I have complied a FAQ on what is going on in Cochabamba, Bolivia. If you missed the genesis of the conflict, you will be able to catch up, while more news appear in the media.
How did the conflict start?
On December 14th
, 2006, a day before the Crescent Moon Departments (Santa Cruz, Tarija
, which form a crescent moon shape in Bolivia's map) organized a mass protest against Evo
Morales' intrusion in the Constituent Assembly (here
), Cochabamba Governor Mafred
Reyes Villa also organized a town hall meeting. In this meeting, he expressed support for the Crescent Moon call for autonomy and 2/3 in the Constituent Assembly. He also said that he would call for a new autonomy referendum in Cochabamba, as he considers that population was misinformed during the July 2006 one, when Cochabamba rejected autonomy with 63%.
On January 4th
, the "social movements" aligned with MAS decide to ask for Reyes Villa's resignation for 'treason'. The aforementioned social movements are comprised by only 6 of 35 social groups of Cochabamba's Workers' Union (COD). All of them are Coca Growers Unions, which are incidentally commanded by Evo
On the 5th
they start the siege of Cochabamba. No violence is registered thus far and Reyes Villa says he will not resign.
On January 8th
, things get out of hand. The "social movements" start getting violent. Cabinet member Alicia Munoz orders the police not to intervene -because it would be repression. Commanded by MAS legislators, the movements set the Cochabamba State Capitol on fire (here
). The government is quick to denounce
Cochabamba's Governor as the main culprit, while acknowledging
that it was their grassroots
movements who set the building on fire. Newspapers report that Governor Reyes Villa had to evacuate the building disguised in a fire truck.
On January 9th
Morales censors minister Alicia Munoz and travels to Nicaragua, leaving Vice-President Garcia Linera
in charge. Bolivian police is confused in regard to what their function should be. Garcia Linera
supports the cocaleros
and says that Manfred Reyes Villa's call for a referendum is illegal. Cocaleros
start blocking the roads of Cochabamba, causing at least $3 million in loses for exporters and thousands of stranded travellers. Civic Committee calls for a 'march for peace' to be held in one of Cochabamba's main squares.
, the cocaleros
take over the square designated
for the Committee's march. People from Cochabamba, tired from the excesses of cocaleros
, reunite somewhere else and start marching towards the cocaleros
. There is no violence, but the Civic group, called Youth for Democracy, give 24 hrs to the cocaleros
to leave town. Anti-Evo
chants can be heard on one side of the street (Evo
, El Pueblo Esta Emputado
, be careful, the people are pissed off) and Anti-Autonomy chants on the other (Autonomia
! - Autonomy, fucking never!). Secreary
of Cochabamba's COD admits that most social groups are not taking part in the protests and that they screwed up (metieron
) by demanding Reyes Villa's resignation (here
). The Governor of La Paz
supports Reyes Villa and proposes that the autonomy referendum be nationwide (here
). Santa Cruz and the Crescent Moon departments express their support for Manfred Reyes Villa and democracy. Garcia Linera
says that the government will retreat its forces iff
Reyes Villa does not call the autonomy referendum (here
put two people in hospital, just because they
had Eastern Bolivia accents. They also get violent with reporters
This chain of events leads to...
What happened yesterday?
Youth for Democracy (YfD
) get together again and give one more warning to the cocaleros
: they have until 3pm to get out of Cochabamba. Once the deadline passes, a force of 8,000-10,000 start marching to the site where cocaleros
are posted. There is a small police force in the Cala
Bridge, but they are easily and non-violently surpassed. They arrive to the Banderas
Square, where cocaleros
are surprised and flee to the Prado avenue. Violent clashes are registered, and the YfD
follow the cocaleros
. There are more cocaleros
waiting in the Prado avenue and chaos takes over. Cocaleros
to the YfD
and some gunshots
are heard, although most battles resort to sticks, fists and stones (here
). 400 policemen/women are deployed to deal with the conflict (here
Reyes Villa is in La Paz
, in a meeting with all non-aligned
Governors. This, unfortunately leads to MAS pressure groups getting together and starting the conflict in La Paz
. They are maintaining a siege of the hotel where the elected officials are meeting and issued orders to take over the international airport, in order to prevent the Governors from getting out or support from coming in (here
). Reports of food scarcity in La Paz
and Cochabamba appear. Santa Cruz is also in alert and preparing to support Reyes Villa and Democracy (here
MAS Vice-President says that all 4 members of YfD
caught with guns will be processed. Surprisingly
, he does not say a word about what will happen to cocaleros
caught with guns or dynamite
).What is the toll of the conflict so far?
SO far, two people have died and more than 100 are wounded, 3 of which are fighting for their lives as of now. Other media outlets report more than 200 wounded and one person with cerebral death.
