16 Sep 2008 –What follows is an account of life on the ground in recent times in the city of
I have been here in
Trinidad is a city that is far from the main urban axis in
Life here continues pretty much as normal; we seem to be removed from the conflicts [elsewhere]. The schools remain open, and normal festivities continue; for example a football match between Oriente from
But to give the impression that
The seizure of institutions in this city are just figurative. To protect them, the offices were no longer operational, and there was hardly anything in them to rob or destroy. For this reason, members of the civic committee staged peaceful occupations in the presence of a public notary who said he would organise an inventory of what he found. So far this inventory has not been mentioned by a single media outlet. Indeed, the ‘cívicos’ who occupied these institutions complained that “there is nothing left in these offices; it’s as if they knew in advance that we were going to occupy them”. What a shame! The so-called ‘autonomistas’ found nothing to ransack in the way they did in
To my surprise, I observed how the same people – a group of no more than 20 persons – did the rounds to occupy various different institutions. Only in each institution a different person was put forward to talk to the media in order to magnify the ‘dramatic’ nature of the situation and to give a false impression for the media to broadcast. The ‘occupied’ public offices were not actually occupied at all, but simply closed and protected by a small police presence.
One of the leaders of the Central de Pueblos Indígenas del Beni said: “No, when there is conflict here, the residents of
The take-over of the airport lasted only a couple of hours. Owners of taxi motor bikes were hired to occupy the airport, but they quickly withdrew. There were only about ten ‘unionistas’ [supporters of the local right-wing vigilante organisation] in the airport buildings. But to give the impression of social convulsion in
What is becoming serious in the
Now the road blocks are being condemned. For the president of the civic committee, the blockades by peasants are senseless. These people have no thought for the good of civil society, for the damage they are doing to the people of the
The prefect of the Beni does not tire in repeating the mantra that the ‘cívicos’ have lifted their roadblocks as a sign of good faith when, in reality, those road blocks never actually existed in the interior of the Beni, except a sporadic one on the road from
Finally, as a sign of their racism, the authorities of the prefect and the leaders of the civic committee have now turned themselves into the main defenders of the human rights of Leopoldo Fernández [the prefect of Pando who is now under arrest] whereas previously they showed no signs of concern at the massacre of peasant leaders in Pando. Is it that human rights are just for members of the powerful elite in eastern
We need to be on our guard as to what could happen in
We live in hope of possible dialogue. But it has to be a just dialogue, with the consent of all those who have fought for the process [of change] in
A Visit to a Roadblock
Steve Wagstaff (currently living in
In my last report ("
While this was happening, terrible news arrived from Pando, the department in the far north of the country, and part of the media luna. Campesinos en route to a demonstration had been ambushed by armed men and it was initially reported that 8 had been killed. The next day, the government declared a state of emergency, in Pando only, sending troops and imposing a curfew between midnight and 6am. The death-toll figure became 16 the following day, and evidence emerged that the killers had been using official vehicles of the prefecture. Then film footage appeared showing the campesinos trying to escape from the ambush by swimming across a wide river, whilst being shot at with rifles and machine guns. The government estimates 30 killed including at least one child. But 109 people are said to have disappeared. The millionnaire prefect of Pando, Leopoldo Fernández, has been arrested, taken to
Unasur met in
Demonstrations have been held outside the buildings of two privately-owned TV stations in
On Wednesday 17 September, I visited the nearest of the social movements' roadblock. I travelled for 5 hours from
The start of the blockade was marked by a symbolic single line of small boulders neatly arranged across the highway, guarded by half a dozen young men. The blockade is situated on a long bridge over a wide river, perhaps half a kilometer long. The entire length of the bridge is lined on each side by makeshift – but very effective – shelters made simply by leaning together three or four large tree branches each retaining its smaller branches and all of the foliage. A gap at the front provides a low entrance way. Inside each shelter, 6 or 8 campesinos and campesinas were sitting or lying on blankets and pillows, some preparing food. Many of the shelters had a makeshift sign above the doorway naming the branch or unit within the "Six Federations" of the cocaleros of El Chapare to which the shelter, and the people inside it, belonged.
Each shelter is more or less the same size and shape, and they are evenly-spaced and exactly lined up, giving a very neat appearance and an impression of orderliness and efficiency. The space between the two rows is about three meters wide and there was a constant coming and going as if in a bustling market, with people shifting food and gas canisters in wheelbarrows or on their backs. Looking out from the bridge, I saw about 50 people along the stony riverbank, bathing and washing clothes.
I received many curious stares from the bloqueadores. They have been on the receiving end of much racism over the years (centuries indeed), and are not used to receiving friendly visits in such circumstances from white people. I made some attempts to explain why I was there, but for many of them, Spanish is their second language (after Quechua), so I wasn't sure if I was well understood. I also told the people I spoke to about the picket of the
The bloqueadores were prepared to maintain the blockade as long as necessary. Each one spends two days and two nights at the blockade, and is then relieved by a different "shift". At any one time, there are perhaps three hundred people on or around the bridge. The atmosphere is completely calm. There are no police or soldiers present. The nearest police, apparently about half a dozen of them, are about two kilometers along the road at a permanent checkpoint of FELCN, a police department dedicated to combatting narco-trafficking.
The blockade is not actually 100% impermeable. People arriving on motorbikes are allowed through, and they thread themselves carefully along the "market street". Also, while I was there, long-distance coaches arrived (most would normally go all the way between
Formal negotiations between the government and the media luna prefects started on 18 September, with government ministers, congress deputies and foreign observers present. Meetings lasted 12 hours on the first day and it was agreed to form three tables to discuss the IDH (taxation of oil and gas), the proposed new constitution and departmental autonomy, and the designation of authorities in the National Congress. The oppositionists have relinquished control of all of the government and state buildings which they had occupied, and the
It was quickly agreed in the negotiations that Pando would not be discussed. The government is therefore maintaining the state of emergency in Pando, and the prefect of Pando is in prison awaiting due process. Apparently, the other prefects are willing to negotiate under these circumstances.
Thousands of campesinos and workers from the western side of the country are gathering in
Meanwhile, more corruption is being uncovered by the government-appointed interim prefect of the department of
Shortages of gas remain in
Steve Wagstaff is a member of the Bolivia Solidarity Campaign - UK