May 4th and Beyond

Sergio Cáceres

After reviewing the Bolivian press, one has the sensation that the end of the world will begin on May 4th in Bolivia, as it reaches the final judgment. As almost everyone knows, May 4th is the date selected for a referendum in Santa Cruz to approve some statutes that would grant autonomy to the Department of Santa Cruz. These statutes were drafted by a group of businessmen, ranchers and large landowners in the Santa Cruz Civic Committee and the majority of the people know nothing about them. Should they win the referendum, the organizers will proclaim the de facto establishment of their autonomy.

It’s not the first time that this threat has been heard from the Santa Cruz Civic Committee. In December of last year, with great fanfare, they announced the establishment of their autonomy, de facto, as they love to say. The same happened in 2006 and 2004. But in the end they never did anything. Every time they were on the point of doing something, they took two steps backwards.

In past decades, the threat to separate even included annexation to Brazil. But that never happened either. Did they not do it because they couldn’t? Because they didn’t want to? The surest bet is that both are true. They didn’t want to, and couldn’t, nor did it serve their interests. The illusion of autonomy serves to mobilize. The possibility of separation serves to threaten. With these threats they’ve managed to keep all the governments at bay and have prevented their interests from being affected. What are their interests? Control of the land, and natural resources.

As we said just a moment ago, the media are imposing a fatalistic countdown toward May 4th. Countdowns always generate uncertainty. And where does uncertainty lead in this case? Confrontation, possibly. The media are playing at apocalypse in order to create a bloodbath that would legitimize the famous referendum. But even as we approach the fatal date, the apocalypse becomes ever more dispersed.

The surest bet is that May 4th will be a spectacle, with a display of ballot boxes, election judges, armed gangs…but, will there be voters? Diverse voices in Santa Cruz have announced their abstention. If there are no voters, what strategies would the ranchers and businessmen of the Civic Committee fall back on to capture attention and hide the absence of support for their initiative? Would they send their Union of Santa Cruzeña Youth to burn the houses of the indigenous in San Julián in order to force them to vote? Lynch indigenous in the city so that the police could repress them and they could then accuse the government of being dictatorial, of impeding their referendum?

But let’s not deny the Civic Committee members the benefit of the doubt. It’s possible that the referendum will be a success and the autonomists will have their victory. In this case, the question that a citizen should ask is, what will happen starting on May 5th? Is it true that Santa Cruz will be independent? Will it have its own currency? Its own border? Will there be new salaries? New taxes? New decrees? Everything new, thanks to the referendum? The Union of Santa Cruzeña Youth the new police force? Is that what the people will be voting for?

Amid so much confusion, we can linger a bit over a few certainties. This referendum goes against the Political Constitution of the State and is not recognized by the National Electoral Court. In other words, it’s illegal. The international community has stated that it will not validate it by sending observers: it’s marginal. The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Dr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen has stated that not only is the referendum illegal, it has a racist bias against indigenous people; it’s undemocratic.

Sergio Cáceres is a Bolivian journalist

Republished from Machetera

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