The strategy of the opposition: blockade airports so that the president cannot travel

Pablo Stefanoni, August 8

Given the lack of an opposition campaign, the Bolivian regionalist right wing has placed all its bets on a new strategy: project an image of an Evo Morales bunkered down in the Andean Bolivia, with his plane hitting – and bouncing back – against the barricades of small but violent groups that blockade airports in the autonomist “half moon” when ever a warning announces the visit of the indigenous president. In just two days, this scenario has been repeated various times.

On Wednesday, an Evo Morales with sports bag in hand was left surrounded in the military airport of El Trompillo in Santa Cruz and the already famous radicals of the Cruceñista Youth Union halted his inauguration of a street football championship. After 55 minutes, the plane left reluctantly, returning to Trinidad, also in a political hostile zone, where Morales was scheduled to close his Yes campaign.

But there as well were a group of motorcyclists who attempted to take over the runway, impeded only by a cloud of tear gas from the police. The head of state once again had to backtrack. And the incidents alerted the shock troops in neighbouring Cobija (in the Amazon region) who installed vigils “in case Evo arrived during the night”.

With this backdrop, a confusing episode occurred in Trinidad with a supposed gun attack against the car of a minister. Moreover, pro-government militants clashed with autonomists leaving various injured and cutting of electricity to the stadium were the closing rally for the Yes campaign was to be held – and which Evo was unable to get to.

Days before, the Bolivian president had to suspend the commemoration of independence day in Sucre - constitutional capital of the country – while balaclavaded groups waited for Cristina Fernandez and Hugo Chavez in Tarija, forcing them to cancel their photo opportunity in support of Morales.

With all this, what stands out are the numbers. In the majority of cases there are 100, 200 or 300 people (500 in Tarija was the most optimistic figure). But fears that repression could multiply by thousands the number of protesters explain the passivity of the security forces.

One image sums up the chronic lack of the state: a few weeks ago, a group of police officers attempted to put out a fire started by Santa Cruz youth who set alight a police vehicle with dirt. The local station did not have a fire extinguisher. The fire won the battle and totally destroyed the patrol van.

All of this is has been spiced up with a local exoticism: the leader of the Camba Nation of Liberation, Sergio Antelo, an old leftist come independence fighter, has significantly increased his appearances on TV screens to remind people that Santa Cruz is a “colony” of the altoperuvian Bolivia and to demand a stronger stance by the regional leadership: the fight for a free associated state between the Bolivia of the Andes and the Bolivia of the lowlands.

The web page of this group, which considers cruceños to be “a nation without a state”, does not skimp on adjectives: they talk of “the hordes of the Inca state”, of the “Andean troglodyte power” and of doing away with national unity given they consider that we are faced with “two nations that today are on the path to separation, including divorce.”

Although these position are marginal in Santa Cruz, they constitute an added ingredient for those who promote a radicalisation of the cruceña identity as the anti-thesis – modern and productive – to the Aymara-Quechua Bolivia that “only produces backwardness, shame and underdevelopment.”

Today the radical wing of the “half moon” insists on a regionalised reading of the Sunday vote: they hold that if Evo Morales loses there “he will stop being president” of this part of the country, fanning a dangerous political and institutional disconnection. And leaving open the path towards a defacto autonomy.

The most dangerous note was delivered by the mayor of the city of Santa Cruz, Percy Fernandez, famous for his outbursts, who said: “I believe that the Armed Forces should overthrow Morales. He is useless.” Use to his provocation, the media almost ignored this declaration.

Translated from Clarin

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