Far-right strike in Bolivia once again a flop

Days before the strike, trade unions across the country announced that they wouldn’t abide by the call, citing that the strike was politically motivated and sought destabilization of the ruling socialist government of President Luis Arce

October 23, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
In face of the recent attacks by far-right forces, on October 12, social organizations held massive mobilizations across Bolivia in defense of the Indigenous flag wiphala, democracy and the government of President Luis Arce. Photo: Agencia Boliviana de Información (ABI)

For the second time in a month Bolivia’s far-right has failed to mobilize people to participate in a national strike. They had made the call for people to shut down businesses and not go to work on October 21 and 22, but were seemingly unsuccessful. On October 21, markets, shops, stalls across the nine departments of the country opened as usual and the economic activities continued normally. The transport services in the country also remained unaffected. According to reports, of the 342 municipalities that exist in Bolivia, there were mobilizations in only 3, and of the 1400 markets in the country, only 6 did not open. Business and transportation activities ran smoothly on Friday October 22 as well.

The call for the strike was given by opposition leader and governor of the Santa Cruz department, Luis Fernando Camacho; the leader of the Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee, Rómulo Calvo; and the executive secretary of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, Francisco Figueroa. It was called against law 1386 of a national strategy to combat the legitimization of illicit profits and financing of terrorism, alleging that it affects unions, drivers and transport companies.

The law 1386 has been in force since August. Recently, the government suggested a reform to it and presented bill 218, which established the scope of money laundering and established modifications to the Criminal Code on the crime of terrorism and the financing of terrorism. After the first failed civic strike on October 11, the national government withdrew bill 218, citing “failures in its socialization” and to avoid “confrontation between Bolivians, so as not to lead to destabilization and violence.” The government affirmed that it would not continue until it is drafted in accordance with what the social sectors decide.

Trade unions’ refusal to comply with the strike

Days before the strike, numerous trade unions and worker centers as well as transport companies across the country publicly announced that they wouldn’t abide by it, condemning that it was politically motivated and sought the destabilization of the ruling socialist government of President Luis Arce.

The executive secretary of the Unique Departmental Federation of Self-Employed Workers of Cochabamba, Hugo Apaza, in an interview with Bolivia TV, said that “more than anything, this strike is political. That is why we have determined that as the unionized sector in Cochabamba, we are not going to comply with it here. Tomorrow (Thursday) everything will be normal.”

Regarding the Law 1386, Apaza said that the workers support the law because they know that it will not affect their interests, because they are not drug traffickers, smugglers, and organ or child traffickers. “We support it because this is how we are going to know the people who are illicitly enriching themselves. It does affect those gentlemen who earn illicitly,” stated Apaza.

Meanwhile, the trade unions and transporters of the Santa Cruz department, at a press conference, also announced that they wouldn’t comply with the call for strike and instructed their members to go to work normally and defend their sources of income.

“Tomorrow we are not going to stop, on the contrary, we are going to go to work normally. Law 1386 does not affect unions, it does not affect carriers,” said Édgar Álvarez, the leader of seven trade unions and around 500 merchants’ associations of Santa Cruz.

Mario Guerrero, a leader of the urban transport union, and Antonio Baldelomar, a leader from the heavy transport union, also ruled out joining any measure that paralyzes the economic dynamics of the sector.

Similarly, Juan Carlos García, executive secretary of Bolivia’s trade union center, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), assured that workers will continue their activities normally in all the departments. “We want to communicate to the Bolivian people that as unions we are not going to close any stalls, we are not going to march, we are not going to block roads, on the contrary, we are going to open the markets normally,” declared García.

He also stressed that people from outside the sector called for a measure of force without consulting the bases and that is why they will not comply with it, especially when many are affected by the pandemic and seek economic reactivation.

Meanwhile, Wilfredo Mamani, executive secretary of the El Alto city union federation, explained that the law in question is not intended to persecute workers or affect the sector. “This law, 1386, says that it is intended to fight against the legitimization of illicit profits and the financing of terrorism. My colleagues are not selling cocaine, drugs, they are not doing illegal activity, they do not have huge fortunes to worry about. Those who have to worry are those fascists who have become millionaires overnight … Therefore, tomorrow, Thursday, the organizations will not paralyze, because we cannot stop, because the day we stop we do not eat,” he asserted.

Likewise, the leader of the Federation of Trade Unions of Beni, Georgina Barrada, also announced that her sector would not comply with any call for strike or mobilizations in the department.

Second coup d’état

Ányelo Céspedes, a legislator of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, denounced the political opportunism of opposition legislators, highlighting that they seek to repeal a law that six months after it was approved. “Why didn’t they hold conferences in April when we were debating the law in the Chamber of Deputies? Why didn’t they call on the sectors then?” questioned Céspedes. “They want to confuse the people, destabilize the legally constituted government,” he added.

Yesterday, the minister of public works, services and housing, Edgar Montaño, accompanied by the leaders of transport unions, at a press conference, described the strike a “total failure.” “This strike has been a total failure. Here are our brother leaders saying yes to the reconstruction of all of Bolivia, after a coup,” said Montaño. The minister also warned that the opposition sectors “are wanting to use this instrument (law 1386) to stage a second coup.” He also stressed that it is a strategy to seek impunity for the numerous crimes committed during the one-year of de-facto rule after the 2019 coup, including the Sacaba and Senkata massacres.

For his part, the executive secretary of the Bolivian Free Transport Confederation, William Condori, rejected supporting any strike or mobilization that affected the economy. “We, the national transport organizations, are not with any stoppage or blockade, we want to work. After the coup, they cornered us, they used the coronavirus pandemic to restrict us at our homes; therefore, our country needs to recover the economy, stability and we want our country to move forward,” emphasized Condori.

Social movements and trade unions vow to fight the coup

On Monday, October 18, one year after the resounding victory of the MAS party in the 2020 general elections, the representatives of the COB and Pact of Unity, a national alliance of grassroots organizations in Bolivia, met with President Arce and vice-president David Choquehuanca. They declared themselves in a “state of emergency,” and vowed to fight the conditions being created by the far-right forces to justify a new coup d’état.

They praised President Arce’s administration’s efforts to restore economic growth and social stability. President Arce thanked them for the approval of his administration and ratified his commitment to continue fighting for social equality and economic recovery.

March by relatives of Sacaba and Senkata massacres

While the right-wing forces are conspiring to evade justice, the relatives of the victims of the massacres in Sacaba city in Cochabamba and in the Senkata town of El Alto city, as well as the survivors of the brutal repression by state security forces, perpetrated in November 2019 following the coup, are determined to get justice for their loved ones.

On October 19, hundreds of Bolivians began marching from the town of Caracollo in the Oruro department towards the capital city La Paz, demanding that the process of justice be accelerated and all those responsible, the police and military personnel, and the government officials and ministers, be brought to justice.

The protesters, who have embarked on a 200-km-long journey that they aim to conclude within eight days, are also demanding that the recommendations issued by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) on reparation to the victims and the non-repetition of such events be implemented.