September 05, 2008

Bolivian Politics and Latest Developments: Violence, Threats and Actions

MABB © ®

I guess I don't need to introduce this post by saying (once again) that things are getting hot in Bolivia; because they are! I will attempt here to lay out the latest developments.

The first thing to consider is the escalation of violence in the Western and Southern regions of Bolivia. Over the last 11 days, el Chaco region was suffering under road blockades isolating the region from the rest of the country and even neighboring countries such as Argentina and Paraguay. These blockades were, and are still, being staged by the civic organizations opposing the government. Their demand is for the government to give back the taxes imposed on the production of liquefied natural gas. On September 3, Democratic National Council (Conalde), organization made up by the opposing Prefects and various regional civic organizations, decided to back the protesting organizations in el Chaco by reinforcing the blockades and setting up blockades and staging demonstrations in their respective regions. Since this decision was taken, a range of conflicts have erupted all across the lowlands. In el Chaco, the protesting organizations have started to take over various governmental agencies. The same has happened in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija. At the same time, government supporters have also started the forceful occupation of government buildings. In Pando, the Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA), the Bolivian Roads Administration Agency (ABC) and the local customs office have been occupied by government sympathizers, to cite a few.

Added to the road blockades and the occupation of government buildings, some buildings and private houses have been bombed. In Trinidad, capital of Beni, a bomb exploded in the local offices of the civic committee (the opposition). In Santa Cruz, the homes of two political leaders, critics of the autonomic movement, were bombed. Earlier this week, there was a serious confrontation between opposition forces and military forces, which prevented the forceful take over of government buildings. Finally, in Tarija, a mob of students forced the retreat of the police and took over the local customs office.

In response to this, and perhaps adding to the radicalization of the protests by the two groups, the government has sent military troops to prevent these occupations. But, this measure is proving insufficient since the buildings are being taken over nevertheless.

The effects of this road blockade is not only being felt by the government but, more directly, by the inhabitants of the affected regions. The city of Tarija, for example, is running out of gasoline, diesel and cooking gas. With time, there are shortages of food and as a result prices are soaring. In el Chaco region, towns such as Villamontes and Camiri, in Santa Cruz, are equally suffering.

For its part, the government has denounced a 'civil coup' which tries to overthrow the Morales government. The reaction, as noted earlier, has been to prop up military presence in these regions. It has also dug its heels deeper and has decided to comply with the request of the National Electoral Court (CNE) and pass a law allowing the referendum to approve its own constitution. For this it has the following strategy. It will draw up the bill complying with the electoral court. It will negotiate with Senators and Deputies from the opposition so they support the bill and it will 'suggest' supporters to put pressure on Congress to pass the bill.

The first step is already underway, and as far as some reports, the second is as well. A La Razon article cites a MAS leader expressing the government's strategy. A second Erbol article talks about the possibility of 23 opposition members of congress, 4 Senators and 19 Deputies, will support the new law. The article talks about the internal divisions within Podemos and how these senators lean more towards MAS, now, than the other Podemos wing.