April 17, 2000
Farmers block key road in Bolivia to protest eradication of coca

                   LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Watched by hundreds of soldiers and police, coca leaf
                   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 led the
                   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 some
                   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
                   the area.

                   Bolivia's anti-narcotic law allows for the cultivation of 12,000 hectares (30,000
                   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) of
                   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 coca and
                   cocaine within a year.

                   Interior Minister Walter Guiteras said cocaine traffickers were behind the
                   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 in the
                   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.