The Three-Decade Long War... You Never Heard About

The War on drugs in Bolivia wasn't metaphorical. It was literal!

Archeological records show that the first nations in the Andes have grown, used, and cultivated coca for over 3000 years. The Incan empire, which had a very sophisticated system of knots to keep records, have records and methodology for the cultivation of the coca crops.  

The Incan Empire even awed the Spanish with their engineering feats. The Incans built roads that covered over 40,000 kM. It stretched from what is now modern-day Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. With these extensive road systems, they were able to bring infrastructure such as irrigation, sewage, and plumbing to even the most remote village located in the Andes.  

These coca crops were used in religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. It made it easier for members of the Incan empire to handle the high-altitude of the Andes. Every part of this crop was used.  

Contrary to the popular myth, Francisco Pizzaro and his gang of 300 men with horses did not single-handedly defeat the Incan empire. The Incans had built their empire through conquest of other nations. Pizzaro was lucky to have arrived as these rebel nations came together to fight for their autonomy. Pizzaro offered them his 300 soldiers. The Spanish conquistadores, who happened to be very lucky, as they formed an alliance with local rebellions, marched towards the Incan empire. Pizarro offered his army of 300 men with Spanish-made weapons. The leader of the uprising Huayna Capac accepted this deal. As it was common in those days, military alliances were sealed with a marriage. Pizzaro married his daughter Quispe Sisa. After he and the rebel groups conquered Lima, he inherited the title of royalty. Oddly enough, even the Spaniards don't deny this reality.  

Inside the Library of Seville, there are records of the court transcripts between Queen Isabel and Pizzaro. Queen Isabel refuses to pay Pizzaro his bounty because he didn't fulfill his duties. She reasoned, "you didn't conquer it for Spain."  

Eventually, the Spanish, after the murder of Pizzaro, were able to establish a colonial government in 1554 CE. At this point, they brought with them the rigid catholic priests to mass convert the various nations within the former Incan empire to Christianity. 

From the Catholic priests' point of view, the coca plant had "magical powers," begotten from the devil, that made the first nations hard to subdue. They declared that the Coca plan was indeed an invention of the devil and called for total destruction. 

400 years later, the Aymara and Quechua in Bolivia were fighting against a new colonizer: USA. In an eerie similarity to the catholic priests from Spain, the leader, Ronald Reagan, also called it a "crusade," and he, too, wanted to eradicate the coca plant among the first nations.

In their continuing tradition, Bolivians use coca for its various medicinal and numbing properties. There is coca tea for altitude sickness, ointments for pain relief, and even liquor. Unlike the industrial cash crops, a poor Campesino could grow coca:

  • Coca can be harvested in four months.

  • Almost all of the cultivation is in labor costs and not tools or machinery

Ronald Reagan and his band of crusaders declared that crack/cocaine was the work of the devil. They embarked on a second wave of destruction of the coca plant.

But, they ignorantly equated coca leaves to cocaine. It requires a drug processing center with fancy chemicals to convert it into a Cocaine Hydrochloride molecule and then to make the cocaine hydrochloride to a useable form. Eradicating coca is the quixotic equivalent of eradicating potatoes to curb the production of Vodka.  

In Bolivia, the War on Drugs was not metaphorical. Ronald Reagan dispatched the marines to wage an aggressive military campaign on the Andes.  

The US sent the military in, citing “National Security”

However, that became quickly unpopular and so the US decided to only send in the DEA for more “discreteness.”

In 1987, by presidential decree and US pressure, Bolivia created the Special Anti-Drug Trafficking Force (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico - FELCN). However, they were trained, lead, directed and supervised by the DEA. The DEA also participated in many stings and raids in Bolivia.

Later, in July 1988, Bolivian parliament created the notorious Law 1008 that granted extensive powers to the FELCN. The FELCN carried out “judicial investigations” in drug cases. Also, the FECLN’s reports carried the weight of legally constituting proof in front of a judge. For example, the report written by a FECLN would be equivalent to having a videotape of the offense in the eyes of the court.

