Movements across the world demand release of Afro-Bolivian leader Elena Flores

Elena Flores, the union leader of the association of coca leaf farmers of the Yungas region, has been at the forefront of resisting the advance of paramilitarism in the region and the coup regime

April 17, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Organizations and movements from around the world have denounced the unjust incarceration of trade union leader Elena Flores and are demanding her immediate release.

Irene Elena Flores Torrez, an Afro-Bolivian woman leader and the president of the coca leaf farmers’ union of the Yungas region, Departmental Association of Coca Producers (ADEPCOCA), has been imprisoned since March 4 at the Centre for Women’s Guidance in Bolivia’s capital La Paz. The coup-installed government led by far-right Jeanine Áñez arrested Flores on the false charges of robbery, harming public property and preventing the State from exercising its services.

However, the reality is that Flores is one of the many victims of the selective political persecution by the de-facto government. Since the civic-military coup against former president Evo Morales on November 10, Flores has been on the frontlines denouncing Áñez’s regime for militarization of territories, brutal repression against civilians and disregard for democracy.

Recently, after a month of her imprisonment, on April 10, over 35 Afro-descendant, Indigenous and peasant organizations as well as trade unions and more than 130 people from around the world, published a joint letter denouncing the unjust incarceration of Elena Flores and calling for her immediate release.

Social and political leaders, trade unionists, students and teachers from Argentina, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Trinidad and Tobago, denounced the coup regime for the political repression of social leaders and criminalization of Indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant movements and organizations.

Along with Elena Flores, the signatories also called for the release of María Eugenia Choque Quispe, the former president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of Bolivia, who was falsely accused by the coup regime of committing fraud in the general elections of October 20, as well as of Patricia Hermosa, former President Evo Morales’ lawyer, who was arrested by the de-facto government on February 3, for trying to register Morales as a candidate for the Senate in the upcoming elections.

Who is Elena Flores? What is her “crime”?

Elena Flores is a renowned grassroots activist and trade union leader. She was elected as the president of the ADEPCOCA in August 2019 and since then, she has been leading the association of 35,000 coca leaf farmers of the Yungas region, near the city of La Paz. The working class population in the Yungas region has always been a strong base of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) and Flores was an associate of Morales’ electoral campaign.

However, in the Yungas territory, paramilitary violence is prevalent due to the illegal gold mining operations that have increased under the current government’s rule as well as in the supposed fight against drugs.

After assuming her position as president of the union, Flores intensified resistance against the advance of paramilitarism in the region. She denounced the criminality of the former union leaders, such as the previous union leader Franklin Gutierrez, who created cocaine networks and ran vast corruption schemes in collaboration with the right-wing Bolivian oligarchs and the United States.

In July 2019, Flores led an organized action to recover a Health Centre, el Centro de Especialidades de Atención Integral, which rightfully belonged to the ADEPCOCA, but had fallen under paramilitary control thanks to Gutierrez.

After the US-backed coup on November 10 which forced Evo Morales out of office, Flores was subject to constant harassment for her resistance. And in this context, the coup regime charged her for aggravated robbery, harming public property, forced entry, and preventing the State from exercising its services, referencing the clinic takeover which had occurred months before in July. Strangely, the legal team presented photographs taken in November as evidence, and the coup judge accepted them. Flores’ lawyer said that she was not given adequate notice of these charges and had been denied due process.

The coup regime

The coup regime, characterized by the racist, misogynist and anti-workers tendencies, aims to protect multinational business interests and return the country to neoliberalism and US’ imperialist interests. In the months following the coup, the de-facto government has institutionalized the selective political persecution, dismantling of social programs, military and police repression, media censorship and promotion of the violence of white supremacists who are granted immunity from prosecution.