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Vol. V,    No. 17      June 5 - 11, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Latin America
Bolivia: The People Take La Paz

By Luis Gomez
From AxisofLogic.com

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….

Among the things the people chant and shout in the massive demonstrations here, there is a song dear readers, that goes like this: “Achuete, achuete, el Mesa es un alcahuete, los ministros una mierda, el Parlamento una cagada.” (Roughly translated: “Mesa is a squealer, the ministers are shit, Congress is cowardly.”) This tune has been heard in all the mobilizations of recent days… and yesterday (Tuesday), while the throng of people took to the streets once again, they didn’t just sing it, they predicted what was coming.
At 8 pm, after hours of incertitude, the expected session of the National Congress was suspended, leaving the issues of the autonomy referendum and the Constituents’ Assembly up in the air. While the deputies and senators of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) demanded that legislative work begin, Senator Hormando Vaca Diez hid in a hotel and declared that he would not attend… the majority of the right wing representatives and a little more than half of the senators did the same.

Things go unchanged then within the Bolivian political class: there is no response to the demands which have raised marches and blockades… and the people, who with great effort spread out across all of La Paz while keeping El Alto shut down, were subject to police repression during the night. There are several injuries from low-caliber “crowd-control” bullets. 

The legislators who were in the Congress, nearly all from the MAS party, later met informally. Around 10 pm, they released a document distancing themselves from Senator Vaca Diez and asking for his resignation… Vaca Diez was accused of coup plotting (and not just by the MAS, but also by some right-wing deputies).

Late last night, several hundred demonstrators were still in the Plaza de los Héroes, where they have constructed barricades from cobblestones and metal scraps. The police dispersed them with teargas…

The Congress should be in session today… nothing less should be expected than the people coming out to reclaim what rightfully belongs to them, in the streets… until then…

June 1, 2005

Reposted by Bulatlat



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