Democracy is the people

Antonio Peredo Leigue, January 15

The tense days that took place last week constitute an invaluable experience: the exercising of power belongs to the people; the authorities should not forget that they are the chief executives. The deaths are overwhelming, the more than one hundred injured hurt: they are the results of this violence and nothing can undo that damage. But in the centre of this violence is the struggle to define the real meaning of democracy.

Once again, Cochabamba was the scene of confrontation: class against class, centre against periphery, city against countryside. All the elements of this contradiction took place and demonstrated that, no matter what path is taken in solving misery and backwardness, we will have to confront the interests of privileged groups and, sooner rather than later, it will be resolved on the streets.

A regrouped right

Taking advantage of the indecision of the Constituent Assembly, the right - already defeated in two successive votes - began to regroup. It used to its advantage very well the unevenness that allowed them to elect a large number of prefects and obtain a majority in favour of autonomy in some departments. This was sufficient enough for them to proclaim that the program of change needed to be annulled and a need to return to the old policies.

They have not left unused even one of the instruments with which they count: money, mass media, blackmailers and shock troops. In certain circumstances, they openly unmasked their intentions, in others they behave as if they were victims of persecution. Certain transnational powers interested in a return to the past, spread an image of an unviable country which the internal right constructs in order to justify an intervention by the international gendarme.

The last episode of this conspiracy was initiated in Cochabamba, with a prefect who is handy for all purposes. Conscious of the fact that the autonomy referendum registered a resounding NO in the department, the prefect, Manfred Reyes Villa, proposed convoking a new consultation on the same issue. On top of this, he proclaimed himself a partisan of independence for Santa Cruz, although afterwards he clarified that this was a mistake. Clarifications to spare, because his activities since have demonstrated that he had decided to make concrete his announcements and proposals.

The popular organisations publicly mobilised on the streets, demanding that he rectify his behaviour or, in the case contrary, that he leave the prefecture.

To provoke violence

All throughout the year just gone, the right has shown its intentions to use violence to impose their demands. They has done so repeatedly, specifically in Santa Cruz, each time that they organised protests against the government or when the social organisations protested against the abuses of this regional power which they perpetrated via the denominated Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee and its equivalents in other departments. The Crucenista Youth Union is the group that carries out the task of frightening others, using sticks, chains and even firearms.

This same tactic was used, this time in Cochabamba. An aggressive counter mobilisation crawled through the streets of the city last Thursday, when the mobilised popular sectors were dispersed. More than a hundred injured and two deaths was the fatal result of these actions. It was evident that the prefect, supported by his peers who are enemies of the government, decided to provoke the confrontation, convinced of the impunity of his actions.

Only the personal intervention of president Evo Morales, calling on the social organisations to reflect and summoning Reyes Villa to get rid of his provocative attitude, has impeded the spiral of violence drawing us into a confrontation of national reach. To do that, the president suspended his agenda of international meetings and returned to the country on Friday morning. In his message, spread via radio and television, he demanded calmness and reflection, convoked the Public Ministry to investigate the events and prosecute the guilty, and demanded respected for the democracy that the people have conquered.

It was attending to this call that the popular open town meeting, gathered in the principal plaza of Cochabamba on Friday afternoon, lifted the blockade on access to this city and called on the social organisation to maintain a permanent vigil to impede the provocations of the right. The demand for the resignation of the prefect remained.

Hours afterwards, president Morales proposed the passing of a law to allow the convocation of a recall referendum of any elected authority. This proposal would mean that in the future, confrontations between partisans of one or another side could be avoided.

The conspiracy does not stop

The lowering of tensions which is occurring in Cochabamba and the slow return to normality on highways that connect this city to the rest of the country is a momentary respite. The right has already decided its destabilizing plan against the government will remain activated. Their apparent victory could end up deceiving them.

In their intents to stop the process of economic and social transformation initiated by the government of Evo Morales, they are putting all their cards on the table. Armed groups have appeared, whose formation had been denounced, but until now had not been seen. Their operators are working permanently looking for military and police support to break the popular initiative which, until now, has marked the course of events. Their spokespeople are constantly directing themselves towards international public opinion, inciting an intervention to "pacify" the country, whilst their mentors do all they can to destabilise the internal situation.

The crisis of these last few days shows that the social sectors are mobilised and will not be defeated. Nevertheless work needs to be done towards the organisation and coordination of these movements. The right counts in their favour these faults; they project their provocations confident of finding a reaction amongst the popular sectors. In this way, they want to justify the conspiracy against the government.

The people decide

Since 2000, the organised sectors of the people have imposed their political agenda, with their own demands. Their mobilisations have made possible the new hydrocarbon law, the convocation of the constituent assembly, transparency in the management of public affairs and the recuperation of our resources.

These important conquests were possible because they very carefully followed a certain path: remaining within legality, despite the fact that this was still framed within the rules of the game dictated by the old powerful groups. Modifying this legality is the mission that the Constituent Assembly has been entrusted with; that is why the right, playing its most deceitful cards, has achieve a deadlock in the deliberations in the assembly until now.

What it has not achieved, despite all its intentions, is dismantling popular organisation. On the other hand, the people have mobilised, although in a spontaneous form; in this way, sometimes, extreme positions appear which contribute to the plans of the right. Organisation, coordination, unity of direction, that is what will impede the maneuvers of the reaction who want to return to their position of privilege and, as a consequence, to the policy of exploitation of the people.

The leadership of Evo Morales has reigned in, once again, the danger of a national confrontation. It is necessary that this leadership be recognised in order to halt provocations. In this context, the process of change will advance more decisively and the right will be left isolated. The task of the mobilised people is the deepening of democracy.

Antonio Peredo Leigue is a journalist and university professor. He was the vice presidential candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) in the 2002 elections. He is currently a senator for MAS in the Bolivian parliament.

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