Tuesday 21 February, #21F, or ‘#21FDia de la Mentira’ (Day of the Lies), in La Paz, showed clearly the massive problems faced by President Evo Morales & his MAS movement if they continue to deny that they lost last years Referendum on the Constitution, when they tried to amend Article 168 to enable Morales to run for a further Presidential term in 2019. This is now a massive constitutional & political crisis for Morales & MAS. Whilst MAS & supporters held a large midday march & rally, it was ultimately dwarfed in the evening by the size of the protests by those demanding last years NO vote be respected. These protests were replicated around the country – reports & pics national, pics La Paz marches, report MAS march La Paz, report NO march La Paz (all in Spanish). And see our pics below.
In La Paz on the #21F this issue was just a part of the problems facing Morales & MAS. The protesting Cocaleros (Coca farmers) from the Yungas, who’d surrounded Plaza Morillo for several nights, were needlessly and violently dispersed by riot police on Monday night. But they returned with a vengeance on Tuesday morning with a series of actions/protests, that included an attack on the stage of the MAS rally whilst it was being prepared (several hours before the marchers arrived), and lasted for much of the day. Some 188 Cocaleros were arrested, with over 70 still help overnight – see early report/pics and detailed report in Spanish. Meanwhile other Cocaleros from other coca-producing areas have also initiated protests, including a blockade of the main El Alto to La Paz road, and a vigil outside the La Paz main bus terminal – see report in Spanish. Unsurprisingly, the Govt has reopened negotiations with the Cocaleros…direct action gets the goods!
At the same time, a 2 day strike at the Caja Nacional Salud, backed by the main Bolivian trade union federation, the COB, saw a morning march in La Paz, and the threat of a further 3 day strike if matters are not resolved – report & good pics in Spanish. And on top of all that, Gabriela Zapata, Morales ex-girlfriend who’d alleged she’d had his child which had died, gave a bewildering & at times contradictory TV interview on Monday, in which she alleged it was all a conspiracy by the opposition! She remains in prison after almost 1 year pending corruptions charges/trial…it’s unclear if she is an innocent victim or willing participant? Here’s Morales response in Spanish.
These events are a clear indication of the divisions within Morales/Mas’s base support, at a time of worsening economic conditions, and with the old colonial right & former political/business elite working hard to capitalise on events. Whilst the pro-Govt MAS march/rally yesterday called for support for the progressive gains/revolution of the last 10 years, it also gave indications of the dangerous ‘cult of the personality/leader’ that is Morales; then enormous NO protests in the evening demanded that the Govt honour their votes in the referendum, called for democracy & the constitution to be respected, and condemned the growing corruption & machismo associated with the MAS run Govt. But this isn’t just a crisis for Morales/MAS, it is also a crisis for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia – after many centuries of abuse, exploitation, repression and having no voice at all, they themselves are divided, and the only winners in that situation will be the old colonial right & former political/business elite! That would be a disaster for these enduring brave people & their struggles. If Morales/MAS can see any sense at all, they will respect the referendum and offer up an alternative MAS candidate in 2019, and then work hard to regain so much of the lost trust.
As for us, yesterday #21F was a fascinating, at times inspiring, and ultimately thought-provoking day. Witnessing the activities on the streets for some 10hours was an experience well worth waiting for, and a real education into the street-based struggles of the majority of Bolivia’s peoples. From the well organised, disciplined MAS march & rally, with its tight columns of indigenous campesinos in traditional dress…to the exuberence & anger of the later NO marches/rally, more chaotic perhaps, but genuine in its concerns. What was telling was that the class & racial makeup of both marches was very similar, although the NO one definitely gathered more rebelllious youth.
Below are just a few of our fotos of the day, bearing in mind it is not cool at all for gringos to take close-up fotos of protests here (note – the Si fotos are of pro-Govt/MAS marches, and the NO of those who voted NO in the referendum).