RPCV Steven Huffstutlar is working in Bolivia running an alternative development program for former coca farmers in the Chapare

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bolivia: Peace Corps Bolivia : The Peace Corps in Bolivia: RPCV Steven Huffstutlar is working in Bolivia running an alternative development program for former coca farmers in the Chapare

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, December 03, 2001 - 11:19 am: Edit Post

Read this article written by RPCV Steven Huffstutlar who is currently working in Bolivia running an alternative development program for former coca farmers in the Chapare, sponsored by USAID.

One of the most interesting aspects of this program is that Mr. Huffstutlar works for Development AIternatives Inc. (DAI), an employee-owned firm founded by ex-Peace Corps volunteers in the 70's. Many returned volunteers are interested in continuing to work in international development and many of them eventually go to work to government agencies like USAID or for one of the non-profit NGO's. It is important to know that that there are other alternatives such as private companies working in Development like DAI.

Here is Steven's story of his work:

I have been down here for 2 1/2 years running the alternative development program for former coca farmers in the Chapare, sponsored by USAID. I work for a company called Development AIternatives Inc., an employee-owned firm founded by ex-Peace Corps volunteers in the 70's. The website tells about DAI and has a summary of this project.

I thought I was going to have a nice easy time, like in the Peace Corps, the usual boondoggles, three day weekends, parties, etc. Well, times do change. The last of the 50,000 hectares of Chapare coca is being taken out (not by us, we just do agriculture and roads), and the hard-core coca farmers, led by firebrand Aymara Congressman Evo Morales, are not happy. There is still more than twice the coca needed for local consumption in the Yungas, which is protected by law.

Selling bananas, palm heart and pineapples is tough when the Argentine economy is about to collapse, but we are doing so and demand exceeds supply. We are now shipping 25 refrigerated containers per week as the banana season starts, and that will double in coming months.

Although Bolivia is in constant upheaval from strikes and blockades, and has been for the entire democratic period of the last 20 years. It is mostly street theater, and it is understood the GOB (Government of Bolivia) will give in to almost any protest group that makes a big enough show, since that is how public policy is made here. Half the government's promises to de-fuse a crisis are false, but half the demonstrator's claims and threats were false too. All this commotion is carried out with alternating dead seriousness and wry smiles on all sides. Somehow, things inch forward. Everybody is entertained and relieved from working for a few days. We lose on average 6 weeks per year of field work to various blockades and protests.

Corruption is hair-raising, and the public is numb to the constant scandals and impunity. 40% of the cars on the street are stolen and have false papers. The politicians and police don't even bother to get papers and plates for their "hot" vehicles. Smuggling to avoid customs is still the national pastime and a big chunk of the economy. Compared to a place like Guatemala, street crime, violence and levels of fear among the citizens are relatively low, yet recent increases in unemployment and poverty are slowly changing this. Bolivia is still an easy, pleasant place to live for foreigners. Peace Corps is here and doing good things, but volunteers are kept out of the hot spots of the Chapare and Lake Titicaca (Achacachi).

Millions of Bolivians have moved to Argentina to escape near-starvation, typified by the growing deserts in Northern Potosi and Southern Oruro. 63% of Bolivians still live in the worst poverty, with no running water, electricity, or decent health services. Another 25% barely scrape along, and the US concentrates its help where there was coca and incomes are not that low. 85% of jobs in Bolivia are provided by firms with less the 9 employees, but those firms only control 25% of GDP. The army soaks up the lion's share of the budget, while rural education and health care are abysmal.

While the Bolivian general public opposes coca production for making cocaine, they also believe strongly that the increasingly weak economy of Bolivia is victim to the sudden removal of cocaine income (variously estimated to be $300-700 million per year), and the U.S. should replace that income with development assistance for the overall economy, not just the Chapare. The Bolivian economy is now in its fourth year of recession, which began with the economic problems of Brazil and Argentina. When they sneeze, Bolivia gets a cold.

The first question on everyone's mind is will the Chapare become a little Colombia or will the Bolivian tradition of buying off protesting groups to maintain a fragile, temporary social balance (until the next blockade season) prevail?

The second question is how much longer can an educated political elite representing 10% of the population maintain control of a democracy through "divide and conquer" tactics. (In other words, when will the indigenous majority finally bury their differences and form an effective voting block or otherwise impose their will?). There are signs of a possible indigenous coalition, and coca may be a congealing ingredient. Poverty, coca and lack of political influence are things the Quechuas and Aymaras have in common.

I have kept a diary of the past couple of weeks. Keep in mind the road through the Chapare is the main artery of Bolivia, joining Santa Cruz and La Paz via Cochabamba. If the road closes for more than a few days the Santa Cruz business elite threatens to bring down the current GOB, secede, and/or send paramilitaries into the Chapare. A "cato" is 1/16 of a hectare.

