Bolivia’s Popular Upheaval
Social and Indigenous Movements March on Santa Cruz, Bastion of the Right Wing
A popular upheaval is sweeping
Five hundred kilometers away in
But the opposition is raising procedural and substantive objections to the governments' proposals, even to an autonomy accord that contains concessions for the rebellious departments. According to Fidel Surco, the head of the National Coordination for Change, the coalition of Bolivia's social movements allied with MAS, the Movement Towards Socialism: "We aren't going to wait any longer...we know that the prefects are simply stalling so that no accords are reached." Morales, in a warning to those in attendance at the Dialogue, said: "I have a letter from the mobilized social movements, they also want to participate. As far as I am concerned they are welcome, we await their participation."
Almost a month ago the National Democratic Council (Conalde)-- the organization of the right wing prefects and politicians based in the rebellious departments in the "Media Luna" of eastern
Their protests initially focused on reversing the government's decision last year to use a portion of the revenue from the hydrocarbon gas tax to create a universal pension for citizens over sixty. Now they have expanded to include complete departmental autonomy, the end of agrarian program and a gutting of the new constitution slated to be voted on in a referendum late this year. Control over the oil and gas resources, which for the most part are located in the Media Luna, is the fundamental objective of the autonomy movement.
The conflict came to a head on September 11 in the Media Luna department of Pando when peasants from the community of El Porvenir began marching to Cobija, the departmental capital, to protest the right-wing sacking of government offices. They were ambushed by a para-military force with machine guns, resulting in 15 dead, 37 injured and 106 disappeared. Morales responded by declaring a state of siege in the department, sending in the army to retake government offices, and throwing the Pando prefect, Leopoldo Fernandez, in jail after he admited to giving orders to forcefully subdue protesters. A new prefect, Navy Admiral Landelino Rafael Banderia Arce, was appointed by Morales to impose order as many of the right wing leaders fled across the border to
The events in El Porvenir precipitated a national mobilization of the indigenous peoples and social movements as well as a sense of outrage in neighboring countries. Chilean president Michelle Bachelet called an emergency meeting of South American countries (UNASUR) in
Morales, thanking UNASUR for its support, declared: "For the first time in South America's history, the countries of our region are deciding how to resolve our problems, without the presence of the
For his part, Morales has thus far shown tremendous restraint in cracking down on the right wing violence, almost too much in fact. He has drawn criticism from the social movements, particularly in peasant and indigenous working-class communities, such as the "Plan 3,000" community adjacent to
Although after the massacre, Conalde decided to lift the road blockades and relinquish some of the government offices (albeit with hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages), the political forces it represents retain effective control of the major urban areas of the Media Luna outside of Pando. This is why the peasant and indigenous movements are marching on
Branko Marinkovich, for his part, is hitting the road in a "public relations campaign" to explain the autonomist cause. According to the newspaper La Razon, he is traveling to
The marchers are isolating
President Morales, on the other hand, seemed to be experiencing a spell of cold feet as he expressed his frustration with the actions of the social movements at a press conference in
Nonetheless, the marchers are proceeding with their plan to descend on
Throughout the crisis, Morales has been avoiding the appearance of government oppression in favor of appeals for peaceful negotiation and the rule of law. But the social movements are demanding more, a social revolution that over turns the political and economic order in the Media Luna. And Morales may be moving with the tide. The day after he said that Costas should not be forced to resign, he recalled the siege of
Tanya M. Kerssen is a correspondent of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) in
Roger Burbach is the director of CENSA who has written extensively on
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