Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bolivia: Cochabamba rising

Over the last several weeks (since just before Christmas in fact) there has been rising tensions in the Cochabamba region of Bolivia between the supporters of the leftist national government and the rightist regional government.

the largest massing of people in Cochabamba that I have seen since the water revolt seven years agoToday and yesterday has seen mass mobilisations from the left demanding the Cochabamba governor, Manfred Reyes Villa, resign. These mobilisations are the culmination of a five day blockade of the main plaza. Jim Shultz described the latest mobilisations as "certainly the largest massing of people in Cochabamba that I have seen since the water revolt seven years ago."

Yesterday's demonstrations turned into pitched battles with the police, which resulted in injuries, including those affected by gas, and the burning of government buildings. Last night the police chief, Col. Wilges Obleas, was uncermoniously sacked for his part in the fighting, with Morales stating that he demanded “zero repression”. According to Cuban Daily Prensa Latina the Minister, Alicia Muñoz, "said a request was sent to the National Police Command to appoint a new Chief of Police with the ability to dialogue with the leaders to avoid confrontations." As a result the demonstrations today seem to have passed off peacefully.

The police are being squeezed between orders from the left leaning national government and the neoliberal local prefecture. Apparently the legal framework is unclear as to who is primarlily responsible, although I'd have thought the sacking of the police chief would send a signal to his successor as to what is expected of him. Incidently, the Morales government has just initiated a sweeping reform of the police - including investigating the assets of *all* police officers and redeployment of officers away from administrative duties and richer areas.

Governor Reyes Villa is someone with real history. A leading right winger who participated in the de Lozada government he was a prime mover in the attempts to privatise water in Bolivia. He has been consistently accused of corruption and even acted as a bodyguard for dictator Luis García Meza.

No to fascist autonomyHe is a hate figure for the left and his recent attempts to try to forge links with the "oligarchs" in Santa Cruz has sparked the recent protests. These "oligarchs", through their party PODEMOS, have been attempting to politically break off the cities from the rural areas but despite a significant movement lost all the votes for "autonomy", including in Cochabmba, where the vote was over 60% opposed to the moves - despite this the prefect continues to press ahead and this has been seen as an attempt to shield the rich from the effects of Evo's Social Democratic reforms.

As things currently stand in Bolivia there is political deadlock. The right are able to veto significant change in the Constituent Assembly despite only having a minority of delegates (constitutional changes require a 2/3rds majority - something the ruling party, MAS (Movement for Socialism), cannot quite muster). There is a mass anti-capitalist movement, among the most successful in the world today, which is becoming increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of reform and an increasingly beligerant right, willing to defend their wealth by any means necessary.

Update: read an exciting eyewitness account at Becktar's Travels
Update: check the comments for news as it comes in. Large, armed, demonstrations of the left and right have clashed resulting in a number of dead and injured.


Anonymous said...

Well it has happen. This afternoon and as I write fighting is at its highest level between the Coca growers (brought in by trucks from the Cochabamba Tropics-Chapare) and the city people. We have two confermed dead and maybe more and about 80 injuries.
The city people are sick of the coca growers blocking up the city and burning the Governor`'s palace. The city middle and upper classes do not want Manfred to resign and the others do.(The MAS Gov. would also like this) It is a very complex problem. "Evo's" Presidency is under fire by the city and other areas of Bolivia mainly the low lands. This could be he start of a civil war for Bolivia. Many in Bolivia will not allow Boliva to be another Cuba and the other half wants Bolivia to be similar to Cuba. May we come to some understanding.
Cochabamba, Bolivia

Jim Jay said...

Indymedia is reporting four dead.

Reuters says one dead and fifty injured.

Jim Shultz should be worth watching on this: his latest post says

"Dear Readers:

As I write this the Center of Cochabamba has just become a war zone. Crowds of hundreds of, mostly young men, armed with heavy sticks, are in open conflict on the block below our office and throughout the Center of Cochabamba. Flying rocks fill the air. Several have come flying through our windows.

More shortly."

Sadly it looks like I spoke too soon saying the protesters had avoided violence after Tuesday.