Subject: Chapare violence 11-16

After 10 days of blockades by the coca farmers and tear-gassing by the army, yesterday the GOB asked the Church to intervene and convoke a dialog between GOB and the cocaleros. Shortly thereafter, at 1:30, 400 cocalero demonstrators swarmed over an army truck on the main road. The soldiers in the truck, who were few in number, opened fire at close range. Three demonstrators were killed, two others are in critical condition, and 13 others were hospitalized.

Earlier, elsewhere in the Chapare, an army pickup was hit by sniper fire and one soldier injured, not seriously, bringing to three the number of soldiers hit by sniper fire to three, one of whom is in fair condition, the other two with light injuries.

Although the main road continues to be open most of the time, transport is now paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. The interior roads of the Chapare are mostly blocked by cocaleros. The cocaleros placed the bodies of victims in the middle of the road to add to the blockade.

The GOB introduced an "Expeditionary Force" about ten days ago. According to Bolivian Army spokesmen, these are reservists who are on temporary duty and are paid $100 per month. The press reports this group of about 400 is assigned to beat and intimidate the cocaleros, pursuing them into their homes. Graphic videos of this have been broadcast. About 80 demonstrators had been beaten up to yesterday, and over 100 arrested. These figures have gone up considerably as of yesterday.

In this morning's Los Tiempos, Evo Morales has announced that this will end up in an armed struggle, as the cocaleros will not easily forgive the deaths. At this time there is no prospect for dialog beginning any time soon. The cocaleros will have a general meeting on Saturday, and for at least a few more days the standoff and violence are likely to continue . Prospects for return, any time soon, of Alternative Development workers to Chapare, after two weeks of waiting in Cochabamba, are increasingly remote.

On Wednesday the altiplano Aymara peasants, led by El Mallku (Felipe Quispe) from Achacachi, declared solidarity with the Chapare coca farmers, and said they will run their candidates under the MAS cocalero party banner in the next election. (they later changed their minds and chose the Katarista party) They postponed possibly joining in demonstrations until December or January, as they are in planting season. El Mallku predicted it would take many lives, and much blood, to win in the Chapare.

Yesterday the GOB offered 7,000 hectares of state-held land to the Sin Tierra movement in Yacuiba, victims of six shooting deaths at the hands of private land owners last Friday.

Also in this morning's Los Tiempos, the US Congress has passed the $625 million Andean Initiative for anti-narcotics and alternative development, with $86 million earmarked for Bolivia.

Subject: Intent to Dialog 11-21

Yesterday the violence continued in the Chapare, now into its third week. Reportedly, the Ambassador has received a letter from various U.S congressmen asking for more attention to human rights and pressure to reach a peace agreement. He sent copies to the GOB. A rumor circulated that US assistance to Bolivia could be suspended if the GOB did not move to resolve the ongoing crisis. The major opposition party, MNR, denounced abuses by the GOB forces in the Chapare, including shootings and rape, making this a campaign issue. The Church announced its impatience with the GOB for not entering a dialog, although it has also declared the growing of coca in the Chapare is for illegal drugs and is not morally acceptable.

Therefore a group of Bolivian congressmen will meet today with the coca farmers in the Chapare, in the location where two demonstrators were shot yesterday. In the past week three demonstrators have died and about 5 are in serious or critical condition, another 20 or so have lesser wounds. Four soldiers have been injured by sniper bullets.The delegation is led by the Minister of Government, who has a record of successful negotiation with peasant groups. Unlike previous statements by both sides, no pre-conditions are demanded, and the human rights groups and Church will not participate directly. The GOB has been saying they will only discuss alternative development, not coca, and the coca farmers only want to discuss their demand for one sixth hectare per family of legalized coca. Today's dialog may or may not take place, given the recent violence, and rapid results are not expected. The executive branch can't change the law, meaning the Congress would have to amend the Law 1008 banning coca production in the Chapare, and the Congress is not inclined to do this. Public opinion has changed in past years, the great majority now connect Chapare coca with illegal drug production, and are opposed.

Congressman and coca leader Evo Morales has used his Congressional immunity to repeatedly announce in past days that they are forming a peasant army to defend the Bolivian flag against the Bolivian army, which he says defends the US flag. He is being accused in Congress of sedition and revolution. This has hardened opposition to him in government and opinion making circles. It is suspected he receives financial support from narcotics dealers, including the Colombians, but there is no proof. He recently received the Gaddafi human rights prize from Libya.

The main road is open during most of the day, but rock throwing at vehicles and lightning blockades have reduced traffic by 80%. Alternative development personnel are not allowed to enter the Chapare, having pulled out on Nov. 1. Economic losses by alternative development are enormous, especially for pineapple, banana and palm heart producers, and the hotel business. These producers are getting press coverage of their situation and demand for guaranties of safety and open roads to stay in business. Most Chapare internal roads are blocked, some of them for well over 30 days.

