Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Turbulent Actions Before Sunday's Vote

Aug 6 (digitalwarriormedia) - With four days until the recall referendum vote, protests within Bolivia have turned violent, sparking clashes with the police, and forcing President Morales to change his official schedule for the last two days.

The government is taking some political heat from critics within the country as Tuesday witnessed violence near the cities of Tarija and Oruro when demonstrators forcibly fought against government plans.

Yesterday 2 people were killed, and several others injured in Caihuasi village (43 miles from Oruro city) after miners clashed with police. Unrest has been mounting at the Huanuni tin mine - the largest in Bolivia -with workers striking indefinitely on August 1 as they attempt to get the government to pass pension reform.

Leaders of the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) have been pushing for a pension that will provide a more generous benefit and lower the retirement age to 55. The miners rejected a plan that President Morales sent to Congress saying it was not generous enough and too “pro-business”.

According to police, the miners tried to activate dynamite charges in order to destroy the main bridge on the road that links Cochabamba to La Paz, effectively connecting the east and west of Bolivia, but only a small part of the bridge was damaged yesterday.

The police employed tear gas to disperse the crowd, but government officials were quick to announce that no firearms were used on the protestors. Interior Minister Alfredo Rada stated that an investigation would be initiated to determine how these individuals were killed.

The leaders of the COB clearly lay the blame for the deaths at the feet of the Morales administration. According to Reuters, COB Secretary General Felipe Machaca told Radio Erbol, "This is a massacre and the only one to blame is Evo Morales".

President Morales charged that Bolivia’s right-wing opposition was manipulating the miners actions, which in recent weeks have involved demonstrations, road blockades and strikes.

He cautioned them against being used by the opposition to help derail the referendum vote, which Morales has vowed will continue forward regardless of what happens in the coming days.

The COB is the chief trade union federation in Bolivia, representing about 2 million workers. The main crux of their pension demands involves a government takeover of the nation’s private pension funds, a move that so far Morales has resisted.

The organization has a long history of aggressive protests against governmental policies and clearly the COB will not let its demands go unanswered.

Also on Tuesday an aggressive protest by groups of civic organizations forced President Morales to cancel a meeting with Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina.

The heads of state were set to meet at an energy summit and sign future development agreements but hundreds of demonstrators abruptly changed those plans.

About 200 people gathered outside Tarija’s Oriel Lea Plaza airport to protest the arrival of Chavez who was to be accompanied by Kirchner.

The demonstrators burned tires, attempting to break through the security gates of the airport that was being guarded by policemen and soldiers. The military closed the airport after the protest.

Tarija is one of five provinces that have held illegal autonomy votes seeking to lessen the central government’s control over the department’s resources and tax revenue. Tarija has the largest gas reserves in Bolivia and its residents enjoy the highest GDP per capita among Bolivia’s nine provinces.

Protestors lashed out at the arrival of Chavez as political jockeying before the referendum vote. Rather than add fuel to the fire, Chávez and Kirchner canceled the meeting for fear that the protests would lead to further unrest.

Chavez blamed the United States for allegedly destabilizing actions in Bolivia before the referendum vote.

And finally in Sucre, Morales canceled a planned August 6 trip to the nation’s constitutional capital - a hotbed of anti-Morales sentiment since last year when clashes erupted between government supporters and opposition over the future capital city of Bolivia and the Constituent Assembly.

Morales skipped his customary National Independence Day speech before Congress due to a lack of security guarantees on the part of the local civic committee and Chuquisaca governor Sabina Cuellar.

The governor and opposition members refused Morales' scheduled appearance, demanding that he apologize for the deaths of three persons caused by political clashes in November 2007. These events will make this the first time in Bolivia’s democratic history that the president has not delivered his Independence Day speech before Congress.



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