Narconews: The People Take La Paz
The People Take La Paz
May 31, 2005
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In a march even bigger than yesterday's, the residents of El Alto and the Aymara peasant farmers returned to La Paz this morning. More than 50,000 people covered an area of nearly 100 square kilometers: this time they didn't just limit themselves to surrounding the Plaza Murillo, where the president makes his speeches and congressmen decide Bolivia's fate without taking the people's desires into account. Now they have spread out to the neighborhoods bordering the city center, where the middle class, exclusive merchants, and several embassies are located. The pressure on Congress and the administration, though not looking for confrontation, is now coming from dozens of vital intersections.
And once again, the division between the social movements was obvious: while some demanded hydrocarbon nationalization, others are simply asking for the organization of a new constitutional assembly.
For several hours the streets were only rivers of people, flowing in all directions. In some cases, as in that of the students of the Autonomous Public University of El Alto, the people endured gas grenades the police launched to disperse them.
But they're still there: there is no order, no coordination, but the urban space is theirs for the moment: the rural Aymara, the people of El Alto (urban Aymara), the farming communities from south of La Paz, the miners and the public school teachers, who decided to march to the rich neighborhoods and are now several kilometers south of downtown.
The university students and the Movement of Unemployed Workers have installed barricades in the Plaza de Héroes. The people of a few El Alto neighborhoods, together with the Aymara peasant farmers of the Omasuyos province, have managed to shut down Plaza Isabel la Católica (fifty meters from the United States embassy!).
The demands of this group, which is in no way homogenous, are all the same: that the political class leave the country (President Mesa as well as the Bolivian members of congress)… and the government, which accuses them of sedition and has militarized the central Plaza Murillo, is so far unable to get out of its bunker. However, Government Minister Saúl Lara ruled the use of force or the declaration of a state of siege for the coming hours.
And at this moment, while I quickly describe for you all a few of the scenes outside, the National Congress is deliberating on whether to hold an official session. This evening, they should discuss whether to hold a referendum on regional autonomy as requested by the right wing of the city of Santa Cruz… the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) also hopes that, finally, Congress will discuss and approve a law to convene a Constituents' (constitutional) Assembly and definitively change the face of Bolivia. Some groups allied to the MAS party are demanding this in the streets.
What comes next, kind readers, amid all this chaos? It's difficult to say; the people of El Alto and the Aymara peasants will not be leaving for the rest of the day (and the number of demonstrators has now reached something like 100,000)… and the MAS continues the pressure on all fronts, including through their representatives in Congress. For now, more out of weakness than prudence, Mesa's government is not leaving the small plaza where the military defends a few buildings adorned with doves.
Stay with us, while we go back unto the streets and to the National Congress to see what's going on….
From somewhere in a country called América,
Luis A. Gómez
The Narco News Bulletin