Leopoldo Santibáñez puts his taxi in full throttle after explaining how he was hired by
"I was paid 200 bolivian pesos (28.57 dollars) a day to sieze public institutions across the city over a period of three days. They gave me a stick and told me to destroy everything I found", he claimed in an interview with Notimex. The journey along the Second Ring between René Moreno and Monseñor Santisteban (in the El Trompillo zone) towards central
Knowing that his story won’t make the pages of the Bolivian press, the 22-year old taxi driver freely speaks his mind: "With my sticks and some sound bombs, I went with a group of youths and we started to sack everything".
"Glass, windows, offices, we destroyed everything we found in our path. Many institutions fell into the hands of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista between the 7th and 11th September", said the youngster. He denied that these units were paramilitary in nature, because many of their members are hired on the go by leaders of the UJC who arrive with money, make a list of places, and indicate where to attack.
Behind all this, obviously, is the Civic Committee, which uses the UJC as its shock troops. Its members’ weapons are baseball bats, rifles, pistols, knives and chains.
Some of the youths used balaclavas, black or white T-shirts and baseball caps with the coat of arms of the right-wing Spanish Falange –two red strips flanking a black strip upon which appear a bow and five arrows pointing skyward. "The intention was to sow chaos, but we never confronted the Army, because those guys don’t mess around, and shoot to kill", said the taxi driver. His grey car is imported from
The taking of State institutions marked the beginning of a spiral of violence was stopped last weekend after dialogue was initiated in Cochabamba by Evo Morales’ government and the regional Governors of the opposition.These protests of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, the Governorship of Santa Cruz and the Civic Committee were intended to pressure the government of Evo Morales into returning the income of the Direct Hydrocarbon Tax (IDH), constituting some 270 million dollars.Bolivia experienced chaos in these weeks, as 16 airports were shut down and 17 campesinos were massacred in the region of Pando, the latter bringing Morales-sympathisers to surround Santa Cruz.
The UJC seized the offices of the Inland Revenue, destroyed the exterior of the State telecommunications company ENTEL and unleashed chaos in the State-run oil company –Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB). In Tarija, close to the border with
Tempers boiled over when campesinos threatened to take Santa Cruz and, armed with sticks, old rifles, machetes and spikes, began to mobilize for a forceful recovery of the institutions.This complex scenario led the Governors to accept dialogue with Evo Morales’ government, but not without first claiming that he was blackmailing them, that they were only participating to avoid an escalation in the protests and further deaths.
When Leopoldo Santibáñez says that he was paid to destabilise the Evo Morales government, he does so not with guilt, but rather with "joy" for contributing, he says, to a better country without the head of State’s precarious socialism. "We don’t finance paramilitaries, nor are we trying to topple Presidente Evo Morales in any civil coup", emphasised Civic Committee President Branko Marinkovich.The hired taxi driver laughs at these claims, saying that "power and money move consciences and mine was bought for three days". Laughing, he puts the pedal to the metal and disappears down the Plaza 24 de Septiembre.
(Translation: David Montoute)