Monday, September 15, 2008

The Bloodiest Slaughter in Bolivia’s Democracy

"The Indian may fall, but the Bolivian people will not fall. The people's revolution will not fall. We will defend this process of change no matter what it costs." - Bolivian President Evo Morales

Sept. 13 (digitalwarriormedia) - A week of violence in Bolivia ended with almost 30 dead and more than 100 wounded. As more details come to light the number of deaths and injuries continues to be revised.

Throughout the week groups associated with the prefectures (governors) of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando took over and looted government agencies, clashing with the military and police forces.

Anti-government protestors made up of youth and civic groups, demanded the replacement of 30 percent of departmental income that the central government takes from local hydrocarbon revenues to pay for a national elderly pension program.

President Morales was forced to declare martial law on Friday in the northeastern department of Pando after marching campesinos were attacked near the town of Porvenir on Thursday by an armed anti-government paramilitary group.

The presidential decree issued for Pando, banned protests, limited public gatherings and initiated a curfew from midnight-to-6 a.m. throughout the province. Police and military units were deployed throughout the capital city of Cobija to prevent further violence.

The Morales administration blamed the violence on Pando’s Governor, Leopold Fernandez, and said the governor was responsible for hiring “thugs” to attack peasants and supporters of the government. Meanwhile Governor Fernandez blamed the deaths on the campesinos.

The initial death toll from the attack at Tres Barracades was at least 9 with dozens injured, but that number has quickly grown as bodies are found in the area.

Crimes Against Humanity

Most of the individuals killed on Thursday were peasant supporters of President Morales. "These people were massacred," said Morales during a press conference in La Paz on Saturday.

Eyewitnesses say a group of about a thousand government supporters were marching through the woods towards Cobija when they encountered a roadblock.

Antonio Moreno told the Associated Press that there was some fighting between the two groups — mostly with clubs and rocks — when a man emerged from a vehicle and fired on peasants with a submachine gun.Moreno said the campesinos “fled to the mountain, while others jumped into the river".

According to Roberto Tito, a survivor of the attack, there were snipers in the trees that shot indiscriminately on the crowd of men, women and children. He said the culprits were employees of the prefecture and of the Provincial Road Service. Tito said he lost about 10 friends in the ambush.

Abraham Cuellar, a Senator from Pando, said people fled from the road into the woods asking for help and some were found and killed.

The death toll from Thursday's clash was expected to rise as authorities continued to encounter more dead and wounded.

A story in Bolivia’s La Razon indicates that some wounded survivors of the attack, who are being treated at the city’s hospital, are afraid for their lives. They received death threats saying they will be killed if the military decided to take control of the entire city.

"The magnitude of the slaughter that occurred in Porvenir exceeds the slaughter of October 2003 in El Alto, where there were 60 dead, and Porvenir is approaching thirty. If we make a comparison with the population of El Alto and Pando,” said Prime Minister, Alfredo Rada, “then we are facing the most bloody slaughter that has occurred during {Bolivia’s} period of democracy.”

Pando, Bolivia’s least populated province, has a population of approximately 60,000 inhabitants whereas El Alto is the second largest Bolivian city with a population of more than 890,000.

While making remarks at the Presidential Palace on Friday, Morales called the attack, “crimes against humanity”. The government demanded that the Congress initiate an investigation of the acts of genocide.

International Support and Regional Unity

After Morales declared U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg a “persona no grata” on Wednesday, other Latin American countries have responded with their support.

Honduran President said he is denying the credentials of the new U.S. ambassador to his country. Venezuela expelled U.S. ambassador Patrick Duddy from Caracas and President Chavez recalled his Venezuelan envoy from the U.S.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega says he will reject an invitation to meet with President Bush at a Central American Summit out of "solidarity" with Bolivia. Argentina, Chile and Brazil have also issued expressions of solidarity with Bolivia and support for President Morales.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Santiago, Chile for Monday. UNASUR issued a statement last week that condemned the continuation of acts of violence in some departments within Bolivia.

As of late Sunday it was unclear how many heads of state would be able to attend the UNASUR meeting, including President Morales.

Other organizations expressing statements in support of the democratic process in Bolivia were the United Nations, Organization of American States, and the European Union.

Chavez said he would send troops to Bolivia if the opposition attempted a coup against Morales. However, any external intervention has thus far been rejected by the central government and military forces.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, denied the accusations made against him stating that they were “false and unjustified”. Morales said the U.S. Embassy was fomenting division in Bolivia by funding opposition groups with the assistance of USAID.

More Dialogue

Although the violence of the past week can be attributed to the funding and organization of the anti-government opposition, the central government has continued to call for dialogue.

Talks were expected to commence at 6 pm on Sunday at the Governmental Place in La Paz.

Tarija’s governor, Mario Cossio, will serve as representative for the opposition.
On Sunday, Presidential Minister Juan Ramón Quintana stated that the government was willing to send an aircraft to bring Cossio to La Paz.

As the weekend came to a close the emergency actions were constrained to Pando. President Morales indicated that the government did not anticipate extending the state of emergency to other parts of the country.

"If the prefects return the public institutions and end the attacks against national resources, in other words, gas pipelines and refineries, the government would not declare a state of siege in other provinces," he said.



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