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Bolivia: ICRC team sent to Cochabamba following upsurge in violence

07-02-2002 News Release 02/06

The Bolivian government's campaign to eradicate by force the cultivation of coca leaves in the Chapare region of Cochabamba has met with resistance on the part of local farmers, leading to an upsurge in violence in recent weeks. In mid-January, clashes between farmers and security forces claimed several lives and left many injured. The authorities detained a large number of people accused of having been involved in the violence. A team from the ICRC regional delegation in Buenos Aires was sent to the region, where they carried out a survey of humanitarian needs from 28 to 31 January.

In accordance with the ICRC's mandate, and on the basis of a permanent agreement between the organization and the Bolivian authorities, ICRC delegates visited 54 detainees, including six women. After assessing the living conditions in the various centres where they were being held, the delegates provided the detainees with material assistance.

The delegates also met with local authorities, including the Governor of Cochabamba and the Director of the National Police. They spoke with leaders of farmers'groups in the region and with the President of the coca growers'unions, who was on hunger strike to protest his recent expulsion from the Chamber of Deputies.

During the talks, the delegates stressed the ICRC's concern about the effects in humanitarian terms of the recent events. They underscored the need to ensure full respect for the principles of humanity applicable in such situations, especially those governing the use of force to maintain law and order, the treatment to which detainees are entitled and the respect due to the wounded and to clearly marked medic al vehicles. The delegates also visited the local branch of the Bolivian Red Cross and its team of relief workers, who have brought assistance during demonstrations and skirmishes between farmers'groups and security forces.