- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

YAPACANI, Bolivia — A peasant leader associated with a left-wing politics and coca farmers has been using U.S. aid money to intimidate residents and consolidate his authority in this part of eastern Bolivia, local officials and residents say.

Many complain that peasant leader Cimar Victoria, who had been entrusted with directing U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) projects in this mountain community, has used the funds to organize anti-government demonstrations and cement a personal “terrorist dictatorship.”

U.S. Embassy officials in the capital, La Paz, say they have cut off cooperation with Mr. Victoria’s party because of the reports, which also say he encouraged coca growing and organized blockades of highway and energy facilities during a national uprising that forced the resignation of President Carlos Mesa in June.

Asked about the charges, Mr. Victoria denied growing coca or misusing development resources. “These are baseless accusations by political enemies,” he told The Washington Times.

Mr. Victoria was a senior local official of the left-wing Movement to Socialism (MAS), a peasant-based party that played a major role in the ouster of Mr. Mesa and of the president before him, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

The party is widely understood to be backed by indigenous coca farmers and has been accused by U.S. diplomats of cooperating with Colombia’s Marxist rebel movement known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Meetings between Mr. Victoria and officials from USAID and the State Department’s Narcotics Affairs Section were reported in the Bolivian newspaper El Deber in December 2003.

Yapacani municipal officers said he was named at that time to execute projects for the Bolivian agriculture ministry, which has spent $1.6 million in U.S. assistance to purchase vehicles, equipment and construction materials in the town of 36,000.

Mr. Victoria was ousted from the MAS party in December 2003, ostensibly because he pledged to work for the eradication of coca fields at the time he was named to direct the USAID projects.

But local residents and officials said he has continued to work with the coca growers, is being readmitted to the MAS and is expected to represent the party as a congressional candidate in the next elections.

They also said he uses USAID-funded equipment and facilities to gain political leverage and demand protection payments from local residents.

Mr. Victoria “called on his peasant organizations to grow more coca at the same time that he entered into a deal with the U.S. Embassy to eradicate the plantations,” said Remberto Gonzales of the National Federation of Rice Farmers, a Yapacani resident who at one time worked with USAID.

Another resident, Julian Vidal Velazquez, has circulated an open letter saying, “During the past four years, Yapacani has been living under a terrorist dictatorship of cocaine syndicates headed by Cimar Victoria.”

Mr. Vidal, who has gone into hiding since issuing the letter, also accused the deputy minister of agriculture, Ernesto Munoz, of supporting Mr. Victoria and being his partner.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in La Paz acknowledged that MAS members had been brought into the Alternative Development Program (ADP), a $50-million-a-year U.S. project to help farmers develop alternatives to growing coca and improve living conditions in their areas.

“We work with anyone who agrees to help eradicate coca cultivation regardless of their political affiliations,” said a U.S. official, who spoke by telephone on the condition of anonymity.

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