November 22, 2007

The Bolivian Government Raises Its Rhetoric

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Update: It seems the Bolivian government has stepped up its efforts. Today, at 7 p.m. the Constitutional Assembly has been able to restart its sessions, but in a military building 7 kms from the city of Sucre. The quorum was easily reached with MAS' 145 supporters. At the same time, it has started legal proceedings against the Prefects of the opposition, accusing them of treason. Also, it has stopped money transfers to fund prefectural projects and has reduced the amount of money these governments are supposed to receive. On another front, the government has been accused of financing and inciting social groups to go to Sucre thus raising the stakes of violence.

This latest 'push' is having varied reactions from the opposition. The Cochabamba Prefect has called for the Military to intervene to stop these Government's efforts. The civic leaders and departamental governments of Beni and Pando have called for opposition. They have fixed a date in which they'll declare autonomy (short of independence). The Santa Cruz people are yet to say something. Tarija has also denounced the government's efforts to force a new Constitution.

Meanwhile, the situation in Sucre is deteriorating further. There are protests and confrontations in the city. It is suspected that if the assembly runs its sessions longer, the people in the city will have time to organize and will head to the military building, where they are meeting. The problem is that around the building there is a strong presence of military forces (well armed) and, around them, there are several thousand MAS supporters also taking care that the assembly meets in peace.

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In recent weeks Bolivia has been dangerously spiraling down through a path of continued confrontation and social convulsion. Not that that is something new. What is new however, is the government's rhetoric substantially raising the level of conflict.

According to press reports, the government has started, what they call, "their last push for change". Within this 'push', the government has and is calling its social bases to put pressure on the Senate (which is controlled by the opposition) and the Constituent Assembly. In the last few days, an all out offensive has been taking place with several government ministers, MAS parliamentarians and MAS leaders initiating marches, demonstrations and blockades.

At the same time, the rhetoric has hardened, this time led by the Vice-president, who has expressed the significance of the latest struggles in terms of 'either we lose or we win'. Also, the Presidency Minister talked about a 'battle' to be won or lost. As a result of this black or white good or evil logic, several of the most radical leaders within MAS have started talking about the possibility of a civil war. The leader of the Ponchos Rojos militia said they were already training for such a possibility. The leader of the worker's federation also talked about a civil war.

The government is trying to apply pressure to the opposition by raising its rhetoric. If this strategy will work, it remains to be seen. The worst case scenario in this case, would be a real nightmare.