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"We aren't going to wait" - Bolivian workers and peasants confront the right

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As we go to press some 20,000 miners, peasants and cocaleros are marching on Santa Cruz, the centre of the Bolivian Right's attempt to seize complete control of the country's vast natural resources. The marchers' declared objective is to retake control of the government buildings, press and TV stations which had been seized by the Right over the past month.

The marchers aim to first cut off Santa Cruz, with road blockades at strategic points, and then march into the city. Their central demands are the resignation of the prefect of Santa Cruz, RubÈn Costas, and the arrest of Branko Marinkovich, a large landowner and industrialist of Croatian origin. These are the two key leaders of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee- the vipers' nest of the Right in Bolivia.Joel Guarachi, the head of the National Confederation of Peasant Workers, claims as many as 600,000 protesters are on the move throughout the Santa Cruz department as a whole. Whilst he has said that the occupation of the city will be peaceful this is not something that can be decided by one side. And so far the Right have been far from peaceful when dealing with unarmed demonstrators.

On 11 September when peasants from the community of El Porvenir were marching to Cobija, the departmental capital of Pando, to protest the sacking of government offices by the right-wing mobs they were suddenly ambushed by a paramilitary force with machine guns, the result was 15 dead, 37 injured. But 106 marchers are currently unaccounted for. Only after this massacre, which caused uproar in Bolivia and indeed across South America, did Morales finally pluck up the courage to declare a state of emergency in Pando, send in the army, and order the arrest of the governor, Leopoldo Fern·ndez.

But now the mass forces of workers and peasants are marching on Santa Cruz, President Evo Morales has once again expressed his hostility to mass initiatives, by the workers and social movements, though they are the only reliable support for his government and its measures, to appropriate the country's riches for the poor. It is self-organised action he fears, quite as much or more than, he fears the Right.In a press conference in Cochabamba he expressed his opposition to the march:

"It frightens me because they say they will march until the prefect resigns. I don't agree with it, and it scares me." In Cochabamba Morales is once more in deep negotiations with the Opposition. There too thousands of demonstrators have occupied the streets, to pressure the President not to make any more concessions to the Right.Fidel Surco, head of the National Coordination for Change, a coalition of social movements broadly supportive of Morales' Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) is also plainly becoming impatient: "We aren't going to wait any longer! We know that the prefects are simply stalling so that no accords are reached."

Morales also expelled the US ambassador, Philip Goldberg. This was a long overdue action since the US embassy has throughout been a centre for organising the right wing offensive. Starting on 25 August, Goldberg in person held a series of private meetings with the chiefs of the secessionist movements in the Media Luna, the half-moon of western lowland provinces that contain the country's natural resources but only a minority of its population.

How did the Right's creeping coup develop?

On 10 August Morales, was once again given a massive vote of confidence by 70 per cent of the people in the recall referendum. On 29 August, indigenous peasant and working-class supporters of Morales' party, the Movement to Socialism, (MAS) tried to hold a peaceful celebration of the victory in the Plaza 24 de Septiembre, in the centre of the city of Santa Cruz, the bastion of the Right. A force of thugs organised by the UniÛn Juvenil CruceÒista (Santa Cruz Youth Union, or UJC), promptly set upon them with sticks and whips.

The bourgeois daily La Prensa, records a UJC speaker before the attack shouting: "We don't want this damned race in our territory" and "Indians return to your lands." Women wearing the traditional indigenous pollera, or layered skirt, were subjected to beatings and racist taunts. One UJC leader, Amelia Dimitri, was pictured on a You Tube video clip whipping an indigenous woman wearing a pollera.In the following two weeks, right-wing mobs began committing acts of great brutality against the indigenous population of "their provinces"  not just against the activists of the MAS and trade union, indigenist and peasant organisations, but against ordinary people in the streets, against markets and districts where the population is "indian", i.e. not "white".On 9 September, the UJC thugs, using Molotov cocktails, broke into and looted the offices of the National Tax Services (SIN) of the recently re-nationalised telecom company ENTEL and the National Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA). The soldiers and police guarding these institutions were forbidden to open fire, despite coming under prolonged attack and suffering severe injuries themselves.

In the next few days, all the agencies of news media independent of the secessionists were closed down by such violent attacks. Similar actions have taken place in the other secessionist departments: Beni, Tarija and Pando, plus the city of Sucre, organised by equivalent gangs to the UJC. Buildings owned by indigenous organisations and human rights NGOs have been looted and homes of trade union leaders firebombed.Nevertheless, there has been heroic resistance to the fascistic mobs, even in the Santa Cruz region. In the Plan 3000 neighbourhood, the people fought the UJC and eventually chased them out of their streets.In Tarija, which produces some 82 percent of Bolivia's natural gas, the right-wing secessionist gangs took over the offices of the Superintendent of Hydrocarbons. On 10 September, the leader of the civic committee, Nelson Valdez, told the media that, unless the government recognised the autonomy of Tarija, it would secede from the country and boasted that the civic committees were ready for a civil war. "We want civil war and will have civil war," he bragged.

