July 22, 2007

The La Paz Town Hall Meeting

MABB © ®

Back in January 2005, Santa Cruz organized a mega demonstration, which they called a cabildo (town hall meeting). There they claimed that around one million citizens decided to push forward with the demands for more regional autonomy. Fast forward to July 20, 2007, the 'other Bolivia' has raised its voice in another mega demonstration, which they also called cabildo.
The people from La Paz and El Alto gathered in El Alto to demonstrate their rejection to the proposed move of the government seat back to Sucre, Bolivia's official capital and once seat of government

There are no official numbers of how many people attended. The Bolivian Information Agency, ABI, says there were close to two million people there. No way to confirm that.

The pictures below show the gathering on Friday, July 20, 2007. More pictures can be accessed at Bolivia's national information agency, ABI.

In my opinion, this latest cabildo only reinforces the idea that the country is deeply divided along regional lines. Clearly we can observe the two regions being able to get over a million people together. Considering that Bolivia has 9 million inhabitants, these two demonstrations have been able to gather almost a quarter of the population. That, in support of two different causes. What I am wondering at this moment is that the middle region is not saying anything so far. Right in the middle of the conflict lies Cochabamba, the third largest city (formerly second) in the country. The question is: which side will they pick?

Talking about the paceno cabildo, it decided to give the Constitutional Assembly (CA) 17 days to erase from the debate agenda the issue of moving the seat of government to Sucre. And, in a very Bolivian manner, they said if the CA did not comply, they would start mobilizations, which I assume would mean more demonstrations, marches, and more political pressure. At the very same time, in Sucre, the commission in charge of pushing for the move of the seat of government met to plan out their strategy to continue. Of all things, they are planning to hold, yes, a gathering of people. Perhaps it will be next week.

On its part, the government welcomed this gathering. Its argument is that the issue is prone to divide Bolivia. I am not sure if they are blind, but don't they see that Bolivia is already divided? Or perhaps they mean geographically?

This issue promises to continue to be a leading headliner in the next weeks. What would be the answers of Santa Cruz, and of all places, Cochabamba?

Finally, I think it is a good idea to move the capital back to Sucre. As my friend Miguel Centellas says: "...I doubt Sucre wants to become the new marchodromo (I suspect its experience w/ protesters & the Constituent Assembly may have soured many sucrenses from their desire to reclaim the capital)." I suspect pacenos should be more than happy to cease to be the official marchodromo (referring to the almost daily marches and demonstrations in the streets) of Bolivia.


mcentellas said...

Somehow, I think most paceños would exchange keeping the marchodromo in their city, to the loss of thousands of jobs.

The bigger issue, however, is that w/ the capital in La Paz, the paceño-alteño street rules Bolivia (it has since at least the 1940s). Those who can speak for (whether through control, manipulation, genuine understanding, or whatever) won't give that up.

mabb said...

I am not sure about that! :-) Congestion in La Paz is pretty bad, to put it mildly.

But, exactly that would be my biggest argument. La Paz can be easily closed in or cut off. There are not many exit routes. You block some roads and done. That should not happen to the capital, where the most important business of the country is conducted. In my opinion, it is an easy pray. Additionally, I would say that it is even difficult or more expensive to construct more access roads.

La Paz is too close to those radical groups which know how to take advantage of the situation.

La Paz is not La Paz anymore, today La Paz also includes its brother El Alto. It is just not the same city anymore.

If you move the capital to a flatter city that has more routes of access (even if you have to construct them still), then it would be harder to pressure.

Besides, La Paz already has a semi-industrial base. Perhaps if the government leaves, the people there will start being more productive.

Lastly, many other countries have done it. Bonn has gone through tough times, but it is reviving slowly.

Tambopaxi said...

My impression on the seeing the photos was, what were these people doing besides just standing around in the streets? They want La Paz to continue to be the capital city? And they want the CA to take this point off of the agenda? So what are Sucre and Cochabamba to make of this? All of these things are not conducive to strengthening a unified sense of one country, one polity....

mabb said...

That is the big question, what does Cochabamba have to say. We know pretty much where the media luna and Sucre stand on the issue. Cochabamba hasn't said much. Will they support La Paz? Will they support Sucre?

With the question about 'one polity', I think it depends on the issue. The capital move is a obviously a divisive one, whereas if the issue were selling natural gas to Chile, they would be more united.

Satibo said...

The main point in this isuue is, does it really worth make that change? I mean, doing this change of capital or taking the capital back to Sucre, all our fundamental problems would be solved? I mean our main problems now are the prejudice and racism among Bolivians and, of course, poverty and lack of education and health in a huge bunch of Bolivians (most of them in the countryside). The change of the capital is not only the simple thought that now people will go to sucre to march (remember that Sucre doesn't have too many roads to "escape" and remember how Sucre had been when Carlos Mesa quit and all the miners went to Sucre to collapse that little town. Even though we build a new city in the few years we have to think if it is appropriate for Bolivia and if this change would give us better life conditions.

BTW, Boon was declared capital of Germany when Berlin was divided and even Bonners can't even imagine how was that possible 'coz a little non-important city was leading the RFA. We can't compare the context.

mcentellas said...

Don't forget that Bolivia is dominated by populism (as a mode of politics). So the capital issue is important as a way to mobilize people. It was a means by which the media luna could add Sucre to its list of allies; it was a means by which Evo could counter w/ a show of street power in La Paz-El Alto.

MABB makes a good point: Cochabamba could be the tipping point.

There are certainly good reasons for the capital to not be in La Paz (MABB has articulated them). And I'm actually taken back by Evo's recent statement that the CA isn't empowered to discuss the capital's location ... since he's previously argued that it's empowered to do anything it wants.

mabb said...

Unfortunately, "better life conditions", are not the only criteria to make such decisions. It involves more than that, such as geography, political strategies, power, etc., etc., etc. It would be nice if we just had to decide on a better life for all.

Forward in time, I am talking about the move from Bonn to Berlin, and not the other way around.