Cablegate: Cocalero Marching Season Begins

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Cocalero Marching Season Begins

REF: A) Lima 942

B) Lima 906
C) 04 Lima 1381
D) 04 Lima 947

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The annual cocalero marching season has
begun with two road-blocking demonstrations in Upper
Huallaga Valley areas infamous for their militancy. Leaders
launched the protests with false stories of local illnesses
from spraying of coca fields with chemicals. Police easily
freed road blockages and brought both areas under control.
Cocalero hopes that the strike would spread to other
cocalero hotbeds such as the Monzon have fizzled for the

2. (SBU) Cocaleros say they plan more strikes and a March
national cocalero congress in Lima. While more cocalero
protests are inevitable, the Upper Huallaga strikes gave an
encouraging sign in that non-coca economic actors and local
leaders retreated from the cocalero bandwagon when cocalero
spraying claims proved spurious. The GOP was slow to react
but eventually weighed in forcefully. Mission efforts to
halt the effects of disinformation are paying off, and the
Mission will build on opportunities to show how cocalero
aims and actions are hurting their communities. END

Background to the Marching Season

3. (U) As the rains ease in the coca areas east of the Andes
at the end of February, cocaleros in recent years have
mobilized to protest GOP eradication of illicit coca. Their
classic technique of blocking road commerce to force GOP
concessions is more effective since the end of rainy season
means licit commercial enterprises are now able to use the
roads. Eradication pressure on cocaleros in this area
continues (Ref A); Puerta Pizana, hometown of strike leader
Nancy Obregon was the site some days ago of a GOP
eradication/interdiction operation that destroyed 26
maceration pits.

False Reports of Aerial Spraying

4. (SBU) False rumors that the GOP or USG were conducting
aerial spraying of illicit coca fields have resurfaced
periodically for years. Early this year, cocaleros in the
Tocache area of the Upper Huallaga Valley (southern San
Martin and northern Huanuco Departments) claimed that adults
and children were intoxicated by what they called fumigacion
(spraying) from aircraft. Protesting cocaleros displayed
posters announcing No To Insecticides. (Note: typical of the
general ignorance and misinformation circulating among
uneducated communities whose main source of information is
word of mouth and radio, many residents appeared to believe
the non sequitur that the GOP/USG would be using
insecticides to kill plants.) The mayor of Tocache, Pedro
Bogarin said he had proof of spraying; his proof was a 2002
videotape of a package falling from a helicopter.

5. (U) In addition to local examinations, several adults
went to major university laboratories for toxicology tests.
While quick to print spraying allegations, newspapers
eventually reported that the tests were negative. The
Minister of Health confirmed to NAS Director that she had
been personally involved in overseeing the tests of two
alleged victims and that there was no evidence of chemical
intoxication. She left open the possibility that there had
been some sort of chemical poisoning, perhaps from water
contamination due to runoff from the toxic chemicals that
are used to process dried coca leaf into cocaine base.

The Strike - Tocache

6. (U) Tocache is in the Upper Huallaga Valley and for
several years has had extensive illicit coca cultivation.
Local cocalero leader Obregon announced an indefinite strike
on 2/15 to protest alleged aerial spraying of coca fields,
other crops and the local population. Press and NAS
estimated 1500 to 2000 protesters. Nearby Uchiza and Shunte
cocaleros participated by blocking surrounding roads.
Tocache mayor Bogarin initially supported the strike and
cocalero demands that the central government deal with
spraying allegations, low prices for alternative crops and
the poor roads hampering crop transport. Peruvian National
Police (PNP) troops were reinforced to around 150 with
additions from Lima and Tarapoto; they dislodged the road
blockers with no serious injuries reported.

7. (U) On 2/23 Mayor Bogarin, after press reports indicated
no evidence of spraying, expressed disillusion that the main
strike justification had proven false. He charged that the
strike was serving the narrow interests of narcotraffickers
and cocaleros, did not respect the non-cocaleros who had to
make a living. Cocalero leaders from the three areas met
without Obregon on 2/25 and announced they would lift their
strike despite her calls to continue it indefinitely.
Bogarin then claimed on 2/28 that there was still some toxic
chemical use that the government should investigate. He
further criticized the GOP and USG for discrediting the
cocaleros, saying they were neither narcotraffickers nor
responsible for Tocache's problems. The Uchiza mayor has
continued to talk of commissions to investigate
environmental (read spraying) problems in his area.

