Far-right tensions brewing amid one year anniversary of the return of democracy in Bolivia

Members of the opposition and far-right Civic Committees have been mobilizing and blocking roads in different departments of Bolivia as a part of a politically motivated strike.

November 12, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
Bolivian President Luis Arce completed one year in office on November 8. Photo: Luis Arce/Twitter

November 8, 2021 marked one year since the return of democracy and the defeat of the US-backed coup d’état in Bolivia. That day president Luis Arce and vice-president David Choquehuanca of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party took office after winning the general elections in the first round with over 55% of the votes.

During an event commemorating the inauguration of the new government and new legislative assembly, held in the parliament on November 8, President Arce presented the report of his first year in office. He thanked the citizens and the legislators for their support and vowed to continue implementing measures to counteract the political, economic, educational and health crises.

Amid the celebrations, tensions have risen in the country due to an indefinite national strike called for by far-right sectors. Since November 8, the supporters of opposition leaders and members of the far-right Civic Committees have been mobilizing and blocking roads in different departments. On the second day of the strike, the clashes between anti-government and pro-government citizens left a 22-year-old Indigenous peasant dead in the Potosí department.

On November 9, the supporters of the strike attacked workers and members of social organizations with sticks, who had been demonstrating at the November 10 Square in rejection of the strike, calling on the sectors to continue their work. Hours later, the governor of Potosí, Jhonny Mamani, reported that a peasant from the town of Tinguipaya died in the clash. Mamani also announced the suspension of the protocol acts prepared to commemorate the 211 anniversary of the department’s libertarian deed on November 10. He also called on the citizens to suspend the strike for the pacification of the department.

Confrontations were also registered in the Tarija department, where the supporters of the ruling MAS party, who went out to clear the road blockades, were attacked with stones by supporters of the strike. A similar situation was witnessed in the Cochabamba department, where the police intervened. In the Santa Cruz department, which is the epicenter of the strike, more than 120 protesters have been arrested, at least one-third for public intoxication and nuisance.

The national strike was called for by the opposition leader and governor of the Santa Cruz department, Luis Fernando Camacho; the leader of the Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee, Rómulo Calvo; the executive secretary of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, Francisco Figueroa; against the law 1386 of a national strategy to combat the legitimization of illicit profits and financing of terrorism, alleging that it is authoritarian and affects unions, drivers, and transport companies. The national government has already agreed to revise the law and has called on all social sectors to dialogue and discuss their concerns.

This is the third strike called by far-right sectors in the past month. The first two strikes, on October 11 and 21, failed to gather support and the strikes were adhered to by only a few wealthy sectors in Santa Cruz. On November 8 as well, the commercial impact was limited, with only some markets and shops in Santa Cruz not opening their doors. However, on November 9, the right-wing civic committees across the country joined the strike and launched racist violence against Indigenous protesters. Videos have been circulating on social media that show how Indigenous protesters were tortured by right-wing mobs, who also shouted racist slurs. Indigenous communities are demanding a more effective intervention by the police against violent protesters.

Condemnation of the right-wing strike and violence

Numerous political leaders and social organizations have condemned that with the strike and violence, right-wing sectors are preparing the ground for a coup, similar to that of November 2019 against former president Evo Morales.

Sacha Llorenti, executive secretary of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) and the former ambassador of Bolivia to the United Nations, in an interview with La Razón, said that the strike has “coup interests” and urged the citizens not to fall for provocations in the face of this possible situation.

“Mobilizations and a strike have been called, and even (I heard that) a civic leader is calling for the resignation of the government of President Arce; (therefore) I believe that coming from who it comes and with the experience we had from two years ago, what we cannot do is be naive and (we must) take each and every one of these statements, threats, very seriously,” said Llorenti.

Likewise, Bolivia’s trade union center, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), also alerted that “a new coup d’état is brewing” in the country and it is being “led by Fernando Camacho, Romulo Calvo, Marco Pulmari, among other failed politicians, oligarchs, who could not achieve the vote and consensus of the people at the polls.” The COB demanded justice for Basilio Titi Tipolo, the peasant who was killed by an opposition mob, and called on the people not to fight with each other.

At the same, deputy Sandra Paz, of Camacho’s Creemos party, in an interview with Xto TV on November 10, revealed that their leader (Camacho) is not interested in working for Bolivia but in making a show, seeking confrontation. She called him a dictator, a liar, and said that he imposes his decisions and defames the legislators, who express a different opinion.