The dead are:
16 year old Cristian Urresti
, from the YfD
. Death was caused by several machete wounds to the head. He was the son of a LAB pilot and his 17th
birthday was today.
41 year old Nicomedes
Gutierrez, from the cocaleros
. Death was caused by a bullet wound to the chest.
Some media have reported a third death, but it is unconfirmed as of now. The wounded are aged from 12 to 65, on both sides. The majority of injured belongs to the cocaleros
, though.Only 400 policemen/women to control 10,000 persons?
Yes. The crisis in the police was caused by cabinet member Alicia Munoz. When police was disbanding violent attacks from cocaleros
with tear gas on Jan. 8th
, she sacked the newly appointed police chief for repression. The police retreated and the cocaleros
were able to burn the State Capitol. She also said that "when the minister is in charge, no governor is [in charge] (Donde manda ministra
, no manda prefecto
)", making police men and women fear for their jobs if they acted. It is clear now that police acted on their own and were just doing their jobs, i.e. protecting the city. Reyes Villa and the sacked chief of police deny giving orders. So, it is likely that police officials are reluctant to act for fear to MAS' apparatus.Is it likely for the conflict to spread to other regions?
has already spread to La Paz
and Santa Cruz (here
).What is Evo Morales doing to solve this conflict?
Morales is not even in Bolivia, he's in Nicaragua with Hugo Chavez, celebrating former dictator Daniel Ortega's return to power. His trip was not authorized by Congress, so his visit to Ortega should be considered personal and not official. He travelled one day after the Cochabamba state capitol was burnt by his followers, which indicates where his priorities lie.You are lying because you are a damn oligarch. Evo Morales is the Messiah.
No, he's not. He's a very naughty boy.So, who is responsible for this conflict taking place?
So far, instead of trying to apace
the sides, both government and opposition have been busy trying to make the other look bad.
However, if you view things impartially, the government should be held responsible. First, they are the ones that organized the cocaleros
and send them to to Cochabamba. If the government were somewhat more democratically-oriented, they would not have panicked from Reyes Villa referendum call. But, since it was with street protests that Evo
Morales got into power, they were keen to use it whenever somebody said something they didn't like. They certainly did not count with people going to the streets to defend democracy and react to their burning of the State Capitol. The view of many cocaleros
is "if we could oust [former president] Sanchez de Lozada
, we can oust Reyes Villa". Once again, this shows Evo
Morales' authoritarian leanings.
Second, it was Evo
Morales, through years of complaining about state repression against the will of the people, who took away the state's monopoly on violence. Now, MAS officials are too busy trying to look like good guys, opposed to repression, to make the police enforce the law. Now, anybody (who is aligned to MAS) can do anything
and if the police tries to prevent it, we soon hear cries of human rights violations and police repression, regardless of how legal the act was in the first place.
Finally, MAS started the conflict, by burning the State Capitol and, instead of calling a truce, blaming the Governor. This was too much for Cochabambinos
.I hear several statements saying that the autonomy referendum proposed by Manfred Reyes Villa is illegal. Is this true?
No. The referendum called by Manfred Reyes Villa is totally legal. This has been confirmed by the country's electoral body (here
). In fact, any citizen in Bolivia who can come up with the necessary number of signatures and agrees to pay the costs, can organize a referendum. The legality of the referendum has been questioned by MAS officials and used as a pretext to sack a democratically-elected Governor who is aligned with the opposition. MAS fears that if Cochabamba wins its autonomy, other departments will follow soon and this will be a fatal blow to Evo's
wishes of pulling a Chavez -he's trying to increase his power by writing a new constitution.What is the international community saying about this conflict?
Not much. Yesterday at 7pm GMT, I looked into the BBC (UK's international edition), UK's
newspapers The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times and the Telegraph, Spain's El Pais
and US' NY Times and WSJ
and none had a word about it. None of them even had the Capitol Burning piece. The papers I found to report the incident were the Miami Herald and SF Chronicle. Today, it seems that BBCMundo (in Spanish), El Pais
, the NY Times and Washington Post have started following the conflict. No UK newspapers have done so until now.
In terms of blogs, read Manuel Buitrago's MABB
Pundit (links are on the side bar).Where can I read updates on the situation?
If you can read Spanish, La Razon
from La Paz
and Los Tiempos
from Cochabamba are the newspapers I follow, although el Deber
, from Santa Cruz may become a very interesting read now. They
only make a couple of updates a day, though. A better website, with more frequent updates, is that of NoticiasBolivianas.com
. It also includes the headlines for all Bolivian newspapers.
For English readers, keep an eye on the blogs I mention above and this one.Bolivia
, Evo Morales
Labels: Bolivia, Civil War, Cochabamba, Evo Morales