Coup attempt in Bolivia?


[We republish this from the Narconews Bulletin, which we are happy to hear is publishing again after a hiatus].

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA, APRIL 17 2004: It wasn’t a secret, but for a while, nobody was paying attention: there are groups plotting to destabilize the government of President Carlos Mesa, that are considering a coup d’etat in order to finalize the sale of Bolivian gas to Chile despite the outpouring of popular will against such a deal expressed in last October’s insurrection.

Of course, U.S. government officials have a lot to do with it (beginning with the Viceroy David N. Greenlee, his friends in the CIA, and even officials from the gringo agency USAID). It took a counterintelligence memo, put together by confidential Bolivian and Chilean sources, specifically accusing those foreign companies and politicians – to bring this matter to light. Then Congressman Evo Morales denounced the coup attempt, and the questions began.

Yes, kind readers, the social movements also do counterintelligence work. But, let’s take this piece-by-piece.

After taking office in October 2003, President Mesa promised to consult the Bolivian people, through a referendum, on the possible exportation of Bolivian gas to Chile and other markets (mainly in Mexico and the United States). This had been one of the demands of the insurrection that toppled Mesa’s predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Predictably, the interests who could be harmed by such a referendum, mobilized to protect their business deal. Among them are multinational energy businesses like Enron, Repsol, and BG (formerly British Gas) that control the exploitation and transport of oil and gas in Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and other countries. In the same way, as the counterintelligence report mentions, members of Bolivia’s armed forces, together with politicians linked to former president Sanchez de Lozada, have been plotting to pressure the government.

In the midst of these pressures from the right (and from international capital), are several U.S. actors that, in recent weeks, have been putting public pressure upon both Mesa’s administration and the social sectors, sticking their noses more and more into Bolivian affairs. A good example, to begin with, would be the recent conflict in Yungas, where the coca growers blockaded the roads and stopped the construction of an anti-drug base in La Rinconada financed by the Bush Administration. As Narco News South American Bureau Chief Alex Contreras reported as it was happening, the blockades begun on April 5th ended in an agreement between the farmers and government minister Alfonso Ferrufino. The focus of this agreement is a more profound dialogue between coca growers and the government, a freeze on forced eradication in Yungas, and suspension of the construction of the barracks at La Rinconada.

Viceroy Greenlee, that same day, turned up the heat when he visited the offices of Bolivia’s Secretary of State to say that the drug issue “is delicate.” But he refused to comment openly on his position. Instead, he deflected questions toward the issue of a treaty that provides immunity for U.S. military officials and whatever they do in Bolivian territory, signed by the administration of Sanchez de Lozada, but that was never ratified by the national congress.

“Hopefully one of these days it will be ratified because we want to collaborate with Bolivia,” said Greenlee. Does this have anything to do with the theme of this article? According to the counterintelligence report, it seems that it does.

“Intelligence personnel at the US Embassy (CIA) are working with other intelligence agencies (Chile-Israel) to destabilize the government of President Mesa. Objectives: Stop the Referendum, the Constituents’ Assembly, passage of a new Hydrocarbons Law and achieve the sale of gas through Chile,” the counterintelligence report says. To achieve these objectives, agents of the CIA are working on “various hypotheses and action plans.” In reality, there are three concrete plans, each of which not only attacks the government of Carlos Mesa and the sovereignty of Bolivia, but also shoots to kill against the will of the people.”

A Coup, an Early Election, or Shut Down the Congress

According to the information collected in the report, the preparations for a coup d’état in Bolivia have the main goal of “provoking the reaction of the social movements to create chaos and internal division,” justifying, with that, the entrance of Chilean military troops, supported by U.S. Marines, to “pacify” the country. In the process, they would behead the social movements and create a government in accordance with the interests at play: an operation very similar to the coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. The coup would be headed “by military officials, and supported by military units, high police chiefs, and the U.S. Embassy.”

But, according to this counterintelligence document, the preparations have hit a snag: some military officials had patriotic reactions, causing the planned date of the coup, March 25th, to be postponed. Among the report’s list of military and police officials involved, some of whom are retired, are Army Generals Miguel Vidaurre, Luis Vargas, and Orlando Paniagua, as well as a dozen police colonels, all linked to former defense minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain. Berzain, who served under Sanchez de Lozada, was in charge of the massacre of Aymara peasant farmers and citizens in El Alto last October.

In any case, some military officials from Chile have come to Bolivia to continue organizing this plan, conducting acts of sabotage in border regions. All of this is accompanied by unusual movements of Chilean troops and weapons all along the Bolivia-Chile border, in particular in Colchane, in the north of Chile, and where dozens of elite units (with 500 troops), tanks, fuel, and munitions. Townspeople in the small communities in Southern Bolivia (in the Uyuni region, where the world’s largest salt desert exists) have also denounced the entrance of Chilean military troops that, they say, “enter the towns and act as if they are in their own country’s territory.”

As detailed in the counterintelligence report:

Chilean troop movements: From October 24 to 30, 2003. More than 500 military vehicles (a military convoy) came up from the bases north of Santiago to the large barracks in Iquique (Huara), approximately 100 kilometers from Pisiga. this movement of troops and vehicles is part of joint exercises by the Chilean Army.

