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Four deaths in Sucre intensify the confrontation

Four deaths in Sucre intensify the confrontation

by Luis A. Gómez

It's possible that it all began in March 2006 when the Evo Morales government negotiated the Constituent Assembly's representative base. The right-wing parties—defeated from almost every angle by the social movements over the past few years—were allowed new breathing room and maintained, together with the governing party, its monopoly of the political representation in Bolivia.

Or maybe it began in July of last year when the Assembly delegate elections left Evo's MAS without their hoped for two-thirds majority. At this moment, it was clear that this new body—charged with creating a new carta magna to represent the Bolivia that had risen from the streets and its recent struggles—would become hostage to the country's rightwing minority via its political parties.

Either way, one thing is clear: the blame for the deaths yesterday and today in the city of Sucre goes to both the right and to the government, perhaps in equal measure.
Wasted Time

Months of deliberation spent on securing procedural measures that no one even respects. Months of debate, physical beatings, screaming matches, marches and vigils in favor of and against. The result? After a full year of work, not a single article, not one solid agreement was made between the government and the opposition regarding the country's new constitution. Thus, it was decided that the Assembly's sessions be extended until December 14th of this year. Nothing has been achieved since.

The struggle around whether articles ought to be approved by simple majority or two-thirds of the delegates' votes allowed the rightwing to consistently block and blackmail. The opposition party PODEMOS took charge of impeding the Assembly's every step—at times with a solid right hook to the chin of a fellow delegate. More recently, they found another stalling mechanism: the semi-colonial Capital Wars, putting the question of whether La Paz or Sucre was to hold the honor of seat of government forever.

The days passed and millions of Bolivians filled the streets of Sucre, Santa Cruz and La Paz demanding that the capital move, that it stay, that the Assembly be allowed to decide matter, that the decision should be in the public's hands. Bolivia's struggle was thus reduced to this: the capital's location and the defense of a building in which 255 non-functional delegates would session with the grand result of never agreeing on anything.
Approval at any cost

Yesterday, under orders from President Evo Morales, MAS delegates moved the Assembly to Sucre's military barracks. The street mobilizations backed by right-wing Santa Cruz leaders for the past few months had made it impossible for the Assembly to continue its work in the public theater where they had been held since August 2006.

The normally quiet streets of this small colonial city became a battlefield on November 24th: students and citizen groups went at the police with escalating intensity while the latter responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

During the confrontation, 29 year old lawyer Gonzalo Dúran was killed by a bullet to the chest. His comrades in sedition became enraged. The body was placed in a coffin and all seemed to have reached a boiling point. Accompanied by a member of Bolivia's Human Rights Assembly, Sucre's governor, MAS party member Daniel Sánchez, entered the barracks where the delegates were meeting in desperation.

Sánchez asked Assembly President and former coca-grower leader Silvia Lazarte to stop the session. Lazarte refused. Shortly after, the MAS-proposed version of the new Constitutional text was approved "in full."

This approval of a new Constitution at any cost, this conceit on the part of the ruling party, may have caused the flood waters to spill As a colleague in Sucre recounted to us via telephone, "the people have now seriously mobilized against the government."
The Media's Attack

The rightwing media are sending reports from all corners of the country. In Sucre, they give us democracy's heroes: an angry mob that has vandalized the city and stormed a local prison letting lose dozens of felons.

Since yesterday, television networks such as Unitel and ATB (both owned by the Spanish media group PRISA), are blaming the government for Sucre's state of siege. They claim that Dúran's death was police repression and that yesterday's delegate session was illegal and is evidence of a dictatorship. They fail to report that Dúran's forensic report finds that the fatal bullet comes from a gun-type not used by the police. Not to mention the fact that, as the Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramón Quintana points out, the police were not armed this weekend in Sucre.

In between repetitive images of Sucre's streets as battlefields, the networks broadcast the event's rippling effects nationwide. They report on aggressive and premeditated acts as if they were spontaneous occurrences—the most notable of which occurred in Santa Cruz at dawn this morning. An angry group appeared in front of the house of MAS politician Osvaldo Peredo where several Cuban doctors also live. After screaming insults against the government, the group threw a Molotov cocktail towards the residence. Fortunately, there was only material—not human—damage. Similarly, TV images show groups of young Santa Cruz residents violently attacking the regional tax office headquarters.

In a most non-spontanteous way, the media went on to interview every conceivable opposition politician across the country, including ex-President Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga and Santa Cruz governor Rubén Costas—who dared the government to respond and spoke seditiously on behalf of all Bolivians.

An interesting side-note: some of Bolivia's independent media outlets are having transmission problems. The internet signal of Radio Erbol (owned by the Catholic Church) is unavailable in certain parts of the country where there is normally a signal. Many journalists—employees of Erbol and its affiliate station in Sucre—have received death threats. Many of Sucre's few independent reporters, according to UB sources, are in hiding.
Evo Defends His Project

Sucre's air is heavy with gas and people are mobilized in the streets. A few hours ago, the city police chief announced the withdrawal of police forces in the city because of a lack of safety guarantees: not only had his officers been assaulted, but also one of their own had been lynched and thrown into a ravine early this morning. Transit Police headquarters were burned throughout the day and mobs went around lighting on fire any state vehicles that crossed their path.

It was in these fateful moments, that the President of Bolivia appeared serious and somber before his nation to defend his project and his government. Just after 3pm, Evo Morales explained the minutea of the recently approved Constitution in painstaking detail. He spoke for over 10 minutes without mentioning the four deaths on the other side of the country.

Once getting to the topic of the confrontations, he asserted that his government would convene a full investigation into the weekend's incidents and reiterated that the government had not instructed the police to use lethal weapons against the population.

"Those who want to bet on our Bolivia, on the Bolivia of change," said Evo, are more than welcome. He critiqued those who impeded this process of change, specifically those in Santa Cruz united behind the infamous Civic Committee and its President Branco Marinkovic. "They can't accept that we the poor people can govern ourselves," he snapped, after going over the long list of obstacles the Constituent Assembly has confronted over the past 16 months.

Evo also pleaded the Bolivian people to remain calm, warning that the new constitution must now be approved by national democratic referendum, as legally stipulated. "We will continue working together with the social forces and with the people of this country who want change," he stated while refuting the right-wing's accusations that he is a dictator and an assassin.

"I want to ask the Bolivian people for serenity and the Bolivian authorities for their support in securing peace and social justice," the Head of State concluded. He had spoken for almost 30 minutes yet practically no major television channel broadcast Evo's words. Almost all were carrying their normally scheduled programs.

Despite it all, there are four (perhaps five) dead in Sucre. The principle opposition leaders are already calling for Evo Morales' head. The government insists on moving forward with its Constitutional project regardless of its less than two-thirds majority in the Assembly. We will continue informing.


If people are interested: To know further about the last development in Bolivian volatile situation, Rosalio Tinta member of Bolivian social movements currently in Australia is available for interviews and meetings, just write to or call 0400 914 944, thanks.

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