Bolivia: The People Take La Paz
By Luis Gomez
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.
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
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
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…
June 1, 2005
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© 2004 Bulatlat
■ Alipato Publications
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