Bolivia's eastern lowland city of Santa Cruz has been rocked by roadblocks and street clashes since an indefinite paro (civil strike) was called by right-wing opposition groups Oct. 22. With the open support Santa Cruz departmental governor Fernando Camacho, strikers are demanding that a new census be held next year rather than in 2024, as is currently scheduled. The last census was in 2012, and the region's population has swelled with an influx of migrants since then. At issue is greater funding for the department, and more slated congressional seats ahead of the 2025 elections.
Former Bolivian president Evo Morales, back in his country from exile in Argentina after October's elections returned his Movement to Socialism (MAS) to power, warned Dec. 27 of the ongoing danger of a new coup d'etat and asked his followers to debate how to best defend new President Luis Arce and the "process of change." The comments came at a meeting in Chapare region of the MAS and affiliated Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, the campesino alliance that Morales once led. Recalling his own ouster in November 2019, Morales said: "The issue of the coup is still compelling; it is an ideological, programmatic struggle; it is a cultural, social, communal and, of course, an electoral struggle." Invoking divided loyalties in the military, he added: "I am also convinced that in the Armed Forces there are not only those who respect and admire the MAS, but there are also anti-imperialist soldiers." However, he added that "they are not many," and others have "submitted to the North American empire." (Prensa Latina, Prensa Latina)
In Bolivia's eastern lowlands, known as Oriente, the regionally powerful right-wing social networks have responded rapidly to the victory of socialist candidate Luis Arce in the weekend's presidential elections. Hundreds filled the streets of the region's principal city, Santa Cruz, on Oct. 21, and some 5,000 the previous day, waving Bolivian flags, honking car horns and chanting "¡Anulación, Anulación, Anulación!" However, the protesters' accusation that Arce won through "fraud" was explicitly rejected by Manuel González, head of the OAS mission in Bolivia. He said in a statement: "The people voted freely and the result was clear and overwhelming, which gives great legitimacy to the incoming government, the Bolivian institutions, and the electoral process."
Luis Arce, candidate of the party of ousted president Evo Morales, has seemingly swept to victory in Bolivia's Oct. 18 presidential elections. While the official count is technically still pending, results place him with more than 50% of the vote—well above the second-place center-right contender Carlos Mesa and with far more than the required majority to avoid a runoff. This represents a significant recoup of losses for the Movement Toward Socialism-Political Instrument for the Peoples' Sovereignty (MAS-IPSP), which Morales nominally still leads from exile in Argentina. As news of the victory broke, supporters gathered outside Arce's campaign office to chant "The pollera will be respected!"—a reference to the traditional skirt that has become a symbol of the MAS-IPSP indigenous base. But Arce is insisting there will be "no role" in his government for Morales, who has been barred by the courts from holding public office and faces criminal charges in Bolivia.
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)
Protesters have launched blockades across main roads through Bolivia over the past days, effectively cutting off La Paz and other cities, to oppose the government's postponement of new presidential elections. The blockades have raised fears of food and gasoline shortages, with throngs of La Paz residents lining up outside markets and petrol stations. Chancellor Karen Longaric portrayed the protests as being masterminded from exile by ousted president Evo Morales, saying "Ex-president Morales and groups aligned with the Movement Toward Socialism have initiated violent and inhuman acts."
Ten days into a national "quarantine" declared in Bolivia, protesters are taking to the streets to demand food in working-class districts of cities across the country—in defiance of lockdown orders. Residents are calling for either greater flexibility in the lockdown, which has paralyzed the economy, or food distribution in their barrios. Street protests have been reported in El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Trinidad and Riberalta. The government of interim leader Jeanine Áñez has pledged one-time payments of $60 for elders, the disabled, pregnant women and others with special needs. Her supporters on social media are portraying the protests as fomented by the ousted Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
The new Bolivian regime's Government Minister Arturo Murillo has announced creation of a special "Anti-Terrorist Group" (GAT), drawn from elite units of the National Police force, to "completely disarticulate all the terrorist cells" operating in the country. Murillo made the announcement at a Dec. 2 meeting of the National Police Special Anti-Crime Struggle Force (FELCC) in Santa Cruz, where he charged that recent political violence in the country had been instrumented by foreign "terrorist" operatives financed by Venezuela as part of a plan to "destabilize" the countries of South America. He particularly mentioned Martín Serna Ponce, a supposed operative of Peru's defunct Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), and Facundo Morales Schoenfeld, a veteran of Colombia's FARC. (Aristegui Noticias, Mexico, Dec. 3; La Razón, La Paz, Dec. 2)