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Bolivian government denounces coup attempt

Bolivian government denounces coup attempt


by Julie Webb-Pullman, Dales Sorenson and Lara Pullin

"We are strong enough to split the country," threatens Bolivian right-wing extremist Oscar Urenda, as his henchmen attack public offices in Santa Cruz and the US Ambassador is asked to leave the country.

The Bolivian government has announced to the national and international community the expulsion from Bolivia of US Ambassador Phillip Goldberg, following a civil coup attempt Tuesday in the departmental capital city of Santa Cruz. President of the Civic Committee, Branco Marinkovic, supported by Prefect Ruben Costas are widely believed to be behind the coup.

The national government of Evo Morales has said it will not respond to "provocations by fascist groups" and will defend democracy and national unity without declaring a state of emergency in the affected regions.

Several times in the last few weeks the Bolivian Government has noted with concern the preparations for violent protests with internal, and external, support. The predicted events materialized and a "civic prefectural coup against the unity of the country and democracy" began, said government minister Alfredo Rada.

Students and activists of neo-fascist group 'Santa Cruz Youth Union' (UCJ) and groups of thugs paid by the business-led civic movement from Santa Cruz on Tuesday attacked the offices of Internal Revenue, the National Institute of Land Reform (INRA) and the National Company of Telecommunications (ENTEL).

They stole computers, televisions, telephone equipment and other public goods, burnt furniture and documents, and beat conscripts and police guarding the State properties with pieces of wood. After destroying property of recently-nationalised public entities, the fascist groups then burnt the offices of the human rights organization, Centre for Juridical and Social Studies (CEJIS), before turning their attention to media outlets. Radio Patria Nueva installations were burnt, offices of the State television company Channel Seven in Santa Cruz were attacked and equipment stolen. They forced Radio Alternativa to suspend broadcasts and intimidated other media that are not aligned to the movement for elite-led autonomy, in scenes reminiscent of the previous week in Cobija, where four radio stations had to cease transmission in order to protect the safety of their journalists.

Those behind the coup have installed a type of "regional and civic terrorism in four regional departments in order to take hostage the people's voice and their free ability to express opinions," lamented Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana. The National Association of Press (ANP), a strong defender of private media, has remained eerily silent about these blatant attacks on freedom of the public press.

Defence Minister Walker San Miguel praised the restraint of the soldiers and police who, despite the risk to their own personal safety, faced off the armed attackers without firing a shot, conscious that the ultra-right are trying to provoke deaths and injury for political manipulation.

Minister Rada blamed the events in Santa Cruz on civic leaders Marinkovic and Costa, who he says have failed to comply with their basic obligation to guarantee security and peaceful coexistence for their inhabitants, but who from behind the scenes have incited these violent acts. "These two people incited, promoted and carried out this fascist and racist violence," he claimed.

San Miguel revealed that opposition groups had planned to sieze the Palmasola refinery and interrupt fuel supplies. "Essentially, what they are attacking is democracy. They want to overthrow the institutional order that has been so painstakingly built , but we will not allow it, as we have popular support," promised Quintana.

"The government will not declare a regional state of emergency, as this extreme constitutional measure will only radicalize further the ultra-right militant groups. Furthermore, the democratic liberties of more than a million inhabitants of Santa Cruz should not suffer because of the bad behaviour 500 or a thousand thugs," said Minister San Miguel.

The national government says that in conducting such terrorist activities these criminals and vandals are showing that they are devoid of political arguments and are incapable of debating democratically, however the government will continue to rely on legal and constitutional tools.

Antonio Franco, large landholder and cattle owner, and head of the right-wing PODEMOS party benches, "applauded" the violent attacks and seizures of offices in Santa Cruz. The looting was also encouraged by deputy Pablo Klinsky (PODEMOS) who is close to Marinkovic.

At the heart of the problem is the obstinate and often violent refusal by a tiny elite of local landowners and foreign (mostly US) investors to allow control of the country's resources by the Bolivian people, through their democratically-elected government. Fundamentally racist, they have vowed to violently oppose Morales' attempts to regain control of Bolivia's natural resources, redistribute land to the poor, and overhaul the constitution to benefit the country's indigenous majority.

In the words of Santa Cruz PODEMOS deputy Oscar Urenda, "We will not be beaten, if we are talking about confrontations let's talk about confrontations, if we are going to talk about war, let there be war, but they will not impose anything on us. We are sufficiently strong to split off from the country, and if I have to take a stick, a sling, a gun, I will do it. I will go and defend my territory because no-one will push me around."

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