“Bolivia’s Movement for Socialism government is being confronted on the streets of Santa Cruz by violent right-wing opposition-led violence reminiscent of the coup that deposed elected president Evo Morales in October 2019.”Tim Young, Friends of Bolivia
By Tim Young, Friends of Bolivia
Bolivia’s Movement for Socialism (MAS) government is being confronted on the streets of Santa Cruz by violent right-wing opposition-led violence reminiscent of the coup that deposed elected president Evo Morales in October 2019. The coup ushered in an illegal regime headed by Jeanine Áñez that was finally defeated at the polls after a year-long campaign of resistance.
Now, in a clash ostensibly about the date when the next Bolivian national census will take place but in reality about destabilising the country’s elected Government, the extreme-right Union of Santa Cruz Youth has been carrying out violent, paramilitary-style street actions, including setting fire to government and trade union buildings and erecting barricades to restrict the daily life of the city’s predominantly Indigenous people.
Behind this is Santa Cruz’s governor, Luis Camacho, who spent years leading an overtly fascist separatist organization, the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, before heading up the right-wing Santa Cruz Civic Committee. In the coup he was one of the main promoters of the violent and racist demonstrations against the government of former President Evo Morales.
Camacho announced on September 30 an anti-government campaign of indefinite duration, starting on October 22. The Civic Committee has forced key factories and commercia centres to shut down, achieving a lockout in the city.
Barriers have been placed across major highways restricting exports and domestic deliveries of various commodities, mainly food. Stringing wire across roads has led to some deaths of motorcyclists and numerous injuries, including of a baby (see below.) Street violence has led to other injuries and human rights violations.
The explanation for this conflict about what elsewhere would be a minor disagreement about the timing of government business lies in the area’s history of and how that shapes its current politics.
Most of Bolivia’s wealth is produced in its four easternmost departments, particularly Santa Cruz, whose economy includes industrial-scale agricultural operations and the bulk of Bolivia’s natural gas reserves.
As such, among the area’s elites (who include former eastern European families that immigrated to Bolivia post 1945, with fascist tendencies) is a perception that it provides more to central government than it receives in services.
In 2008 this erupted into a separatist revolt in the eastern departments, fuelled by racist opposition to government plans to use part of the income from the hydrocarbons tax towards its Renta Dignidad pension plan that would substantially benefit Bolivia’s Indigenous people.
The separatist revolt was unsuccessful but hostility to Morales and the entire socialist and plurinational project remained, briefly succeeding in achieving his illegal overthrow but then beaten back and trounced in the 2020 election by the MAS. Since then, the Arce government has successfully reversed the coup regime’s neoliberal policies, reactivated the economy and tackled the pandemic emergency, reducing its impact on Bolivia’s most vulnerable families.
For the Right, the census offers opportunities to gain political ground, since the eastern area‘s population has increased since the last one. Census results help determine the allocation of national government resources and departmental seat distribution in the national Legislative Assembly. Any increase in the area’s seats could help in the 2025 national elections. In the meantime, weakening the government and the economy aids the objective of destabilising established authority.
Voices are being raised against what is happening in Bolivia. As the lockout continues and street violence intensifies, the President of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia has issued a statement to the international community denouncing the acts of violence and racism being perpetrated by the Santa Cruz Civic Committee against campesinos and trade unionists in the city.
He also called for the government’s Attorney General to bring criminal proceedings against the Santa Cruz Youth Union as a para-state group responsible for acts of violence and arson.
The evidence from the 2019 coup shows what this type of action can lead to, especially when accompanied by the peddling of false narratives in the mainstream media. International solidarity is vital to defend the gains made by the MAS government and beat back the racist and reactionary attempts to undermine it.
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- Friends of Bolivia will be organising a session and stall at the Latin America 2023 Conference on Saturday January 28. Tickets and full info here.