June 18, 2004

Taking the law in their own hands: Communal Justice

MABB is a registered TM.

Is Bolivian democracy disintegrating little by little? Has the government lost the ability to apply law and order upon the entire territory?

It seems that the Mesa administration has indeed lost control of Bolivian territory. It also seems, it has lost the respect of the population and the moral authority it needs to govern.

Now more than ever, we are seeing examples of groups of people (be it a political party, civil organizations, or population in certain regions) taking actions that make the central government, at times, irrelevant.

The latest example we can observe is in the town of Ayo-Ayo, 85 km from La Paz (52.8 miles). On monday, June 14, 2004, the Mayor of Ayo-Ayo (Altamirano Calle) was kidnapped, beaten and murdered. According to several people close to the family and to family members as well, there are several suspects to be investigated. One of them, Saturnino Apaza is already in custody.

However, several civic groups in and around Ayo-Ayo as well as La Paz, blame what they call the "corrupt authorities" of the government. Moreover, they speak of Communal Justice, as a form of justice pertinent in their towns.

In essence, the facts are: a crime committed by a radical group aginst a local authority. The perpetrators are somehow vindicated by the so called "communal justice". The central government ends up being the guilty party. Guilty of what? The crime or ineptitude?

As if that would not be enough, community leaders backed by other organizations active in the region, have given Mesa, one more last "ultimatum". Either he complies to their demands, which some of them are a bit irrational, or they will blow up an electricity tower, cut the flow of a gas pipe (both supplying energy to La Paz) and will block the road between Oruro and La Paz.

The demands are: to free the only suspect of the crime, and to bring to justice several alleged "corrupt officials" from the local and central government, among others.

Such acts, are becoming a general practice in this struggle between the social movements and the government.

For example, a group of indigenous people who are members of the Santa Cruz Federation of Neighbors and Undocumented, have started a hunger strike and plan to crucify themselves with real nails if the government does not give them papers, employment and a place to live.

Another example, is the radicalism of the inhabitants of various Potosi communities. According to a report by El Diario (La Paz newspaper)such communities are considering applying "community justice" to their own authorities. This is in response to unheard reports of local authorities' alleged corruption filed by several groups.

This is a trend sure to lead up to disastrous consequences, not only for the Bolivian government, but for the population in general. The Ayo-Ayo case sets a dangerous precedent for other similar communities that feel the government does not hear their calls.