Monday was the first strike against the government of Luis Arce with demonstrations throughout the country with an epicenter in Santa Criz de la Sierra.

At least a dozen arrested, some injured, complaints of violent attacks on opposition congressmen and threats of new street demonstrations by opponents of the Government, as well as followers of the ruling party, have marked in recent days the opening of a period of escalation of conflicts and tensions in a polarized Bolivia, less than a month after the first year of the government of President Luis Arce Catacora.

Santa Cruz de la Sierra has once again confirmed that it is the bastion of the opposition in the country, as happened especially in the final phase of Evo Morales’ administration, when he led the first national civic strike during Arce’s mandate. The rejection of the illicit profit bill, initially approved by the majority of the MAS in the Chamber of Deputies, and the protest against the judicial persecutions of opposition leaders such as the governor of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, the mayor of La Paz, Iván Arias, and the mayor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, have been the triggers of the street mobilizations that have been felt with greater force in the capital of Santa Cruz and to a lesser extent in some areas of the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, Potosí, Tarija and Oruro.

The conflicts, which began to manifest themselves since last September, have as main protagonists the Committee for Santa Cruz, the most influential institution of the Bolivian civic movement, the so-called National Council of Democracy (Conade), and, recently, the coca growers of the Los Yungas area, brought together in the organization called Apdecoca, the indigenous people of the lowlands of eastern Bolivia, the merchants and the transporters. Threats of street demonstrations by mining sectors have also emerged.

The “cursed” laws

The first national civic strike, described by the Government as “a failure”, has had as its origin the unrest, especially of the union members or Bolivian merchants, who warned of the risks of two laws drawn up by the MAS that aim to control people’s assets, under the argument that they should not have dubious origins.

The merchants and other social sectors have described both norms as “cursed”, since They fear that they will be exploited to seize property and property on the sole suspicion that they are illegal, without previously complying with the constitutional right to due process or respecting the principle of innocence.

The protests were mainly motivated against the calls "cursed laws" that generate that the government promotes and that generate fear of an encroachment of private property and professional secrecy (REUTERS / Claudia Morales)
The protests were motivated mainly against the so-called “cursed laws” that they generate that the government promotes and that generate fear of an encroachment on private property and professional secrecy (REUTERS / Claudia Morales)

Some of the organizations that called for a mobilized national strike and protest marches consider that these laws are copies of the Venezuelan model pointing to a tough state control of citizens and judicial prosecution of political opponents, under the pretext of the search for transparency and the fight against corruption.

Both regulations are questioned by jurists who consider that too much power is given to the Financial Investigations Unit (UIF), the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Justice, with a strong impact on people’s privacy. There are articles of these standards that raise professional and financial secrets, in addition to authorize searches, seizures of property and other actions, without even having judicial authorizations.

The rejection of two laws that point to these measures It has come mainly from sectors that have previously supported the MAS government, such as union members, transporters and, lately, cooperative miners. The businessmen also launched the alert and the citizens decided to support the protests through a strike, considering that the Government is targeting the “Venezuelanization” from Bolivia.

There are even professional organizations, such as those of lawyers and journalists, who joined the questions for affecting professional secrecy. Iglesias and other civil society entities also reject the new regulations.

Faced with the growing malaise, the Government announced the suspension of the legislative treatment until one of the norms was socialized, but it was unable to stop the strike and the marches that took place this Monday. After concluding their first mobilizations, the sectors now give a period of 72 hours for the ruling party to annul or repeal them, which has not been accepted by the Government. Of not being heard, various organizations announced that they could go to a new 48-hour strike and take other more radical measures.

The police repression left some detained and injured after the marches during the national strike (REUTERS / Patricia Pinto)
The police repression left some detained and injured after the marches during the national strike (REUTERS / Patricia Pinto)

Faced with the warnings, the president Luis Arce led a mobilization of his followers on Tuesday in some cities of the country and threatened to respond and defend in the streets the vote that brought him to power last year.

In the day of unemployment and blockades there were clashes between followers of the ruling party and opponents, with the balance of some injured and detained. For analysts like Paúl Coca, the conflict has barely begun and the political polarization in Bolivia is leading to a social polarization that can be dangerous if it is not stopped.

“This is just beginning. It can lead to major conflicts. It’s a snowball. There have been problems of land grabs and forest fires that the Government has not solved ”.

Daniel Valverde, another political analyst, considers that Bolivian society is at this moment “hostage to radicalism”, Thus losing the opportunity to address strategic issues. “The Government is obliged to re-read its political position. Last March he took a turn with his rhetoric that in Bolivia there was a coup, only with the intention of cornering his adversaries. It was hoped to have a different version of the MAS, but the positions are more radical and the confrontation feeds the opposition that has begun to rearticulate and enter the game of measuring forces or an arm wrestling that does not end, which affects the economy and the Health. In recent weeks the government has lost confidence. In the imaginary it is that with these laws we are getting closer to Cuba and Venezuela, which is a mobilizing element of the opponents, who do not offer a political project either.. The government had a clear path before, but due to its reckless actions, the opposition sectors have rearticulated out of nowhere, ”he explained.

Unresolved conflicts

In addition to the escalation of mobilizations against the “illicit anti-profit” laws, for weeks the unrest over the resurgence of problems such as land grabs and forest fires, which originated a 37-day, 540-kilometer march of indigenous peoples demanding respect for their territories, but they have not been attended because the Government considers them close to the right and to the civic of Santa Cruz.

Other sources of unrest originate in the conflict of the Yungas coca growers, traditionally opposed to the MAS, which tried to interfere in their internal elections to control the leadership of the organization called Apdecoca, with the result of violent confrontations.

This Tuesday, Evo Morales led a counter-march in support of the government in which he again denounced new coup attempts.  (REUTERS / Patricia Pinto)
This Tuesday, Evo Morales led a counter-march in support of the government in which he again denounced new coup attempts. (REUTERS / Patricia Pinto)

The civic and agricultural producers of eastern Bolivia have also protested against the land seizures by government supporters.

To these conflicts that have been accumulating, warnings, mobilizations and vigils have been added in recent weeks to avoid the arrests of the governor of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, as well as those of other elected authorities such as the mayor of La Paz, Iván Arias, and the mayor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes, who are facing various trials. All three are considered by the MAS opponents of Luis Arce.

So far this year, too dozens of former military and police authorities accused of the overthrow of Evo Morales in 2019 have been detained.

The opposition has protested against the conditions in which former President Jeanine Añez is detained. Last week, justice postponed a judicial hearing for Luis Fernando Camacho for the so-called “coup d’état” case, amid warnings of social upheaval.

The Government considers that opponents are promoting the escalation of conflicts to destabilize Luis Arce, whom his adversaries consider a “Evo Morales puppet”. For his part, the former president Morales insists on the thesis that the right is promoting “a new coup” in Bolivia, now against Arce, but assures that his followers will defend his mandate, even in the streets.

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