Incidently John Negroponte has told the US senate today that democracy is in danger in Venezuela and Bolivia... oh shit.

Jim Jay said...

Apparently the radio is reporting two dead and a number injured...

Also check out this piece from the Andean Information Network.

Jim Jay said...

My friend Amancay emails to say

"Unfortunately latest news are all in Spanish.

The following link gives you access to all the Bolivian newspapers, radio and tv.

You can watch members of the Juventud por la Democracia (youth for democracy) a paid group of thugs who are marching in Cochabamba and attacking the Cocaleros.


according to the radio:

They have arrested some of these thugs who were with hand guns, and some employees from the Prefectura who had tear gas canisters in their hands.

Also, people in el Alto are blocking the airport to stop the "Prefectos" travel and remain in La Paz, to sort out their differences. (Manfred Reyes Villa is in La Paz). "

People are angry in Cochabamba because the bulk of the thugs who make the Juventud Por La Democracia came from Santa Cruz.

Jim Jay said...

Also from around the blogosphere - just for a taste I'm not endorsing all of these and I'm not sure exactly how useful they are but anyway...

Bolivia Today

Red Possum

Off Topic

Mi vida en Bolivia

Highlander highlights

IPS news

Please feel free to add any news / blogs / views

Jim Jay said...


New Socialist Group (Canadian)

BBC (better late than never auntie beeb)

Jim Jay said...

Statement from "LA COORDINADORA" in Cochabamba


The social conquests have never been the product of "legality", have not been Laws nor judges those that have changed the country, has always been the people in the streets. 1952, 1978, 1979. 1982, 2000, 2003, 2005, are dates where the people, breaking all legality, initiated the April revolution, reconquered democracy, demanded land and territory, defeated the dictatorship of Pereda, Banzer and of Garcia Meza.

Since 2000 with the Water War the courageous people of Cochabamba began the long fight to defeat neoliberalism.

The Gas War recovered the popular will as the only legitimate instrument of vindication, over the legality that only favoured the rich and powerful; and also over the opportunistic political parties that only think about taking advantage of power.

Nowadays in Cochabamba a new battle takes place, we came out to the streets and roads to occupy spaces of VOICE and DIGNITY, our word is not compromised with any political or economical interest, we speak and act by ourselves.

We are militants of the autonomy of the movements and social organizations, we think that another Bolivia is possible; and that the people are the legitimate owner of the construction of its present and its future.

The order of the resignation of Manfred Reyes Villa, is not only because of his past as aide-de-camp of Garcia Meza and his role in the massacre of the Harringtón Street, including his role as a signatory to the pact signed with Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, it has to do with the following considerations:

1. In public declarations, in a conscientious manner, he has demonstrated that he is not interested in the development of the departmental development, which has become an instrument of the oligarchy cruceña incrusted in Cochabamba, he only worries to protect and to support those interests to maintain his accumulated privileges on the backs of the people, these interests mean exclusion, division of the country and greater poverty, we the people say: WE DO NOT WANT THAT .

2, Cochabamba cannot be turned into an appendix of the oligarchy of Santa Cruz, but Reyes Villa, by means of the use of repression as in his time as aide-de-camp of Garci'a Rocks, and with a strong racist attitude tries to impose a thought foreign to the majority of the people.

3, Manfred Reyes Villa, now disguised as a democrat, walks all over the decision of the cochabambino people that voted NO in the Referendum to the departmental autonomies. Because of these considerations, the social organizations, neighbourhood associations, young people and professionals, who always come out on to the streets, want to express their position to the margin of any position and political interest, that they demand the RESIGNATION of the captain Manfred Reyes Villa.

This is a fight between the wealth of a few and the poverty of millions of us, it is a fight until death... for life.

We cannot accept that others think for us, we cannot allow that Cochabamba becomes a backyard of the Santa Cruz oligarchy, for this reason we must maintain the mobilizations because the people in their wisdom have said.


Cochabamba, January 2007

Coordinator of Defence of the Water and Life, ASICASUR, Federation of Manufacturing Workers of Cochabamba, Housing associations.