Sunday, January 14, 2007

The siege of Cochabamba

The split widened between the two Bolivias this past week. Tens of thousands of coca growers, peasants and supporters of the socialist government went on the march on Monday to force the resignation of the prefect of Cochabamba. His offense against the socialists was that he was asking for a referendum vote on autonomy for the key coca-growing region of Cochabamba. The socialists oppose autonomy for the departments of the east, which produce most of the country´s cash crops, petroleum and natural gas. (All photos are from El Deber and El Nuevo Dia)

The socialist sympathizers started throwing rocks at the police protecting the prefecture offices, and the police responded with tear gas. The Interior Minister, who is a member of the socialist party, ordered the police to withdraw so they would not repress the social movements. With the police withdrawn, the mob burned the prefecture building.

The siege was in its fourth day on Thursday, and Cochabamba, which lies on the road between the country´s two biggest cities, La Paz and Santa Cruz, was shut down by 15 blockades on the roads. Hundreds of trucks and buses were stranded, and the people in Cochabamba, who were running out of food, evidently lost patience with the socialists. A club-wielding group of youths crossed the riverbed to avoid a police barrier and attacked the socialists. Two people were killed and hundreds were injured.

Fifteen journalists were among those attacked and injured. They went on a march with muzzles over their mouths to protest the continuing violence against them. President Morales´s supporters in particular have targeted journalists, who are regarded as enemies of the socialist movement. A socialist mob surrounded the Cochabamba offices of Unitel, a national TV network owned by the government´s most vocal opponent and Evo Morales´s No. 1 enemy, broke windows and threatened the staff. Eventually police set up a barrier so the employees could escape.

It was not until Friday, the fifth day of the siege, before Morales called on his supporters to pull back and stop the blockade. A reasonable person might ask why he didn´t do so five days earlier.

No comments:

Post a Comment