Bolivia: Renewed offensive of the oligarchy – time to strike back!

Having suffered a clear defeat in the August recall referendum. The reactionary oligarchy of Bolivia is back on the offensive. It has unleashed its gangs, occupying government buildings and terrorising the workers and peasants, but the Morales governmenmet vacillates, not taking the required decisive action to stop what amounts to an attempt at a coup.

On Tuesday, September 9th, the offensive of the Bolivian oligarchy reached a new high point. In Santa Cruz, the shock troops of the fascist gangs of the Union Juvenil Cruceñista (UJC) took over by force a whole series of public buildings. First they sacked and looted the offices of the Servicio Nacional de Impuestos (Tax Revenue Office), then they went to the offices of the recently nationalised telecommunications company ENTEL which was also looted, as were the offices of the National Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA). In doing so they had to fight running battles against the police and the army which was under strict orders not to use fire arms and were over-run by the violent demonstrators.

Departments of Bolivia
Departments of Bolivia

In Tarija, a group of 50 employees of the regional prefecto (governor) attacked the offices of the Superintendencia de Hidrocarburos (Office of the Ministry for Hydrocarbons) and took it over. These actions were repeated in Tarija, Beni and Pando, were gangs of thugs led by officials of the regional prefectos and leading opposition parlamentarians took over Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA) offices, highway toll boths, border customs offices, airports, etc.

Having taken over a number of government offices they then moved on to those media outlets which are not controlled by the right-wing opposition. They looted and destroyed equipment at the offices of Radio Patria Nueva (which were set on fire), and Televisión Boliviana Canal 7. They also forced the community radio station, Radio Alternativa off the air. A few days earlier four radio stations in Cobija, Pando, were also forced to stop broadcasting.

Apart from taking over public buildings and the media, the offensive of the oligarchy has also targeted the mass organisations of the workers and peasants. On Thursday, September 4th, the house of the executive secretary of the Departmental Workers' Union (COD) in Santa Cruz, was set on fire in the middle of the night, while he was sleeping and his wife and five children were also in the house. The offices of Indigenous rights NGO CIJES in Santa Cruz were also looted and set on fire and so were the offices of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB). Finally, in Santa Cruz, a number of public squares and street markets in areas of strong support for the MAS, were also occupied by groups of armed thugs.

As part of this offensive there was also an attack on a gas pipeline on the border with Argentina and the occupation of a gas field in Chuquisaca, which according to some sources threatened to cut off gas exports to Brazil and Argentina, causing serious damage to the Bolivian economy.

This was not a series of "spontaneous actions", but rather part of a well prepared and coordinated challenge to the power of Evo Morales' government. These actions were discussed and decided at the meeting of CONALDE (a coalition of opposition governors and so-called "civic" committees, in effect, the high command of the oligarchy) on September 4th. The cattle rancher, land owner and head of the group of opposition party Podemos in Parliament, Antonio Franco, publicly applauded the taking over of official buildings in Santa Cruz.

The dark hand of the United States was also involved. Breaking all diplomatic protocol, the US ambassador Goldberg had a closed door meeting with one of the main organisers of the opposition, Santa Cruz prefect Ruben Costas, on August 25. A week later he also met with the opposition governor of Chuquisaca, Sabina Cuellar. According to reports in the Bolivian media, he also met with the prefects of Tarija, Beni and Pando. The wealthy landowner Branko Marinkovic, head of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee and one of the main representatives of the oligarchy, also paid a visit to the US last week. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see how this is a repetition of the story of the coup in Venezuela in April 2002 and of the coup against Allende in Chile 35 years ago today.

Quite correctly, on Wednesday, September 10th, Evo Morales declared US ambassador Goldberg persona non grata and instructed foreign affairs minister Choquehuanca to ask him to leave the country. However, expelling the US ambassador, will not stop the coup conspiracy.

The position of Brazil

According to some reports, the closing of a gas valve in Tarija on Wednesday, September 10th, provocked a surge in pressure which ruptured the gas pipeline. The state gas company president Ramirez, declared that as a result, gas exports to Brazil were cut by 10% to 27 million cubic tonnes a day. Bolivia supplies Brazil with 50% of its gas.

In a scandalous statement, Brazil's foreign affairs minister Celso Amorim, declared that if the Evo Morales government is not able to guarantee gas supplies to Brazil, then they would be prepared to enter into direct negotiations with the opposition regional prefects.

This would amount to Brazil recognising de facto independence to these Eastern regions and de-recognising the Bolivian government. The so-called "left-wing" government of Lula, once again, is playing the dirty role of agent of US imperialism.

