Is Bolivia headed toward violence?

Two conflicting processes are at work in Bolivia today that may result in violence and perhaps even civil war. On the one hand, the leftist government of indigenist president Evo Morales is trying to rewrite the Bolivian constitution to give more power to the central government and in particular the president. Morales’ reforms seem modeled mainly on those of his political benefactor, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

On the other hand, some departments (Bolivian equivalents to states) oppose the centralization and have proposed greater autonomy from the federal government. On May 4, the eastern city of Santa Cruz will hold a referendum on autonomy, and according to this article in Cochabamba’s Los Tiempos, groups loyal to Morales met today to discuss ways to disrupt and prevent the referendum from taking place.

Eugenio Rojas, mayor of the altiplano town of Achacachi, whom the paper describes as the head of the radical Aymara group “Ponchos Rojos” said that his group will do what they feel is necessary to stop the referendum:

“According to Rojas, whose followers assure that they have weapons to defend President Morales, the current crisis in Bolivia pits the families with money against the poor majority.”

What is going on here is not new. For many years, the vast tropical plains of the east have been the source of most income for the country: the east is, as the paper puts it, “the richest and most populous region of the country.” The people of the western Andean departments have depended on eastern oil, farming, and natural gas to provide much of the country’s tax revenue and international trade. Morales campaigned on promises to spread the wealth more “evenly” between the rich east and the impoverished west. Not surprisingly, those in the east distrust the indigenist movement and its message of extracting wealth from the east.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what happens in the next month when Santa Cruz attempts to take the first step in resisting the central government. The Morales government has money and weapons from Chavez’s Venezuela, but people in the east seem determined to assert more independence. That Morales’ followers brought in a western politician, Rojas, to organize the disruption is quite telling.

As Catholic leaders put it, the ongoing conflict is “getting dangeroulsy worse” and well may “end up in confrontations with unforeseen consequences of pain and death.”

I’m hoping the padres are wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on it.


5 Responses to Is Bolivia headed toward violence?

  1. bull says:

    The Bolivian government doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation when it comes to armed conflict. They might want think carefully before losing another war. I’m not sure what is about people like Morales and Chavez that seem intent on killing the geese that lay the golden eggs. They talk about helping the poor and disenfranchised, but all they seem to manage is to enrich themselves and their cronies and make everyone else poorer.

  2. subalternate says:

    What are you speaking of? It seems that Morales is enriching is cronies? The man cut his own salary when elected. This article misses to mention MANY important facts, and I guess that makes since when trying to make the autonomy movement seem like a noble thing.

    The government is not trying to ‘centralize’ and indeed, a few days ago, it extended more autonomy to the municipalities. The problem with departmental autonomy is that the departments want the ability to make their own laws and keep 2/3 of the tax revenue from the state.

    Perhaps it is not a big topic of discussion in the media luna, but the Bolivian military supports Morales on this one. And Chavez has very little do to with the situation.

    And interestingly, the east is credited for economic development. Yes, indeed, Santa Cruz constitutes 40% of Bolivian exports…but what about all the wealth that was mined from the west the past 500 year? The nation itself was founded by the mines in the west and in Potosi and no one in Santa Cruz complained when Hugo Banzer redirected all of teh foreign aid to the east.

    Oh well, I am being foolish. I am actually looking at this rationally and not from the perspective of “I hate Hugo Chavez”.


  3. runtu says:

    I appreciate your comments. I’m not sure why you think I hate Hugo Chavez or am taking sides in the referendum issue. I do think it’s ominous that people from the west are making subtle threats of violence. Whether or not you support Evo, violence helps no one.

  4. subalternate says:

    I agree. Violence is not the solution. Unfortunately, the indigenous people of Santa Cruz have been victims of some of the violence, especially at the hands of the the conservative youth leagues. we can hope that this is resolved.

  5. runtu says:

    Again, no need to take sides, really. I hope there is no violence from either side. I saw way too much hate and violence when I lived there.

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