LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Watched by hundreds of soldiers and police, coca
farmers on Monday blocked a key road linking Bolivia's highlands with the
tropical lowlands to protest government plans to destroy illegal coca plantations.
The peasants' action follows violent nationwide protests last week that
government to severely curtail constitutional guarantees. The restrictions are still
in effect, although the protests ended.
Soldiers and police did not immediately move to clear the roadblocks, but
clashes broke between coca farmers and truck drivers trying to bring coffee,
lemons, oranges and other produce to La Paz.
The roadblocks were set at the Yungas, a lush tropical region 205 kilometers
(130 miles) east of La Paz. Large quantities of food rotted as result of the
roadblocks set during last week's protests.
A leader of the Yungas coca leaf growers, Jose Montevilla, said the roadblocks
will continue until the government suspends plans to eradicate coca leaf plants in
Bolivia's anti-narcotic law allows for the cultivation of 12,000 hectares
acres) of coca plants to supply the traditional markets that include coca tea and
chewing. Coca leaf fields beyond that area are considered illegal and subject to
The government estimates there are at least 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres)
illegal fields in the Yungas and plans to destroy them this year, as part of its fight
against the cocaine industry.
President Hugo Banzer has vowed Bolivia will no longer produce illegal
cocaine within a year.
Interior Minister Walter Guiteras said cocaine traffickers were behind
protests in the Yungas, and said they were seeking "to create conditions of
instability for the government and democracy."
The end in recent years of more than two-thirds of coca leaf production
Chapare, an area east of Yungas that fed the cocaine industry, has deprived
thousands of peasants of their sole means of income.
The protests last week by peasants and workers were triggered by a water-rates
hike in Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest city, and by an economic crisis
affecting South America's poorest country. The Cochabamba region was
particularly affected by the eradication of coca plantations.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.