>From November 1 to 10, 2003: More than 100 armored and assault vehicles rose from Huara to Colchane (a town 7 kilometers from Pisiga) with nearly 3,000 men. Beginning on this date the quantity of troops and vehicles of different kinds included artillery vehicles. By the last estimate, in late February 2004, there were 20,000 men deployed in the encampment, combing the border, south and north of Colchane.

Movement in March 2004: In the first week of the month nearly 100 trucks (including personnel carriers and others) with provisions and equipment.

Between March 12 and 14, 2004, they rise from North of Santiago to Huara, nearly 400 armed vehicles some with rockets (on the backs of trailers), with motors reconditioned to operate at more than 3,500 meters above sea level.

March 22nd and 23rd Hercules transport planes and fighter planes arrive at the airport of the Condors in Iquique. Nearly 3,000 men – elite forces (uniforms distinct from those of the soldiers and with berets) also arrive, of which about 500 go to Colchane. Currently, it is estimated that there are 31,000 soldiers in the Chilean Army.

Monday, March 29: Two columns of vehicles, 25 of six and ten tires, go from Huara to Colchane. 38 loaded trucks (could be with provisions or equipment).

But if that plan fails, the intelligence agencies of Chile, Israel, and the US, have a Plan B: They seek to pressure the Mesa government to call early elections. Former Bolivian President Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga appears to be involved in this, giving instructions to his collaborators in Bolivia to work to call early elections “in May or June of 2005.” The goal? “Prevent the Constituents’ Assembly, reform the Hydrocarbons Law, and bring the exportation of gas to Chile.” And it makes sense, since Quiroga already declared, during a December 2002 visit to the United States, that he had signed, with George W. Bush, the first agreements for the sale of Bolivian gas.

And if Plan A and Plan B remain stalled, Plan C then contemplates provoking the closing of the National Congress and its dissolution, or at least keeping Senator Leopoldo Fernandez, of the party founded by the late dictator Hugo Banzer and former president Quiroga, at his post as Senate President until next August, in preparation for a coup. According to the Constitution, if neither the president nor the vice president are in office – in other words, if they succeed in driving Carlos Mesa from power (right now Bolivia has no Vice President: it had been Mesa before Sanchez de Lozada resigned), the Senate President would become the new president.

This counterintelligence document is not the only source on these issues. Last March 26th, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, General Luis Aranda Granados, said on local television that, “generals, colonels, and mid-level military officials on leave from the Armed Forces are seeking to destabilize the government of President Carlos Mesa, in coordination with some political parties and labor unions.” In fact, some hours after Congressman Evo Morales came forward with this counterintelligence report, the leader of the MIR’s (Left Revolutionary Movement) congressional delegation called upon Defense Minister Gustavo Arredondo to report on the coup plot: “We want the Defense Minister to explain the statements by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, who said that there are retired police and military officials, who are on leave, plotting a coup d’état.

Sticking their Noses. and a lot of Money. in Bolivia

While they consider the possibility of direct (or indirect) military intervention, US officials are meddling in every issue that will define the future of this country, not just the sale of gas or a change in government. The USAID agency has recently launched a project of “social and democratic development” in the city of El Alto, the epicenter of last October’s insurrection. The gringos are spending $300 million dollars, basically to buy people, to encourage a discourse that is less radical and more favorable to U.S. policies, such as the sale of gas.

In a similar example, Narco News received a report a few days ago accusing some organizations “promoted by the U.S. government” of attempting to influence the character of the proposed Bolivian “Constituents’ Assembly.” Labor leader Oscar Olivera, Chapare coca grower leader Leonilda Zurita, and human rights defender Luis Sanchez made this accusation in a text circulated among participants at a seminar in Cochabamba , one of several regional seminars organized by the National Electoral Court on the issue of the Constituents’ Assembly. The text, which was also sent out to several media organizations, mentioned interference from the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI).

The NDI, like the IRI, according to the accusation, have worked actively in coup-plotting activities against the government of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. For example, “on April 12, 2002, in a fax sent to the media. IRI president George A. Folson rejoiced over Chavez’s fall from power.” In light of that, said Olivera, Zurita, and Sanchez’s text, “there can be no doubt that the IRI comes here to Bolivia to influence matters of hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas) and the Constituents’ Assembly through activities similar to those they have conducted in Venezuela – financing enemies of the Constituents’ Assembly and groups that support the oil and gas companies unconditionally, and fomenting separatist speeches that only benefit the enemies of Bolivia.”

As you can see, kind readers, what began here in Bolivia in October 2003 has not yet finished. Or, as the Bolivian social leaders claim, “foreign groups, linked to the banks and oil companies, are putting together an entire strategy for a new stage of domination over the Bolivian people.” And among the ironies of fate, it is important to remember (and to remind) the current president of Chile, the “socialist” Ricardo Lagos, in whose own country the socialist government of Salvador Allende was toppled by Augusto Pinochet in a very similar political project. It is impossible to know, today, if Lagos remembers the massacres ordered by the dictator and the exile of many Chileans, including himself. or whether perhaps today he has adopted his enemies’ brutal practices as his own. We will have to be on alert, because this new attack on democracy and against the social movements in Latin America is barely beginning, and, unfortunately, we are going to have much more to report in that respect.

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