Conflicts & War

Coca-grower factions clash in central La Paz

By Gabriel Romano

La Paz, Sep 19 (EFE).- The two factions of Bolivian coca growers clashed in downtown La Paz on Monday, throwing stones and dynamite, before being dispersed by police using tear gas.

On one side, there was the bloc of Arnold Alanes, who represents the sector of the so-called parallel market. He called an assembly that then marched to the center of the capital where the offices of the ministries of government and rural development and lands are located.

Alanes told EFE that they were going to start from scratch after the recent burning down of their market by opposition growers.

In turn, the bloc of the Departmental Association of Coca Producers (Adepcoca), which is headed by Freddy Machicado who is in preventive detention over allegations pertaining to the destruction of the parallel market, also convened a meeting followed by a march to the city center to demand his freedom.

Tensions among the coca growers escalated when the Alanes faction began its march at noon and passed near the traditional Adepcoca market in the Villa Fátima neighborhood, in the north of La Paz, where the other bloc’s meeting was being held.

Insults between supporters of the two factions were exchanged during the encounter but the situation did not escalate as the police had set up security cordons to prevent clashes.

A few minutes later, the Adepcoca faction began marching towards the government palace, while the other group was stationed outside the Ministry of Rural Development and Lands.

In downtown La Paz, the Adepcoca protesters breached the cordon but were contained by the police, who used tear gas against them.

Just a few blocks away, two groups of women coca growers from opposing sides clashed and several men intervened to separate them.

Alanes’ supporters ejected the Machicado group from the area and threw stones and dynamite until the police arrived and dispersed the clashing groups using tear gas.

The Adepcoca group, which defends the traditional market, gave the government a deadline to end Machicado’s detention by Thursday, leader Gabriel Amanto told EFE.

Amanto said that the 13 of the coca growers’ demands have been ratified. These include a request to President Luis Arce to dismiss Rural Development and Lands Minister Remmy Gonzales as well as a demand for a census to be carried out for next year. The census is one of the main demands of the Santa Cruz region, a political stronghold of the opposition and the country’s economic engine.

Meanwhile, the parallel market bloc issued a 15-day ultimatum for the government to take a stand on the matter and respond to its demand for official recognition of the market.

Tensions between coca growers erupted in August, when the Machicado-led faction called for protests against Alanes’ parallel market, resulting in clashes with the police.

The traditional bloc claims that Bolivian law recognizes two legal markets for the sale of coca leaves: one in Sacaba, in the department of Cochabamba, and another in Villa Fátima, in La Paz.

The problem among coca growers in the La Paz department dates back to September 2021, when a group elected Alanes as the head of Adepcoca.

Alanes was subsequently recognized by the government and took possession of the traditional Villa Fátima market with police support.

After several days of protests, the other bloc, which claims to be a majority, expelled Alanes from Adepcoca.

A few days later, Alanes opened a new — parallel — market in the neighboring Villa El Carmen thereby exacerbating the conflict between coca growers, who accuse him of being representative of the “red zone” of crops and reject him because of his affinity with the government. EFE

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