The dramatic situation currently developing in Bolivia is the peak of a tense stand-off which has followed the confirmatory referendum organised by President Evo Morales on 10th August. The referendum was intended to give Bolivian people the opportunity to ratify or deny the continuity of the current national executive, together with that of eight local governments. This measure was adopted amid a confrontational political climate, brought about by the continuous rallying of the governors of the East of the country, the so-called ‘half-moon’, against the policies adopted by Evo Morales.
The consultation has resulted in a massive boost to the indigeneous President with over 67% of the voters expressing their support for the government. Nevertheless, all but one of the opposition governors have also retained their seats, with percentages ranging from 56 to 66%.
Despite the national outcome, the opposition has treated the local results of the East as a sign of its legitimacy in those departments, precipitating an unprecedented series of clashes, which have seriously undermined the resilience of democracy in the country, prompting rumours of an imminent coup d’etat. In the last 15 days, self-styled “civic committees” have started to assault national institutions and provoke street riots, while a strategic pipeline, which supplies Brazil with gas, has been the target of serious sabotage. In particular, the protesters are demanding the restitution of a tax levied on hydrocarbons extracted in the East through which the national government has financed a social program called ‘Renta Dignidad’ , which supplies elderly people in need with a monthly subsidy. Moreover, they are opposed to the intention of Evo Morales of submitting the new constitutional text elaborated by the Constituent Assembly to a national referendum, alleging that its approval in the Assembly was fraudulent.
However, the gravest episode has taken place in the department of Pando, where a pro-government demonstration led by local peasants was attacked by a violent group of anti-governments fanatics. Fifteen people have died as a result of this indiscriminate act of barbarism, and another 100 people have been declared missing. The government has identified Leopoldo FernÃ¡ndez, the governor of Pando, as the leader of the massacre. FernÃ¡ndez (pictured) has been arrested under the mandate of the government, which is pressing for a sentence of 30 years.
Meanwhile, the internal crisis has acquired an international dimension of serious proportions. On 11th September Evo Morales decided to expel the US Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, on account of his alleged involvement with the opposition. Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez has also proceeded to adopt the same measure, partly in solidarity with Bolivia, but also in a response to rumourds of a plot orchestrated by the US to murder him. Latin American support to Bolivia has become broader day after day; UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations has gathered in Santiago, Chile on September 15th for an emergency meeting. A clear message of support toward Evo Morales has been issued, invoking constitutional order in the Andean country. UNASUR has also shown its intention to mediate in the negotiations which the Bolivian government launched with opposition leaders to stop the unrest. This proposal was accepted days ago by opposition leaders, but they have now indicated that their participation will be conditional on the release of of the arrested governor Leopoldo FernÃ¡ndez.
Beyond the factual chronicle, the episodes of these days prove one more time that behind the decentralisation banner exposed by the opposition of Santa Cruz lies its intimate unwillingness to comply with the will of the majority of Bolivian people and the unscrupulous intention to opt for any scenario that may liberate them from Evo and his government, be it a coup or separatism. Used to decades of exclusive centralism in a country where the class question blurs with the racial one, the big oligarchies of the East are now shifting to different slogans, in accordance with their interests.
Decentralisation is now conveniently employed, because the control of the central apparatus of the state has fallen, for the time being, into the hands of constituencies defending the interests of the most disenfranchised sectors of the population. The sheer maintenance of privilege and outright racial hatred, mixed with the incredulity of a class which considered itself immune from impertinent attacks upon its priveleges, form the basis of this new offensive launched against the government. Without creating any martyrs on the other side, Evo Morales needs to take serious action to stop the chaos and proceed with his plan for government. Thirty-five years ago, the combined action of different social and international actors hostile to change provoked the failure of a similarly democratic project in Chile, with disastrous consequences.
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by Samuele Mazzolini