Bolivia seems to be nearing a breaking point. After eight days of increasing blockades against a government that is determined to stop the elections scheduled for October 18, the possibility of a repressive offensive is growing. But, with that repression comes the radicalization and massification of the protests.
A dialogue between the coup government and leaders of the social movements this past weekend amounted to nothing. This Monday, the de facto government of Jeanine Añez stepped up its dirty campaign to justify the repression, accusing the protesters of preventing the passage of oxygen for Covid-19 patients. This is true villainy, not only because of the false accusation made against protesters, but also because of the sheer laziness with which the coup government has managed the pandemic. At midday, there was repression at the key point of La Ceja, which links La Paz with El Alto — the two largest cities in Bolivia — and blockades on the route from La Paz to Santa Cruz.
In addition to the government’s intransigence, there is pressure from the right-wing fascist groups, Santa Cruz Youth Union (UJC, from Santa Cruz de la Sierra) and Resistencia Juvenil Cochala (RJK, from Cochabamba). Driven by Luis Camacho from UJC (one of the main instigators of the November 2019 coup d’état) and other far-right politicians in Bolivia, these organizations, true to their extreme reactionary nature, have already gone out to violently harass the workers, peasants and indigenous people who are fighting for their fundamental right to elect their representatives.
But at the same time, the bull-headedness of the coup leaders is causing the protests to become more radical. After eight days of the strike by the Bolivian Workers Center (Central Obrera Boliviana, or COB), the chief trade union federation in Bolivia, together with other social organizations gathered in the Pact of Unity, the number of blockades by protesters has increased from 80 on the first day to 200 this Monday. In the courts and in mobilizations, the demand for the renunciation of the “transitional” government of Jeanine Áñez is growing. Beyond the refusal to hold the elections, there is a critical social background to this growing demand from the exploited classes — a sharp increase in unemployment and misery, with a pandemic that the government allows to run wild without serious containment measures, except for repressive quarantines and constant racist harassment of the indigenous population.
A social explosion is brewing. Evo Morales’ MAS (Movement for Socialism), now accused of “terrorism” by the government, is doing what it can to contain the discontent and divert the energy in the streets to the polls. Evo Morales and Arce Catacora (economy minister from 2006 to 2019 and current MAS candidate) called for demobilization of the protests because they have already accepted the “definitive” date of October 18, which must be signed in an agreement between the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, with the guarantee of the United Nations. For its part, the COB continues to demand “an intermediate date” between September 6 and October 18, due to pressure from below expressed by the labor and social movements.
MAS, the party that governed Bolivia between 2006 and 2019, leads most of the social organizations and is betting on returning to power through elections. It is trying to lead the current movement of struggle towards that end. This is similar to the delusion that was perpetrated by Lula and the Workers’ Party in Brazil, which ended with Lula arbitrarily imprisoned and Bolsonaro and Sergio Moro in power as a continuation of the 2016 coup against Dilma Rousseff.
The only way to confront the coup leaders and the pro-fascist gangs is to deepen and extend the protests, organizing each neighborhood, each workplace, each blockade by fighting the bureaucracies of the coup with the strength of the union leadership, and by guaranteeing the defense of the demonstrators against the State’s attacks. This is only possible by organizing a real general strike that, unlike isolated or local actions, unifies the blockades and paralyzes the main sectors of the economy, while organizing the self defense to face both the repression of the State and the attacks of the fascist gangs.
The November coup d’état was imposed by blood and fire, but also by negotiations with the MAS, who ended up accepting the conditions of the coup leaders. Ten months after the coup, and with a right wing that attempts to retain power at all costs, once again Bolivia finds itself between the threat of repression and the possibility of radicalization that will set it back on the path opened by the great uprisings of the beginning of this century.
First published on August 11 in La Izquierda Diario Bolivia.
Translated by Sou Mi.