What do you do if you are living in a country where a government looks like taking back thousands of acres of your land (most of which you stole but hey you have been allowed it up to now)? Or perhaps you are a business leader who has proudly had government in your pocket, yet now they pay little attention to you and keep doing things that just don't make "good business sense." Or perhaps you are white and a small minority in a largely indigenous country but have always had members of your family in power, and suddenly the government is taken over by loads of ignorant people who look frighteningly like your sweet housemaid.
Well I guess you might look at changing the national government, but they have received more votes than you ever did, so you opt to take control of local government which is a bit easier. Then you push for more power and autonomy. When the government doesn't look like giving you what you want, still keep their money on the purse strings on which your local power depends, and worse of all threaten to deepen their programme of changes, you start to get desperate. Maybe you decide to organise some strikes, marches, pay bands to write cheesy lyrics about freedom, hope bit by bit you can make the central government's work impossible and that their supporters will start to wane.
Then you have a referendum, and you can't believe how stupid your own countrymen are because they vote in ever larger numbers for the government – even goddamit from your own region. Hey, isnt democracy meant to be on my side? Isn't that what Bush promised? What is one to do?
Well in Bolivia in the last weeks, we have seen exactly what the Right does. Go back to their paid groups of thugs and get them to violently take offices of the Government to create chaos, and if possible some violence and even martyrs if that can get the government out. Because the elites lack subtlety, they also decided to mete out the most violence on the National Land Institute (responsible for land redistribution) and NGOs linked to human rights, indigenous rights and land redistribution – and hey why not, the recently nationalised telecommunications company which somehow is reducing prices and threatening companies which their friends control.
Conflicts always mean a bit more press coverage – although you can be sure it will be more if it is Evo rather than the prefects – but this is where the absence of context as ever leads to strong misreprentation of the power dynamics in Bolivia. If you read any press you will likely hear that the conflicts are the age-old rivalry between the east lowlands and west highlands, that "opposition groups" in the East are opposed to constitutional plans and want more revenue for the region, and of course that Evo Morales is a Leftist close to Chavez.
What they nearly always fail to mention are any of the following facts:
– that the opposition is led by business elites and big landowners who have spent vast amounts of money, tactics of intimidation, and violence to push the message that regional autonomy will improve people'slives
– despite this fierce campaign and the almost complete absence of central government, the opposition's popular support is still limited to the cities whilst the central government's support grows ever more
– that the central government's nationalisation more than doubled the revenues for the Eastern regions
– that the Right who fought the Constitutional Assembly for a year saying everything had to be approved by two-thirds suddenly don't want any further popular votes now that two-thirds backed Evo in a referendum in July
For some more news, I enclose a translation of an article on bolpress below. I also recommend a post on this blog about some of the questions the violence raises for folk on the radical left:
The fascist coup has started in Santa Cruz, denounces the Bolivian government
The Bolivian government communicated today to the national and international community that a civil coup has been put into action in the departmental capital city of Santa Cruz, led by the President of the Civic Committee, Branco Marinkovic, and supported by Prefect Ruben Costas. The national government will not respond to “provocations by fascist groups” and will defend democracy and national unity without declaring a state of emergency in the convulsed regions.
The government denounced several times in the last few weeks that there were preparations for violent protests with internal and external support. Today the predicted events materialized and began a “civic prefectural coup against the unity of the country and democracy,” said the government minister Alfredo Rada.
Students and activists of the [neo-fascist] group the Santa Cruz Youth Union (UCJ) and shock groups of thugs paid by the business-led civic movement from Santa Cruz attacked on Tuesday offices of Internal Revenue, the National Institute of Land Reform (INRA) and the National Company of Telecommunications (ENTEL).
The vandals stole computers, televisions, telephone equipment and other public goods, and burnt furniture and documentation. They beat conscripts and police guarding the State properties with sticks. After destroying public entities that had been taken over by the State recently, the fascist groups burnt the offices of the human rights organization, Centre for Juridical and Social Studies (CEJIS). In addition they burnt installations of Radio Patria Nueva, attacked offices of the State television company Channel Seven in Santa Cruz and robbed equipment. They forced Radio Alternativa to suspend broadcasts and intimidated other media that are not aligned to the movement for elite-led autonomy, in scenes reminiscent of the previous week in Cobija, where four radio broadcasters had to stop their work in order to protect the safety of their journalists.
They have installed a type of “regional and civic terrorism in four regional departments in order to take hostage the people’s voice and the free ability to express one’s opinions,” lamented the Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana. The curious fact is that the National Association of Press (ANP), a strong defender of private media, has not said a single word in defense of “freedom of expression” in the light of these events.
The Defence Minister Walker San Miguel praised the restraint of the soldiers and police who faced off vandals “without firing a bullet” even at risk to their own personal security, conscious that the ultra-right are looking for deaths and wounded for political manipulation.
The Minister Rada blamed the events in Santa Cruz on the civic leader Marinkovic and the Prefect Costa, who failed to comply with their basic obligation to guarantee security and peaceful coexistence for its inhabitants and who from the “shadows incite these types of violent acts. These two people incited, promoted and carried out this fascist and racist violence.”
San Miguel revealed that opposition groups planned in the coming hours to take the refinery of Palmasola and interrupt fuel supplies, but the “fascists will not pass.” “What they are attacking essentially is democracy. They want to overthrow the institutional order that has been built with such difficulty, but we will not allow it, as we have popular support,” promised Quintana.
The government will not declare a regional state of emergency, as this extreme constitutional measure will only radicalize further the ultra-right shock groups. Furthermore, the democratic liberties of more than a million inhabitants of Santa Cruz must not be affected by the works of 500 or a thousand thugs, said the Minister San Miguel.
The national government says that confronting criminals and vandals who respond to a terrorist regime shows that they are without political arguments and incapable of debating democratically. The government will use legal and constitutional instruments to stop the fascist civic coup.
The big land and cattle owner and head of the right-wing PODEMOS party benches, Antonio Franco “applauded” the taking of offices in Santa Cruz. The looting was also encouraged by deputy Pablo Klinsky (PODEMOS) who is close to Marinkovic.
“We will not be beaten, if we are talking about confrontations let’s talk about confrontations, if we are going to talk about war, let there be war, but they will not impose anything on us. We are sufficiently strong to split off from the country, and if I have to take a stick, a sling, a gun, I will do it. I will go and defend my territory because no-one will push me around,” warned the PODEMOS deputy from Santa Cruz Oscar Urenda.