September 11, 2006

Update on Bolivia's Protests

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Here is a list of links where you can read reports on the latest opposition protests in Bolivia. As you may well know, the opposition in Bolivia is showing its muscles to pressure the government of Evo Morales and his party, MAS, into compromise.

'Huge support' for Bolivia strike
BBC News Fri, 08 Sep 2006 3:50 PM PDT
Opposition leader in Bolivia's wealthier lowlands claim success in a protest against changes to the constitution.

Ten hurt during protests against Bolivia's Morales
Reuters via Yahoo!7 News Fri, 08 Sep 2006 3:52 PM PDT
LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - Supporters of leftist President Evo Morales clashed with opposition protesters striking over constitutional reform plans on Friday, injuring at least 10 people, local media said.

Clashes in Bolivia over proposed constitutional changes
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Fri, 08 Sep 2006 8:30 PM PDT
Supporters of Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales have clashed with opposition protesters striking over constitutional reform plans. Local media says at least 10 people have been injured.

Bolivia: Strike Planned Over Constitution
India Daily Fri, 08 Sep 2006 8:44 AM PDT
Bolivia's four richest departments planned to strike Sept. 8, to demand that the country's new constitution, which is being written by a Constitutional Assembly, be approved by a two-thirds majority instead of the simple majority now allowed.

Bolivians strike in charter row
BBC News Fri, 08 Sep 2006 12:05 PM PDT
A general strike is called in Bolivia's wealthier lowlands to protest against changes to the constitution.

Opponents of Bolivian President Strike
Los Angeles Times Fri, 08 Sep 2006 2:42 PM PDT
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Opponents of President Evo Morales stayed home from work and blocked key streets in four cities Friday to protest the governing party's handling of an assembly that is rewriting the Bolivian constitution.

Fashion turns traditional in Bolivia
Miami Herald Fri, 08 Sep 2006 4:14 AM PDT
RETURN OF NATIVE GARB Growing up in the rural Bolivian highlands, Ramona Maldonado always dreamed of leading a modern life in the city. Living that dream, however, required a fundamental change: She would have to revamp her wardrobe.

Almost Half of Bolivians OK with Lazarte
Angus Reid Fri, 08 Sep 2006 11:25 PM PDT
- Many adults in Bolivia express satisfaction with the president of the National Constituent Assembly, according to a poll by Apoyo, Opinión y Mercado.

Select an Edition:
AlertNet Fri, 08 Sep 2006 8:07 AM PDT
LA PAZ, Bolivia, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Businesses, schools and buses shut down in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's most populous city, on Friday, as opposition leaders in the wealthiest part of the country called a general strike that posed the biggest challenge yet to leftist president Evo Morales.

Opponents of Bolivian President Strike
ABC News Fri, 08 Sep 2006 9:18 PM PDT
Opponents of Bolivian President Strike to Protest Constitutional Rewrite Process

I also wanted to direct you to two English speaking Blogs written by Bolivians living in the US. If you are a regular in the Boliblogsphere, you surely know them. Miguel, author of Ciao! and Eddie, author of Barrio Flores, reflect over the latest events in the country. Miguel tells us what is going on because his parents are living there, and Eddie is currently in Bolivia. Each has a different take on the matter and through their reflections we can see into the problems from the ground up.

Miguel tells us that on his parents' oppinion and his, I assume,

It seems clear that the 24-hour general strike in Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando was relatively successful. Its leaders acknowledged that not all activities ceased, but enough that the major cities (particularly the cities of Santa Cruz & Tarija) were virtually shut down. There were, as far as I could tell, two major confrontations in Santa Cruz. One (reported by the state-run television) involved an alleged early morning attack on the television station. The other, was a clash between pro-government youth (the Grupo Ernesto Che Guevara) & pro-regionalist youth (the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista) in the Plan 3,000 neighborhood. That's it.

However, he was shocked to know that the government, through its machinery, was reporting otherwise.

The Friday strike was, in their opinion, pretty comprehensive. But they were shocked, as was I, at the level of propaganda the MAS government was willing to emply. State-run television & radio stations broadcast one of two message: either the strike was a "failure" (that is, it had limited participation) or there were numerous violent clashes initiated by "drunken" youths. How both stories can be mutually acceptable (if there were numerous clashes, then the strike wasn't a failure, and if it was a failure, there shouldn't be numerous clashes) is beyond me. Of course, private-owned television & radio stations (as well as newspapers) reported the opposite — along w/ live, color images of eerily empty streets.

Miguel goes on to question something he doesn't understand:

And here's where I don't understand the government tactic. Unlike in Cuba, there's no state-monopoly over news media or sources of information. So a series of pronouncements about the failure and/or drunken violence of the strikes on state-run channels stood in stark contrast to what Bolivians could see & hear on other news networks. The move reminded me of Baghdad Bob's fantastical pronouncements during the first month of the Iraq War. Does Evo's government really expect citizens to accept an alternate reality of events? Particularly when they can turn the channel to another station? If that's the case, then I really don't understand.
While on the other side of the coin Eddie was getting sick to his stomach watching the events unfold in front of his eyes on the TV screen:

I was sick to my stomach. A pounding headache confined me to bed most of the afternoon. The cause must have been some combination of the high altitude and what I had seen on TV. Usually Bolivian cable television offers up some pretty good programming without the excess of commercials. However, the images of the repercussions of the general strike in four of the eastern departments put me over the edge. The clashes were no longer citizens vs. police, but rather citizens vs. citizens.

According to Eddie, the confrontations were shown on the screen, live:

Live unedited images showed rock-throwing Bolivians launching projectiles without any idea where they would land. The problem was that you could not really distinguish who was the MAS supporter and who was the “autonomy” supporter.
Eddie argues that the people who organized the strikes have an interest to see the current government fail:

However, the strike that took place last Friday was not the work of the “silent majority”, but rather groups that have an interest in seeing the government failed. Just as questions arise to who is paying for the lodging, transportation and food of the cocaleros that are vigilando the Constituent Assembly in Sucre, questions must arise as to who is paying the Union Juvenil Cruceñista to do their dirty work, such as threatening businesses that did not join the strike, much like their counterparts in El Alto that used pressure tactics against those who just wanted to work and live peacefully.

After reading those eloquent posts, I wonder, who is right? While is true the government is actively trying to influence the Constituent Assembly and its actions have a double morale, it is also true that the opposition is doing everything that is possible to see the government fail and thus stop some of the radical changes being brought about by MAS. One thingk is cristal clear, Bolivia is polarizing. and in the process radicalizing, even more. If the new politicians do not come to their senses and start "really" talking with one another, there is no bright future for Bolivia.

Read Miguel's post here and Eddie's post here.