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After two weeks of a general strike, Bolivia, more specifically, La Paz, remains virtually occupied by protestors demanding the nationalization of Bolivia's natural gas resources, among other things.
In fact, it can be said that it is only the city of La Paz that remains besieged and totally paralized due to the continuous protests and marches, which aim to take over Congress, close it and force President Mesa to resign.
At the same time, Congress is cought up in its own internal turmoil, having to debate and write the law convening the autonomic referendum (demanded by the social groups in Santa Cruz) and the law calling for elections of the members of the Constituent Assembly (CA). This is a particularly onerous topic because it involves deciding between two preferences markedly highlighting regional differences. On one side, the Santa Cruz civic organizations, together with its respective legislative faction are intent in debating and resolving the issue of autonomic referendum before the legislative considers the CA. Take a look at the reasons here. On the other side, the legislative factions representing the eastern states, led by La Paz, Cochabamba and Oruro, are pushing for the CA and the elections of prefects to be considered first. This last group considers the autonomic referendum a matter of less importance than the CA. This push and shove state is resulting on a stalemate within the legislative and on a further radicalization of the protests.
The protests, in turn, are turning gradually more and more radical and violent, to the point of having some characteristics of riots. In La Paz, there were episodes of vandalism which have resulted in the damage of some private property. Private citizens, teachers, street vendors and university students, all from El Alto, were confirmed by various newspapers to be engaging in acts of violence. These acts include, braking windshields, scratches and slashing tires of nearby parked cars, turning cars over, braking store windows, the beating of news reporters, shattering the windows of museums, the removal of manhole covers, intimidation and assault of passers by, etc. According to the newpaper La Razon, students from the El Alto university (UPEA) were identified as the most violent.
Amidst all this chaos, the political and social instability is nearing a critical point. The government is very quiet, the legislature is in a stalemate and the social movements are more radical. All this uncertainty is being fuled even further with many theories surfacing in recent days which especulate on who is behind all this. For example, days ago, congressman Gonzalo Barrientos (MNR), came out in public saying that former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (GSL) was actually funneling money to the social movements, more specifically the COB and J. Solares, and the civics in Santa Cruz, to destabilize Bolivia and make his trial go away by forcing a change of government. Barrientos said that Solares received US$ 50,000 for his actions. In another example, congressman Edgar Zegarra (MNR), questioned how is it possible that around 10,000 protestors can be transported from far away towns in to La Paz and then fed and accomodated. According to Zegarra, "someone must be paying for all this". He continued especulating on some reports last week, which named a telecommunications company in La Paz financing some of the protestors. Furthermore, there are more especulations as to the multinational companies (the oil companies) financing all of this chaos.
I would also, very much, like to know how is it that all these people who live hundreds of kilometers away of La Paz and who supposedly hardly even have money to eat, can pay the ticket to transport them from their towns to La Paz, pay their stay while the protests are going on and be able to eat every day they stay in the city. Let's remember, these are poor campesinos. How can they finance all that?
Well, while were asking all kinds of questions, the turmoil continues and I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Note: Please, don't forget to visit Barrio Flores and Ciao!, two fellow bloggers who are furiously blogging on the happenings in Bolivia as well. The interesting thing is that you get different perspectives.