Cablegate: Santa Cruz Autonomy Vote: Plans for a "Big Party"
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O 301830Z APR 08
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SUBJECT: SANTA CRUZ AUTONOMY VOTE: PLANS FOR A "BIG PARTY"
1. (SBU) Summary: During an April 24-27 visit to Santa Cruz
(including the capital city and the rural towns of San Javier and
Concepcion), American Presence Post officer's (APP) interlocutors
downplayed fears of violent confrontation and predicted the May 4
autonomy referendum would be a "big party." Supporters of President
Evo Morales' MAS party are mostly planning to abstain from the vote.
Civic leaders have recruited and trained volunteers to help
maintain the peace in the absence of police commitment and manpower,
and are disseminating a consistent message of non-violence. Voter
turnout is expected to be high, and polls predict a resounding
victory for autonomy in the range of 70-80 percent. End summary.
2. (SBU) APP officer visited Santa Cruz April 24-27 to gauge the
temperature prior to the May 4 autonomy referendum. Contacts in the
Santa Cruz Civic Committee and Prefecture outlined preparations for
voting day. Traditionally motor vehicles are not allowed to
circulate during elections, but the authorities know they cannot
count on the national police to enforce roadblocks. Therefore, the
civic committee has organized volunteers to set up and man
roadblocks at the entrances to each neighborhood. Because people
are used to such roadblocks on election days, no one expects
controversy. Nor will there be massive conflicts between people in
different neighborhoods, because they will not be able to get to one
another. Thus, any conflicts will be contained locally within
neighborhoods. The civic committee also secured agreement from
2,500 vendors to avoid opening markets on referendum day, and from
the public transportation union. This should also contribute to
peace and order; the city will come to a halt.
3. (SBU) Civic committee leaders are confident there will not be
marches on Santa Cruz by "social movements" from La Paz or by
cocaleros from the Chapare region of Cochabamba. But in case there
is any unexpected eastward movement by these groups, Santa Cruz
leaders have a simple contingency plan: block the roads into the
department. It's too far to walk.
4. (SBU) The prefecture and electoral authorities have invited many
groups to "observe" the elections, although they could not convince
the Foreign Ministry to convoke international observers from
Embassies or the Organization of American States. Some of the
groups expected to be present in Santa Cruz on May 4 include human
rights foundations from Colombia and Argentina; Human Rights Watch
from the U.S.; individual state governors and national legislators
from Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile; and prefects and mayors
from throughout Bolivia. Several Embassies (including the U.S.) are
sending officers from La Paz to Santa Cruz to be present during the
election; they will not/not be there in the capacity of "observers."
As of April 24, there were 300 journalists from 200 media outlets
from 45 countries accredited to report on the referendum (many are
also covering the Baroque Music Festival currently taking place in
the Jesuit Mission communities throughout Santa Cruz).
5. (SBU) The pro-autonomy campaign has focused on a positive message
in a festive atmosphere, and civic authorities have disseminated a
consistent "no violence" message from the start. However, they
admit there are some radicalized groups in Santa Cruz over which
they have no control, and the government's strategy will be to
provoke violent incidents that will de-legitimize the results.
Therefore, they are redoubling efforts to get out the "no-violence"
instruction to all the volunteers that will be helping to maintain
order, both those from Santa Cruz and those that are arriving from
other "Media Luna" departments (Pando, Beni and Tarija) to help.
The closing event of the "yes" campaign will be a candlelight vigil
on May 30 with the message "Light the eternal flame of hope" for a
6. (SBU) Voter turnout is expected to be high. In a normal election
year, about 35,000 new voters register in Santa Cruz (those that
turn 18, those that have changed residences, those that have
migrated from other areas of the country). This year, 100,000 new
voters registered. The civic committee explained some of that
number were voters that were erased from the list by the National
Electoral Court and then re-registered. However, that alone can not
explain the massive numbers of new registered voters. There is
great enthusiasm for the referendum.
7. (SBU) The civic
committee's latest polls show that autonomy will
win in all the districts of the city, even in those neighborhoods
where Evo Morales' MAS party has strong support. Autonomy is also
expected to win in all but two of the 15 provinces. In another
decision aimed at keeping the peace, the departmental electoral
court will send ballots to all municipalities, but will not force
any locality to open a polling booth. Therefore, in those few areas
where most citizens are opposed to the referendum, or where
authorities fear conflict, voting simply might not take place.
Don't Vote No, Just Don't Go
8. (SBU) Despite the conflicting messages in the media (with the
government calling for mobilizations against the referendum one day
and denying it the next), the order trickling down to MAS party
bases is to abstain. The government hopes low voter turnout will
either invalidate the referendum, or at least de-legitimize it.
Polls show that as many as 80 percent of registered voters plan to
vote, so this strategy seems futile, although it will indeed help
avoid confrontation on May 4. In any case, it is an easy order to
follow in the face of an inevitable win for the autonomy referendum.
9. (SBU) The towns of San Javier and Concepcion both elected MAS
mayors and have generally greater sympathy for the Morales
government than residents of Santa Cruz city. Nonetheless, the MAS
mayor of San Javier proudly presented APP officer with a "Si,
Autonomia" keychain. He said that though he was elected on the MAS
ticket, he represented the town's citizens, and they overwhelmingly
believed autonomy was the best path to future development. The
mayor said he had received a Venezuelan check under the "Evo Cumple"
program, and had used the money to refurbish the soccer stadium, to
the delight of the town's youth. President Morales was putting
tremendous pressure on the mayor to inaugurate the project on
Saturday, April 26, but the mayor pushed back. He told APP, "I
don't want Evo in my town the week before the referendum." The
Mayor of Concepcion, who replaced the original MAS mayor when he
stepped down due to corruption charges, told a similar story.
10. (SBU) Both mayors insisted there would not be referendum-related
violence in the provinces, although they were taking precautions.
For example, there are only two police assigned to the municipality
of San Javier, but the mayor's office had recruited 120 citizen
volunteers to maintain security, both during the ongoing Baroque
Music Festival, and the referendum. A MAS city council employee in
San Javier said she was firmly opposed to autonomy, but knew it
would win. She said she and like-minded citizens simply would not
vote, and would focus on what comes next (reconciling the autonomy
statute with the MAS draft constitution).
11. (SBU) Comment: Though it is impossible to be certain no violence
will occur on May 4 in the Santa Cruz department, local authorities
are working hard to maintain the festive atmosphere and minimize the
potential for conflict. They recognize that the referendum is not
the end of a process, but the beginning, and the hardest work is yet