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Chimore in Bolivia

Evo Morales’s jungle airport

Bolivia's Ex-president has fled to his most loyal supporters before travelling on to Mexico. He landed at a remote airport with special meaning to him.

Since the presidential election on October 20, Bolivia has been in chaos. The supporters of socialist president Evo Morales and those of his conservative opponents are fighting each other, there have already been deaths. After the Organization of American States objected to irregularities and manipulations in the election, the police and military stood against him and the long-time head of state left the seat of government in La Paz on Sunday (November 10).

When the presidential jet wit registration FAB-001 took off from El Alto airport, there was speculation that Morales would leave the country for Argentina. But the Dassault Falcon 900EX did not fly abroad, but landed at Chimoré airport in Chapare province. A little later, Morales announced his resignation by video message.

Coca farmers close off roads and airport

Morales has its most loyal following in the region. The newspaper El Deber reported that after the arrival of the president, coca farmers had closed off access roads to the jungle region and also brought access to the airport under their control. The coca plant may be legally cultivated in Bolivia under certain conditions. Morales himself used to grow coca in Chapare before entering politics. The local airport Chimoré has a special meaning for him.

Where the airport is today, the Bolivian drug control unit Umopar used to be stationed, financed and trained with the help of the drug prosecution authority of the USA, the DEA. As early as the early 1990s, the base was equipped with a 2.5-kilometer runway for take-offs and landings of large transport aircraft, as can be read in the book “The Drug War in the Andes”. But President Morales prohibited the DEA from working in Bolivia and turned the military base into an airport.

Military base becomes airport

At the opening ceremony of the airport in 2015, the governor of the Cochabamba department said that Morales himself had once been a prisoner in the military base under US control, other coca farmers had been tortured and killed there. The opening was therefore an historic day, he claimed. The president himself said: «We have decided to build this airport because it is a strategic place to defend the national territory if there is any provocation». A glance at the map shows that Chimoré is almost exactly in the middle of the country.

The runway of the airport is now even 4000 meters long. The costs for the construction were estimated at 240 million Bolivianos, which would be about 31.5 million Euro at today’s rate. Nevertheless, the airport was not a success.

The largest aircraft in the world in Chimoré

In April 2018 the newspaper Los Tiempos reported that the state-owned airline Boliviana de Aviación flies three times a week between Chimoré and Cochabamba, but on average only 22 of 50 seats are occupied in the Bombardier CRJ200. In the summer of 2019, El Deber wrote that there had been no commercial flights for months. This week there are two Dash 8 connections from Amaszonas to Santa Cruz and one to Cochabamba.

Thanks to the almost non-existent operation, Morales was able to celebrate its election campaign kick-off in May on the airport runway in front of thousands of supporters. In the summer of 2018, the largest plane on the planet landed here. The Antonov An-225 set a record on its own account with generators as cargo. Between Iquique in Chile and Chimoré, it carried out twelve successive and connected cargo flights – more than ever before.

On to Mexico

Chimoré was only a stopover for Morales. On behalf of Mexico’s government, a Gulfstream G550 of the Mexican Air Force has meanwhile picked up the expelled politician at the jungle airport. He is flown to asylum in Mexico.

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