“Camacho is a dictator and wants to continue confronting and uses Santa Cruz as his shield, he uses Santa Cruz as a shield for his personal property, he is a liar,” said Paz. “The problem of defamations that we are suffering from our colleagues did not start now, it has been happening for a year, because we have separated ourselves from them, because we are not anyone’s puppets, because Fernando Camacho wants to make Creemos his puppet, he wants to impose things, we have not allowed it, that is what is happening,” she added.

Achievements made by Arce’s government in the last year

In the past year, President Arce’s administration has made significant progress in matters promised during his election campaign such as the recovery of the national economy, which suffered serious blows during the de-facto rule of Jeanine Áñez. As promised, it has been supporting its vulnerable population with several social programs. The government has also made developments in guaranteeing justice to the victims of Sacaba and Senkata massacres and other human rights violations committed during Áñez’s regime. It has also been successful in curbing the spread of coronavirus and vaccinating the population against COVID-19.

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), in the second quarter of Áñez’s administration, Bolivia’s GDP fell by 12.9%. President Arce revoked almost all economic decrees approved by his predecessor and reactivated six public companies closed during the interim administration. According to official data, the government increased public investment by 111% in the last year.

Recently, economic minister Marcelo Montenegro announced that the Bolivian economy is on the path of recovery after being in a deep economic crisis. Montenegro reported that “in the first semester of this year, Bolivia ranked third in economic growth in the region with 9.4%, after Peru and Argentina with 20.9% and 10.3% respectively.” According to reports, between August 2020 and 2021, more than 900,000 Bolivians accessed or recovered new sources of employment.

The national government also took measures to alleviate the social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its mismanagement by the Áñez. Within months of assuming office, it created numerous social programs to support the sectors impacted by the pandemic and the population in general. The government paid a sum of 1,000 Bolivianos (about 145 USD) every month until March to 4 million Bolivians as the ‘bonus against hunger’ to help its vulnerable population. Additionally, about 2.2 million students benefited from the Juancito Pinto Bonus, a program aimed at improving access to education by giving an annual cash grant of 200 Bolivianos (29 USD) to children of 1st to 8th grade, studying in public schools. Over 1 million senior citizens benefited from the Renta Dignidad program, a universal non-contributory pension program for Bolivians above 60 years of age, which provides a monthly support of 350 Bolivianos (51 USD).

To support its social programs, the government introduced a new wealth tax on citizens who own private assets worth more than 30 million Bolivianos (over 4.3 million USD) and raised 110 million Bolivianos (about 15.1 million USD).

Last month, on October 26, a delegation of senior government officials met the family members of the victims of the Sacaba and Senkata massacres and the survivors of the brutal police and military repression incidents. The officials shared a report on the arrests and other progress made in the process of justice and assured them to address their demands for comprehensive reparation. Last week, on November 5, the government signed an agreement with them to draft a new criminal accusation against Áñez as well as to support them with bank loans and other social assistance measures.

In the beginning of the year, the government, by means of two decrees, granted pardon, amnesty and integral reparation of damages to around 1,500 people who were politically persecuted by Áñez’s regime. It offered economic assistance, health insurance and psychological attention, estimating a compensation of 100,000 Bolivianos (about 14,445 USD) to the victims’ families.

To face the pandemic and guarantee full treatment to infected patients, the government allocated a budget of 24,504 million Bolivianos (3.5 billion USD) for the healthcare sector in 2021. According to the official data, Bolivia maintains a recovery rate of 92.5%, with a total of 518,870 cases and 18,970 deaths from the disease.

The government has procured more than 15 million doses of different anti-COVID-19 vaccines to guarantee the immunization of the entire Bolivian population over 18 years of age. As of November 7, the country has fully vaccinated 54.4% and partially vaccinated 64.3% of its populations.

Challenges faced by the socialist administration

During the last year, while the socialist government tirelessly worked for the betterment of its citizens, the far-right opposition sectors continued to attack it. Since Áñez’s arrest in March, on several occasions, the main opposition leaders, who were complicit in organizing the 2019 coup, have accused the government of “political persecution.”

Nevertheless, every time, they have been responded by popular sectors with massive demonstrations in defense of President Arce’s government and the actions it took to guarantee justice. In response to the recent calls for national strikes, the majority of trade unions announced that they would not abide by any call that is politically motivated and seeks the destabilization of the ruling government.

Several union leaders condemned that the far-right sectors are using strikes as 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.