Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Here is a picture of mobs, followers of the government, entering the periphery of Santa Cruz with sticks and weapons.

Armed groups in Santa Cruz are ready to engage these mobs in violent confrontations.

This threat of a violent clash between the government and the civic authorities in Santa Cruz forms the backdrop to continuing negotiations between the Government and opposition groups, led by Santa Cruz.

All of Bolivia is hoping and praying for a settlement which will bring to an end this seemingly never ending conflict between the highlands and the lowlands.


Oh my great enthusiasm I gave the mistaken impression, in my previous post, that the government and the opposition from the lowlands signed an agreement to bring an end to the social upheaval in Bolivia.

Actually they only agreed to an agenda for negotiations. It was a positive step but the problems remain.

Government's supporters have laid seige to Santa Cruz!

There was a plan to invade and create havoc in the city. By God's grace nothing of the sort happened. The government managed to calm the situation by insisting that their supporters remain in the outer fringes of Santa Cruz and to not do anything.

Meanwhile some sectors in Santa Cruz have armed themselves and are ready for a bloody confrontation. Businesses have reinforced security in their shops. Its tense in Santa Cruz.

Lord have mercy on Bolivia!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Thanks to outside mediation, President Morales and his opponents have agreed to terms which will cool tempers and hopefully bring the current violent upheaval to an end. The terms of the agreement as reported by CNN appears to favor Morales's opponents in the valley and the lowlands.

Thank you for all your prayers.

There are still critical issues which have not been resolved, the approval of the new constitution being one of them but on the whole Bolivia and its adopted sons (I'm one of them!) heave a sight of relief.

The photo above shows the Cardenal Terrazas receiving a copy of the accord from Mario Cossio, the governor of Tarija, which was signed by the goverment and the governors of the various regions. The man seated is the governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas

Friday, September 12, 2008

By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer September 13, 2008

BUENOS AIRES -- Bolivia declared martial law Friday in the isolated northern state of Pando, site of violent clashes a day earlier that left at least nine dead and dozens injured.

The move was the government's most dramatic action yet against a wave of violence this week in provinces opposed to the leftist leadership of President Evo Morales. The violence had prompted widespread speculation that the government would declare a national state of siege.

But Friday's announcement was limited to Pando, where the order limits public gatherings, bans protests and imposes a midnight-to-6 a.m. curfew.Morales warned Thursday that "patience has a limit," as his nation endured its third day of clashes and attempted sabotage of natural gas pipelines.

On Friday, amid relative calm, officials signaled that a harder line was likely."We are not going to tolerate any more the actions of radical and violent groups that are only causing confrontations among Bolivians, causing pain and suffering among brothers and threatening the national security," Gen. Luis Trigo, Bolivia's military chief, declared in a statement.

Outnumbered troops and police officers have generally stayed out of the way of violent groups such as those who sacked government buildings in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, a center of opposition to the central government in La Paz. The general also rebuffed an offer of help from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally, who this week pledged to come to Bolivia's assistance should Morales face a coup. The armed forces, Trigo said, "emphatically reject foreign interventions of any kind."Across the region, many are worried that the nation of 9 million could veer into civil war.

"There is no question that these conflicts this week have pushed Bolivia farther toward the abyss than at any time since the return of democracy a quarter century ago," Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center, a nongovernment group based in Bolivia, wrote in his blog. "And what makes it so is the absence of any obvious way for it to end."Bolivia is deeply divided even though Morales won 67% of the vote in a national recall referendum last month.

A conservative opposition bloc comprising the leadership of five of Bolivia's nine states is demanding greater autonomy and a larger share of revenue from natural gas and petroleum sales. Most energy fields are situated in opposition strongholds.Both Morales and Chavez have accused Washington of working with right-wing agitators in Bolivia to topple the president, an allegation denied by the Bush administration.Bolivia and Venezuela expelled their U.S. ambassadors this week in protest against Washington. The State Department responded with expulsion of the Bolivian and Venezuelan envoys.On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Chavez aides and Venezuela's former interior minister, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, for allegedly aiding leftist rebels in Colombia.

Morales was scheduled to meet Friday with opposition Gov. Mario Cossio, of gas-rich Tarija province, in what was described as an effort to head off further conflict. However, the daily La Razon reported that Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera participated instead of Morales."I am completely convinced that this is the last opportunity to begin a process of reconciliation and leave behind the process of confrontation," Cossio told reporters before the meeting.As the unrest eased Friday, an atmosphere of tension remained in much of the country, according to reports from Bolivia.

Road blockades were causing shortages of food and fuel in Santa Cruz. Long lines were reported for diesel and cooking gas.Gov. Ruben Costas of Santa Cruz province, a leading opposition figure, blamed the central government for the shortages, saying Morales' supporters were exacting revenge. Coca growers loyal to Morales were reported to be blocking the main road that links the central city of Cochabama to Santa Cruz. Pando, home to only 60,000 people, is an Amazonian state that borders Brazil and counts nuts and latex among its main products.

Thursday's violent confrontations in Pando resulted in at least nine deaths, the highest toll yet in Bolivia's civil conflict. Media accounts from the isolated zone indicated that most died of gunshot wounds.Unconfirmed reports circulated Friday that six other bodies were found in the Tahuamanu River in Pando.

One government official, Sacha Llorenti, who holds the title of deputy minister for social movements, was quoted in news accounts as labeling the killings a "massacre" by anti-Morales gunmen.


The Final Showdown?

Pando, a small state in Eastern Bolivia (lowlands) was the scene of major confrontation between the government and political and civic leaders from the East.

