Several thousand marched in the Bolivian capital La Paz on May Day, in a militant display that incessantly shattered the air with hurled firecrackers—and some much louder explosives that might have been dynamite. While the main Workers Central of Bolivia (COB) led at the front of the march, contingents ranged from indigenists to Trotskyists to anarchists, with varying degrees of support for (or dissent from) the left-nationalist Evo Morales government. (World War 4 Report on the scene in La Paz)
The march came this year amid mounting social conflicts across Bolivia—with protesters on both the left and the right launching road blockades, hunger strikes and other direct action.
In Cochabamba, factory workers are on hunger strike in protest of the 5% raise offered by the government. (Erbol, May 3) National police officers are also staging public hunger strikes in a salary dispute with the government—and have been joined in the action by some of their wives. (EFE, May 3)
In Sucre, the 13th national congress of the country’s main campesino organization, the Unitary Sindical Federation of the Peasant Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), briefly exploded into factional violence April 30, with dissidents accusing the ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS) of trying to seize control of the organization. (La Prensa, La Paz, April 30)
In El Alto, the sprawling working-class city on the plateau above La Paz, local residents have erected barricades on major thoroughfares to demand better services and the creation of a new administrative district for the fast-growing municipality. (La Razon, La Paz, April 30)
In Las Yungas region of La Paz department, campesinos shut down the highway at Caranavi village with roadblocks, paralyzing all traffic for days, to demand the government build a citrus processing plant for their communities. Talks are ongoing, but the blockades remain in place. (Erbol, May 3)
In eastern Santa Cruz department, the “Sin Lote” squatter movement occupied a predio (private collective land-holding) controlled by sugar interests at San Aurelio. On the heels of violent repression of Santa Cruz squatters that sparked outrage several days earlier, this time police did not interfere. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, April 29)
Also in Santa Cruz department, pro-development residents at Puerto Suárez blocked the border with Brazil to demand that the government resolve its dispute withe India’s Jindal Steel and allow the controversial iron mining project at El Mutún to go ahead. (EFE, April 23)
On the right, opposition party supporters held hunger strikes, mock “crucifixions,” and a sustained public protest campaign over the assigning of seats in the new departmental assemblies following April elections, claiming that electoral authorities had unfairly favored MAS in the departments of La Paz, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Oruro, Potosí and Pando. In La Paz, opposition protesters repeatedly clashed with police, who responded with tear gas. (EFE, May 4, El Diario, La Paz, April 30; La Prensa, April 25)
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Bolivia: agreement reached in Caranavi conflict
Blockades and protests in Caranavi, La Paz department, turned violent May 10 after almost two weeks of tension. Caranavi residents demanded that the Bolivian government build a citrus fruit processing plant in their region. They claimed the government had promised them this project, but then announced construction of the plant in the adjacent Alto Beni region. Two young men, aged 16 and 19, died from gunshot wounds in the conflict, although details of their deaths remain unclear. The Human Rights Commission of the Bolivian legislature called for an exhaustive investigation, and announced on May 13 that it would request the participation of the UN High Commission of Human Rights office. The president of commission, MAS representative Marianela Paco, emphasized that a thorough investigation into the actions of both civilians and security forces in this conflict is crucial.
On May 12, after President Morales personally led negotiations, the government signed an agreement with protest leaders to build two citrus plants, one in Caranavi and the other in Alto Beni. The government did not cede to protesters’ secondary demands, including the release of those detained during the confrontation and additional development projects. (Andean Information Network, May 19; Reuters, May 10)