5,000 Parents Of Conscripted Soldiers March In Bolivia

Translated by Forrest Hylton

“I don’t want my son to become colonel or general after he’s dead. I want him with me now.” Mother of Conscripted Soldier

There are four outstanding facts of the last two days, January 22 and 23: first, the participation of Felipe Quispe, leader of the highland Aymara peasantry, in the meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the People held in Cochabamba; second, the attempt by the Bolivian government and media to emphasize the rivalry between Evo Morales, leader of the coca growers and MAS (Movement Toward Socialism), and Quispe; third, the announcement of the National Dignity Army (EDN) by Reuters and the government’s negation of its existence on the one hand, and on the other, its allegation that the EDN is really just a cell of MAS; fourth, the meeting held behind Evo Morales’ back between three parliamentary deputies of MAS and leader of congress Guido Añez, which Oscar Eid [leader of MIR, one of two political parties in government] and Minister of Government Sánchez Berzaín attended.

Without forgetting the damage that personal rivalries have done to the social movement as a whole, as usual the media and the government distract the attention of public opinion with themes of secondary or tertiary interest. Much more important is the possibility, now that Felipe Quispe is part of the Joint Chiefs, that the two social movements with the greatest capacity for mobilization will achieve some degree of unity. This goes beyond the relations between leaders and offers hope for future mobilizations, which perhaps explains why the media and the government refuse to analyze the issue with the requisite depth and seriousness. In contrast, we should remember the results of the blockades a year ago, when the unified popular forces—coca growers, highland Aymara, and the Coordination of Life and Water in Cochabamaba—forced the government to step back, and in the very moment of victory, unity was diluted. It is just now being rebuilt. It is worth asking if this longed-for popular unity will be based on a firm foundation of more or less permanent cooperation and coordination this time, or if it will be diluted again once the government becomes responsive to the demands of one of the sectors.

With respect to the EDN, whom does its emergence favor? Here there is a very important precedent to be born in mind. In 1996 the first Sánchez de Lozada administration invented a guerrilla group as a pretext that allowed him to escalate state repression. Now that terrorism constitutes the central axis of U.S. imperial foreign policy, the ostensible existence of a guerrilla group—especially if some link to “international terrorism” is alleged—could permit Sánchez de Lozada to move closer to the ultra-rightwing positions of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who last week asked for a U.S. expeditionary force similar to the ones being sent to Iraq in order to wipe out “terrorism.” In any event, we might see a greater criminalization of the coca growers’ movement at the very moment that the highland Aymara plan to join the blockade. It is also possible that rather than a guerrilla group, the EDN is a rudimentary, regional peasant self-defense force formed by the most radicalized sectors of the coca growers’ base, but for now there is not sufficient evidence to arrive at a definitive conclusion. What is certain is that the leader of the transport union, agro-exporters, and industrialists are calling for a State of Siege to be implemented forthwith, and for some of them it is rather convenient to argue that guerrilla groups exist in the Chapare.

As far as the meeting between the MAS deputies and Oscar Eid and Sánchez Berzaín, we do not dare to guess what it was about, though it seems not to have been an issue of one sector of MAS that is betting on under-the-table negotiations, but rather a misunderstanding, since MAS deputy Antonio Peredo publicly apologized. It may be yet another government strategy to de-legitimate MAS in the eyes of public opinion, or the government may be offering some type of deal before the Aymara blockade begins.

Assemblies are being held across the highlands to define the date when the blockade will begin there, and blockades continue in the North Yungas and in the Chapare at night. The newest development is that the blockades have intensified in the southern part of the country, and 500 residents in Kochis, Chuquisaca, confronted troops who cleared the road and injured 7 compañeros. Armando Medrano, 20, was shot to death in the same place. There was also a confrontation in Yamparaez. In Sucre, in the march of market women, the Feminine Civic Committee, the Bartolina Sisa Federation and First Nations Women denounced police for attempting to rape them. The bus station was taken over by producers from the peasant market in support of the blockade. The roads to Cochabamba, Potosí, Ravelo and Tarabuco are all closed, and in spite of repression, the blockades are not intermittent. In Potosí the blockades in Betanzos have brought confrontation between community Indians and the army, and 15 people have been arrested. The road to Tupiza-Villazón [frontier with Argentina-tr.] is closed. In Oruro the marches continue even though the government came to an agreement with the miners from Huanuni. Cochabamba is completely militarized under a de facto state of siege, but the social movements are working on forms of struggle to get around it. With the massification of the mobilizations, the faltering supply of meat, fruits and vegetables is beginning to be felt in the cities, provoking people to insist that the government find a rapid solution for the popular demands.

Perhaps the weakest link for the government right now is the 5,000 parents of conscripted soldiers who announced a march from El Alto to La Paz. Once again the media makes invisible news unfavorable to the government’s image, but the problem of the food, health and morale of the troops will only get worse. And their parents will keep asking for justice.

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