May 04, 2008

Mid-day Update on the Santa Cruz Referendum

MABB © ®

It is already past mid-day here in Bolivia and the Santa Cruz referendum is going ahead as its organizers predicted. As many of you already know, the people are able to vote but there are some regions in and outside the city of Santa Cruz which could not vote or have started voting with a substantial delay.

There are two kinds of reporting coming out of the media (mainly TV and radio). On the one side, the media critical of the referendum, more specifically Television Boliviana (control by the government), RTP and others, are concentrating their coverage on the various incidents of violence around the region. Especially, Television Boliviana is making sure to reflect a fraudulent referendum in Santa Cruz. The reporters have launched all kinds of accusations, such as ballot boxes being already filled with votes for the being delivered to the problematic areas of Plan Tres Mil and Yapacani. They are also showing how the grupos de choque (clash groups) sent by MAS have gone to different voting places, taken the ballot boxes and ballots (with violence or just showing their numbers, sticks and stones) and burned them. In essence, this channel is making every effort to show how illegal and fraudulent the referendum is.

On the contrary, the other side, is going out of their way to show how normal and festive the vote is going on. Channels such as Univision, PAT and Unitel are reporting the voting process taking place in the areas supporting the . For instance, the showed how Ruben Costas, Branco Marinkovic, Carlos Dabdoub and the Cardinal voted. They showed images of happy crucenos in line waiting their turn to vote. They are making sure to show how the delegates on the voting tables are showing the blank ballot before they give it to the voter. However, I have to say that these channels are also showing some of the disturbances taking place in the trouble zones like Yapacani, Montero and Plan Tres Mil.

From all this reporting, I can gather that the referendum is going on, but not without sporadic confrontations. As I mentioned earlier, the trouble spots are Yapacani, Montero, San Julian and Plan Tres Mil. What is clear now is that the voting completely stopped in the town of Yapacani. The MAS supporters, also called colonizadores (colonizers), went around in trucks to make sure the voting precincts or places were closed and nobody could vote. There was some municipal police present, but these were in the loosing side and greatly outnumbered by the colonizadores.

There were incidents in the town of Montero where MAS supporters tried to close voting places but encountered resistance from autonomistas (people who are in favor of autonomy). This situation is more unclear because the reports are not clear either. Ballot boxes were also burnt in the town of San Julian. As of right now, there are some places in that town where voting hasn't taken place yet. In one report, the delegates and jurors had no idea whether they were going to get new ballot boxes. However, the situation is not as definite as in Yapacani. There are some open voting places in San Julian where people are getting to vote.

The situation in Plan Tres Mil is more complicated. In that neighborhood, the two grupos de choque (masistas and autonomistas) are going around clashing against each other trying to close or maintain open the different voting places. However, there is voting taking place where the autonomistas have the upper hand.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the country there are two important cabildos (townhall meetings) to report on. The cabildo taking place in Cochabamba, which has brought together thousands of mainly coca growers to the city of Cochabamba. These people have just finished their meeting and have decided to start a nationwide mobilization to ask the government to, once and for all, go ahead with the referendum to approve the government's proposed constitution. In addition, they want to stop the efforts of a group of citizens who want to gather signatures to start the process to write autonomy statutes for the Cochabamba department.

The other cabildo took place in El Alto. These people repudiated the referendum for autonomy as well and decided to ask the government to hurry up with the referendum to approve the proposed constitution. There were also thousands of people gathered in El Alto.