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Cablegate: Santa Cruz: Thousands Show Support for Autonomy

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV SOCI BL
SUBJECT: SANTA CRUZ: THOUSANDS SHOW SUPPORT FOR AUTONOMY


1. (SBU) Summary: An estimated 400,000 people gathered in
Santa Cruz June 28 to support civic leaders' campaign for a
"yes" vote in the July 2 departmental autonomy referendum.
Speakers accused the Morales administration of attempting to
consolidate "hegemonic" power and declared autonomy a means
of countering GOB objectives. Against this backdrop, some
political analysts and business leaders highlighted the civic
(rather than political) nature of Santa Cruz' power, while
others saw the potential for the consolidation of a
significant anti-MAS opposition. The sense in Santa Cruz is
that if 70 percent of that department's population vote "yes"
in Sunday's referendum, local officials will immediately
declare the department autonomous. End summary.

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2. (U) In a festive, peaceful event not unlike a county fair,
an estimated 400,000 people gathered in Santa Cruz June 28 to
support civic leaders' campaign for a "yes" vote in the July
2 departmental autonomy referendum. Parents brought babies
and small children, teenagers gathered with their friends,
groups congregated in nearby cafes, and rural students (many
bussed in by the Pro Santa Cruz Committee) marched with their
teachers. Nearly all wore pro-autonomy T-shirts or headbands
boasting the green and white of Santa Cruz, and virtually
everyone brandished a green and white flag bearing the words
"autonomia si," or "yes for autonomy."

3. (U) Speakers contributed to the festive atmosphere by
stepping aside for well-known bands and periodically urging
the crowd, in the impassioned tones characteristic of rally
leaders, to express their support at the polls. Many,
including Pro Santa Cruz Committee President German Antelo,
the event's principal organizer, energized listeners by
accusing the Morales administration of attempting to
consolidate "hegemonic" power and declaring autonomy a means
of countering GOB objectives. The committee's spokesman,
Daniel Castro, reportedly declared decentralization
"irreversible," perhaps seeking to convince the crowd (and
Morales' supporters, who were simultaneously gathered in La
Paz advocating "no" votes) that Sunday's referendum outcome
could be no other than departmental autonomy.

4. (SBU) Against this backdrop, political analysts and
business leaders highlighted the civic (rather than
political) nature of Santa Cruz' power and speculated about
Morales' plans. Analyst Martin Rapp characterized Santa Cruz
as a "nucleus" of distinct groups, each with its own
interests and goals, and declared departmental and civic
leaders incapable of forging a common political structure or
message. This weakness, he told Econoff, relegated Santa
Cruz' outspoken leaders to defensive, rather than offensive,
positions and meant they would never become national players.
According to Rapp, the absence of an organized opposition
would enable Morales to carry out his political, economic,
and social revolution, gradually undermining the power of
those (like the military, the business community, and the
church) who attacked his policies and consolidating control
over political and economic institutions, much like
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Morales' one big
advantage, Rapp suggested, was control of the public's
interpretation of events; he noted that Morales had
effectively defined good and evil, painted a black and white
picture of the world, and distinguished between friends and
enemies of the MAS-led administration, making it difficult
for any opposition to take root.

5. (SBU) La Paz analysts Cayetano Llobet and Oscar Eid, on
the other hand, had a more optimistic view of the potential
political implications of the Santa Cruz rally. They
underscored the inclusiveness of its message for other
Bolivian departments and its massive participation. They
also noted that Evo Morales' and the MAS' campaign
initiatives threatening such deeply held personal interests
as private property and religion in non-public schools had
"finally generated a real opposition." They agreed that the
larger meaning of "Autonomy Si!" was emerging as "Democracy
Si!"

6. (SBU) Analysts and businessmen also warned that if 70
percent of Santa Cruz' population vote "yes" in Sunday's
referendum, local officials will immediately declare the
department autonomous. Eastern Agriculture Chamber General
Manager Mauricio Roca told Econoff he expected departmental
leaders to announce victory as early as Sunday night,
possibly provoking Morales by suggesting the Constituent
Assembly "work out the details" instead of considering the
question of autonomy itself. His counterpart, Santa Cruz
Chamber of Industry and Commerce President Gabriel Dabdoub,
had similar expectations, although he worried that if
autonomy won relatively little support nationwide, Morales
would ignore legislation requiring the issue to be decided on
a departmental basis and declare that "the people" had voted
against it, using the results to consolidate central
government control.

7. (SBU) Comment: The massiveness of the Santa Cruz
demonstration -- said to be Bolivia's largest ever -- should
give Morales pause, even if the department's political
influence may be weaker than perceived. That said, Santa
Cruz leaders' expected declaration of autonomy could open a
new rift in regional relations -- and further pit the
market-oriented, more Europeanized, and relatively wealthy
lowlands of the east against the socialist, indigenous, and
predominantly poor highlands of the west. End comment.
GREENLEE

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