According to the Andean Information Network

The law also characterized narcotrafficking as a “crime against humanity,” and criminalized a wide range of drug-related activities, including manufacturing, distribution and sale. Under the original terms of the law, Bolivians charged with drug offenses – no matter how minor – were imprisoned without the possibility of pre-trial release. If acquitted, they remained in prison until the Supreme Court reviewed the trial court’s decision — a process that took years. The law presumed the guilt of the accused; did not allow the accused to fully exercise their right to legal defense; prohibited bail or provisional liberty; and established an excessively long judicial process. Some of the rigid terms of Law 1008 were in direct conflict with rights guaranteed in the Bolivian Constitution.

However, the real crime against humanity was the way in which both FECLN and the DEA treated the Campesinos.

Jaime Malamud Goti, an advisor to the Argentine President Alfonsin, traveled through these areas reported the following:

At a high, inhospitable cold spot in the mountains between Cochabamba and the coca plantations, there is a police checkpoint where vehicles are thoroughly searched for the tools used in the manufacture of cocaine paste. Presumably, to satisfy my curiosity, the police officer in charge ushered me into the shed where they stored the seized items. Among those articles stored in the depot were those of the most common nature: toilet paper, kerosene lanterns, plastic sheets and car batteries.

According to the policeman, these articles are essential to the illicit drug industry. The kerosene in the lanterns, for instance, is a good solvent to detach the cocaine contained in the coca leaves. Toilet paper is used to dry the paste.

Somehow my memory got caught in that police shed. An enforcement campaign that required the interdiction of toilet paper seemed not only an intrusion into the basic needs of the inhabitants of the Chapare, but also doomed to fail from its inception.

He further went onto observe, "The Bolivian enforcement agencies have targeted this peasant population as their primary (and easiest) target for eradicating the cocaine problem; a group that has already endured violence, harassment and pillage. This situation is not only condoned by the DEA but is encouraged by them. For an overgrown bureaucracy like the DEA, chasing coca growers is also the easiest way to make convincing statistics in the furtherance of sectoral and personal advantages." 

After Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, merely amplified this war on the campesinos. He sent more DEA agents into Bolivia and the DEA agents were willing participants in the torture and abuse of the Campesinos.

One victim told ANI:

So, they asked me questions and when I didn't give the answers they wanted and they didn't accept the statement that I had already made, they started to beat me. The lieutenant kicked me and punched me, the gringo hit me on the head with a stick and the butt of his pistol. He said: 'These people are used to these things and that's why they deny it.'

When I continued to deny everything, they applied an electric current to my testicles. I couldn't take any more, I had to accept. Even though I read what the report said, I had to sign, because I couldn't take any more torture"

This wasn’t all! The DEA agents burned the homes of Campesinos, accusing them of having "primitive chemical facilities." They gang-raped many of the Campesino women, wantonly shot them. This was the war on the poor. 

Worst of all, the DEA often bombed roads leading in and out of these remote villages because they were afraid that these would be used as airstrips for planes. Ironically, the streets and infrastructure that the Incas built needed 500 years to be destroyed by the war on drugs.   

On top of that, the DEA agents enjoyed complete impunity for their actions in Bolivia. In 1994, Human Rights Watch asked the State Department on why DEA agents did not report violations of human rights as they were required to do so. The State Department responded with, “ DEA agents are guests in the country" are "not responsible for making criticisms."

While hundreds of Bolivians made claims of abuse by the DEA. Both officials in the US government and the cronies in corporate media have mocked these claims. During her confirmation hearing, Hillary Clinton claimed“fear-mongering propagated by [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez and Evo Morales.”


I have a sincere question and please respond in the comments. Why have we, as US Citizens, not done more to hold officials who do horrible things in our name responsible? How do we end this culture of impunity?

The chicken always comes home to roost. At home, we can’t get police convicted regardless of how many video tapes we have of them shooting people. We can’t touch senators, congressional representatives and of course let’s not forget about the white house! We are left with the consequence of not holding the powerful responsible.


The Bolivia Series

Evo Morales, Camacho and the Coup in Bolivia

OAS Involvement in the Coup in Bolivia