The response of the government

Evo Morales and other ministers in his government have quite correctly described these moves as a coup. Unfortunately, they have responded by appealing to bourgeois legality. Thus, the minister of the presidency, Juan Ramón Quintana, declared that the "prosecutor must take action against those responsible and bring them to court". The little problem is that the state prosecutor in Santa Cruz responds to the interests of the oligarchy.

Reports we have received from Santa Cruz say that the government has called on mass organisations to stop their plans to set up road blockades in Santa Cruz against the oligarchy, and that local MAS leaders are nowhere to be seen. The mood of the MAS supporters is angry. Even large sections of the middle class in Santa Cruz are complaining in radio phone-in shows about the goverment's lack of action faced with these illegal violent actions.

This is a very dangerous situation. The offensive of the oligarchy cannot be fought off within the limits of the bourgeois democratic institutions, because the oligarchy has already shown it has no intention of respecting them. They know they are in a minority, as was clearly demonstrated in the recall referendum on August 10th. Evo Morales won with more than 67% of the vote and winning in 95 out of the country's 112 provinces. This is why they have resorted to violent and illegal means, using all their economic and political power (in the regional governorships) to undermine and eventually overthrow the government of Evo Morales.

The opposition in Bolivia represents the interests of the big business groups, the banking sector and the agro-capitalist groups in an alliance with the foreign multinationals and US imperialism. They fear losing important parts of their economic and political power. They feel they have already lost control over the central government and realise that the passing of the new constitution (for which the government has called a referendum on December 7th) could mean the beginning of an agrarian reform which would seriously affect their property. From their point of view what is at stake is very important and they have not hesitated in using all means at their disposal, legal and illegal.

The problem is that the MAS leaders and the government seem to only want to use strictly legal and institutional means. The class struggle is not like a game of chess, in which your opponent will abide by the rules of the game. It is more like a boxing match in which your opponent is using all sorts of dirty tricks and controls the referee as well. If the MAS government wants to continue playing chess while the oligarchy is fighting a dirty boxing match, it is clear who is going to win.

Time to strike back

As we said in a previous article:

"Now is the time to take decisive measures against the oligarchy. If they sabotage the distribution of food against the democratic will of the people, then their land, ranches, food processing plants and transport companies should be occupied by the peasants and workers and be expropriated by the government. If they take over oil and gas fields, as they have threatened, then workers and peasants must retake them (as in Venezuela) and put them to work under workers' control. If they blockade roads, workers and peasants must organise to keep them open." (Bolivia: a new offensive of the oligarchy, the masses respond in the streets, August 23)

Faced with the inaction of the government representatives, the mass organisations must take the initiative. The meeting of the National Coordination of Organisations for Change (Conalcam) last week in Santa Cruz decided to call for road blockades in Santa Cruz and a national march on Parliament. These plans must now be brought forward.

In Santa Cruz, the Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz Movement has made an appeal to the Departmental Workers' Union (COD), peasant and neighbourhood organisations to call a cabildo abierto (mass meeting) in the Plan 3000 neighbourhood to start to organise the response of the masses against the fascist gangs. In Potosí, the comrades of the Corriente Marxista Internacional - El Militante are attempting to organise an emergency meeting of the COD with the presence of all the mass organisations to coordinate an effective response.

The oligarchy is a minority, but it is well armed, funded and is on the offensive. The government on the other hand, is seen as acting in a weak way, not responding to these attacks. This can have a demoralising effect on the masses of workers and peasants who support the MAS and the government. The only way to counter the oligarchy's coup which we can see unfolding before our very  eyes is through the mass mobilisation of the people on the streets.

The National Workers' Union (COB) and the peasant and indigenous organisations should organise cabildos abiertos (mass meetings) in all cities and rural areas to discuss the developing coup. At these meetings Popular Assemblies and self-defence committees should be organised to defend the workers' and peasants' organisations and to clear the fascist gangs from the streets. They should demand the immediate passing of a decree of expropriation of the properties and wealth of all those collaborating, participating and funding the coup of the oligarchy. The implementation of such a decree should not be left to the prosecutors, judges and police officers, most of whom cannot be trusted, but rather should be carried out directly by the workers' and peasants' organisations under the authority of mass Popular Assemblies.

The masses of workers and peasants in Bolivia have demonstrated their revolutionary courage and determination in the last few years and throghout history. They could sweep aside the ruling class in a matter of days, if they were armed with a clear programme and organised with a clear plan of struggle. In 1952, the miners alone smashed the bourgeois army and took power. That feat can be repeated. The threat is very serious. Now is not the time for vacillations, now is the time to strike back and smash the economic and political power of the oligarchy.


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