October 14, 2000

Bolivian coca farmers, government agree to lift road blockade

                  LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Coca leaf farmers signed a 30-day truce with the
                  Bolivian government to end a month of road blocks that paralyzed the country's
                  main highway and generated violent confrontations that left 10 dead and
                  dozens injured.

                  Interior Minister Guido Fortun and coca farm leader Evo Morales signed the truce
                  Friday night in Chimore, a tropical town located 360 miles east of La Paz in the
                  Chapare, until recently the country's leading coca leaf producing region.

                  In the agreement, the government didn't give in to a strikers' demand that it end
                  its successful coca eradication program, but did agree to stop the construction
                  of three military bases in the Chapare. The government also agreed to establish
                  an agroindustrial complex in the Chapare and set up a committee to determine the
                  use of $80 million in alternative development projects financed by the U.S.

                  The government had threatened to mobilize thousands of soldiers and police
                  Friday in the Chapare if a peaceful agreement was not reached.

                  Morales, the leader of the Tropical Farmers Federation and a member of
                  congress, said the road blocks will be renewed if the terms of the agreement are
                  not implemented within 30 days.

                  The road blocks resulted in millions of dollars in losses for farmers and damage
                  to the road that connects Cochabamba with Santa Cruz, the country's second
                  and third largest cities.

                  Hundreds of trucks were stranded with tons of banana and pineapples rotted
                  because of the protests, bringing alternative development projects to a virtual

                  Only 4,446 acres of coca plants remain in the Chapare, compared to 111,150
                  acres three years ago when President Hugo Banzer was sworn in. Banzer, a
                  former military dictator, said his administration's main goal was to take
                  Bolivia out of the cocaine processing and trafficking business.

                  The destruction of nearly all the coca used in the production of cocaine,
                  however, has affected the livelihood of tens of thousands of farmers and area
                  residents and removed about $250 million from South America's poorest economy.

                  Coca leaf farmers in the Yungas, a tropical region 149 miles east of La Paz,
                  however, are allowed to cultivate up to 29,640 acres of coca to satisfy the
                  demand of the legal coca market. This includes the use of coca in teas and for
                  chewing by miners and farmers throughout Bolivia.

                  Last week, the government reached agreements with peasants in the Bolivian
                  highlands who were blocking all roads to Peru and Chile and Lake Titicaca.

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.