Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Boilvia, Tarija, Pando, Santa Cruz, A civil war brewing??

(Between Tarija and Potosi)

It has now been a week since we got here. We "can't" leave because we haven't been able to get gasoline. Well, actually we can leave, as I have enough gas to get back to the border of Argentina, but of course we are interested in going into Bolivia. As you might have read previously the plan had been to head to Trinidad. Unfortunately Trinidad, which lies around 1300km north of here is in the middle of the Santa Cruz province, which along with a couple of others (in particular Pando), is in the middle of some serious civil un-rest.

The problems which the border police had mentioned to us on entering were fairly new, and had just started a day or so previous to our entry, at least as far as Tarija was concerned (the name of the province as well as it's capital). But further north and north/west problems had been brewing longer (around 3 weeks apparently). All in all there seems to be 4 provinces in which there are blockades, and general unrest.

(Between Tarija and Potosi)

The players are, on one side the central government out of La Paz, on the other so called Civic Committees, which to a great extent are the local government(s), and finally the farmers which support the government, and are mobilized by them, against the Civic Committees. Of course the Civic Committees also represent the farmers. But unlike the central government, which subsides (some would say buy) the farmers, the Civic Committees is committed to improve the general situation of everyone, at least that what they keep insisting.

In Pando over the weekend there was a massacre where members of the Civic Committee allegedly shot women and children with the police just standing by. At least if you believe some of the news reports. Some of the people I have talked to say that the government armed, or is arming, the farmers to go against the Civic Committees. Regardless of which side you believe, the "facts" seem to be that a number of people were killed. Of course tactically it is totally understandable that the government prefers to use farmers than it's own military or police organs against the "uprising".

Here in Tarija the situation isn't as bad. There were some serious unrest the day previous to our arrival, and the first few days we were here, but everything seems to have settled down. This in the wake of various discussions that the Civic Committees from Tarija and Santa Cruz were having with the government. Also, possibly due to the religious festival which was taking place during the last week or so. In case you are curious about, when I say unrest, what I am talking about is blocking roads, burning tires and such, throwing rocks and general destruction of property and the looting which always seems to accompany such things. At street level, there are protesters on one side (Civic Committees), police and or peasants on the other. As long as no-one moves there is no problem, everyone respects the blockade and there is no violence. But when one side or the other gets too close then all hell breaks loose. Most of the time, it seems to me that young people are looking for excuses to destroy something, and do some looting, and provoke a confrontation. In some cases the Police steps in and grabs a demonstrator or looter, only to be violently set upon by both sides. A bit curious if you ask me.


The Civic Committees are supported by a large number of the populace, in particular, the middle class. Most of the various government agencies, all of which are closed, with the employees standing around outside the offices, also seem to be supporting the Civic Committee. At least as far as we can tell. All around Tarija, you see stickers with the logo "Si a la Autonomia". Which is pretty self-explanatory.

The core of the problem as far as we have gathered is that the government wants more taxes collected on the resources produced by the various provinces. At the same time they are reducing the government expenditures in these same provinces. The Civic Committees are arguing that the government is not investing in infrastructure projects in the region, an are only taking the money out. Specifically, road building, this being one of the core infrastructure items which is necessary for the development of the country.

The solution they are seeking is more Political Autonomy. A greater say in how the resources are distributed. The feeling of the people (to whom I have spoken) is that the government is mismanaging the wealth of the nation by using it to maintain "their" hold on power. The words Narcotrafficantes and Communists is bandied about a lot when describing the government. The latest example of government mis-management, was a recent referendum which was held on Evo Morales. Apparently, the agency which was in charge of the voting, rigged it by ballot stuffing, going so far as to register and casting votes on behalf of a number of people which at the time were deceased (and still are for that matter..).

On the government side, they are accusing the provinces of trying to usurp presidential power. This as a result of having lost the elections, and the various referendums. In addition they are also accusing the opposition of refusing to sit down and talk, electing instead, civil unrest. Not to mention being greedy. When the president came on tv he threw around some number and the one that stayed with me was that the per capita income in Tarija was around 7000B$ whereas in La Paz it was only around 300B$. On tv there are a lot of ads from both sides.

As I write this (18.09.08), all the blockades have been lifted both in Santa Cruz and in Tarija, the Civic Committees are in discussion with the central government in Cochabamba, and joy of joys, today the Gasoline arrived. I stood in line for 1 1/2 hours to get a tank full of gas (at around 0.40$ a liter). The situation in Pando remains very tense, as the government has arrested district chief (illegally some say), but the rest of the country seems to be getting back to normal.


We are dropping our plans to head to Trinidad, and instead will head towards Potosi and then possibly the Salars near the border of Chile before heading back north towards La Paz and eventually Peru. We are not really worried about the civil problems, because unlike in other parts of the world, the issues here are strictly internal, and there is no movement against foreigners (the U.S. ambassador being a notable exception; he was kicked out of the country by the president for siding with the Civic Committees a few days back).


As you can imagine there is a lot more stuff going on, only some of which we notice or get to hear about. But one thing that the populace has been laughing about is the antics of Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. Apparently at the hight of the tensions he threatened to come in (militarily) in defense of Evo Morales. He said that he would not tolerate it if anything happened to Evo. This of course brought out the nationalism in everyone, including Evo Morales, all of whom condemned the statements. The people on the street seem to have taken this as another proof, that the "Narcotrafficantes" are sticking together to stay in power...

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