Reyes Villa in “exile”, cocalero leader threats to “hang him like Saddam Hussein”

Pablo Stefanoni, January 14

The weekend helped lower the accumulated tension in Cochabamba, but the mobilized sectors ratified once again their decision: to not take a backward step until they receive governor Manfred Reyes Villa resignation, who is refusing to return to his city, something that the government of Evo Morales is asking him to do. On Thursday and Friday, violent clashes between supporters and opponents of the governor – who was force to back down on his idea of convoking a referendum for autonomy in the region – finished with two deaths.

Despite the lifting of the blockades, there were still some groups yesterday who maintained that to suspend the action was “a backward step”. And on the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz road there were reports of verbal aggression against Cruceno passengers accused of wanting to travel to the capital of Cochabamba to bulk up the groups of shock troops for the governor.

MAS senator Omar Fernandez said that tomorrow they would take over all access to the city and the leaders of the campesino federation of water irrigators clarified that the lifting of the blockades was only “a short truce”. This put in doubt the results of the management of the situation by minister of the presidency, Juan Ramon Quintana, who unsuccessfully tried to contain his own troops. There does not appear to be too much space for a negotiated exit. Last night, Quintana suggested to Reyes to return and “assume his responsibility”, at the same time as saying that he would guarantee his safety in the name of the government.

Fearing both his physical and political destiny, Reyes Villa decided to temporarily “exile” himself in Santa Cruz. He denounced that a “coup” had been carried out against him, saying that he officially renounced his call to convoke a referendum on autonomy which sparked off the protests and that he was willing to face the recall referendum proposed by Evo Morales on Friday.

“The vanguard of MAS have pushed forward an institutional coup to eliminate those who think differently” he affirmed. And his fears do not seem unfounded: at the start of the mobilizations, the headquarters of the governorship were partial burnt and he was forced to flee disguised as a police officer. And on Friday the cocalero leader Severo Huanca threaten in front of thousands of campesinos and workers to “hang him like Saddam Hussein”.

Evo Morales committed himself to sending to parliament a proposed law of recall referendum so that “the poor, tired of the abuse of power” could have a legal instrument to act against the authorities, including himself, but various sectors do not want to cede now that they have been able to put in motion the trade union machinery and knocked off the attempt by Reyes Villa to call a referendum on autonomy.

According to spokespeople for the protests, these concessions are not enough “because there has already been deaths” and they announced that from tomorrow they would close down the headquarters of the governorship to avoid the return of the functionary to his office. As well, a meeting in El Alto, the neighbouring city of La Paz, will attempt to “make heads roll”, particularly that of La Paz governor, Jose Luis Paredes, at the same time as “being in solidarity with the brothers from Cochabamba”.
It is part of an offensive by the social sectors aligned with MAS against the local governments hostile to the MAS government.

Reyes Villa is left with the support of the 6 opposition governors and the possibility of spreading the crisis to the national scale. In Santa Cruz the civic committee convoked a mobilization for Tuesday in support of the other side in the trenches of Cochabamba and “in defense of democracy”. Sources from the government told Clarin that Morales – on a stop over on his way to the inauguration of Rafael Correa in Ecuador – will pass through Cochabamba today and analysis with his cocalero base the critical situation that this Bolivian province is living through.

Translated from Clarin

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