Saturday, December 16, 2006
THE MOTHER OF ALL CABILDOS!
CLOSE TO A MILLION ATTENDED THE 4 CABILDOS IN EASTERN BOLIVIA.
NEARLY 500,000 TURN UP AT THE CABILDO IN SANTA CRUZ (photo on the right).
They came from just about everywhere: isolated provinces, little towns, forgotten villages, poor barrios, upper middle class enclaves and outlying districts. Many walked and others chartered buses/vans/mini-buses. Some rode on horseback.
A sea of green and white flags of Santa Cruz greeted me as I made my way toward the city centre. Almost everyone had the flag except for yours truly. I managed to find a place near the local burger king outlet. It was'nt the best of places. A lady looked at me hard and gave me a flag; I thanked her and continued to soak in the atmosphere! It was hot and humid. There was one guy with a cool 4 sided square hat; a tired looking pregnant lady decided to sit on the pavement; A cute 5 year old girl, tastefully dressed with a frangipani clipped in her hair, sat on her father's shoulders. People were talking through their cellphones - trying to connect with their friends. A flautist and a drummer, about 5 metres from where I was standing, played local favorites. Spontaneous chants laced with vulgarities against the president kept people entertained. The vendors were out in force, selling everything from mineral water to flags.
Helicopters, hired by the TV channels, swirled above like vultures over their prey. And the crowd would oblige by raising and waving their flags whenever they flew over us. The podium was enormous with the green and white backdrop; at the centre were yellow, green and red - the colours of the Bolivian state; superimposed on these colours were the words "2/3". This was of course a reference to the key demand that the constitutional assembly pass every proposed article of the new constitution with a 2/3 majority. The government controlled assembly however passed a ruling which approves the new constitutional articles through a simple majority vote. The ruling party now has at its disposition the right to any pass articles it sees fit; its opponents in the East see this as a blank check to impose a socialist indigenous system over the whole country. Also, and this is important, the large business constituency in Eastern Bolivia views a socialist driven centralized government as a threat to their interests.
The programme was a combination of chants, music, songs and speeches. It was not possible to see the action on the podium from where I was standing. The sound, although a little rough, came through. The major speeches were given by the president of the civic association, German Antelo and the governor of the Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas. Both made commitments to stay within Bolivia; the Venezuelans and the Cubans were accused of meddling in Bolivian internal affairs; President Evo was criticized severely. One lady near me was critical of Antelo's speech saying that there were no clear-cut calls to action. Beneath the surface of this movement, on the part of some, is a willingness to take up arms. Any call to violence however would have immediately taken the wind out of this massive civic movement because the vast majority of the people although angry and frustrated are basically peace loving.
There were some clashes in a province, near Santa Cruz, called San Julian. The President's supporters blocked the road in San Julian to Santa Cruz; buses full of people could'nt get through to the Cabildo; tempers flared and fighting broke out; unconfirmed reports say 2 people may have died.
At a press conference later President Evo sounded conciliatory and even congratulated the organizers of the Cabildos saying that his party is willing to dialogue with the opposition.
We are entering the holiday season; people will start thinking about their Christmas dinners and gifts; hopefully everyone will calm down.
We might enter the new year with hope for a settlement.