US embassy cable - 05LIMA1062

Cocalero Marching Season Begins

Identifier: 05LIMA1062
Wikileaks: View 05LIMA1062 at
Origin: Embassy Lima
Created: 2005-03-03 20:43:00
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
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. 

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