Bolivia’s opposition governors in the eastern lowlands Sept. 3 demanded the national government withdraw its forces from Trinidad, the capital of Beni department, accusing them of repression at a youth protest occupation of the National Tax Service offices. The building was surrounded by National Police who stopped the action. Military forces have been reinforced in Trinidad since then. (Xinhua, Sept. 4)
The opposition governors threateed a new wave of protests actions that could cut off exports of natural gas to Argentina and Brazil. Authorities in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Chuquisaca, meeting this week in Santa Cruz, released a statement rejecting the new constitution proposed by Morales. “If the government persists on its course, we will not be held responsible for the outcome of any act that might block the exporting of fuel,” they warned in a statement. Bolivia’s National Electoral Court Sept. 1 invalidated a decree by Morales calling for a Dec. 7 referendum on the new constitution.
The government responded that the threats fuel separatism and racism. Their “insisting on implementing illegal autonomy statutes only will take us toward separatism and racism being expressed more virulently in some provinces,” Government Minister Alfredo Rada told a news conference. (AFP, Sept. 3)
The escalation comes amid a rapidly deteriorating human rights climate in Bolivia’s east. According to human rights observers from Santa Cruz, on Aug. 10 members of the San Ignacio Civic Committee and the Santa Cruz Youth Union broke into the residence of a group of Cuban doctors who were in the area providing free medical care to low-income patients. The doctors were met at their residence, beaten, forced into a truck, driven some 10 kilometers from San Ignacio, and then left there after being threatened with death.
The Santa Cruz Human Rights Coordinator (SCHRC) has petitioned the government to investigate the charges. The SCHRC also claimed that the Santa Cruz Youth Union, armed with clubs, baseball bats and other weapons, are patrolling the streets of the city with impunity.
On Aug. 13, three Molotov cocktails were thrown at the Center for Legal Studies and Social Investigation (CEJIS) in Santa Cruz, which does consulting work for rural and indigenous communities. The bombs failed to ignite, so there were no injuries and little property damage. “Our institution has the unique task of working for the rights of indigenous and rural organizations; we think that because of this we were assaulted this afternoon,” said the group’s director Adalid Montano. “We presume that small fascist groups that exist in Santa Cruz are responsible for this.” (ICT, Sept. 5)
See our last post on Bolivia