30 May 2008

Bolivia under assault from the oligarchy

Please find below a shortened version of the Bolivia Information Forum (BIF) News Briefing covering recent events in Sucre among other developments. The full version can be read on the BIF website at: http://www.boliviainfoforum.org.uk/news-detail.asp?id=39

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The Bolivia Information Forum

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BIF News Briefing

May 2008



1. Violence and humiliation in Sucre and elsewhere

2. Recall Referendum

3. International Summit







1. Violence and humiliation in Sucre and elsewhere



Scenes of shameful violence took place in Sucre this week as tensions rose before a planned presidential visit, to coincide with the town’s civic anniversary. On 24 May a number of indigenous peasants from communities around the city came to the centre of Sucre to receive new municipal vehicles, which were to be handed over by the President in a ceremony in the stadium. Instead, the police and military personnel providing security for the event were overpowered by a large group of citizens (mainly youth) and the President cancelled his visit. A number of indigenous people who were to have received the President were taken prisoner by the mob, forcibly undressed, marched to the central plaza and made to kneel and shout anti-government slogans and to burn their ponchos, the flag of the MAS party and the wiphala (indigenous flag). During this ordeal they were subjected to kicks, blows and racist abuse. One of the captives was a rural mayor who denounced the attacks and gave witness to the mayor of Sucre, Aidée Nava, looking on and applauding. Others present were the University Chancellor and national leaders of the opposition, including ex-President and head of Podemos, Tuto Quiroga, Prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, and Senator Oscar Ortiz. Responses from local grassroots organisations, national and international human rights organisations and the government have been swift and condemnatory and have demanded punishment of the perpetrators.



In another wave of violence, MAS Congress members Cesar Navarro MP and Senator Ana Rosa Velazquez were ambushed by a violent mob as they passed through Sucre airport on their way to their constituency in Potosí, in a manner that suggested forethought and planning on the part of the aggressors.



2. Recall Referendum



As mentioned in the last BIF News Briefing, the recall referendum law passed smoothly through Congress and the Senate. The first usage of this law will be to call for a referendum on the mandates of all of the departmental Prefects as well as the President and Vice President, which will be carried out on 10 August, a few days after Independence Day. The NO vote in the referendum will have to achieve one percentage point more than the proportion of the vote they received in the election which brought them into office, for their mandate to be recalled.



The recall referendum law has been seen as a bold gamble by Evo Morales who is throwing his own political fate in along with those Prefects who he wishes to see put out of office. Among them, Manfred Reyes Villa in Cochabamba will almost certainly lose but Ruben Costas in Santa Cruz looks likely to win again. As for Morales himself, opinions are divided but many see it as a chance to show the strength of his mandate as well as an opportunity to show his responsiveness to the voting public. Though the government has been facing challenging circumstances in a number of areas, among them inflation, climate change-induced natural disaster, political unrest and food shortages, it does look likely that Morales will be endorsed.



The passage of the law precipitated a rupture within the opposition, which initially passed the government-sponsored law rapidly, perhaps hoping to capitalise on perceived momentum following the autonomy referendum in Santa Cruz. It then transpired that the law was agreed to by a group of opposition Senators without the consent of several key opposition figures, including opposition prefects who will be subject to the referendum. This led to angry reclamations within the opposition party, some even accusing others of “political stupidity”.



Government campaigning began on 20 May with the President starting a round of visits to diverse corners of the country and emphasising the achievements of his administration.





3. International Summit



Evo Morales took part in the EU-Latin America and the Caribbean (EU-LAC) summit in Lima. Rifts became apparent during the meeting between those countries (Peru and Colombia) that wish to accelerate a free trade agreement with the EU, and those that wish to advance with more caution (Ecuador, Bolivia). The Bolivian President criticised the attitude of the EU representative, Peter Mandelson, saying that: ‘It’s not possible that he should say to us that either we participate on his terms or are out of the negotiations’. He also added that the free circulation of human beings should be considered as well as free circulation of goods, pointing out the discrepancy of immigration controls between EU countries and Bolivia.



Chilean president Michelle Bachelet met with her Bolivian counterpart at the summit in Lima and both emphasised the strength of the cordial relationship between the two countries, speaking of ‘complementarity’ between ‘neighbouring brother countries’ and the need for advancement on the 13-point plan aimed at restoring Bolivian access to the sea. Chile recently conceded 10 hectares of sovereign land to be used by Bolivia, in the city of Iquique. It is understood that this will eventually form part of the bi-oceanic corridor planned between Brazil and Chile.

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