Bolivia: civilian defense training begins amid intervention fears
Bolivia's government announced Aug. 5 it has started a program of military training for civilians at army barracks in the east of the country—a stronghold of the right-wing opposition. Army officials said the program will extend to all the country's military bases. Questions about the training program arose after a TV station broadcast images of young men armed with rifles taking target practice at a base in the regional capital of Santa Cruz. Also shown in the video were young indigenous women in traditional billowing skirts and bowler hats doing calisthenics.
Vice President Alvaro García, himself a former leftist guerilla, said the purpose of the program is to enable civilians to assist in defending the homeland. He called participation "a citizen's duty." His words were echoed by other officials, who denied there are plans to arm civilians. "These training activities that we have with the citizenry are for the defense of the country," Gen. Ramiro Siles, commander of the army's 8th Division, told reporters in Santa Cruz. Commander of the Cochabamba-based 7th Division, Gen. Hernan Ampuero, said the military training was intended for citizens of all social classes, but acknowledged that many participants came from indigenous communities.
Opposition Sen. Herman Antelo (himself a scion of the Santa Cruz landed elite) demanded an explanation. "We are asking ourselves if the goal is the create paramilitary forces in support of the government," he said. The Civic Committee opposition coalition in Santa Cruz issued a statement saying military training for civilians violates Article 10 of Bolivia's new constitution, which declares the country a pacifist state that rejects all wars of aggression.
Bolivian President Evo Morales meanwhile voiced warnings against the US is preparing military intervention in Latin America, with the "central objective" of seizing oil reserves and other natural resources. He specifically invoked the establishment of US military bases in Colombia. (AHN, Aug. 6; AP, Aug. 5)
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