Evo Felt the Challenge of the Opposition

Pablo Stefanoni

Incidents between pro-government and opposition forces marked the stoppage of activities by the autonomist departments of the denominated “half moon” against the indigenous government of Evo Morales. It was an inverted image of the Bolivia of the last few years; those who always criticised the blockades were blockading, whilst those who always defended the “right to protest” called for the respect of freedom of movement for those who wanted to travel to work.

The 24-hour civic stoppage that began and finished on September 8 was called by a coming together of civic movements, business organizations and conservative parties from Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando to protest what they consider to be a “steamroller” by the government in the Constituent Assembly. They say that the rejection by the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) of the approval of articles for the new constitution by a two-thirds majority translates into an attempt to rewrite a constitution suited to its needs, and that the all powerful character of the convention is the beginning of a dictatorship by Evo Morales.

From dawn, groups belong to the Crucenista Youth Union (UJC) positioned themselves at roundabouts throughout Santa Cruz de le Sierra, a city constructed as a succession of concentric rings, in order to persuade those who did not heed the politico-regionalist convocation. Similar scenes were seen in the rest of the departments in rebellion against the socialist government. The support of the business sector – which declared a type of bosses lockout – and the blockade of roads with trucks, vans and cars contributed to portraying an image of desolation in the capitals of the departments. But in the surrounding neighbourhoods, the intermediary cities and the rural areas the resonance for the call was weaker. It was non-existent in the areas inhabited by migrants from the west and the local indigenous populations who adhere to MAS.

The evaluation of the stoppage was part of the media war. For the president of the Santa Cruz civic committee, German Antelo, the measure “was a resounding success”. Whilst for the Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramon Quintana, the strike functioned “on the basis of intimidation, without the conviction of the citizens”. Workers from the cruceno Industrial Park denounced on Canal 7 that some business owners had made them work behind closed doors, faking that they had been complying with the strike.

In a variety of places, especially in Santa Cruz and Tarija – the two regions in which MAS won but so did the yes vote for autonomy last July 2 – there were confrontations between pro-government militants and radicalised autonomist groups. In the neighbourhoods of Santa Cruz such as Pampa de la Isla, Villa 1 de Mayo or the ex-bus terminal clashes were registered between informal stall holders and youth from the UJC who obliged – persuaded they say – them to shut down their stalls, with similar scenes occurring in the campesino markets. In the morning, unnamed people threw two molotov bombs into the Santa Cruz headquarters of the state television channel without causing major damages. Some television channels showed drunken Santa Cruz youth blockading streets and charging “tolls” to those who travelled with safe passage from the civic committee. The minister of the government, Alicia Munoz, denounced that Cuban doctors were intimidated by “unionists”, who wrote on their homes “Evo dictator”.

The neighbourhood Plan 3000 in the suburbs of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where the presence of MAS is dominant, was a kind of anti-autonomy liberated zone; the poor neighbours rejected the pickets of the UJC that attempted to enter the area and both sides clashed with sticks and rocks. The soccer hooligans also contributed to the paralysis of activities; the regionalism brought together the usually arch enemy fans of Oriente Petrolero and Blooming who stole car rims, broke windows and discouraged simply through their presence – with green and white flags – anyone who though of circulating through the avenues of Santa Cruz. In the other departments the incidents were on a much smaller scale.

“It is the first time that there is an organised resistance to a stoppage declared by the civic committee of Santa Cruz, many saw it as a political stoppage, but whilst the popular sectors were protected in their neighbourhoods against the violent groups, the middle classes who did not have mechanisms to express their discomfort without being attacked, did not dare to come out on the streets, and lived through the stoppage as hostages in their own houses” said the Santa Cruz activist Gabriela Montano. “The class struggle is reaching Santa Cruz. On one side there is a conservative rearticulation against the policy of change of Evo Morales, and on the other side the consolidation of a social movement of the east. It is a moment of fracture of the politico-business power in that region of Bolivia” said a functionary within the inner circle of the Bolivian president. Nevertheless, all recognised that the local elites still conserve control of the means of regional power and a substantial influence in the population, which means that the fight will not be a path of roses for Evo Morales.

From Santa Cruz, spokespeople for the strike such as German Antelo or the president of the private business owner’s federation, Branko Marinkovic, sustained that with this measure a clear message has been sent against the totalitarian road that the socialist government is travelling on. No one can get it out of their heads that Hugo Chavez is the mirror with which Evo Morales looks at himself every morning and that his objective is to close off all political space to any manifestation of opposition. Yesterday, on top of the blockades of the east there were also those of the west: the road between La Paz and Copacabana – the tourist town on the shores of Lake Titicaca – remain covered in rocks; the campesinos are reclaiming control over a hostel owned by priests. They argue “ancestral rights”.

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