Bolivia: Government Declares Martial Law in Pando

Bolivia continues to face social unrest, as anti-government crowds occupied government institutions in the city of Santa Cruz, and other clashes with pro-government supporters in the regions of Pando left 15 dead. As a result, the government declared martial lawplaced a state of emergency in that department.

President Evo Morales has even called for the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Phillip Goldberg, accusing him of conspiring with the opposition. Consequently, the U.S. government has also asked for the expulsion of the Bolivian ambassador in Washington, Gustavo Guzman. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, in a sign of solidarity, also asked for the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador in that country [es].

Many bloggers are writing about the events, and many others are capturing dramatic photos and videos. On his Flickr account, Julio Ricardo Zuna Cossio provides first hand photos of the occupation of the institutions in Santa Cruz. Fernando of Vecino Barrio [es] also has firsthand photos of the destruction suffered by the public buildings.

Photo of disturbance in Santa Cruz. Taken by Julio Ricardo Zuna Cossio and used with permission.

Through rumors and stories, it is often difficult to find out the real story happening in each city. Renzo Colanzi writes in first-person format recounting his experiences during the tense and uncertain times in Santa Cruz [es]. In addition, to receiving SMS messages of possible confrontation and stories of arrest:

A la una de la mañana fui llamado por un primo que me indico que se dirigía a la Plaza 24 de Septiembre debido a que le habían dicho que un grupo de masistas venia enfrentarse. Como vivo a pocas cuadras me dirigí a la Plaza, pero no ocurria nada en el lugar. (…) En la Plaza ya se sabía de esta camioneta y que también había una vagoneta Land Cruiser, que estaba realizando el mismo acto con cualquier grupo de jóvenes que era encontrado por las calles del centro.

At one in the morning, I was called by my cousin who told me he was going to the Plaza 24 de Septiembre because they told him a group of MAS (the government's party) supporters came for confrontation. As I lived a few blocks away, I went to the Plaza, but nothing happened there. (…) In the Plaza, there was knowledge of this truck (that had stopped people) and that there was also a Land Cruiser that was doing the same thing with any group of young people that were found in the center of the city.

This uncertainty is affecting especially hard those that have not participated in marches, protests or confrontations. Karen Heredia of Santa Cruz writes about precautionary measures being taken by many families [es]:

Me toco ir luego en la tarde al mercado, ahí veía a la gente comprar como si mañana no hubiera tal. Creo que hasta ayer, todo me parecía surreal hasta que escuche la charla de dos señoras, mientras la casera les vendía comida en lata. Ellas contaban como cada una de ellas se preparaban para lo peor, en este caso una guerra Civil. Argumentos a favor, argumentos en contra…

Lo que dijo una de ellas termino la discusión de quien tenia la culpa:

“Bueno, sea como sea, quien tenga la culpa, lo cierto es que no hay gas, no hay plata para comprar mas comida, gasolina ni diésel y ahora todos los días estamos con la pena de que nos maten, no se puede vivir así”

It was my turn to go to the market, and there I saw people buying goods as if there were no tomorrow. I think until yestereday, everything seemed surreal until I heard two women talking, while the vendor sold them canned food. They were talking about how they were preparing for the worst case scenario, in this case Civil War. Arguments for, arguments against…

They ended the conversation with who was at fault:

“Whoever is at fault, what is certain is that there is no gas, no money to buy more food, gasoline or diesel, and now everyone is afraid that they will kill us, we can't live like this.”

The major points of disagreement between the central government and the departments of Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz and Tarija are the revenues from the hydrocarbons (IDH for its initials in Spanish), which has been decreased and channeled into another government program for a pension for the elderly, as well as the Constitutional draft that the government wants to put to a nationwide referendum. The governors of these departments want for the autonomic statues that were passed in a controversial referendum to be included in this Constitution.

The armed forces remain to be a major factor in resolving this crisis. Miguel Centellas of Pronto* writes:

Another question has to do w/ the military. So far, the military has essentially sat this out, despite direct mob attacks on military installations (which left more than a few conscripts & junior officers injured). Instead, the confrontations have mostly involved civilian groups like the UJC (pro-autonomy) & pro-MAS groups. Will the military eventually help restore order or guarantee political dialogue? Can Evo count on the military to back his government? So far the military has made clear that it doesn’t want to use lethal force w/o express written orders from the president (they don’t want to be held responsible for the resulting casualties).

However, a recent communication from the Armed Forces has hinted at an operation to retake the occupied buildings, according to a reprint in Al Minuto [es].

Mario Durán contributed to this story with the submission of links.


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