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BOLIVIA
Road to dialogue
9/18/2008
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Government and pro-autonomy leaders agree to talks.

President Evo Morales and pro-autonomy leaders represented by Mario Cossío, prefect of the eastern Tarija department, have agreed to a truce and initial dialogue, putting a temporary hold on deadly clashes that left about 30 dead and divided the country.

Before violence broke out in eastern Bolivia, a stronghold of anti-Morales sentiment, an Aug. 10 recall vote ratified Morales in his post with 68 percent, as well as prefects, or governors of the eastern departments of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija. Following the vote, talks began between these departments and the central government to push for reforms to allow these regions to self-govern, without declaring their independence from Bolivia, as well as tax reform on hydrocarbon revenue. Bolivia’s enormous natural gas reserves are located in the eastern part of the country.

One of the opposition prefects´ principal demands was the restoration of a direct tax on hydrocarbons that the central government overtook in November 2007 to fund pensions of Bolivians over the age of 60.

But the talks stalled and the opposition called for radical protests. On Aug. 19, pro-autonomy supporters blocked the roads linking eastern and western Bolivia.

In late August, Morales called a national referendum for the country´s draft charter for Dec. 7, sparking another wave of political conflict. Prefects of Chuquisaca, Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija called for “civil resistance,” calling the referendum a “dictatorial act” by Morales.

Clashes between police and demonstrators quickly grew even more violent as protesters blocked borders to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

On Sept. 10, Morales kicked out US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, accusing him of aiding separatists and “divisions in Bolivia” amid protests that included an attack on a gas pipeline in southern Bolivia that caused cuts in gas exports to neighboring Brazil.

Massacre in Pando
The violence was so severe in Pando that about 30 people were killed, including several children, during an ambush of a pro-Morales campesino protest in Cobija, the department´s capital.

In statements to news agency Pulsar, one of the survivors, Rodrigo Medina Alipaz, said that “a woman with her 5-year-old son was taken by the hair and when she asked them not to kill her they put a revolver to her head and shot her. The boy cried and they took him, shot him and killed him.”

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, president pro-tempore of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), called an emergency meeting of the bloc on Sept. 15.

Participants expressed their support for Morales and rejected any kind of coup against the government from the eastern departments.

“The countries of UNASUR warn that their respective governments reject and will not recognize any kind of situation that implies an attempted civil coup … the rupture of institutional order or the territorial integrity of the Republic of Bolivia,” members said in an 11-point declaration.

The countries agreed to create a commission to mediate dialogues between Bolivia´s central government and the opposition, headed by former Chilean Foreign Minister Juan Gabriel Valdés, and a separate commission to investigate the killings in Pando.
—Latinamerica Press.


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