Violence Explodes in Cochabamba: Initial Reports of 3 Dead and 100 Wounded

Written by the Andean Information Network, Thursday, 11 January 2007

The pending explosion in Cochabamba arrived this afternoon. Tensions have been running high for over a week, and a lack of effective regional and central government response has exacerbated the situation. The Youth for Democracy, a pro-autonomy youth group claiming to support Cochabamba Prefect Reyes Villa, and MAS supporters from social groups clashed in the streets,leaving at least three people dead and an estimated 100 people injured. Local television stations repeatedly broadcast protestors from different bands brutally beating each other. Accounts differ, but it appears that violence escalated when the Youth for Democracy and others attacked a coca grower and social movement march after a week of mutual provocations.

MAS proposal on Constituent Assembly fails to alleviate tensions

On January 10, MAS approved a plan to move forward in the Constituent Assembly. MAS offered to accept to the opposition's demand of a two-thirds vote on each item, on the condition that if the constitution has not been approved by July 2, 2007, the remaining articles would be addressed using a simple majority vote. In the current polarized climate, the majority of the opposition immediately rejected this proposal alleging that MAS will set the agenda for constitutional discussions and wait until after the July 2 deadline to deal with contentious issues. The National Unity Party is still considering the proposal. Opposition party Podemos representative Juan Carlos Velarde called the MAS proposal absurd and said, "They can't apply the law for awhile and then do whatever they want." The opposition clearly does not believe MAS's assertion that they are willing to be flexible and compromise and so the Assembly remains deadlocked.

Police unable to contain building friction

Through out the day social groups blocked roads in downtown Cochabamba and upper middle class residents and Reyes Villa supporters blockaded the wealthy northern zone of the city, and businesses and offices were closed. Men and women on both sides carried sticks, clubs and any other implement handy that could be used as weapons. Throughout the afternoon the situation deteriorated.

After reprisals from the central government on their handling of Monday's protests, when the city police tear-gassed protesters on the main plaza, the police's actions have been restrained. The police appeared to be reluctant to intervene decisively to stop the fighting, but have been assisting emergency medical personnel. The marching and fighting is ongoing.

According to press accounts during the chaos, two of the dead are coca growers, one from a bullet wound, and another is a 20 year old from the Youth for Democracy. The hospital emergency room is overflowing and, as the state television channel replayed the day's football games, a ticker calling for blood, doctors and nurses scrolls across the screen. The cocaleros have brought their dead to the Plaza principal to mourn and the number of pro-MAS protestors marching on the plaza carrying sticks continues to swell.

The Morales Administration waited until 8:00 pm to issue a statement and has called out the military to secure the streets of Cochabamba. Prior to today's protests, the vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, stated that Cochabamba's Prefect, Manfred Reyes Villa, should be allowed to finish his term. He also called on Reyes Villa to meet with social movements to discuss their concerns. At the peak of the conflict, Reyes Villa traveled to La Paz to meet with opposition Prefects. He told the press he was also attempting to dialogue with MAS government officials.

This evening, Garcia Linera gave a press conference chiding Reyes Villa for not acceding to MAS offers for dialogue and for leaving Cochabamba during the crisis. President Morales remains out of the country attending inaugurations.

In spite of expressions of mourning from prefecture and MAS administration officials, and repeated exhortations from human rights groups for productive dialogue, neither side seems willing or have sufficient valor to budge even an inch to pacify the war torn city.

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