The government's decision to use the newly won revenues from oil companies as a handout to the elderly and a plan to go ahead with a nationwide referendum to approve the new constitution was the spark that set the lowlands on fire.

The result: 8 ( now 15 )deaths with countless injured.

Eastern Bolivia is now entangled in a violent engagement with the government. Sectors of the local population under the leadership of civic leaders have clashed with police and seized government buildings. The army is on alert. The President's para military are heading toward the East. Its spinning out of control.

Is the stage being set for the final showdown??

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Breaking News
Sep 11, 2008
(picture on the right shows the ambassador with a member of the cabinet in happier moments)

LA PAZ - PRESIDENT Evo Morales of Bolivia on Wednesday ordered the US ambassador expelled, accusing him of contributing to divisions in the country which the government warned was headed towards 'civil war'.
Ambassador Philip Goldberg was to be sent an official message from the foreign ministry 'informing him of the decision by the national government and its president that he should return to his country at once' and that he was 'persona non grata', Mr Morales said.

The move came amid violence in several regions that Mr Morales's spokesman, Mr Ivan Canelas, said were creating conditions for 'a sort of civil war'.

Anti-government protesters on Tuesday ransacked government offices, and seized oil facilities and three regional airports.

In south-east Bolivia, a gas pipeline was blown up Wednesday in what head of the state energy company YPSL, Mr Santos Ramirez, said was a 'terrorist attack' by anti-government protesters.

The explosion occurred in Yacuiba, near the border with Argentina, causing a cut in natural gas supplies to that country and to Brazil.

The unrest was a worsening of a political conflict between Mr Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, and rebel governors in five of the country's nine states.

The conservative governors are opposing Mr Morales's bid to reform the country along socialist lines designed to benefit the indigenous majority, and are encouraging the protesters in their actions.

They have also made moves towards autonomy, something Mr Morales has branded as illegal. Two weeks ago, he ordered troops to guard gas facilities and government offices in their eastern lowland territories.

In his speech on Wednesday, the president accused the US ambassador of aiding his opponents.

Last month, his foreign ministry protested a high-profile meeting Mr Goldberg held with the governor of Santa Cruz state, Ruben Costas, Morales's chief foe.

The government also noted this week that the head of the Santa Cruz employers' federation, Mr Costas's ally Branko Marinkovic, had just returned from the United States.

In Washington, the US State Department said it had not received a formal order from Bolivia to withdraw its ambassador.

A spokesman, Gordon Duguid, said Mr Morales's charges against Mr Goldberg were 'baseless'. Bolivia, South America's poorest nation, has been in the grip of the contest between Mr Morales and the rebel governors for months, but the risk of widespread violence had up to now been tempered by political moves by both sides.

Last month, a referendum called by Mr Morales delivered a strong confirmation of his leftist mandate, with two-thirds of voters backing him. But in the rebel states, voters also returned most of the governors forming the opposition coalition.

After failed negotiations to find a compromise solution, Mr Morales announced two weeks ago a new referendum, for December 7, to vote on his rewritten constitution, which would redistribute land and national revenues to give more to the indigenous population.

The opposition coalition, which also includes town mayors, have focused their attention on the main source of Bolivia's income: the natural gas fields that lie in their eastern half of the country.

Militants linked to the opposition group set up road blocks to add pressure to the governors' demands for more control over gas revenues.

On Wednesday, pro-Morales supporters did the same, cutting roads from the capital La Paz to Santa Cruz.

The situation has created a divided Bolivia, one riven by ethnic confrontation between the indigenous community and the population in the more prosperous east which is largely of European and mixed descent. -- AFP

Monday, September 08, 2008


Great Food and Good Fellowship

Here we are at a mid week bible study meeting at the Ponniah household. Alfred and Angie Ponniah are active members of the Parish of Christ Church. This is where I'm currently serving in the diocese of Singapore before I return to Bolivia. Alfred and Angie, for the benefit of my foreign friends, are Singaporean Tamils. And if you dont know...Tamils are a ethnic Indian group in Singapore. Many of us are grandchildren of the first wave of Tamil migrants from India.

In the past 12 years or so another huge wave of Tamil expatriates and professionals have come to Singapore, looking to improve their prospects.

The food served at the end of each meeting is exquisite. Very very spicy n tasty.

Friday, September 05, 2008


No, I have not forgotten Bolivia.

My wife, Michelle, recenlty returned from Bolivia with the latest news. Federico Bascunan's (one of the clergy in Santa Cruz) daughter got married to her boyfriend. Michelle also into old friends. Carlie and Simon Thomas. They were the first missionary couple we worked with in Santa Cruz. Simon was very patient with us and a very prayerful person. He is retired. Time flies!

Folk in Santa Cruz miss us. They want to know when we're returning to begin some of the projects we lined up. Hmmmnnn......

The problems in the country continue unabated. The President and the governors of the various states were all re elected in a recall election. Only one anti government governor lost his seat. Evo Morales, the president is now proposing a referendum to approve the new constitution which was drawn up by the Constitutional Assembly. The oppostion in Eastern Bolivia believe the constitution to be flawed because it was never passed in the Assembly with a 75% approval of the delegates.

Positions have hardened. The states in the East are attempting to close the highways to the West in an attempt to corner and starve the government. Rumors are swirling of a take over of government buildings in the East. The damage on the Bolivian economy will be immeasurable. Michelle told me that prices were still high and that goods in supermarkets were dwindling. The President has called on the Army to forcibly impose government control of its institutions and the highways.

My heart continues to ache for this landlocked country in South America.

Lord have mercy on Bolivia!