Tensions are escalating in Bolivia ahead of the first post-coup elections, which after numerous postponements are now slated for Oct. 18. On Sept. 21, a youth meeting of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) in the Manufacturing Complex of the working-class city of El Alto was attacked with tear-gas bombs by unknown assailants, causing an exodus from the cavernous space. (Nodal, Argentina, Sept. 21) Three days earlier, MAS supporters in the mining hub of Oruro hurled stones at a vehicle caravan of the right-wing Creemos (We Believe) coalition, forcing it to retreat from their barrio, known as the Mining Helmet for the strength of organized labor there. The protesters shouted "Out, out, out! Oruro must be respected!" (¡Fuera, fuera, fuera, Oruro se respeta!) (Bolivia Prensa, Sept. 18)
A thousands-strong march through the Bolivian highland city of El Alto on July 28 was followed by a cabildo, or mass meeting, in which unions and popular organizations agreed to immediately begin an "indefinite" general strike, demanding that new elections be held on schedule. The country's first elections since the ouster of president Evo Morales last year were slated for Sept. 6, but the government of interim president Jeanine Añez has postponed them to Oct. 18, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. The cabildo was called by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), the country's main trade union bloc, and included representation from campesino organizations such as the Túpac Katari Federation and Ayllus de Norte Potosí, as well as El Alto's powerful alliance of working-class neighborhood organizations, FEJUVE. COB leader Juan Carlos Huarachi affirmed: "If we join together as miners, campesinos, the middle class and El Alto, we can be dynamite." (Latino USA, Guerrerxs del Arcoiris, Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, Opinión, La Paz)
At least six were killed and some 20 injured when Bolivian army and National Police opened fire on protesters demanding the reinstatement of deposed president Evo Morales in the working-class city of El Alto. Protesters had been blockading the entrance to Senkata gasworks and oil refinery in the city for three days on Nov. 19, when troops backed up by armored vehicles attempted to clear the gates, allowing tanker-trucks through to supply gasoline to La Paz. Bolivia's official rights agency, the Defensoría del Pueblo, confirmed the death of three in the incident, but local media are putting the toll as high as eight.
Bolivia's government issued a decree cancelling a massive joint lithium project with German multinational ACI Systems Alemania (ACISA)—just days before the ouster of President Evo Morales. The move came in response to protests by local residents in the southern department of Potosí, where the lithium-rich salt-flats are located. Potosí governor Juan Carlos Cejas reacted to the cancellation by blaming the protests on "agitators" seeking to undermine development in the region. (DW, Nov. 4)
Riot police have clashed with protesters in cities across Bolivia as the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced a clear win for incumbent President Evo Morales 24 hours after the Oct. 20 elections, obviating the need for a second round with conservative challenger Carlos Mesa. The announced victory followed a sudden halt in the counting, before which Morales had been falling just short of the percentage needed to avoid the first run-off in his nearly 14 years in power. Crowds set fire to the TSE offices in Sucre and Potosi, and protesters torched ballots in Tarija. Street clashes erupted between Morales and Mesa supporters in La Paz and Santa Cruz. Mesa, of the Comunidad Ciudadana opposition bloc, is charging fraud, saying, "We are confident that the citizenry will not accept these completely distorted and rigged results." (AP, The Guardian, EFE, InfoBae, InfoBae, ANF, BoliviaPrensa)
US senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bob Menéndez (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have introduced a resolution calling on Bolivia's President Evo Morales not to stand for re-election this October. Cruz said Bolivia is going in a "very dangerous direction, aligning itself with illegal and illegitimate regimes, including that of [Nicolás] Maduro in Venezuela. It is important that all parties respect the constitution of Bolivia, which includes term limits." (Peru21, Feb. 1) Bolivia saw a wave of strikes and protests after a December ruling by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal allowing Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election.
Bolivian President Evo Morales announced March 26 that his government will bring suit against Chile before the International Court of Justice seeking compensation for using the waters of the disputed Río Silala. Two days later, he made a visit to the river in Potosí department, where he declared, "Silala is not an international river." Chile's President Michelle Bachelet promptly responded that Bolivia has recognized the Silala as an international river for more than 100 years and said she would counter-sue before the World Court if Bolivia in fact brought a case. Originating in the high desert plateau of Bolivia's remote southeast, the Silala flows into Chile through a canal built for mining operations over a century ago. In 2009 Chile and Bolivia announced an accord to resolve the conflict, which would cut Chile's use of the Silala's water by 50%. But the pact was never formalized, and local communities in impoversihed Potosí demanded retroactive payment for Chile's past use of the waters.
Protesters cut off access to the Bolivian mining city of Potosí for most of last month in a dispute with the central government over infrastructure investment. Access to the city of more than 130,000 was blocked by thousands of protesters as part of a civil strike called by the Comité Cívico Potosinista (COMCIPO). The strike was "suspended" after 27 days on Aug. 2, when the city had almost run out of petrol, food and money. But organizers declared President Evo Morales and his cabinet members "enemies of Potosí" and "persona non grata" throughout the department. They also called for the resignation of the city's mayor, William Fernández, and the departmental prefect, Juan Carlos Cejas, both from Bolivia's ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).