Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bolivian Update: Evo Morales's Shaman Arrested for Drug Trafficking

Ever heard of the term narco-shaman?

No? Well, venture into the netherworld of Andean drug interdiction. This week's a good week for neologisms.

Why? Well, the Bolivian military's anti-drugs force this week arrested fifty-five year old Valentin Mejillones, better known as President Evo Morales's shaman, or amauta in Aymara. The arrests included his twenty-seven year old son -- who was asleep when the anti-drugs force came into the house at 1.00am -- and two Colombian nationals on charges of producing and distributing 250 kilos of liquid cocaine from Mejillones's house in La Paz. The quantity is equivalent to 350 kilos of powder cocaine, and worth $300,000. Some news outlets coined the term narco-shaman to describe the man at the center of the arrests. In a somewhat overlooked note, the liquid cocaine was not destined for export.

Mejillones presided over the ceremony in 2006, pictured here, which blessed Evo Morales before he took office. For those not in the know, after five hundred years of non-indigenous rule which began with the Spanish Conquest, Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia. A new book examines how he fiercely opposes the landed and business interests that discount the importance of Andean indigenous ways of life and forms of economic production. One of those, of course, is the production of coca.

And Evo Morales, before he became president, was known for his work among Bolivia's cooperative coca producers. In its unprocessed state, the coca leaf counters the effects of altitude exhaustion. It's a useful plant to have in the Andes. Online drug library Erowid labels coca as an "Andean Cultural Tradition."

But, just as the finer points of language often fall casualty to the drug war -- consider Mexico's "narcocorridos," songs from Northern Mexico that deal with drug trafficking; or Mexico's narco-cemeteries, mass graves filled with drug war victims -- so too do authorities flaunt tradition, practice, and sometimes law to make their arrests.

Mejillones is, after all, considered to be a spiritual leader of many Aymara people. At the time of his participation in Morales's ascent to the presidency, the amauta, challenged his opponents.

"... nobody can challenge my behavior. I wasn't chosen by the President. I was proposed by the internal structure of the Andean religious world."
And now Mejillones is in the San Pedro Prison, awaiting legal developments in his case.

Spanish newspaper El Pais comments that the amauta is not the first of Morales's circle to endure arrest and imprisonment for alleged drug trafficking. The two brothers of Morales's ally Margarita Teran went to prison for cocaine trafficking. Later on, and inexplicably, according to El Pais, they were freed from prison.


Miguel said...

The US (and Colombian) position just becomes more and more senseless as they dig in against coca leaf chewing.

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