB).
But the event never happened. McFarren and Iglesias write that on July 17, 1980, General García Meza, accompanied by Colonel Luis Arce Gómez and, again, through the intervention of Barbie and Suárez Gómez, organized a coup d’état and imposed himself as “the last dictator in a period of two years, in the most turbulent and violent period of the 20th century in Bolivia”.
WHO WERE THE CHARACTERS AND WHY DID THEY ORGANIZE A COUP?
As with other war criminals, Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” was recycled at the time by the United States in exchange for collaborating with the CIA in its war against the socialist countries of Eastern Europe.
He fled to Bolivia in 1951, in collaboration with the Catholic Church, escaping French justice for the accusations of murder and torture he practised during the Nazi occupation. He is credited with the detention, torture or death of at least 11,000 people. Ultimately, he was found guilty of the detention and torture or death of between 11,000 and 25,000 people, perhaps more. But the feat that distinguished him in the eyes of the French was his ruthless search for Jean Moulin, a hero of the Resistance who led the partisans of General Charles de Gaulle and his Free French. In La Paz he adopted the false identity of Klaus Altmann, which allowed the courts to reject the extradition request presented by France twice.
While Banzer’s dictatorship was at the forefront, the German had a refuge in the country, following his work now under cover of the military dictatorship. A change in the leadership controlled by the state was a threat to his permanence in the territory. In January 1983, the judicial authorities arrested Barbie and ordered his expulsion as an undesirable foreigner.
In Bolivia, in addition to working as an anti-communist agent, he was “an arms and drug trafficker for different South American dictatorships and a participant in the harassment and death of Che Guevara in 1967,” according to La Vanguardia.
Journalist Boris Miranda, following data from one of the paramilitaries who took part in the 1980 “cocaine coup”, deduces that the drug trade emerged from the decision of Santa Cruz landowners to invest in the sector, who benefited from property titles handed over by Banzer.
The business concentrated, mainly, on the control of the points of exit of the drug by demands of Colombia, that at the time lacked large domestic plantations, having to be supplied with raw material coming from Peru and Bolivia.
The same Bolivian Armed Forces disputed land in the east of the country, especially in Beni and Santa Cruz, departments where airstrips for the export of coca, coca paste and cocaine were established.
In this sense, Barbie intercedes in the coup to provide the conspirators with a shock group that would prevent the transfer of state administration to left-wing movements. He put at the disposal of soldier Luis Arce Gómez European and Bolivian mercenaries (the “Death Grooms”), with whom they executed the change of regime in favor of an alliance of narcos, extreme right-wing extremists and corrupt military.
On the orders of Arce Gómez, PS leader Marcelo Quiroga, university leader Carlos Flores Bedregal and trade unionist Gualberto Vega Yapura were assassinated at the COB headquarters on the day of the coup. Before becoming Minister of the Interior, together with García Meza, he drew up a “black list” of more than one hundred political figures who had to be eliminated before the violent seizure of power.
Luis Arce Gómez led the narco-coup with a contingent of paramilitaries who were paid with resources obtained from drug trafficking.
The name of Roberto Suarez Gomez, the King of Cocaine, who contributed $5 million to the campaign to overthrow Gueiler’s government and install a military regime after his meetings with Klaus Barbie.
This landowner and rancher from Beni was by the 1980s one of the most influential drug traffickers in the region. He hired the Barbie legion, who were in charge of controlling the security of operations on the Santa Cruz and Beni tracks.
Miranda explains that the German war criminal, connected to the military leadership and to mafiosi of the stature of Suarez Gomez and the Colombian Pablo Escobar, was one of the “main gears of a machine that controlled almost 90% of the production and distribution of cocaine in the world through a connection that began in Bolivia, passed through the Colombian jungles and ended in the streets of the United States and Europe”.
THE DAY THE DEA EXPOSED THE ROLE OF THE COMPANY IN NARCO COUP
In May 1980, Michael Levine thought he had managed to strike a major blow against international narco-trafficking by involving Bolivian narco-trafficking leaders, including Roberto Suarez, in a sale of cocaine staged by the DEA.
Levine was an undercover DEA agent who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina between 1978 and 1982. His investigations led to the conspiracy plot of the CIA, the Argentine military dictatorship and narcos in the coup that brought García Meza to power.
“On May 24, 1980, an old Convair loaded with the drug left a hidden track in the Beni jungle on its way to Florida. At the same time, two Bolivians were arrested inside Miami’s Kendall Bank after receiving payment for ‘crowning’ the operation,” says Boris Miranda.
He managed to incriminate the key players in drug trafficking, who at the same time were planning the irregular agenda in Bolivia. But Levine touched several key assets of the CIA’s network of collaborators deployed in the South American continent. The U.S. government made the decision to cover the case and release the detainees.
In 1996, Michael Levine published a book titled “The Great White Lie” in which he reveals, with the documentation of his years of service in the Latin American region, the fraud of the war declared by the United States against drug trafficking.
THE RELATIONSHIPS THAT BRING US TO THE PRESENT
What has been narrated so far makes it possible to establish the points of coincidence with the coup against Evo and to anticipate the medium-term scenario of the country, at least as far as drug trafficking is concerned.
First of all, to highlight the similarities between the extreme right wing’s ways of operating. Luis Camacho and the “civic committees” that initiated the protests revealed themselves, at the height of the confrontation, as violent and armed mobs. Once the coup was over, there are indications that the political leader from Santa Cruz placed in the service of the forces of repression the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, formed as a paramilitary organization, to carry out persecutions against political figures from the MAS. At this point, we know from a reliable source that police operations are supported by teams “that are not part of the organic structure of the police,” which reinforces the paramilitary hypothesis.
It is not a minor fact that many of the members of the seditious military-industrial network that attacked Evo’s government come from the eastern departments or have political links with that region. Santa Cruz capitalized on the cocaine trade in its glory days, and illicit activities contributed to making it the economic center of the nation.
The profiles chosen to constitute the “transitional government” also suggest traits in common with the narco-organization linked to García Meza. Before being appointed by Áñez as minister of the presidency, Jerjes Justiniano Atalá was a legal defender of drug traffickers, a practice that was common in the early 1980s, for drug lawyers who also came to occupy positions within institutions. The “civic arm” minimized judicial vulnerabilities and laundered illicit actions.
On the other hand, the fact that Arturo Murillo, a DEA whistleblower, was assigned by the Government Ministry means the return of the anti-drug policy of the United States to the country, which is not neutral at all.
It would seem unnecessary to review the factor of drug trafficking in the evolution of the Bolivian state post-1952 to sustain the argument of its involvement in the irregular agenda, if in view are the mafia links of the ministerial “cabinet”, or even of the self-proclaimed one. An easy path the de facto government leaves us.
However, it requires a rigorous reading of the exploitation of coca in the country, the internal and external actors involved and their relationship with the formation of anti-communist paramilitary groups, in order to add another edge that gives it the geopolitical dimensions corresponding to the coup d’état against the government of Evo Morales.
With the forced resignation of the president, the conspirators in Bolivia now annul the indigenous and peasant movement formed over the last thirteen years, resuming the old path of military repression, while sweeping away public figures who do not respond to the defense of their economic interests.
As the immediate past indicates, the dark drug business is just as relevant as the natural resources, in the privileges that the local and foreign power groups had in Bolivian territory and that they are now recovering.
Translation by Internationalist 360º