The Two Bolivias Clash
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Boliviano del Periodismo Auténtico
February 13, 2003
“This is a struggle of the Bolivian people who are poor and dispossessed, of men, women, elders and children who have always been ignored by the those political classes that are controlled by the empire of North America, multinational corporations, and by the corrupt politicians of the country,” said Evo Morales Ayma, a coca growers’ leader and member of Congress, regarding the recent social unrest in Bolivia.
During the past 48 hours, in the country located in the epicenter of the American continent, there were more than 25 people assassinated in the armed confrontation of the police and military. This detonated a pitched class struggle that has been building for many years now. The victims were people who took to the streets to reclaim their just demands. More than 80 were wounded by gunfire.
In the first six months of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada’s administration, the government has been responsible for more than 37 deaths, more than during a similar period of time under the military dictatorship.
This past Sunday, the government, which is conformed by a coalition of neoliberal parties that follow the rules of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), attempted to impose taxes on the salaries of all workers. The measure was designed to reduce the fiscal deficit, making the poor poorer and making the rich richer.
The people could not make any more sacrifices and thus seized the streets and roads as trenches of resistance.
In response to the deaths, the protesters assaulted the Vice-President’s office and burnt the offices of the traditional parties. They looted stores, markets, and factories, while paralyzing the activities of the whole country.
In a telephone conversation, the leader of the coca growers explained that the present conflict has its roots in the existence of two Bolivias.
The first Bolivia is conformed by Aymaras, Quechuas, Guaranis, and other indigenous nations, in addition to workers, the unemployed and the poor. The other Bolivia is made of the political class, sustained by businessmen and transnational corporations linked to theft and corruption.
“We defend the culture of peace and of equality, and they defend the culture of death and the destruction of our values,” he said.
Rocked by social unrest, the government of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada scrapped his plan to raise taxes. But the nation’s popular movements are making greater demands: his resignation, and that of Vice-President Carlos Mesa.
Bolivia’s poor, represented by popular political and social organizations and unions, are prepared to fight for the convocation of a Popular Constituent Assembly. In pursuit of this objective, they have begun blocking city streets, roads and highways.
The leader of the Bolivian Farm Workers’ Union, CSUTCB in its Spanish initials, Felipe Quispe Huanca, after a speech at Merida’s Felipe Carrillo Puerto Theatre, left the warm climes of Mexico to join the leadership of the social movements in Bolivia.
“We need to get rid of this murderous government, which is a servant of the gringos,” said the Mallku. “In the memory of our sacred coca leaf and our Pachamama (Mother Earth), we are going to implement profound changes that benefit Bolivia’s indigenous people.”
The Greater State of the People
Factory leader Oscar Olivera Foronda said that the country’s poor should coordinate actions through the Greater State of the People. This horizontally structured representative body brings together unions and social and political organizations at the departmental, regional and national levels to fight against the neoliberal model.
Between January 13 and 27 of 2003, the Greater State of the People led a national movement that provoked a virtual State of Emergency, which resulted in 22 deaths, including 11 retirees, six cocaleros, two campesinos, a woman, a military officer and a policeman.
But since then, the nation’s popular movements have managed to recuperate the voice of the dispossessed, snatching it from the political class, with the conformation of seven negotiation tables between the popular sectors and the government.
“This is a process of construction. We are building strength and learning from our errors as we construct a new country. The hour has arrived for us to change the structure of the country so as to definitively crush our executioners,” said Olivera.
Today, the clashes that initiated in La Paz spread to other regions, reflecting the progress being made by the struggle for a better future in Bolivia, step by step, but forward…
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