Dirty deeds in Bolivia

02 June 2008

Agitation, violence and illegal ballots on autonomy. Hugh O'Shaughnessy on disgraceful tactics aimed at intimidating and undermining a democratically elected president

Bolivia’s right-wing extremists who have been doing their best to rip their own country apart for the past two years rather than accept the rule of their constitutionally elected President Evo Morales finally have showed themselves in their true colours.

These are various violent shades of an apartheid green mixed with several unappealing tones of Ku Klux Klan off-white. For the extremists, the democratically chosen Morales labours under the crushing disadvantage of being a member of the indigenous majority. To have a head of state like that who seeks greater fairness for the indigenes, they say, will never do.

On 24 May in the run-up to this Sunday’s unofficial vote on “autonomy” rigged up by the Bolivian Klansmen in the departments of Beni and Pando they went into action in the city of Sucre. There an aggressive horde of university students and unelected conservative city notables came together to prevent their president visiting the city. He was to come to inaugurate a new step forward in the agrarian reform programme which most voters in this agriculturally stunted country want.

In their unelected grandeur, financed by the ample royalties that the government of the department of Santa Cruz gets for its oil and natural gas and spreads round its political satellites, they stationed thugs in the stadium where President Morales was to speak and aborted his visit. Then they turned their attention on the government supporters who were awaiting him.

Mainly poor peasants, they had gathered to welcome the president and greet his moves towards agrarian reform in a country where there is land for all but where much of it is concentrated in the hands of the few. A number of indigenous people who were to have received the President were seized by the mob, forcibly undressed, marched to the central plaza and made to kneel and shout anti-government slogans and to burn their ponchos, the flag of the MAS party and the wiphala, the flag favoured by indigenous peoples up and down the Andes. They were kicked, hit and racially abused.

The right-wing mayor of Sucre, Aidée Nava, looked on and applauded. Others present were the university chancellor and leaders of the conservative white opposition. Some will recall the word Kristallnacht and remember how the ruling party in Germany treated people it did not like in the years before the Second World War in cities such as Nuremberg and Munich.

In other examples of violence, Deputy Cesar Navarro and Senator Ana Rosa Velázquez were ambushed by a violent mob as they passed through Sucre airport on their way to their constituency in Potosí.

At Riberalta in the department of Pando the minister of the presidency Juan Ramón Quintana was also attacked. The attack coincided with a visit to Riberalta by the Santa Cruz leaders Branko Marinkovich and Rubén Costas who are the paymasters of the anti-government campaign.

First reports on the privately owned television stations about the voting on Sunday 1 June suggested that a big majority favoured “autonomy” from Morales and the government in La Paz. There was widespread abstention during the voting on Sunday which the government has understandably branded illegal.

Government supporters showed their anger at what they saw as an exercise in electoral farce and voting was suspended in many places. Much violence was reported from supporters of the right and one government supporter is reported to have been killed. The police, many of whom answer to the local authorities rather than to the national government, seemed to have done nothing on Sunday, just as they did nothing in Sucre last month.

Later this month the right wing leaders in the department of Tarija will do their own exercise in vote-rigging on “autonomy” which, according to the TV, they will win.

But those familiar with how the businessmen skew the media in Latin America – and how the television moguls in Venezuela in particular poisoned the wells of information to the public at the time of the putsch against President Chávez which they supported in 2002 - will be cautious about their reports of results from Bolivia. Dirty deeds are being perpetrated in that country and it is not the government which is perpetrating them.

Republished from New Statesman

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