A returning calm --
or eye of the storm?
Santa Cruz was quiet this weekend, with most people hoping that some sort of "modus vivendi" will be worked out between the national government and the autonomous departments in the talks that began Friday between the prefect of Tarija, Mario Cossio, and Vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera. Cossio was in Santa Cruz Saturday conferring with the other "media luna" governors and will return Sunday evening to La Paz to continue talks with the Vice-President.
However, even with negotiations between the government and the opposition in full-swing, the President still stokes the fires of conflict with his rhetoric. As Reuters reports, "Morales defied them (the Prefects of the autonomous departments) on Saturday by vowing to introduce divisive reforms just hours after signs of a compromise had emerged from a first round of talks." In Cochabama today speaking to a group of coca farmers, Morales called the governors of the five departments who oppose the proposed socialist constitution enemies of Bolivia. Just imagine, Morales said, how unpatriotic they are. "They are the enemies of all Bolivians."
The tensest part of the country right now is the small, rural department of Pando at the northwestern limit of the media luna. The first deaths in the current flare-up occurred there with around 25 and counting people reportedly being killed in an altercation Friday between agricultural workers who some say were armed by President Morales' party, MAS, and pro-autonomy residents of the tiny town of Porvenir. The group affiliated with MAS reportedly suffered the majority of the casualties after they had initiated a gunfight. In addition, two more deaths were blamed on the military who opened fire when they landed in Cobija to take the airport back from opposition groups. The armed forces earlier had stated that they would not open fire on Bolivian civilians.
Martial law is still in effect in Pando and Evo Morales has said that he would not hesitate to extend the "estado en sitio" to the other autonomous departments. However, we have no first-hand knowledge of the situation in Pando, and will leave the details to other news organizations, which are gradually arriving in Bolivia.
Santa Cruz itself has returned to a state of near-normalcy, though there is apparently some fighting with sticks, fists and rocks going on out at the blockades that pro-Morales campesinos have set up on the principal routes leading into the city. The principal effect of the blockades surrounding the city is a lack of gasoline in the city. Most stations are out of gas most of the time, and when they have it long lines form immediately.
Generally the mood is to wait and see what comes of the talks between Cossio and Garcia Linera. People in Santa Cruz to whom we spoke believe that the national government is in a weakened position, and will have to make some accommodation with the autonomous departments regarding the sharing of gas and oil revenues, which the departments had been receiving a fixed part of since 1939, and which President Morales had cut off by decree earlier this year. The autonomous departments also want a cancellation of the proposed December referendum on Morales' controversial proposed constitution.
The events of last week seemed to show that the national government is not able to project effectively its authority into the "autonomous" departments. The army and police retreated to their quarters in the face of popular protests in several cities in which offices of the national government, airports, and other facilities were taken over. In addition, one gas pipeline was blown up, and the flow through others curtailed, at least temporarily, by anti-government groups. Bolivia currently is not producing enough gas to meet domestic demand, and is way behind on its contracted shipments to Argentina.
In conversations with Cruceños, they seem to feel that a remarkable turnabout occurred last week. Until then Morales seemed to be in the driver's seat as a result of is two-thirds majority in the recent recall referendum. (However, he lost in all four departments -- out of nine -- that have voted for "autonomia.") Now, the President is forced into dealing with the opposition.
This point of view was reflected repeatedly at a Friday night party attended by relatively well-to-do Cruceños who cheerfully accepted the epithet "oligarchs," that President Morales throws at the entrepreneurs of Santa Cruz. ("It's time for all the oligarchs here to get up and dance," shouted the acting master of ceremonies early on in the evening.) Many expressed confidence that Santa Cruz and the other autonomous departments were united, and well prepared to thwart a wide variety of central government plans to curb exports, centralize government control, and implement various socialistic economic policies President Morales' government wishes to impose. One "oligarch," in summing up his optimistic assessment, concluded: "Remember, Che died here."
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."