May 23, 2005

Autonomy and Santa Cruz: New Developments

MABB © ®

On Saturday, May 21, the "social actors" in Santa Cruz, civic organizations, political organizations and business associations, decided to go ahead with the autonomic referendum for August 12, even if it is unconstitutional.

This decision prompted various reactions around the country. The civic representatives of Tarija have decided to support Santa Cruz's decisions and try to carry out the referendum themselves (although the tarijenos remain divided). On the other hand, the government of Bolivia, the civic organizations of El Alto, and Potosi, as well as MAS, have denounced the Santa Cruz decision as unilateral and illegal. Most relevant would be the pronouncement of the Armed Forces and Police Forces in Bolivia. They have announced in various occasions that they would not tolerate the violation of the Constitution. The Armed Forces issued a statement yesterday repeating their support for legal venues and their intolerance for any measure outside the legal framework the Constitution gives.

This is very worrisome. In first instance, it indicates a new degree of instability. The fact that the Armed Forces feel the need to issue statements, essentially, warning the civic organization of Santa Cruz to stay within the law, speaks loads about the state of emergency Bolivia is heading to. Two things could happen. In light of Santa Cruz's already started process towards the referendum about autonomy, the Armed Forces will have to intervene to stop this process. Most likely, with the nod of the president, they will occupy Santa Cruz, impose some kind of state of alert and imprison all the civic, political and business leaders who acted illegally. Or, it could be the case that, and if these leaders have played their cards right, the Armed Forces stationed in Santa Cruz rebel against the central command in La Paz and decide to back Santa Cruz's right to referendum. Without any intention to dramatize the situation, it could be the case that the military in Santa Cruz rebel against its command. Many of the military people there own land, property and businesses.

Secondly, if the decision emanating from Santa Cruz has accomplished something it is that it has made the situation even more unstable. Now, with renewed reasons, the radicals in El Alto and the "patriots" of MAS have a reason to unite and coordinate their attacks. They have already intensified their protests, marches and now are planning to radicalize them even more.