2 Rebel Soldiers Worry Bolivian Social Movements
Two Rebel Soldiers Worry the Bolivian Social Movements
May 25, 2005
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This morning the Aymara came down marching from El Alto once again. This time it was a huge group divided into three parts: more than 5,000 rural school teachers from the La Paz department, then the Federation of Neighborhood Committees of El Alto (FEJUVE), and behind, battle-hardened, the Aymara peasant farmers. Downtown La Paz was paralyzed all day long by mobilizations… and all day long one could hear the famous rumor of a civic-military coup looming in Bolivia. We'll tell you, here, how the people have lived, on their feet, in this country…
This morning the country had two "bombs" to digest for breakfast. The first fell last night in the southern city of Tarija, where the civic committees and the congressional delegations from four departments demanded an immediate referendum on regional autonomy from the National Congress. Now playing the role of the new belligerent right in Bolivia, the civil and legislative authorities of the east and the south threatened to hold the referendum themselves if they were not attended in their demand to govern and manage their natural resources at their own pleasure. Of course, there was not a single indigenous or peasant farmer leader among them to represent the areas where those resources are actually located, such as the gas in the ethnic Guaraní region of Chaco (in the southeast).
But the second explosion came from the media, and left it very clear that there is a new front this apparent chaos: two lieutenant colonels (officials who normally have direct command over military units) appeared on a La Paz television station this morning. The officials, who spoke at length of the crisis Bolivia is living, openly called upon the people (and on all their comrades in arms) to join the mobilizations, turning against the high military command and the Bolivian political class.
Lieutenant Colonels Julio Herrera and Julio Galindo kept coming back to the same message: they demanded the installation of what they called a "civic-military government" of transition, which brought the soldiers into the defense of the natural resources and the formation of a new government. Herrera, according to a report on the Radio Erbol website today, said: "Initially, the government we want to form is one with the participation of all sectors of society, not a military government. We want the president's resignation and the closure of the Congress."
A few hours later, in the Plaza de los Héroes, a red banner appeared with black letters repeating almost the same message, which – and this is no coincidence – greatly resembled Monday's fiery speech by Jaime Solares, executive secretary of the Bolivian Workers' Federation (COB), during the social movements' assembly in that same square. Both the government and some social movements had accused Solares of having links to coup plotters for several days.
A little before 11:00 in the morning, the High Command of the Armed Forces gave a statement disowning Herrera and Galindo's arguments, advising both officials that they would be sanctioned for their "irregular military careers." Nevertheless, rumors flew all day, greatly worrying the social movements… as well as the administration of President Carlos Mesa.
After midday, as the Aymara peasant farmers marched on the Plaza Murillo in a much more peaceful manner than yesterday, at least a hundred military police entered the plaza and deployed around the Palace of Government. Inside that building, Mesa and the high military officials had been in an intense meeting since 10:30 that morning.
As we were saying, the Aymara farmers, the rural schoolteachers and the El Alto residents came down into La Paz in three large groups. The teachers, nearly all of them bilingual and of indigenous origin, were the first to reach the city center, and gathered in the north of Plaza Murillo. The FEJUVE leaders, who are still divided over whether to fight for nationalization or to moderate themselves and avoid a national fight, took their contingent on a long route that caused them to fall behind… but they could be seen in some of the blockades of the central plaza together with the peasant farmers… who were once again the backbone of the mobilizations.
"Brother, what do you know about these soldiers? We are very worried… this could all turn very bad," Gualberto Choque, executive secretary of the Tupaj Kitari Single Departmental Federation of Peasant Farmers of La Paz. Choque was out in front of his people again, together with the principal Aymara leaders. "We will not allow a coup, wherever it comes from, because that doesn't change things for us or our demands… we want peace, but a peace after they have left," emphasized the campesino leader, looking towards the Plaza Murillo.
This time, the Aymara surrounded the plaza and President Mesa but did not try to enter. With a less belligerent attitude after marching for two days, they only took the streets. There were small confrontations and some teargas on Sucre Ave, a block north from the capital buildings, and again in the intersection of Colón and Comercio streets. In that place, the police tried to repress some of the people for new reason, and the people responded with dynamite, sending glass flying from the windows of the building – property of the Congress – that housed the snipers yesterday.
A little past 3:00 in the afternoon, tired and worried, the main groups demobilized. A young Aymara fighter asked us about the coup as well… this correspondent showed him a flyer that they have been passing out among the mobilizations. Directed to "all Bolivians and Latin American brothers," and signed by a supposed "Civil-Military Alliance," the document speaks of how "civilians and young soldiers, `BOLIVIANS UNITED,' will share in the glory of liberating Bolivia from a government that has sold out to foreign interests."
The young protester, worried like everyone about the tensions we are living through, and faced with the uncertainty created by these soldiers and their civilian allies, bade farewell, saying, "These guys make us look bad."
At the moment, some parts of downtown La Paz are still tightly guarded by the National Police's Special Security Group (of whom an intent to mutiny was announced this morning)… the soldiers remain at their posts in Plaza Murillo… the people fighting in this city have returned to their houses or shacks… but despite the calm that has fallen, no one is quite relaxing.
Don't lose sight of us, because the tide is rising and all this is far from over. Follow the latest developments, in the Narcosphere:
From somewhere in a country called América,
Luis A. Gómez
The Narco News Bulletin