The Strike - Tingo Maria

8. (U) Tingo Maria (northern Huanuco) cocalero leader Elsa
Malpartida called a two-day strike starting 2/23 in support
of the Tocache spraying claims. Three of the four area
roads were blocked, the fourth left open to allow commerce.
There were no violent confrontations and the strike fizzled
despite calls among some cocaleros to extend the strike
indefinitely. Most commercial activity went on as normal
during the strike.

Who Did not Strike - Everyone Else

9. (U) In Aguaytia (Ucayali), public offices and many
businesses were closed because of fears that cocaleros would
attack those that stayed open; a few roads were blocked but
commercial activity continued. In the Monzon
narcotrafficking stronghold, none of the 59 cocalero
communities participated in protests. Cocaleros in the Ene
and Apurimac Valleys (VRAE) did not mount significant
protests. Malpartida's announcement that protests would
stretch through the central jungle to Puno in the south did
not pan out.

But ... the Pot Continues to Simmer

10. (SBU) Despite the continuing lack of evidence that
chemical intoxication had resulted from spraying, cocalero
leader Obregon continued to claim that the protests she
directed were as a result of threats to the environment
(from presumed spraying) and not about coca. Malpartida
announced several commissions to study cocalero problems in
Pucallpa. VRAE cocaleros claim to be preparing a document
showing that the USG is conspiring with the GOP to spray
coca fields. Leading dailies reported on 2/27 that
Congressman Luis Guerrero (Peru Posible, Cajamarca) called
for a congressional commission to investigate spraying
claims. The Ambassador met with Guerrero and other
Cajamarca congressmen for lunch on March 1 and assured him
the USG does not conduct aerial eradication in Peru.
Guerrero stressed that he proposed Congressional hearings
only to clear the air about the spraying allegations. He
offered the Ambassador the opportunity to appear at the
hearings or to provide a written statement.

GOP Response
11. (SBU) Unlike with some cocalero protests last year, GOP
representatives did not negotiate familiar cocalero demands
that coca cultivation for these communities be legalized or
that ENACO (the GOP parastatal that purchases licit coca)
buy more of their coca. The GOP was less effective in
aggressively combating the disinformation about aerial
spraying that cocaleros were able to spread uncontested
until the second day of the strikes. By 2/24 dailies
reported remarks by various commentators and GOP leaders,
including the Minister of Agriculture that spraying claims
were spurious. The GOP still has lacked in some common
sense approaches to communications. First Lady Eliane Karp,
at a Washington conference, made remarks about coca that
were fairly innocuous; however, they were taken out of
context and interpreted in the press as an endorsement of
coca. She reportedly said that coca had various virtues and
that the demand for coca meant it could not be completely
eradicated. The following day she clarified her remarks.

Mission Response

12. (SBU) The Mission has contracted with a team of
communication experts, including ex-Minister of Interior
Fernando Rospigliosi, to advise the GOP on effective
communication techniques. At the team's suggestion,
journalists who had previously written articles critical of
GOP counter-drug actions, visited the cocalero strike sites,
interviewed the cocalero leaders and ending up writing more
balanced accounts of the strikes.

Our Next Steps

13. (SBU) Many public officials and journalists exhibited a
disturbing tendency to start from the premise that spraying
allegations should be investigated rather than recognizing
at the outset that there had never been any evidence of
spraying. The statements of the Public Ombudsman (charged
with protecting citizens' rights) focused more on possible
health problems from spraying than on the indisputable
health problems many more citizens suffer because of

14. (SBU) We will meet with the Public Ombudsman to set the
story straight. While a number of national leaders spoke
out constructively, the Mission will urge others to do so
(such as the Interior Minister whose lack of a public stance
was noticed). Building on our continuing education of the
press will remain important.

15. (U) The GOP is also considering law enforcement options
against cocaleros. Prime Minister Ferrero showed a
videotape on 2/27 to the Peruvian press in which Obregon
admitted that the vast majority of coca is destined for
maceration pits (i.e., narcotrafficking). The State
Prosecutor for Drug Offenses, Sonia Medina, announced that
she would evaluate the video to determine if it constitutes
sufficient evidence to bring drug offense charges against
Obregon. Obregon has countered that she will bring
defamation charges against the PM.

© Scoop Media

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