February 10, 2005

The History of the Comite Pro Santa Cruz

MABB is a registered TM.

The Comite Pro Santa Cruz (CPSC), which is the umbrella organization for all the civic, unions, indigenous and business organizations representing civil society in Santa Cruz, has demonstrated its power by movilizing around 300,000 people in this month’s cabildo abierto (town hall).

The CPSC has played a pivotal role in making Santa Cruz’s demands for autonomy a reality. Backed by, what some say, a powerful business elite and the synergetic forces of the 183 member organizations, the CPSC has been able to bring about real pressure to the government and thus consolidate itself as the de facto regional government of Santa Cruz.

The CPSC has a long history behind its achievements. Its origins go back to 1950 when the then 43,000 Crucenos were living in the forgotten region of Bolivia. A region in desperate need of attention by the central government. A group of university students brought together various civic forces and founded the CPSC. At the time the first priority of the new organization was to demand the integration of Santa Cruz through the road connecting Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. In addition, the committee asked the central government for drinking water, electricity, sewer system and for paved streets. On January 10, 1951 the first cabildo or town hall meeting was organized. This was to be the beginning of a long tradition of cabildos to express Cruceno demands.

The advent of the 1952 revolution marked the dissolution of the committee. The Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR), placed in its firm grip the city of Santa Cruz and the national territory. But, the disappearance was short lived. In 1957 the organization resurfaced and this time it demanded a drink water pipe network from the government. In August of the same year, the CPSC, led by Melchor Pinto Parada, fought for the right to receive 11% from the taxes to oil production. This was one of the major victories won by the efforts of the CPSC.

Now a days, there are serious arguments making the case that the CPSC is dominated by the Santa Cruz business elite. Erik Ortega, makes this argument in his articles published in one of the most important newspapers in Santa Cruz, El Deber.

Ortega looks at the presidencies of the committee for the last 10 years. In it he reveals a series of presidents, vice-presidents and close associates taking turns on the presidency of the organization. He highlights that in the space of the last 10 years, there has only been one president who did not come from one of the business associations, the transport worker, Benjamin Zapata (1979-1980). In the period from 1995 to 2005, the presidents of CPSC came from the various business associations, private enterprises, cattle raisers and political parties. I would cite the list, but I think it would be redundant.

Moreover, Ortega makes the case that the trend is not about to change. On February 12, there will be new elections in the organization. There are two candidates which have thrown their hats in the ring. German Antelo, a doctor and Antonio Franco, an engineer. The two candidates support the efforts for autonomy and are committed to work towards that end. Ortega adds that the presidency of the CPSC is an excellent springboard to start a career in politics. Many of the former presidents are serving today in congress or have served as Prefects of Santa Cruz.

There is always a certain air of uncertainty when elections come. That is true, even in old democracies like the US. The elections for president of the CPSC is subject to the same assessment. However, at the moment, there is no indication that the February 12 elections will bring a radical departure from the path the CPSC has embarked. To the contrary, there is every indication that the path will be continued regardless of who becomes the next president, who will direct the organization until 2007. We can, with relative certainty, expect that the CPSC will keep the pressure up on the government towards autonomy.

One thing that we can expect, though, is the increased calls for more participation on the part of the social movements and other civic organizations like the Departmental Federation of Neighborhood Juntas (FEDJUVE) and the Departmental Worker's Central (COD). These organizations surely want more to say within the CPSC. Although, no major differences are expected, with Bolivian opinions so diverse, we cannot rule out a crisis before the referendum and Constituent Assembly.