This weblog was created to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of the current situation in Bolivia. Our principal effort to try to pull things together and place them in proper perspective is the penultimate post below, titled "Main Story."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Spinning out of control

MECHANIZED ASSAULT -- Anti-government militants comandeered a Land Cruiser to crash the glass facade of the land reform office. El Deber

Violent Clashes
Weren't Foreseen

The sudden escalation of violence in Santa Cruz this week in which crowds of pro-autonomy militants stormed government buildings was not part of the original plan undertaken by the nominal political and civic leaders, Santa Cruz Perspective has learned.
Under the scenario originally contemplated by the leadership here events were not scheduled to escalate until Sept. 25, the day after the annual Santa Cruz Day observations, which would include a mass civic meeting. According to sources with access to the the inner circles of the city's leaders, the escalation was also supposed to take place under much more deliberate and controllable circumstances than occurred this week when the violence appeared spontaneous and the actions little-planned.
That date -- Sept. 25 -- would also also delayed the stepped up level of activity until after the completion of Expocruz, Santa Cruz´huge annual trade fair that normally draws an international audience.
Cabinet changes trigger events
The event that apparently caused at least one faction of the civic leadership to initiate action more precipitously was the announcement last week by President Evo Morales of the promotion or appointment of three cabinet ministers known to favor radical policies. This was taken as a sign that the president and his advisers did not intend to carry out any negotiations that could lead to compromise with the four regions that have voted for "autonomia," and which are currently in a state something close to to active rebellion and demanding restoration of the long-standing system of sharing revenues from gas and oil between the national and regional governments.
However, the decision was apparently not unanimous, and many of the leaders were not even sure what was happening when things turned violent Tuesday. On Wednesday leaders of the university students group (FUL) and the Union Juvenile CruceƱista, a sort of proto-militia, denied that they had planned Tuesday's takeover of national government buildings and the offices of a recently nationalized phone company. They said that they were planning a "peace march" for Friday, which could represent an effort by the civic leadership to get the situation back under control.
Have they crossed the Rubicon?
At the same time it's hard to know how the autonomistas can retreat from the current situation, in which most offices of the national government here have been taken over and closed. (On Wednesday pro-autonomy militants of various sorts took over everything from the ministry of education to the superintendent of forests offices in the city, and were moving on the major transportation hub where rail and bus lines originate. In addition, someone blew up a gas pipeline carrying natural gas to Brazil.
Meanwhile, supporters of President Morales were promising to set up blockades around the city to shut off all supplies to the city, a move almost certain to evoke a violent response.
Will the army open fire?
A key question is whether the armed forces will take action to restore the national government's control of Santa Cruz, and to carry out the President's order to arrest the department's leaders.
The most important fact emerging from Tuesday's confrontations was that the army commanders were not willing to order their troops to shoot civilians. Santa Cruz Perspective's source said that the leadership in Santa Cruz had known for some time that the soldiers would not shoot to kill.
In a remarkably candid interview with El Deber published Wednesday, General Marco Antonio Bracamonte, commander of the Eighth Division which is stationed in Santa Cruz, said, "I am a military man trained for war, but I pray to God for peace." He said that he had consciously disobeyed the order of the President to hold the government buildings at any cost, but did so in the realization that "there would be deaths" if he carried out the order. He said he was fully prepared to be removed from command, but that "God knows" the factors he had to weigh in making his choice Tuesday.
It remains to be seen whether Bracomante's successor, assuming he is replaced, will be more ready to order soldiers to kill fellow Bolivians.
Where were the police?
Bracomante's interview also served to focus attention on the role -- or non-role -- of the national police in Tuesday's confrontation. General Bracamonte complained that the police had taken a position on his flank, "but one moment they were there and the next moment they disappeared," leaving his soldiers vulnerable. The national police have not been seen on the streets of Santa Cruz since Tuesday's violence, resulting among other things in some horrendous traffic jams.
At this point people in Santa Cruz, even those at the highest level, are watching and waiting, unsure of what will happen next.


Angela said...

Hi Kelly and David. I am here in Santa Cruz and accidently came across your blog a few weeks ago. It is quite scary right now. We are only a few blocks from la bimodal and have been hearing the firebombs all day and night. Tonight my 2 year old and I were supposed to return to America (we have family here and visit often), however with the airport taken over American Airlines has decided to cancel all flights until further notice.

Things will only get worse, its just a matter of when.

Anonymous said...

I've really gotten a kick out of your apologetics for the racists and fascists leading the "autonomy" movement over the last few months. So tell me, have the events of the past few days jolted you two back to consciousness as to the poor choice of friends you've made there in Santa Cruz?

Phillip said...

Hello from England and thank you for the continual updates of life in Bolivia ! Having lived in Sta Cruza from 1959-1969 as a young boy and who still visits on a regular basis (hopefully on 15Oct!), it amazes me how governments of that country over the decades have always let down their citizens.
Most countries and people learn from their previous mistakes. The politicians of that country just dont seem to have the overall awareness of looking at the big picture and only seem to be interested in helping, supporting and rewarding their own supporters. At this point in their history I guess its MAS's turn !