LA PAZ – Bolivian coca growers gathered in La Paz, fighting to stop a congressional bill that would impose crop quotas, again clashed with police on Tuesday and left destruction in their wake, even destroying a stage from which supporters of President Evo Morales planned to lead a rally for his reelection.
The coca growers, who demonstrated in La Paz last week, marched to the site near Hernando Siles Stadium and there smashed plastic seats and ripped up flags of the ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party that were to be part of the stage setting prepared by government supporters.
The coca producers’ violence came as a reaction to having been previously dispersed with tear gas by police attempting to halt a demonstration headed for Murillo Square, home to Congress and the executive branch, the media reported.
Amid the skirmish, the coca growers also threw stones and broke windows of the Firefighters Unit building, while elsewhere in the city they burned a police officer’s motorcycle.
According to the media, police have arrested a number of protesters, but as yet there is no official report on the incident.
These coca growers from the tropical Yungas region, the traditional home of the crop, are dead set against the bill because they believe it gives preference to coca producers in the central zone of Chapare, closely associated with President Evo Morales.
The legislation under consideration by Congress would establish a ceiling of 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) for coca cultivation in Yungas, where more than 12,000 hectares are currently planted with the leaf.
In the case of Cochabamba, where coca growing is a comparatively recent development, the bill would authorize the planting of 7,000 hectares.
A committee of 30 individuals, headed by the president of the Adepcoca group representing growers in Yungas, Franklin Gutierrez, met with members of the government to request an “indefinite suspension” of the bill.
In a statement to the media before the meeting, Gutierrez complained about the continued repression of what he called a “peaceful protest,” and considered that what the police and government are doing will only keep the talks from making any progress, while his group would do everything make the them a success.