Today there is a blockade announced for Cochabamba, and threats of blockades in the rest of the country for later this week. Yesterday the President of the Chamber of Commerce in Cochabamba announced that small and medium size industries are closing constantly, due to the decline in the overall economy and lack of credit. He said 20 medium sized industries have closed, along with more than 300 small industries.

Subject: Intent to Dialog II 11-21

A co-worker reminds me that last night CNN announced that President Jorge Quiroga will meet with President Bush in the White House on Dec. 6. Quiroga recently took over the last year of the Banzer elected presidency, when President Banzer, 73 and a former military dictator in the '70s, developed a serious case of cancer. The White House agenda will include narcotics control and the projected exports of Bolivian natural gas (there are immense reserves) to the western U.S. via liquified natural gas tanker ships.

Quiroga connects natural gas to narcotics control. He projects the income to Bolivia from natural gas will make coca production economically unnecessary, but only if the market and infrastructure for delivering the gas are developed. A pipeline to Chile and and a liquification plant are multi-billion dollar investments. Quiroga is 41, brilliant and totally bi-lingual, and is committed to cleaning up corruption, modernizing the GOB, and providing services to rural areas. But he is a lame duck, with less than one year left, and he cannot run in his own right until 2007. He and his wife, a native Texan and school teacher, are graduates of Texas A and M. They are bright and charming, comfortable in the royal palace in Madrid or at a barbecue in Houston.

Reportedly a peace plan for the Chapare may be on the agenda, if nothing has been worked out by Dec. 6.

Subject: Truce Declared 11-22

Yesterday the Congressional delegation, led by Minister of Government Leopoldo Fernandez, and the coca farmer delegation, led by Evo Morales, met in Shinaota, Chapare for a total of 10 hours. They held a 3 1/2 hour public debate from a balcony in front of more than a thousand coca farmers, some of whom also spoke. 25 people, including women and children, took the microphone to speak of their personal reactions to their loss of income and the violent standoff. Delegation leaders traded sharp insults and threats at first. The coca farmers threw fruit on the ground and complained of lack of markets for alternative development products. (In fact the coca farmers are forbidden by their leadership to participate in alternative development).

After the public debate, a verbal agreement was made between the two delegations to call a truce and begin negotiations among all the parties, including the business sector and alternative development farmers from the Chapare. The meeting will begin in Cochabamba within no less than four days, possibly as soon as tomorrow, Friday. The truce includes the suspension of the blockade by the coca farmers, the return of the military and police to their barracks, and the temporary suspension of coca eradication. The negotiations will be called the national meeting on coca and alternative development, to be organized by the Church and human rights offices. It is hoped that a definitive agreement could be reached in 3-5 days.

An eventual agreement will probably include a version of the previous GOB offer of direct financial and alternative development subsidies to the coca farmers, including monthly cash payments for living expenses until alternative crops can be sold, and guaranteed prices for a period of time. There will be an important bottleneck in provision of planting material. The 14 million plants in Concade nurseries are already spoken for by 15,000 farmers in alternative development associations, and no other significant sources are available.

Portions of the public debate were shown on television. Reporters who witnessed the event remarked that the patience and reassuring, conciliatory tone of Minister of Government Leopoldo Fernandez made a decisive difference in moving the sides to agree to begin formal talks. He is responsible for successful agreements with other angry peasant movements in Bolivia, and could be the ADN Presidential candidate in the June elections. However, US Embassy sources expressed private concern over the suspension of coca eradication. Rumor has it that if the GOB gives the right to grow coca to the Chapare cocaleros, President Quiroga's appointment with President Bush on Dec. 6 could be cancelled. Oil Patch vs. Coca Patch.

This morning's Los Tiempos has an interview with a retired Bolivian Army general complaining that the new Expeditionary Force, consisting of activated reservists, is intended to include the most racist and violent officers and soldiers available. This new force was responsible for much of the increased level of violence against the coca farmers, which has been shown on television. He claims the current army leadership has allegedly argued that Bolivia's mostly indigenous army can't be trusted to crack down sufficiently on their own people. This increased level of violence poses the possibility of more violence from coca farmers toward alternative development farmers and technicians, who have seldom suffered more than threats up to now. Alternative Development personnel will re-enter the Chapare this afternoon and tomorrow, Nov. 23, depending on whether the truce is fully enacted on the ground.

