Santa Cruz

Amazon forest fires spread to Bolivia

President Evo Morales announced Aug. 21 that Bolivia has contracted a Boeing 747 "Supertanker" to help extinguish huge forest fires in the Amazon have that have spread over the border from Brazil. The giant air-tanker, capable of carrying up to 19,200 gallons (72,680 liters) of water or fire retardant, was flown from California to Viru Viru International Airport in Bolivia's eastern city of Santa Cruz, on lease from the firm Global Supertanker. Morales has also mobilized army helicopters to evacuate affected communites deep in the rainforest. Some 500,000 hectares of forest are now said to be in flames in Bolivia. (Fire Aviation, TeleSur, Folha de S.Paulo, Aug. 22)

Protests over re-election broil Bolivia

Bolivia has seen strikes and protests since the Dec. 4 ruling by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) allowing President Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election. The ruling was met with marches, road blockades and work stoppages that caused varying degrees of disruption in eight of Bolivia's nine departments. A student mobilization in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern department of Santa Cruz, heart of anti-Morales sentiment, ended in violence, with the regional offices of the electoral tribunal burned to the ground. Hunger strikes were launched in six cities, with at least 20 still ongoing.

Bolivia hosts 'Gas OPEC' summit —amid dissension

The four-day summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) opened Nov. 21 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra—central hub of the country's hydrocarbon-rich eastern lowlands. President Evo Morales took the opportunity to boast of his "nationalization" of Bolivia's hydrocarbon resources. But the summit comes as member nations are bitterly divided by diplomatic tensions. Established in Iran in 2001, the GECF consists of 12 members: Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates. An additional seven observer nations are Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Oman and Peru. The UAE and other Gulf States are currently at odds with Qatar, with diplomatic relations suspended since June.

Bolivia unveils 'anti-imperialist' military school

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Aug. 17 dedicated a new international military academy, which will seek to counter the influence of the US and Pentagon in the developing world. The new academy is based in the city of Santa Cruz in Bolivia's east, and named after the country's former president Juan José Torres. Courses are to include "Theory of Imperialism," "Geopolitics of Natural Resources," and "Bolivian Social Structures."  Said Morales at the inauguration of the new base: "If the empire teaches domination of the world from its military schools, we will learn from this school to free ourselves from imperial oppression. We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements, and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas that always saw the indigenous as internal enemies."

Bolivia: first woman serves as military commander

For the first time in Bolivia's history, a woman assumed the post of chief of the Armed Forces High Command as Gen. Gina Reque Terán was sworn in Dec. 30. In her inaugural speech she vowed: "We will work ardently in the struggle against the narco-traffic and contraband, for the protection of natural resources... We will be forever alert to respond to any natural disaster... We will be prepared for any contingency." President Evo Morales in his own comments noted the military's role in the 2006 nationalization of Bolivia's hydrocarbons, which allowed the country to "liberate" itself economically. He also thanked the armed forces for their support in confronting the secessionist movement in Bolivia's east.

Bolivia: cocaleros clash with eradication force

Coca-growers in Bolivia's lowland jungle town of Yapacaní on March 27 clashed with police in a protest against the construction of a new base of the Mobile Rural Patrol Unit (UMOPAR), the hated coca-eradication force. Protesters set up roadblocks in an effort to prevent construction crews from breaking ground on the new base. When National Police troops used tear-gas to break up the blockades, protesters replied by hurling rocks. Regional police commander Johnny Requena blamed drug gangs for the opposition to the base, which is being financed by the European Union to the tune of $1.3 million.

Bolivia: three dead in miners' protests

Thousands of miners blocked highways in five departments of Bolivia for five days starting March 31 to protest a pending new mining law. Members of mining cooperatives installed at least 10 roablocks in the departments of  La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Potosí and Oruro. At least three were killed in clashes with the National Police. The protests were called off after the government agreed to suspend the legislation, which had already cleared the lower-house Chamber of Deputies. The bill sought to bar the cooperatives from seeking private investment, restricting them to contracts with the Bolivian state. In response to the protests, President Evo Morales is drafting a new bill that would allow private contracts while restricting investment by foreign companies. (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, April 5; EFE, AFPEl Universal, Venezuela, April 4; EFE, April 3; El Deber, Santa Cruz, Reuters, April 1)

Bolivia: indigenous power at issue in hunger strike

Six leaders of the dissident Aymara organization CONAMAQ held a hunger strike for four days at the doors of the Bolivian congress building last month, as the lower-house Chamber of Deputies debated a bill on assigning legislative seats to ethnicities and regions of the country. The strike was lifted after the law was approved Oct. 7. By then, one Aymara elder, Simón Antonio Cuisa from Charcas Qhara Qhara, Potosí, had been hospitalized. On breaking his strike after the vote, CONAMAQ leader Rafael Quispe said, "The plurinaitonal state is mortally wounded." CONAMAQ and its congressional allies—dissident members of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), calling themselves the "free-thinkers" (librepensantes)—pledged to seek the law's reform. Dissident MAS lawmaker Rebeca Delgado spoke on the chamber floor in support of CONAMAQ's demands before the vote. CONAMAQ is demanding an increase in the number of congressional seats assigned to indigenous Bolivians from seven to 16, questioning the results of the 2012 census on which the apportioning was based. Chamber of Deputies president Betty Tejada (MAS) responded that the 130-seat body is already 70% indigenous. (Erbol, Oct. 31; Reuters, Oct. 8; BolPressCámara de Diputados, Oct. 7; Erbol, Oct. 5; La Prensa, La Paz, Oct. 6; Servindi, Oct. 4)

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