Look out for war below

"Look out for war below" Continued...

Issue: "Bob Geldof: Whose jubilee?," June 25, 2005

"The bottom line is that coca wasn't a food crop and so had minimal impact until it was turned into cocaine," Ms. Windle said. "Few cocaleros ever grew it until it was already illegal. That it pays far more than legitimate food crops is based entirely on an artificial and criminal economy. Unlike potatoes or coffee, it retains its current value only so long as the drug flow is continued." With such enticing incentives, coaxing cocaleros into growing other crops has been arduous.

And with Mr. Morales and other radical socialists leading the charge, farmers have a reason to dig in their heels. Now the fight against coca eradication has morphed into an epic class struggle. Farmers view the United States as a bully seeking to rob their livelihood. Mr. Morales himself has been known as "Senor Coca." In the 1990s his signature cry was, "Long live coca! Death to the gringos!"

In all, the narcotics trade gets a boost from the instability-and in the long term, from little economic development. Meanwhile, Bolivia's mostly Indian population of Quechuas and Aymaras, however, have legitimate grievances. The Andean nation is the poorest in South America, with a Hispanic elite that has ruled for centuries, controlling the majority of the land and the government. Corruption is endemic, with an arcane legal system resembling the Napoleonic code. Members of government, for example, are immune from prosecution.

The problem is many Indians advocate "concentrated power and less freedom," said Stephen Johnson, a Heritage Foundation expert. "On the other hand, the lowland elites understand property rights but they don't want to talk to the Indians. As long as that's the case, they're headed for civil war."

Still, some Indians disagree with Mr. Morales and his fellow leaders, but find themselves stuck: "They don't have anything else to cling to," Mr. Johnson said. "What really needs to happen is for the indigenous community to come up with moderate leaders. They have them but they don't have the backing radical leaders do."

Whether civil war will ignite is the biggest question facing Bolivia. The deepest worry for the United States is if a civil war turns into an international conflict, with Venezuela and Cuba sending troops and support to Bolivia's leftists. Whatever the outcome, the country's radicals are on the ascendancy for the first time in its history, and they are making the most of it.

The nation has had some 200 governments since its founding in 1825. In his 19-month tenure alone, Mr. Mesa weathered about 820 protests. The country has a knack for surviving turmoil, but the latest round may prove too much.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…