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Bolivian paramilitary right resorts to illegal measures

by Ronaldo Carmona

Member of the International Relations Commission of the Communist Party of Brazil
and international observer at the Bolivian referendum of 10 August
[Translated from Spanish]

The political situation in Bolivia—where the right wing does not yield even the smallest fraction of its privileges to the Indian and mestizo (mixed-race) majority—is showing signs of rapid aggravation and deterioration, thus sounding an alert. The right-wing forces resorted to violent and illegal action less than a month after losing the referendum. The objective is, as they say, “tumbar el Índio” (to topple the Indian), i.e. President Evo Morales.
     As denounced by the Bolivian Communist Party—which has been a lucid and responsible revolutionary force in the current state of affairs—a “civil coup” has been set in motion in order to oust President Morales and put an end to the so-called Bolivian Democratic and Cultural Revolution.
     During the last months the situation has reached what some have called a “catastrophic stalemate.” The forces of change sought approval for the new Bolivian Constitution, marked by a democratic, popular and anti-neoliberal character. At the same time the right tried to approve the so-called “Autonomous Statutes.” The two propositions are antagonistic and represent opposed projects for the country.
     But on 10 August the people were called to settle the issue by means of a referendum, either revoking or confirming the mandate of President Evo Morales and eight of the nine Bolivian regional governors. And they have reached their verdict: Morales was ratified in 95 of the 112 Bolivian provinces. He was backed by 67 per cent of the votes, which is even more than the 53 per cent that elected him president in 2005. The number of votes for Morales grew in eight of the nine states after thirty months of government. Moreover, two governors from the Movement for Socialism—in Oruro and Potosi—were ratified, and two opposing governors were rejected.
     As victory was celebrated, Morales called for reconciliation and unity. In an unprecedented gesture, he considered an agreement combining aspects of the new proposed Constitution with the Autonomous Statutes. But the gestures of the Bolivian President were in vain.
     Inverting political logic, the opposition not only ignored the conciliatory appeals made by the President but also chose radicalisation. Cornered by the popular vote of two-thirds of Bolivians for Evo, the Bolivian right—entrenched in the inaptly named Conalde (National Democratic Council), which unites five Bolivian departments and the so-called Civic Committees—decided to intensify coup-like actions.

The opposition turns radical

As the opposition turns radical, it chooses the method of forming violent gangs by means of recruiting lumpen and delinquent youths to create paramilitary militias, such as the Santa Cruz Youth Union (UJC). Armed with huge bats and riding trucks, the UJC is dedicated to occupying and destroying public facilities and the tax-collecting offices of the central government, blocking roads and border offices. It even assaults the poor and peasants with indigenous traits in the Bolivian highlands.
     Among the slogans shouted by these militias is the following: “Let’s put an end to the collas, that damned race.” “Collas” are the Indians and mestizos from the highlands who have spread all over the country, usually working with agriculture or as street vendors.
     The embassy of the United States is directly involved with the creation of such groups, as denounced by President Morales. It sponsors these militias both politically and materially by means of US AID.
     “I have been informed by some authorities, especially from the department of Santa Cruz, that some people who work for the American embassy organise such groups,” said the President last Sunday. The US Ambassador, Philip Goldberg (the same who, as ambassador to Yugoslavia, dealt with the Kosovo crisis ten years ago), has circulated intensely in departments ruled by the opposition to offer political and financial support.
     In an attempt to demoralise the President and force the state to react, the right-wing militias resorted to obstructing the very mobility of President Morales within Bolivian territory. On 27 August, in Riberalta (Beni), one of those groups occupied the city airport, forcing the Bolivian President to cross the Mamoré River on a boat to Guajará-Mirim, in the Brazilian state of Rondônia, in order to go back to La Paz. In another episode, which took place on 5 August in Tarija, in southern Bolivia, the militias seized the airport and prevented Presidents Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela from disembarking to sign treaties of co-operation.
     The right also makes efforts to regionalise the crisis. In the last few days they threatened to occupy the facilities of the Bolivian state-owned company YPFB, blocking the sale of gas to Brazil and Argentina.
     That would be serious: 75 per cent of the gas Brazil imports from Bolivia supplies the industries in the state of São Paulo. Border posts, such as those in San Matias and San Vicente—in the border area between Santa Cruz in Bolivia and the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil—and another in Beni, near Guajará-Mirim, in the state of Rondônia, were also occupied.
     In those cases the cynical silence of the Brazilian media is noticeable, as the same media have made such a scandal of the nationalisation of Bolivian gas plants in 2006; some excited journalists even demanded the presence of Brazilian military in Bolivia. But this time they remain quiet, even in the face of threats to cut the flow of gas to Brazil, tacitly supporting the right-wing opposition in Bolivia.
     The provocations of the paramilitary militias to the armed forces are also noteworthy. Last Friday (5 September) in Cobija (Pando) they hijacked a small military aeroplane, imprisoning a general for a few hours. In Trinidad, capital of Beni, they have threatened to seize an army headquarters. In the same department the opposition “demands” the ousting of the military commander. In Santa Cruz the paramilitary forces reached the extreme of besieging the Police Headquarters for an entire day. The objective of these provocations seems to be clear: forcing a reaction that will lead to many deaths in order to destabilise the government of President Morales.

A civil coup is under way

Progressive forces are urged to show active solidarity with the Bolivian people and with the government of President Morales. Likewise, Latin American progressive governments urgently need to present clear signs of repudiation regarding the regionalisation of the conflict and any separatist attempt.
     The conflict in Bolivia shows the symptoms of a radicalised and acute class conflict. It is not a matter of a regional conflict, as the media try to make it look. Empirical data from the referendum makes it clear that, even in departments governed by the opposition, the votes for Morales reached 40 per cent. The discourse and the flags flown by the opposition are nothing but disguises: they are openly anti-communist, neo-liberal, and racist.
     Solidarity with the Bolivian people, the government of Evo Morales, the Movement for Socialism (MAS), the Bolivian Communist Party and other progressive forces in Bolivia is urgent. The fall of President Morales—the great objective of the Bolivian right—would represent a serious setback in the struggle for furthering the democratic, progressive and anti-imperialist trend emerging in Latin America.

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