August 12, 2006

The Government Enters Familiar Territory

MABB © ®

The government of President Morales seems to be entering familiar territory. In the past weeks there have been more and more demonstrations against the government and its cabinet members. For example, since last Thursday military troops had to establish presence in the miner town of Huanuni. This, to calm tensions between groups of miners confronted against eachother by a decision from the Mining Minister, Walter Villarroel. This is one of the first times I read the government employs the military to mitigate conflict.

Another example is the recently reported conflict between the state and the police force. The Bolivian police has started a strike to demand a wage increase. The guards and security in and around the government buildings was at some points nonexistent. According to reports, the government has lowered the tension by promising to take a look at the many discounts on the paychecks of lower ranked police officers. However, the Government Minister, Alicia Munoz, said that currently the government places priority on the health and education sectors. Meanwhile, there is a potential confrontation with the military because they too want pay raises.

Also last week there was yet another march through the streets of La Paz. This time the teacher's union was asking the resignation of Education Minister, Felix Patzi. They were upset at the planned reforms the minister was trying to implement. According to union leaders, this is just the beginning. In the next days, it will be decided what other pressure methods will be used to achieve the goal. On his part, Minister Patzi announced there will be consequences for the teachers who do not go to work. This is a potentially escalating step the minister is taking. At the same time, there was another march from the people at the government health insurance scheme. These people were reacting at, what they called, direct government intervention. The government wants to audit them.

Finally, there was a notable dispute between the government and the Catholic Church. Evo Morales' government wanted Bolivia to have a secular state. I am not sure he wanted to apply the principle of separation of church and state, or he just wanted to end the hegemony the church has over the population. I am inclined to think the latter. In any case, the church took this advance personally and didn't think twice in entering into a direct confrontation with the government. The government rapidly responded with accusations that the church was acting in its traditionally colonialist role. In the end, Morales gave way to the church and promised not to secularize the state. At least for now.

While these are not, in any way, comparable to the conflicts between state and population in recent times, they are indeed a signal to the government that the problems are still there and will be there for some time to come. The Morales government has entered into a period of normal relations between state and people, in the Bolivian sense. In many ways, the "honeymoon period" is over.