At the same time, yesterday the Congress received from the courts the lawsuit brought by banana farmer Miguel Zambrana, who is demanding the removal of Evo Morales from the Congress, and thus the end of his Congressional immunity. This would clear the way for Zambrana to sue Morales for civil damages for economic losses during blockades, which prevented shipment of bananas. Many Congressmen declared their interest in booting out Morales, based on his recent threats to set up a coca farmer revolutionary army. He is also being accused of sedition and revolt in at least one other similar lawsuit filed this week, from the hotel owners of Chapare, with the support of alternative development farmers.

Subject: Last day of negotiations (?) 11-27

Yesterday the GOB sweeteened their offer to the cocaleros: 1) 15 months of payments of $80 per month per family, 2) planting material and technical assistance, 3) a fund to guarantee a floor price for alternative development products on an indefinite basis, and 4) a council of farmers and other Chapare actors with funding to design their own alternative development projects. Points 1 and 2 supposedly are worth about $3,500 combined.

The cocaleros expressed "profound lack of trust," as observed by the Archbishop. The cocaleros doubt the GOB has the money to fund their offer. Wild guesses of the cost range from $40 million dollars to several times that. The meeting lasted until 9:30 PM and ended in a stalemate. The cocaleros demanded 2 or 3 weeks of continued suspension of eradication to evaluate the offer. Their rank and file insists on the cato de coca. The GOB was firm in resuming eradication tomorrow.

Unless something gives today, the blockades and violence could resume.

Subject: Talks end 11-28

The negotiations ended last night at 10:30 PM. Eradication is set to resume this morning. The cocaleros announced they will return to their blockades. According to a friend who was present, the parties were only a millimeter apart. DAI pulled its people out of Chapare yesterday PM.

The human rights and Church facilitators cited major progress but pointed to a profound lack of trust on the part of the cocaleros as a key to the breakdown. Morales asked for an extension of the suspension of eradication to be able to take the final GOB proposal to the field for mass meetings and voting this Saturday, Dec. 1. He also asked that the proposal be passed into law by the legislature over the next two months. He offered that the cocaleros could voluntarily eradicate their coca above the cato per family. The GOB reps decided not to return to the table last night after a break, and made no comment except to say the eradication would resume today.

Neither side seems to have the ability to make a deal without further consultations with their associates who were not present. No one is able to place a price tag on the GOB offer, and its apparent high cost, plus uncertainty over the source of funding, creates doubts and lack of confidence. Today's papers point to lack of unity within the GOB cabinet on the offer to the cocaleros.

Th Bolivian army declared yesterday, after attending a US sponsored conference on narcotics and terrorism, that Evo Morales and El Mallku are terrorists.

Eradication resumes 11-29

The cocaleros have not yet returned to their blockades, apparently waiting for this Saturday's general meeting. Eradication continues under a tense calm in the Chapare. Rumors are that negotiations continue by phone and the GOB is trying to get the Embassy to finance their offer to the cocaleros. Meanwhile, today there was a country-wide general strike by the transport sector and the Santa Cruz business sector has given the GOB 10 days to reactivate the economy and help them re-structure their debt and obtain new loans. This is the season for strikes and blockades, country-wide. On any given day there are 5 or 6 major groups in the streets, shutting down cities and regions. The Yungas has just ended a week-long blockade in protest of high electricity prices. The GOB accepted lowering the price 23% to end the blockade.

Invitation to new talks 11-30

The Congressional delegation involved in the previous talks will travel to the Chapare tomorrow to pitch their offer to the cocalero assembly and invite their leaders to begin a new dialog on Tuesday in La Paz. Press reports say that Evo Morales will invite El Mallku to attend in support of the coca farmers.

We have been invited to a meeting to discuss how our project might possibly include the last of the hard core coca farmers. Alternative development officials are trying to figure out how much new resources they can make available, so the new division of the alternative development pie doesn't create more instability and conflict. With some luck, our project would appear to be on the verge of moving from just agriculture into the much more complex area of conflict resolution. It is increasingly clear we cannot continue without doing both.

Coca Farmers reject renewed dialog 12-1

Yesterday the coca farmers met in the Chapare and rejected the latest govenment offer to return to the peace talks in La Paz. They decided to send 30 women to carry out a hunger strike on the steps of the Bolivian Congress in La Paz. They hardened their position, announced new blockades and demanded future talks be in the Chapare, and only about the cato of coca. Evo Morales today flew to Cuba for a week, so the next round will likely develop when Morales returns from Cuba, at about the same time President Quiroga returns from Washington.

By Joanne Roll on Sunday, January 06, 2002 - 1:32 pm: Edit Post

Wow, you put us right there. Thanks

By Shelagh Talbot (209-247-222-45.propel.com - on Tuesday, January 10, 2006 - 10:46 am: Edit Post

I am trying to locate Chloe and Tom Boutureira who are working with the Peace Corps out of Cochabamba.
Can anyone help me find them?

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