|English | Español||February 21, 2018 | Issue #34|
La Paz Paralyzed; Strikes and Blockades Return to Bolivia
Post-October, Bolivia's Social Movements Reorganize
By Claudia Espinoza
Photo: Manuela Aldabe D.R. 2004
The Sin Tierra Movement led the other march that invaded the streets of La Paz. The march, which began last week, had left from the towns of El Tholar and Batallas. The landless peasants arrived with two demands: Freedom for its leader Gabriel Pinto, a prisoner in the San Pedro Penitentiary, and the nationalization of gas.
When the march attempted to get near the prison, where there are nine others accused in the Ayo Ayo case, the police used tear gas recklessly to disperse the marchers. Next, the police arrested 14 people (eight women and six men) and brought them to the Judicial Police station.
After all that occurred in the so-called Gas War last October, the social movements are now carrying out actions to express their discontent with the policies of Carlos Mesa’s administration pertaining to land, water, electricity, fuel, justice and the all-out criminalization of social protest.
One of the main issues that caused the transport workers strike in La Paz, El Alto, and Cochabamba, is the constant raising of fuel prices – subject to changes in the international price – which, in turn, raises the cost of transportation and basic products like bread.
The transport workers demand that fuel prices be frozen because any alteration affects the lives of workers from the farms to the cities, worsening the crisis in every Bolivian home. Many neighbors who went out to march called on the government to comply with the mandate of the July 18th gas referendum, which the public interprets as “the recuperation of the property that is used in fuel production,” immediately, to be able to control the domestic prices and not subject them to the international price of oil. The bad decisions by the government in complying with the referendum’s results are considered “a mockery toward the people.”
Evidence of that is the noncompliance with the installation of gas lines in homes, which was harshly criticized by the marchers, especially in El Alto. “Instead of installing gas lines, the government is selling it to Brazil and Argentina at the price of a dead chicken,” said one lady.
To this popular outrage are added declarations by the president’s minister, José Galindo, who said that the transport workers’ leadership – now a week into its hunger strike – is receiving money from “some sectors interested in creating chaos in the country.” This provoked rage and determination to the point where the strike in El Alto has now been extended indefinitely.
The attitude by the government is nothing new. On the one hand, it has made it clear that it will not abandon a policy that benefits foreign businesses, which manage not only trade in fuels, but also in water, electricity, telecommunications and other services. On the other hand, it dedicates itself, instead of offering solutions to these urgent needs, to smearing social movements that raise demands that are not new.
This campaign finds an echo in some news reports that have analyzed the case of landless peasant movement leader Gabriel Pinto, who was arrested two weeks ago, accused of having participated in the lynching of the mayor of the rural town of Ayo Ayo.
The facts that, in that moment, were declared “community justice” by the people of the town were not investigated nor clarified. However, nine people are now held prisoner, under suspicion. Demanding the liberation of Gabrial Pinto and the other prisoners in the case, the Sin Tierra Movement (MST) mobilized from the towns of El Tholar and Batallas, and marched toward the capital city.
Photo: Jeremy Bigwood D.R. 2004
Finally, Cochabamba marked a new stage in the “long march for Nationalization of Gas,” a campaign launched by the Coordinator for the Defense of Gas, prior to the July referendum. Continuing its work plan, the group conducted a march with thousands of people, including the participation by urban and rural sectors. The water workers joined the demonstration and called for regulation of electricity prices since its rise is affecting the use of the pumps that provide water to farmlands.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism