LA PAZ – Bolivian peasants urged on by drug traffickers held four anti-drug police hostage and beat them for hours, along with an equal number of civilians, in the Cochabamba area, one of the country’s main coca-growing zones, a police official said.
The incident occurred on Tuesday, when plainclothes anti-drug agents were carrying out intelligence work near the town of Isinuta and came upon people conducting a drug transaction, the regional director of the Cochabamba police, Col. Alberto Antezana, told Efe.
The agents seized about 60 kilograms of cocaine and arrested one person, but the others managed to flee.
“When the officers left the site, they were pursued by the drug traffickers, who intercepted them two kilometers (1.2 miles) from there. When they were unable to hold them there, at the Eterazama bridge, they alerted the public saying that they were dealing with ‘volteadores’ (people who steal seized drugs),” said Antezana.
The agents identified themselves as police, he said, but the villagers took them hostage, disarmed them and burned their vehicle.
It is believed that the drug traffickers took advantage of the incident to free their arrested companion and make off with the seized drug.
After beating the agents, the peasants locked them up in a room at the Eterazama Rural Center.
Antezana went to the site and negotiated for five hours with the local leaders, who ultimately released the police officers.
Later, the police learned that four other people – the agents’ informants – were being held by local residents at the coca leaf market in the neighboring town of Isinuta.
The civilian hostages, two men and two women, were found in a house “with the lights out, tied up, with their mouths and eyes covered, sign clear signs of having been tortured,” said Antezana.
Police freed the four informants and arrested the four people who were holding them, of whom three were sent to jail on charges of “kidnapping, attempted murder and torture.”
The Cochabamba area – or Chapare – is the union and political bastion of President Evo Morales, who still heads the coca leaf producers’ unions in the region.
Coca leaf had many traditional and legal uses in Bolivia, but it is also the raw material for producing cocaine.