Monday, May 26, 2008

Violence Erupts in Sucre, Dialogue Uncertain

Outbreaks of violence forced President Morales to cancel a trip to Sucre on Saturday where liberation celebrations were to take place on Sunday, commemorating the 199th anniversary of 'the first cry of Independence in the Americas'.

According to reports, groups of drunken individuals, closely associated with the local Civic and Inter-institutional Committee, used dynamite, tear gas and stones to attack peasants - leaving more than 20 people injured.

The attackers were protesting Morales’ planned trip to the country’s judicial capital, with government supporters identifying university students and parliamentarians of PODEMOS (Social Democratic Power/We Can) as instigators.

This incident occurred in addition to brazen attacks on politicians from the Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) party and a radio journalist.

MAS Parliamentarian Cesar Navarro and MAS Senator Ana Rosa Velazquez were attacked at Sucre’s airport in what appeared to be a premeditated attack, as a group of people were waiting for their arrival. Walter Valda, a candidate for prefect of Chuquisaca, was attacked at his headquarters with stones and tear gas.

A journalist from the network ERBOL was attacked as well. Marianela Paco Duran, was assaulted with rocks and sprayed with alcohol while reporting live for Radio Aclo-Sucre.

The government, eager to demonstrate that it will not respond to provocations, called for the police forces to withdrawal. As a precaution, the military and police did not attend Sucre’s civic parade to celebrate the “Grito Libertarian”, drawing criticism from local authorities.

ERBOL network blamed the civic leaders of Sucre for the violence, accusing them of violating freedom of expression and the right to information, while the Assembly of Human Rights demanded an investigation into aggression against journalists in the Chuquisaca department.

Vice-minister of Social Movement Coordination, Sacha Llorenti, attributed the violence in Sucre to racism and resistance from conservative groups against the process of change in Bolivia.

Autonomy Negotiations

Another phase of dialogue between the central government and the opposition is scheduled for this Wednesday, with the Catholic Church rejoining the process as observers.

Last week representatives from MAS, Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR), and National Unity (UN), the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Edmundo Novillo and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, came to a series of agreements and signed a document entitled "Basis for National Reconciliation". PODEMOS members chose not to attend the discussions.

PODEMOS has set conditions for continuing the dialogue to bridge the political rift that has fractured cooperation between the national and departmental governments.

In a letter addressed to Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, PODEMAS made seven demands in order to participate in the ongoing talks, namely: some recognition of the autonomy referendums by the central government, replacement of the Indirect Hydrocarbon Tax (IDH), elimination of the ban on oil exports, participation of the Catholic Church as mediator, a redesign of the plan to rewrite Bolivia’s constitution, economic policies to lower inflation and participation of civic organizations and the departmental prefects.

Garcia’s response will determine whether PODEMOS members accept the invitation to meet within the National Congress and continue a process of dialogue with the major political parties and representatives from the departmental prefects.

Despite the conditional demands of PODEMOS, the MAS, MNR and UN, have agreed to seek solutions for that enable the autonomous statutes to become compatible the new Bolivian Political Constitution.

Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga, former Bolivian president and head of the opposition’s political alliance, said it was important for that the autonomy of Beni, Pando, Tarija and Santa Cruz be recognized. The central government and CNE maintain their stance that the referendums - as they stand now without the approval of Congress and the Electoral Court - are illegal.

If the political dialogue can proceed between the opposing sides, it is possible that a negotiated agreement will be reached on the autonomy statutes.

However, if history is any indicator – the demands laid out by PODEMOS might prove to be yet another stall tactic designed to hijack the dialogue and keep Bolivia’s political future teetering on the brink.

Photos: Patrick Vanier



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