The counterrevolutionary uprising was masterminded by the Consejo Nacional Democr·tico (National Democratic Council, CONALDE) which brings together the prefectures and civic committees of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija, and the city of Sucre. These forces are determined either to drive Morales and the MAS government from power, or else to secede from Bolivia, taking nearly all the country's gas and oil reserves, and the richest agricultural land, with them.Thus Podemos and the civic committees and governors began to establish dual power in the country with most of the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando, and urban areas of Chuquisca, particularly the departmental capital of Sucre, in their hands. Their leaders talked openly of secession and civil war.They were encouraged by the delays and hesitation by Morales and his government, refusing to declare a state of emergency and ordering the police and army, even whilst under violent attack, not to open fire. "We are not going to declare a state of emergency," stated Vice-Minister of Social Movements, Sacha Llorenti. "We are not going to succumb to the provocation."Armed forces

Throughout the crisis the position of the Bolivian armed forces, more specifically its High Command, has been to remain passive, despite the seriousness of the violent assaults on soldiers and policemen by the fascist youth leagues. Only a statement from the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, that he would give military support to Morales if there were moves to overthrow him, provoked the Commander in Chief, General Luis Trigo, into a statement. With studied ambiguity he proclaimed:

"We warn that we will not any more tolerate the actions of violent radical groups that are only leading to confrontation between Bolivians, causing pain and mourning among brothers, and preying against national security." He added that the mobilisation of troops, material and military equipment was strictly due to the carrying out of military operations to ensure internal order and will not be used against the people. Only in extreme cases will troops be employed to ensure internal order

What is to be done?

The Morales government is effectively leaving the indigenous and peasant movements and the trade unions of the seceding provinces to face the fascist mobs unarmed, without any assistance of the state forces

Morales' entire policy is to continue to offer negotiations to the Right and to call yet further referendums in the belief that democratic mandates will eventually win them or their supporters over. This is nonsense. Such delaying and evident weakness has encouraged their defiance, time and again. They have effectively declared a civil war against the popular majority. The only thing to do now is to win that civil war, to crush the Right and impose the reforms the masses have been calling for five years or more.

Given the mass support Morales has, it is correct, indeed essential, to demand that he acts against the secessionists. If he is driven to mobilise the army and the police against the Right, he must be supported, though in such mobilisations everything must be done to win over the rank and file soldiers to the side of the workers and peasants and to prevent sabotage and betrayal by the High Command. Above all, a central demand on Morales must be to arm the workers' and peasants' militias.

But, though it is correct to make such calls on Morales, it would be the height of folly to depend upon him. The mass organisations of the Bolivian workers, peasants, and the indigenous communities must take the lead themselves. They must create an alternative leadership, answerable to the masses.In Santa Cruz, there have been calls in the Plan 3000 neighbourhood to start to organise the response of the masses against the fascist gangs of the UJC. The COB (Central Obrera Boliviana- the union federation) and the departmental union bodies, the CODs, the Miners' union the FSTMB, the factory workers' and teachers' unions, the community councils like the Fejuve of El Alto, all need to take a lead in calling a cabildo abierto (mass assembly). They in turn should elect committees or councils of delegates made up of the most trusted and bold fighters, men and women, to plan and direct the movement against the Right.At the top of their agenda should be the formation or strengthening of mass militias and obtaining supplies of weapons by approaching the army barracks and police stations with requests to rank and file soldiers and NCOs to help them to defend the people and to crush the secessionists. The soldiers themselves should be encouraged to hold mass meetings, elect committees and exercise surveillance over the actions of their officers and commanders. The armed forces need to be sent to the relief of the embattled popular forces in the secessionist provinces and cities.

Beyond the response to the present crisis it is, above all, urgent that the working class and poor peasant forces, particularly the vanguard militants of the unions, come to together and unite in what they have frequently discussed, a "political instrument." Indeed, to avoid all doublespeak or evasion, it must be a revolutionary political party. Morales and the MAS, who are left populists at best, will never take the power and the property away from the oligarchy.

Even if the mass mobilisations succeed in crush the secessionists today, Morales in the name of democracy will preserve the core of their property and protect their state and its high command, the Senate, High Court, its bureaucracy etc. What is needed is a democracy superior to any capitalist republic, a workers and poor peasants' democracy. But such a democracy will have to act as a dictatorship against the exploiters until their resistance is finally broken  the dictatorship of the proletariat.