"We will spill our last drop of blood, comrades!" he shouts to a few dozen supporters gathered in a city plaza. "We will defend
The enemy, to this black-bereted, revolver-toting Bolivian, is his leftist president, Evo Morales. Roda's dream: to revive the Bolivian Socialist Falange, an ultranationalist party that was strong in the 1950s and then dormant for decades.
Civil war may seem unthinkable, but in
Old regional and racial rivalries, many Bolivians believe, are deepening the split.
"The elite feel absolutely violated by the changes taking place in Bolivian society," says Jose Mirtenbaum, a sociologist at
Since his election 21 months ago, Morales' program has met fierce though almost exclusively peaceful resistance from the elite of
Its U.S.-style consumerism, bootstrap mentality and racial makeup don't easily mix with Morales' vision of a communal state ruled by the traditional values of
That makes his revolution much more of an uphill battle than that of his closest ally, President Hugo Chavez of
All these are hot-button issues. But civil war?
"The Bolivian is a very impatient person. He always hopes for change, but he always sees the solution in catastrophe," says Victor Jemio, a retired Bolivian army general and military analyst. The country is notoriously unstable, he notes, having had 84 presidents and dictators in 182 years.
Morales, 47, was in New York last week for the U.N. General Assembly and showed up on Comedy Central's "Daily Show," denouncing capitalism as "the worst enemy of humanity" while jokingly pleading not to be considered part of "the axis of evil."
This year's scariest yarn was given credence by O Globo, one of neighboring
The newspaper's reporter never saw any militia, and no evidence has emerged to support any of the gossip.
Roda explains his gunshots as a tribute to the memory of a handful — the exact number is in dispute — of Falange members killed in 1958 by Indian troops sent to quell their rebellion.
The "massacre" has become a legend in
"The number of dead is less important than the humiliation (Santa Cruz) suffered at the hands of a pack of hounds blinded by alcohol and irrationality," Santa Cruz historian Alcides Parejas said in an e-mail interview.
It still echoes a half-century later as Indian immigrants — largely Morales supporters — arrive in search of work, driving
Morales stoked the whites' fears last month when he hosted a parade of Indians alongside Bolivian soldiers at a
The tension sometimes spills into the streets.
The Cruceno Youth Union, an ally of Roda's group, was accused of organizing a pre-dawn raid in August on a largely Indian market. In footage shown on national television, drunken young men smashed car windows and threatened vendors with racial taunts. A car carrying fleeing thugs ran down and injured a vendor.
Union members deny any involvement. But the boys hanging around their ramshackle clubhouse twirl big sticks and baseball bats, and don't hide their distaste for pro-Morales newcomers.
"Either they adapt to
Some fear the pistol-wavers' dreams will come true if common ground isn't found.
"We've arrived at a moment that we don't know exactly how to face," says Carlos Valverde, a Santa Cruz TV commentator and fierce Morales critic. Valverde belonged to the Falange as a teenager in the 1950s when his father was one of its leaders, but doesn't endorse violence.
"The fear I have is that one day we'll arrive at the cliff," he says, "and we'll arrive with such force that some will fall over the edge. And then it'll all go to hell."
First published by AP