September 11, 2006
Opponents of the constituent assembly convened by President Evo Morales staged a strike to register their feelings, but the protest was largely concentrated in the eastern Bolivian state of Santa Cruz. That part of the country is more modern, more European in terms of ethnicity, and most importantly, is where the natural gas that Morales covets so much are located. As explained by the BBC, the immediate dispute centers around the desire of Morales to make each article in the revamped national charter to be passed by a simple majority. It would still be necessary to gain two-thirds support to ratify the final document, but the opposition objects to "changing the rules illegally." The protests are becoming violent, raising the specter of a war of secession by the easterners. Publius Pundit has a boatland of on-the-scene photos of the protests, who notes that [pro-Morales, i.e., pro-Chavez] groups used cudgels to intimidate the protesters. I am sympathetic to the anti-Morales movement, but I'm not sure I share the opinion that "The force impelling them is the same as that which drove the American Revolutionaries of 1776." Comparing them to the rebels of 1861 might be just as apt...
This protest movement seems to have a dark side, however. In Santa Cruz, a molotov cocktail was thrown at the Channel 7 TV station, and a group calling itself the "Cruceña Youth Union" was blamed. See Bolivia.com.
UPDATE: Miguel Centellas, whose family lives in Santa Cruz, offers a bold assessment: "Evo can't crack down on the Santa Cruz & Tarija led autonomy movements." Why not? The hero of the highland Indians simply lacks support among the predominantly lowland (eastern) officer corps, and the police in Santa Cruz answer to local authorities, not the central government in La Paz. The question thus becomes, Is Evo willing to mobilize his supporters and form a militia force capable of duking it out in the streets? If so, things could get ugly very fast.