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More Marches in Bolivia as Protests Widen, But Still No Advance
By Luis Gomez,
Posted on Mon May 30th, 2005 at 07:19:11 PM EST

This morning they did it again: the steep kilometers that separate La Paz from EL Alto were completely covered by the biggest march the Bolivian capital has seen since October 2003. Workers, street merchants, and other groups from El Alto led the human serpent... and behind them the Aymara peasant farmers, who have also kept the roads coming into the city from the northern provinces blocked since last Thursday. Nevertheless, despite so much activity, the social movements have not decided on an offensive advance and have limited themselves to surrounding the central plaza and holding an assembly there, as has become the custom....

More than 20,000 people returned to the streets today, Monday, in La Paz. The first to mobilize were the groups and labor union affiliated with the El Alto Regional Workers' Federation (Central Obrera Regional de El Alto), most of them merchants and vendors. They were more than10,000 all together. At 9:30 am, under this burning sun, dynamite could begin to be heard, and at that time, we began to descend with them towards downtown La Paz.

Behind them, a similarly-sized contingent of Aymara peasants began to come down as well... these farmers, especially in the northern provinces, are maintaining and, little by little, expanding blockades of roads leading into the interior of La Paz department (the large region surrounding the city, equivalent to a state or prefecture). They are now preventing agricultural products from reaching urban markets.

Below, in the populous Plaza de Héroes, all activity collapsed for several hours. The demonstrators – among them the peasant farmers of the southern La Paz province of Sud Yungas, the mineworkers, and others – saturated the streets with slogans, cries, and marches. Why so much emphasis on the immensity of the protest, kind readers? Because this morning, media-savvy President Mesa, in his first public appearance of the week, said that the groups mobilizing to demand hydrocarbon nationalization are "minorities" and that those leading the new wave of protests are "irresponsible leaders."

And while the Bolivian president spoke in defense of the National Congress and repeated for the nth time that he would not resign, his Minister of Government, Saúl Lara, had taken charge of filing conspiracy charges against the two lieutenant colonels who last week called for a military uprising, as well as against social leaders Jaime Solares (executive secretary of the Bolivian Workers' Federation, or COB) and Roberto de la Cruz, an Aymara member of the El Alto city council. With this move, the government seems to not only be cracking down on the civic-military plot we spoke of a few days ago, but also, while they're at it, criminalizing all the other mobilized opposition groups....

At midday, the sectors that had marched held an assembly to reaffirm their slogans for nationalization, Carlos Mesa's resignation, and the closing of Congress. After this they demobilized... and announced that tomorrow they will return in even greater force. Tomorrow, of course, the National Congress should be in session, surrounded by the people, to define the organization of the Constituents' (constitutional) Assembly and the so-called vote on departmental autonomy in Bolivia, a demand of the Santa Cruz right wing.

Meanwhile, the El Alto general civic strike, decreed by the Federation of Neighborhood Committees (FEJUVE), is nearly in full force. In the principal avenues, the residents managed to paralyze all traffic, as well as commercial activity all across the Aymara metropolis just next-door to La Paz. There are even barricades in a few important intersections, and the Alteños have warned that beyond closing the city, they will descend into La Paz.

For the moment, the strength is there, restless, but the advance has still not been decided on (although at this hour of the afternoon, small dynamite blasts can still be heard in the streets)... tomorrow, among the sessions of Congress, marches, and other demonstrations, the landscape could change. So keep paying attention as the events develop...

bolivia | aymara | (archives) |